The Corby Judgment

There was, literally, iron in the air when I was growing up. Before the steelworks closed in 1980, my father worked in the steelworks in Corby. After the arc of his publicanism finished, he returned there to his last job, selling newspapers and breakfast to the tubeworkers as they left their shift. Later, I worked in the tubeworks for a summer too; I still keep my hard hat from there, on a shelf near a biography of Lord Denning and my barrister's wig.

Anyway, when I was little, vast, giger-alien-style pipes and refineries several storeys high loomed above my granny's immediate horizon, behind the houses in Stephenson way. I remember when they were detonated, and how the past decades of many peoples' lives went with them. Even then I could sense it. Mary from Australia, who regularly comments on this blog, once pointed out that I had a taste for melancholy, and in part it began there, in those moments of industrial despair.

Corby went from a prosperous, odd east midlands town--odd because it was basically a Scottish and Irish colony--to an outpost of 'regeneration'. In Britain under the subsequent regimes, that meant a place where men were either on the scrapheap, or working in temporary agency jobs as a form of probation, or aspiring to sell housing-boxes to others before leaving.

Mr Justice Akenhead's judgment yesterday brought a little of all that back. We always knew that the local council-- a machine of the sort found in Chicago or the west of Scotland--was not wholly on the honest side. I recall one of its leading members turning up with my dad to hide a deer one of them had knocked over in Rockingham forest in a garage one night, before everything disappeared in the morning, or at least that is what I was told.

They ended up being turned out of the Labour Party and forming their own 'community group', which at least was as much opposition as Corby ever really had. I once heard that there had been a conservative group there once, but those were old men's rumours and I'm not sure that I believed them. They had Liberals; as a dangerous young intellectual I hung around with them for a time, until I realised that I was a Labour man. Now, of course, I'm happier as a Catholic and a conservative democrat; quite how I could ever fit in here I don't know.

They say Labour in its heartlands achieved little. Labour, and the Co-op party in Corby which was affiliated to it, would seem to prove that point. Except that, to deliberately turn Corby into a toxic waste dump under what seems to have been spectacularly sloppy management, in the process managing to create one of the worst child disasters since thalidomide, is an awful achievement. Is this really what it was all about?

Akenhead J was appalled at a council man laughing when he joked about people swimming in toxic ponds and breathing in red dust, but Corby was quite a hard town and the observation didn't surprise me. The dust--which smelled like rust and eggs--kept bricklayers in business for years, as the cement on the outside of houses constantly needed repointing.

I loved Corby and was somewhat afraid of it, and appalled by it, too. It has changed, though not substantially from the period when I became conscious of living somewhere that was just recovering. Have a look at the judgment. It is a Construction and Technology court ruling which is not final, but which seems to me to be fairly damning. I'll blog more when I've read it fully, but at first glance, I am glad to be a part of a profession associated with such men.

And what else? Just a reminder to the South of England; things that you think only happened in West Virginia, or China, happen here too.

Here's a home video of the steelworks. The spelling isn't up to much, and it is too short, but it has something about it. It conveys a little of the anger of the town, and made me think of the place whose catholic schools I attended. My grandparents and dad worked in the works; my mum was always a store person in home improvement shops. My Uncle Columba escaped by working on the railroads, whilst my Uncle Jim worked liked a hard man on the drills. I can remember almost every one of these images in real colour, and real time, behind my eyes.

They've all been replaced by Asda stores and retail parks now, which I don't want to be sniffy about, but they don't make anything and they're corrupting and they can only work if those hard working, exploited foreigners keep their costs down as immigrants and manufacturers. That is part of the reason why the British economy is falling like a lead weight to the crisis that is approaching.

Below it, I've put a story about the drug gangs that once took to beheading people near the west glebe park, once the 'socially inefficient' steel was gone. Note the Northamptonshire English accents of the police and reporters, rather than Corby's Asterix-style Celtic twang, though to be fair they were probably all faded out or in the police vans.


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