“A LOAF of bread with margarine and a tin of Princess treacle, the cheapest you could buy, that’s what we’d have to keep seven children from going hungry.”
The abject poverty experienced by miner’s and their families is brought into stark reality as I prepare to listen to Nan Phillip’s childhood memories.
I’m not the first to listen to the sprightly 92-year-old’s story of a tough and uncompromising upbringing, the producers of the forthcoming ‘The Happy Lands’ movie have already listened too.
And so moved by the memories of hardship, poverty, camaraderie and an unshakeable spirit of Nan’s story, they have used it as the very inspiration of the film that depicts the miner’s strike of 1926.
“The director came to ask me about my early life as a miner’s daughter and the hardships and struggles that myself and other families had to go through at that time,” explains Nan.
“He listened for two hours as I told him about life back then and at the end of it he told me that as far as he was concerned ‘he had never lived’.
Looking to give the film the realism of a miner’s community in the lead up to the 1926 strike, Nan’s life story has provided the authenticity the film makers were so desperate to achieve and it’s not hard to realise why.
“It was tough” Nan sighs, “Many a time we’d have gone hungry had it not been for the Co-op book.
“It was essential that we got Woodbine and Carbine for my father’s lamp or he wouldn’t have gone down the pit, everything else came second. “Nothing was your own, all clothes were handed down as a matter of course and everything was patched up and mended and made the best of.
“Highlights would be my mother going to collect the dividend and the visit of the ‘Gas man’ who would come to empty the meter.
We’d all stand there in awe as he put all those pennies on the kitchen table and if you were good and didn’t say a word you knew you’d get given a penny.
“Other than that you’d make your own entertainment, we never had any toys so we’d play kick can, hop scotch and hide and seek, everyone belonged to a choir and it would be an event when the Salvation Army band or a pipe band came playing, everyone would come to watch.
“And when the ice-cream man came to the village, it was a real event, we were never able to afford to buy one but we’d stand there and just watch, that’s how hard the times were.”
But the hardships brought about an added sense of community and belonging, as Nan explains: “Everyone looked out for each other because we all had the same struggles, women were almost always pregnant and everyone would help each other.
“If the police came to the village to brake up gambling or an incident, the word would go around and those involved would usually be forewarned.”
The film’s story line is certainly a hard hitting one and will certainly resonate with many who have connections with Fife’s rich mining heritage.
Set at the time of the General Strike in 1926 - only seven years after the slaughter of the trenches, miners unions lead the country against savage austerity cuts handed to the nation by a Liberal-Conservative government.
Inspired by true stories from local families in Fife, including Nan’s, the Happy Lands follows the journey of law-abiding citizens who become law-breakers in a heroic battle against the state.
Set in the village of Carhill Scotland, in the heart of the Fife coalfields, the story the journey of one mining community as they are pushed inevitably towards a labour conflict with the Kingdom Coal Company in a seven month long lock out.
“Not a penny off the pay, not a minute on the day” is the chant as the coal company demand longer hours for less pay.
The intimate portrayal of three families shows the human consequences of an impersonal economics.
The coal company practically owns the village and is colluding with government forces to keep the ‘red threat’ under control.
Standing up for their rights, miner’s inspire national support and galvanize a defiant spirit of the time and with a faith forged through suffering grows and though the strike fails, the seed of a political awakening is sown.
The political undertones played a part in shaping Nan’s adult life as she left school at 14 to work in a carpet factory.
She later married a miner and moved to Woodside in 1953 before most of the New Town had even been thought of.
In 1956 Nan became Fife’s first female to be elected as a councillor having stood for the Labour Party candidature, a post she held for two years.
“Despite the tough upbringing we had a generally happy childhood and that is down to my mother who kept the whole family together, I’m very proud of my mother” reflects Nan today.
“Who would have though when I answered the advert in the paper for people to come forward with their memories of that time, that they’d be using my story as part of the film, it’s very pleasing.”
The Happy Lands film has a gala screening in June and is hoping of being included in several UK film festivals.