johnjennystale.indd

Memories of JOHN DENNIS & Jenny Tells Her Tale:
A REMARKABLE MINER FROM  KIVETON PARK COLLIERY, SOUTH YORKSHIRE, WHO KICKED THE BUCKET ON THE 22ND OF MAY, 2000.

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There are only a few people in my life I have had a great respect for but one of them is John Dennis. He remained basically the same to the end despite the ravages of alcohol never bending to the passing fads and cop-outs of the times. It’s an old truism but the miners were well to the forefront of the working classes in these islands in taking on a brutal and barbaric system. John Dennis was one of the very best of this gallant band.

In many respects, John with his exuberant sense of life, deep intelligence, wide knowledge and his delightfully mad humour were also part of the very essence of the miners especially during the great strike of 1984/5. Like John, that strike with its quest for humanity and community looked towards the creation of a new world and a world without money. All of us too who weren’t miners looked to it for the fulfillment of our future hopes and happiness. If the miners were defeated we’d be defeated too.

It was a strike of earth-shattering dimensions eagerly sensed by workers and others throughout the world from Europe, Asia, to South Africa, to the Americas. It’s fair to say that if the great strike had succeeded – and it nearly did – the world would have palpably become, almost immediately, a better place to live in as workers everywhere over the globe would have seized on the example set by the miners here. This country would have been turned upside down and that nightmare of PM Thatcher’s free market economics would never have gotten off the ground. Truly we would have been at the forefront of an inspiring social revolution, imaginative, joyful – all encompassing in its beautiful diversity – and the like of which the world has never seen.

Instead and as we all know, the opposite happened. Defeat and hell unfolded everywhere. That real Nightmare on Elm Street unleashed by that grim reaper, “Scissorshands” Thatcher, became reality, as day by day it endlessly got worse as everything collapsed before an onslaught. Blair, need it be said, is merely perfecting its brutality making it even worse than the former Tories. It’s a poisoned atmosphere we cannot even for a brief moment distance ourselves from.

For those who fought that great battle they reaped the whirlwind in the devastation of their lives and communities as devastation also swept through the cities and the green fields. Everywhere and wholesale, peoples’ lives were wrecked. It meant that the great vision and passionate quest for a new world got turned into its opposite as state-orchestrated destruction drifted into self-destruction as bleak nothingness often set in for the protagonists – abandoned and alone.

John was one, if you like, who had this Hobson’s Choice thrust upon him. Always one who liked a good drink – often teetering on very heavy drinking – John, to makes his mates feel at home would, for instance, carry his tape machine up through the vegetable garden late on a cold January night as he played some Mississippi blues accompanied by excellent home brewed beer. Bit by bit though, John really did take to the bottle as other serious illnesses related to hard graft began to overwhelm him. Illness and drink did not go well together but for John cutting out drink was never an option. Lacking in all future hope as everything disintegrated and vanished in front of his eyes, John resolved, as his son Matt said, “to commit slow-motion suicide” as his life spiralled out of control with everything falling apart. A real craziness ensued which was impossible to live or be with for any length of time. It was however, such an utterly understandable course to take and many other fine people have taken the same path.

Nonetheless, even during his on-going, final collapse, things could still be occasionally enjoyable. I remember a few years ago picking up a guitar I’d stopped playing decades before and with John on another guitar played some old blues together. It felt exhilarating. John’s crazy letters were always a treat but he also wrote some fine things, particularly a true life story about a boat he was forced to build for one of the pit bosses. It ended up being accidentally-on-purpose demolished . It was like a piece of social surrealism with all the wry asides, mad-cap edge and precision which was John’s hallmark. It’s been published in other countries and in other languages, though typically retarded England saw fit not to publish simply because it was just too good.

Towards the end John’s love of wildlife again strongly resurfaced. He once explained how sparrow hawks could dive through a thick hedge without slowing down. It was something I’d never noticed. Typically John resigned from the RSPB (the bird preservation society) complaining to the editorial board that the magazine had become purely ad oriented, obsessed with sponsorship at the expense of field naturalist research. More broadly John felt that the organisation had gone money mad purchasing tracts of land as they sought to buy their way out of an all enveloping ecological crisis. In short, the RSPB was opting for a free-market solution. He was right. The last time I had a good long talk with him was autumn last year and the old lucid, warm John was there again in person’., though glad to see the whisky I’d brought with me.

It’s difficult saying all these things and if John was here, he’d probably have a drink discreetly in his hand or hidden in some bushes around the corner, nodding with the things he agreed with and with others, putting forward another point of view. Maybe he is even having a drink now right there. Whatever, this would merely be a preamble on the way to the pub. So let’s take a final cue from John. Cheers mate. I’ll never forget you.

With lots of love, Dave

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