Thursday, February 09, 2017

The Opening (short story)

A Short Story from the March 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is nothing peculiar about Cwm Glo. It is a mining village, one of hundreds to be found in the valleys of South Wales, owing its origin and continuing to draw its sustenance from the colliery that casts the shadow of its slag pyramids over the rows of houses that line the valley floor. Were it not that some months ago the “Legion” Club had moved into its new premises, Cwm Glo would not have warranted a single sentence in a Socialist journal. Don’t get us wrong; no revolution has occurred; no National newspaper has shown the least interest in the place; nothing has happened that has occasioned as much as a question in Parliament. Yet the incident of “the opening” is not without its interest to anyone with a finger on the pulse of society and a Socialist is of necessity, such a person.

As we were saying, the “Legion” Club was to be re-opened in new and shiny premises. Short of having the Bishop and local M.P. present, everyone else of note was invited, including the local councillors, the vicar, and, to uphold the military tradition associated with the movement Col. Hughes (ret.), together with a company of territorials, was to attend.

The highlight of the ceremony was to be the unveiling of the “Roll of Honour” now cemented into its new place in the imposing “foyer” with the addition of two names—local lads killed in Malaya. The Committee, despite the necessity of having to have the “big guns” present decided to ask old Phill Davies, their oldest member, to unveil the plaque and say a few appropriate words in conjunction with the vicar. Phill had been reluctant at the offset, but worse was to follow. A week before the big event, old Phill died. We will never know whether the occasion was too great, or whether a heart weakened by years of straining in a body rent by 1916 gas and 40 years coal dust was the cause or not, but there it was—he died.

Anyhow, after considerable discussion and much running around, it was decided to ask old “Price Committee” to stand in his place. Even though he was not a member, Price was the obvious choice, being their spokesman at any discussion or negotiations with the management at the “pit” or the N.C.B.

Price agreed. The proceedings went according to plan; the councillors had their say, the vicar said his piece and the Col. and his men put up a brave show. By this time the members’ eyes were beginning to stray in the direction of the gleaming beer pumps standing like a row of inviting virgins as yet unsullied but full of the promise of future delights . . . 

Price stepped forward to speak as the last strains of “Land of Hope and Glory” died away. “Friends and fellow workers,” he began “Not being a member of your Club, I thank you for allowing me to act on your behalf. I bear in mind the two purposes for which I am here—to honour the memory of those dead, including our latest loss, old Phill, and to launch this Club on its new career. I am at one with you all as regards the former even though I am not in the least interested in the latter. I am old enough to remember most of the boys whose names adorn this plaque” (Price turned for a moment towards the tablet). “I certainly can speak for old Phill. He was my ‘butty.' We disagreed over many things, including his attitude to the 'British Legion,’ and his views on religion.” Price looked straight at the Vicar, who appeared to be most uncomfortable. The two reporters began to take some interest in the proceedings. The worthy gentlemen on the platform began to sense that something had gone wrong; one or two of the committee members looked at their colleagues with a “I told you so \” attitude on their faces. Price continued quietly and deliberately, "These boys were ours, Phill was one of us, both were torn from us and were sacrificed on behalf of those who live by the sweat and life blood of the working class. Those whose names are on this plaque died young and are acknowledged as patriots. Phill's death was more protracted. He always 'did his best’ as he put it A 'best' which nevertheless only succeeded in keeping him poor after years of sacrifice on behalf of Capitalism in peace and war.” There were now distinct murmers all round, the worthies on the platform shuffled uncomfortably, the Vicar flushed and Hughes Col. reddened appreciably. Price carried on: “I knew them all and I pay my tribute. To conclude, let me but add: Old Phill symbolises all of our kind. After a life of toil in the pits; after a life serving in peace and war, a vast Empire on which the sun never sets Brother Phill Davies has gone with the others—to that vast insatiable graveyard that is the end of the road for those who have served. His share of the Empire has been duly earned—6ft. of clay. He came by his own in the end.”

Price walked down from the dais and out of the hall in complete silence. In the general hubbub that followed, the “dignitaries” walked off the platform; the excitement flowed along with the members into the bar. The beer pumps began their work.

The occasion was, to the credit of the Valley Voice, given a deal of prominence. Discussions continued in the Club and elsewhere, for weeks; letters were sent to the Press for and against Price’s speech. In time it all died away. All, did we say? Well nearly all, except that Price finds it easier to get a hearing these days. He also finds it easier to get his mates to read the Socialist Standard.

There you see, there has certainly been no revolution in Cwm Glo, no questions have been asked in Parliament. But some few workers in a little mining community have begun to think and to a Socialist that is something.

W. Brain

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