Monday, 4 February 2019

Read in 2019 - 4: The Valley

The Valley
Richard Benson
A physical book (for a change) and one that kept me company for months - I only managed to read a few pages in the evenings, although it became easier when I replaced the light on my bedside table.

"The Valley" is the real story of Richard Benson's family. The subtitle says "A Hundred Years in the Life of a Yorkshire Family" - and you can imagine that got my attention!

The book follows four generations of a rather widespread family, most of them living in the Dearne Valley in South Yorkshire. Now, my late husband was born and raised in Wath-upon-Dearne; my mother-in-law still lived in the same house where he was born until about 15 yeras ago, when she moved to Ripon to be closer to her daughter (and to downsize). She grew up in Thurnscoe, which often features in the book, too; a typical mining village like many others at that time and in that area.

There is a lot about mining and especially the Miners' Strikes in the book. I knew some of it from what Steve had told me years ago, but even now, after reading it in chronological order, I confess I am still somewhat confused and would not really be able to explain it all to someone else.

Life was certainly harsh there and then, and even harsher to some. But people also were people, with the same dreams and hopes, wishes and needs as us. They worked hard to give their children a better life, and they longed for love and friendship like everyone else. Their plans did not always work out; accidents, politics and other events got in the way sometimes. But they managed by relying on each other and their ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

Because I sometimes let an entire week go by before I picked up the book again, I sometimes had to refer to the very useful family tree in the front of the book, so as not to remind myself of who was who. The author himself features only marginally; his focus switches between the various branches of the family, but he never lets his grandmother Winnie out of sight for long, whose 92 years of life set something of a framework to this impressive book.

No matter whether you have a special attachment to Yorkshire or not, this is a very readable book - not fiction, more like a family history the way probably every one could tell about their own family, if only we could be bothered (and had the time) to write it all up!

My sister gave this to me, but unfortunately, I can not remember whether as a Christmas gift or she only lent it to me. In any case, I was sad to finish it, even though it took me so long, and I would like to read the other book by Richard Benson, "The Farm", which is about the farm (surprise!) the family on his father's side worked and lived on, and where he grew up.
Richard Benson's website is here. Sadly, his blog seems to be hibernating since 2016.

20 comments:

  1. That book sounds fascinating, I like family stories and history and am writing a little book about my family, just for family to have.

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    1. That's great, Terra! How do you go about it? Do you consult documents such as birth and marriage certificates, old photo albums, or rely mainly on your own and your family members' memories?

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  2. You know this is the kind of book that I would like! Just looked it up on Amazon.co.uk and it received wonderful reviews there too. I wonder if it might be a subject for a series on TV. I will remember that I heard about it on your blog first! :-)

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    1. It is not brand new, came out a few years ago, but I can definitely imagine a TV series made of it. Do you know the film "Billy Elliot"? It has bits about the miners' strike in the 1980s, too. Also the film "All That Brass" deals with the often difficult times people had (and still have, to an extent) in England's north.

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  3. I am surprised these days that the Miners strike mentality seems to have completely gone. As you know Brexit in Britain is hitting many jobs and one of the most deprived areas is Sunderland, where Brexit is going to decimate the jobs that are really all that is keeping the place going. The locals voted to leave the EU - not THAT surprising IMPO because hardly anyone understood then what was going on and there were lies and criminal interference with the vote.But even though there is the option to just revoke leaving, and stay in, nobody up there seems to be protesting. I live a long way away from it but I can't help wondering what the atmosphere is, seems from where I am that they are sitting like rabbits on a motorway waiting for something to crush them. I find it strange and disturbing that they are so apathetic. Maybe there is some other reason.

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    1. I agree - hardly anyone fully understood what they were voting for (or against) at the 2016 referendum; too many lies, half-truths and mis-used facts in campaigns on both sides. Now there is this huge mess and I have no idea how it is going to be sorted.
      You are right, it is strange that there is not more protest. Sometimes it seems people take to the streets for protesting against anything and everything, but in this case, the absence of protest is curious.

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  4. This book sounds like a type I really enjoy reading, a sort of family saga in an interesting place. I am sorry that it sounds as though Brexit will only cause more serious problems for the UK. What a mess it all sounds. Things are not much better here.
    A strong family is worth so much. And I certainly understand that you can relate to this book because it's telling about the world from which your husband's family came.

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    1. Indeed, Kristi - a strong family is worth so much!
      If my mother-in-law read this book, she'd be nodding at every page, knowing exactly what the life of the author's family was about. She grew up a miner's daughter and spent most of her life in two mining villages in the Dearne valley; only 15 years ago did she move to North Yorkshire. Ripon, where she lives now, is not in a mining area; it has always been a spa town.

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  5. As I've mentioned before, I stayed one month with a family in Yorkshire when I was 16-17. I think the dad in the family worked for the mining industry but I don't remember now if actually down in the mines. I spent some time in school with the daughter and I do remember asking one boy my own age about his plans for the future, and that his answer was (with a shrug) that he supposed he'd be "going down the pit" like his dad.

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    1. That was the norm for generations of Yorkshire boys. My mother-in-law says her Dad finished school on the Friday and went down the pit on the Monday, when he was 15 years old. Later, there was a time when the collieries paid good money and conditions underground became better, but it was never an easy job.

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    2. When I went to art college in a mining area, many of the boys were delighted to have escaped mining. Quite frequently it seemed that almost everyone else they knew had automatically gone down t'pit. For all the sense of community, mining sounded the most horrible life to me, I have to admit, but then I wasn't really a local person, just happened to be living there at the time.

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    3. From the book it is apparent that there were different views of mining within the same family, too. For some, going down t'pit was never questioned. For others, it was their worst nightmare and they'd rather do anything else than work underground. But no matter what they did, there seemed to be pride in their community.

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  6. I have read this book myself and I found it hard going. It wasn't the kind of book that grabs you and fires you up to read on. I picked it because it speaks of ordinary people's lives in a hardworking part of South Yorkshire but I did not warm to it. Have you ever read "Kes" by Barry Hines? Now there's a proper book about South Yorkshire life - very close to where Steve grew up. ( This comment was written with "help" from a ginger cat called Treacle!)

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    1. I remember you mentioning you found it hard going. For me, it was the kind of book that grabs me and made me want to read on and find out what was going to happen to the various family members next.
      Barry Hines or "Kes" does not ring a bell, but I have taken note of it and shall see if I can find it.
      My cats used to "help" at the computer, too :-)

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  7. During my working life at the Miners’ Int. Fed. I was close to Yorkshire miners (as to miners all over the Western world, incl. Germany), I experienced several strikes myself - at a distance -. I had not heard of this writer.

    Have you explored the possibility of “Reading Lights” a specialist lamp for people with poor eyesight, expensive but well worth the cost. My husband used them for many years and I now have them myself.

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    1. Thank you for popping over and commenting, Friko!
      You have probably mentioned it on your blog, but I was not aware of you having worked at the Miners' Int. Fed. Maybe you'd enjoy this book, too.
      So far, all I have done is replacing the lamp on my bedside table with a newer model and a much brighter bulb, which already has made a big difference. When in April my eyes will be tested for new specs and I'll have new ones eventually, that hopefully helps, too.

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  8. I prefer to read physical books. I get too tired reading electronic books. Happy Valentine's Day honey!

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    1. I get tired reading on a screen with backlight, but my kindle does not have a lit-up screen; it is even less tiring for the eyes than reading on paper. Plus I can adjust the font size, which is a big plus for me these days.
      Thank you - we didn't do anything for Valentine's Day, as we live 150 km apart, but we'll see each other tonight and spend the weekend together :-)

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  9. What a wonderful thing for the writer to do! I'm sure it meant a lot to you. Is it something you think your mother-in-law and sister-in-law would like? There's a great movie set in 1984 about the strikes, and the way gay people joined with the miners. More here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pride_%282014_film%29 I actually own the DVD.

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    1. I've not heard of that film before, Nan - thank you for pointing it out to me!
      I am not sure the book would be my sister-in-law's taste, but I can imagine Mary enjoying it, although less on an "entertaining" level than in a confirming way with her own memories and experiences of the past.

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