Deborah Orr on growing up in Motherwell and the devastating impact of the closure of the 'Craig
THE weirdest thing of all was actually seeing your own home town, where you were born and bred, where your grandparents were born and bred, for the very first time, when you were 45-years-old.
How could such a thing happen? Very easily.
Motherwell was built on the lip of the Clyde Valleyand had all the stuff you needed for making iron into steel – coal, wood, water.
The water came from the Clyde. From down in the valley, and from over on the other side of it, all you could see of the town was the tower blocks of Muirhouse – the housing scheme we lived in until I was 10 – rising over from behind the ridge.
From the other direction, you couldn't see the town at all because there was a steelworks there – a steelworks the size of Monaco, which was, at the time it was built during the post-war boom, the largest and most advanced steelworks in the world.
Ravenscraig – the 'Craig – was shut down on the say-so of the Thatcher government and stopped production exactly two decades ago.
It took 15 years to decontaminate the site and build a road across it, a road from which you could finally see Motherwell.
You always knew that it was long and thin.
But it was so odd to see it at last – a shallow crescent of a place, clinging along the rim of a vast, empty space, a space that had once provided the people of Motherwell with identity, purpose, work, prosperity and pride.
My family lived – after we'd moved out of the towers – in a house two streets away from the part of the complex known as the Clyde Alloy.
I remember going back to visit home for the first time since I'd left for university in 1980.
I lay in bed, nodding off to the night-time sounds I'd heard all my life – the thrum of the mills, the regular clack of huge chunk of metal hitting huge chunk of metal, the sudden roar as a gas flare got put on full throttle.
I realised that I missed those sounds, that the silence of the nights in St Andrews – with nothing to offer except the noise of the mere North Sea – was keeping me awake.
But I was one of the lucky ones, much more lucky than I then knew.
I'd got my exit strategy already in place, my escape from a town that as yet had little idea that disaster was going to strike it.
My family had worked in the mines, the steelworks or their related industries for generations.
What happened to Scotland in the 1980s is referred to as a recession. But it wasn't. It was an ending.
Unemployment ripped through the town, with all of its attendant miseries.
Young men who had expected apprenticeships, day-release to Motherwell Tech and valuable qualifications that would enable them to complete a lifetime of valuable work, found that they were expected to adapt to a different sort of economy, as yet unspecified, getting on their bikes to do so, if need be.
Only now is the folly of that sweeping political decision, quickly undertaken, being acknowledged as folly.
What Britain needs, say all the main parties, is manufacturing, apprenticeships, an end to long-term unemployment, a solution to the ongoing problem of youth unemployment.
I went with my late father, my mother and my younger brother to see the 'Craig being demolished by controlled explosion in the mid 1990s.
My father had worked in 'the Lanarkshire', the private steelworks owned by the Colville family that Ravenscraig had replaced, when he was still a boy.
He'd worked in factories that worked steel for most of his working life. He was eventually made redundant.
If memory serves, I was the only member of the family who was working at that time.
I was working for the Guardian newspaper and covered the demolition.
THE sight of the great gas-holder – British Steel blue, with the name of the works painted on it in white – crumpling to the ground like an old tin can, followed quickly by the four, huge, waisted, cooling towers, was inexpressibly sad.
It was hard to know what to do, having witnessed that deliberate act of destruction, the finality of it. So we went to the pub.
The pub, right at what had been the main gates of the 'Craig, was called The Cleekim Inn. A joke – a joke about the number of men who spent their shift in the pub.
Yes, it was a mistake to have taken that work so lightly, to have pulled a fast one on the boss class of a nationalised industry.
The people who did that sort of thing ended up cheating themselves and all of Motherwell.
Their lesson was doled out to the vast majority as well who did their work with diligence and skill. So bloody rotten.
In the pub, a man came up to Murdo McLeod, the photographer, festooned with camera equipment.
A drunk came over, asking him if he had film, if his camera worked, if he could take a picture with it.
Murdo tried to ignore the guy, tried to make him go away.
Eventually the guy gave it to us straight: "Dae ye want tae see a dug play pool?"
We did. In the back room, a man had trained his collie to jump up and snatch balls from the pool table in his mouth, one by one, and drop them down the pockets.
It was magic. The man loved his dog. We loved his dog.
Amidst all the sadness and waste, there was joy and wonder – a tribute to the indomitable humans spirit, and, of course, of the spirits of dogs.
By GORDON THOMSON