AS former miner Eric Bunyan cracked the seal on his 26-year-old bottle of Macallan, he thought back to the 80s and the strikes and the turmoil and Baroness Thatcher; and a smile cracked his lips.
The 57-year-old had waited a long time to bid farewell to the former prime minister and like his fellow members of the Danderhall & Newton NUM Retired Branch he fully intended to celebrate – cracking open a bottle of whisky bought with his redundancy money in 1987.
Thousands thronged the streets of London to pay their respects to the Iron Lady but in the former mining communities of Midlothian her death was met with a mixture of jubilation and indifference.
As mourners began filtering in to St Paul’s Cathedral for her military funeral at 11am yesterday, former pit workers also began surfacing in renowned miners haunt The Dean Tavern in Newtongrange.
Local John Archibald, 67, worked in four nearby pits – Easthouses, Monktonhall, Lady Victoria and Bilston Glen – and he was forthright in his views on the former premier.
He said: “It’s a damn disgrace to spend £10 million on her funeral. I remember the strike of 1984 only too well and Russian miners having to send us aid packages.
“I have no interest in watching her funeral. I would pour my pint on her grave but I wouldn’t want to waste it.”
His sentiment was echoed by fellow ex-miner, Alan Kierckowski, 52, also from Newtongrange, who took the day off work to celebrate her passing.
He added: “Thatcher never understood working-class communities like ours, she was only ever interested in looking after her own. Nobody in Scotland or the north of England will mourn her.”
In London a gun carriage drawn by six black horses carried Baroness Thatcher to St Paul’s, where a congregation of more than 2,300 guests, including leading politicians and international figures, had gathered to pay their final respects.
Meanwhile in the Dean, landlord John Byrn began playing the 1982 BBC film The Village That Nobody Wants, which told of Newtongrange’s housing plight in the wake of the nearby Lady Victoria Colliery closure the year before.
Polkemmet pit in West Lothian closed in 1985, Bilston Glen in 1988 and Monktonhall managed to struggle on until 1997.
Former Bilston Glen Colliery miner and Dean Tavern regular, John Maguire, 62, remembers the time only too well: “There was nothing left around here after the closing of the pits. All the other local industries, such as textiles, were also under attack from Thatcher so there was nothing for the working man.”
A reminder of John’s time in the mines is never too far away as his old helmet and safety earguards adorn a large fibreglass miner’s bust which sits above the bar – a bronze full size statue by sculptor Alan Herriott stands nearby on the village High Street.
John said: “It’s nice to come in and see my old gear on the statue, it brings back memories of working the mines with my friends. There was great camaraderie amongst the guys.
“They’re pieces of local history, I’m glad I never threw them away, like Maggie would have wanted.”
At noon Margaret Thatcher’s coffin was carried out of St Paul’s to rapturous applause from the waiting public.
Earlier the Right Rev Richard Chartres told the congregation: “The storm of conflicting opinions centres on the Mrs Thatcher who became a symbolic figure – even an ‘ism’. Today the remains of the real Margaret Hilda Thatcher are here at her funeral service. Lying here, she is one of us, subject to the common destiny of all human beings.”
At the same time, over 50 members of Danderhall & Newton National Union of Miners Retired Branch and their families gathered at Newtown Cemetery in Danderhall at noon to raise a toast and pay their respects to former colleagues.
Brendan Moohan, 48, recalls being sacked for a breach of the peace on the picket line only two years after starting at Monktonhall Colliery aged 17.
Now a community worker he said: “I don’t normally go around celebrating the deaths of people but she was a piece of work. She demonised us miners and pursued us with a vendetta.”
He and his fellow miners then laid four wreaths at a nearby memorial to the ten local men killed at Monktonhall Colliery since the 60s before retiring to their nearby club for a full-on and unabashed party.
As “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” and “We’re going to have a party when Maggie Thatcher dies” rang out over the speakers, more than 150 miners and their relatives set about doing just that.
Danderhall & Newton NUM branch chairman and local Labour councillor Alex Bennett said: “People say that we’re being disrespectful by having a party, we are not disrespectful, we weren’t brought up that way but we weren’t brought up to be hypocrites either.
“All we’ve heard for more than a week is what a great leader she was. Millions will say that she was, but millions oppose this view too and our views need to be heard.”
Another noted partygoer was Eric Clarke, NUM Scotland’s general secretary during the miner’s strike and later MP for Midlothian.
Now aged 80 he said: “She was a horrible woman who had no feelings for ordinary, working-class people. Her police force incited violence on the picket line to get a reaction, forever changing the way people viewed the police.”
Earlier on stage he drew applause when he said: “The sooner this country wakes up and gets rid of the Tories the better, the ones that are in now are actually taking the country along Thatcher’s scheme.”
Before adding: “Hitler and Mussolini declared themselves as fascists, she never did.”
One of the women celebrating Baroness Thatcher’s death was Margo Russell, 68, a Dalkeith councillor whose late husband Bill went on strike in 1984.
Dressed head to toe in Labour Party red she said: “People around here had it hard during the strikes, there were soup kitchens, I can remember not being able to buy the children shoes.
“She didn’t care about our families and our children. People have praised her for her role in advancing feminism but she did nothing of the sort. She had no compassion and her cabinet only ever contained one woman.”
And as the party poppers popped and champagne flowed, Eric Bunyan finally got around to pouring himself and his friend Jock Jones, 66, a long-awaited dram, raising their glasses with the toast “Good Riddance”.
Tories pay tribute
Councillor and leader of the city council Conservative group, Cameron Rose, headed to London to pay his respects and line the funeral route with several other Capital Tory party members:
“As the coffin was carried through the doors at St Paul’s and the bells sounded 11am with military timing, my thoughts were of paying personal respects rather than the world impact of Margaret Thatcher.
“It was above all her clarity and conviction which I admired and which has inspired me.
“Earlier in the day a radio interviewer had asked me about her being a divisive figure. But that question doesn’t allow us to capture the essence of what we have experienced both in her passing and in her tumultuous life.
“Rather than causing divisions, she exposed divisions already there. And it was the clarity of her analysis and the convictions with which she set about remedying the ills of Britain and the world which proved so powerful, and to
her opponents, so offensive.
“It was those qualities which struck a chord in me and made me resolve many years ago to do everything I could to show my respect and gratefulness in person when the time came. And so I found myself one of the many thousands who lined the route of the cortege in respect and courtesy. The mood was appreciation and thankfulness mixed with some affection and awe at what she achieved.
“There remain those who have nothing but bitterness for her. Even Edinburgh refused to lower the city flags in respect.
But these are decisions which say more about those who have allowed hatred to corrode their courtesy – or who cannot bring themselves to see the extent of her achievements – than about Margaret Thatcher. The world
is a more peaceable place for her clarity, convictions and, yes, her exposing of divisions.”