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How Britain’s Oldest Road Became Overrun With Sex Shops 0

How Britain’s Oldest Road Became Overrun With Sex Shops

When Graham Kidd started converting Little Chefs on the A1 into sex shops, he was sure the local farmers would be the first to complain. It was a few years ago, and Graham, whose firm Pulse and Cocktails owns 21 stores across Britain, had just opened his inaugural shop on the A1 (he now has three along the road). Like any new business, the first few weeks were slow. Cars whizzed by and locals didn’t want to know. Then, one day, a tractor pulled into the forecourt. “The farmer wandered in,” says Graham. “After browsing the magazines and blow-up dolls, he picked up a Fleshlight and asked what it was. When our staff explained that it’s a male masturbation tool disguised as a torch, he was amazed. ‘Wow,’ he said. ‘This’d be great for when I’m working the fields.'” The farmer bought the device and the staff thought nothing more of it, until the next day. “The following lunchtime, literally five tractors drove in from the A1 and all five farmers each bought a Fleshlight,” Graham says. “They couldn’t get enough! We had to ring central office to ship more down to cope with the demand.” To this day, he says, that shop is Pulse and Cocktails’ biggest seller of imitation Maglite vaginas. “I won’t tell you which store it is, only that it’s surrounded by fields,” he adds. “I wouldn’t want to scare off our best customers.” Welcome to the A1 the mothership of the motorway sex industry. Motorways should not be sexy. Nothing says “it’s not you, it’s me” like a cold, emotionless strip of tarmac. They are portals of frustration, designed for the sole purpose of getting you from a place to another place. It’s about the destination, never the journey. They aren’t fun like high-streets, or picturesque like country lanes. That’s why kids watch TV inside cars because there’s nothing to see outside them. Then there is the A1. Haven’t you ever noticed one of the half-dozen roadside sex businesses dotted along the 165-mile stretch between Leeds and London? I did during a drive north a few months ago. On the way back, I counted them four sex shops and two dedicated swingers clubs. If you’re looking, they’re near-impossible to miss. Then I looked online. “I drive past these all the time,” wrote “Rubberduck” on one forum I stumbled across. “Anyone been in one? … Surely better to just order stuff online than from one of these seedy places? Would have thought they would have gone out of business years ago but what do I know?” Rubberduck got me thinking. Are they seedy? Why are they there? Who visits them? And why is the A1 a good place to sell sex? I drove from Leeds to London to find out. Before the Pontefract branch of Pulse and Cocktails sold sex, it sold breakfast. It was a Little Chef until it underwent the change two years ago, becoming the A1’s first “adult superstore” south of Leeds, tacked onto the forecourt of a Shell garage. Two long-haul lorries are parked outside. One driver is asleep in his cab. The other, it turns out, is buying porn. The hum of traffic here is constant, until you step inside. The shop itself is like any high-end adult store in Britain. Its bright white walls are festooned with sex aids, from PVC costumes, bondage masks, whips and chains to sex dolls, vibrators, medieval stocks and penis pumps, not to mention the usual staple of smut material. A Mediterranean-looking man in work-boots and a high-vis jacket his lorry is presumably the empty one outside is perusing the girl-on-girl section. He buys a stack of DVDs and leaves without a word. “That’s called the Big Fist,” the store clerk tells me when I ask about a terrifying 13-inch dildo shaped like a punch. “Y’know, I’ve never once sold one to a woman. Only men. In fact, about 50 percent of the fetish costumes are bought by men in this store, too. That’s the A1 for you.” The A1 is cobbled together from bits of the old North Road. Snaking from Edinburgh to London, it starts slowly, caressing the North East’s coastline, flirting briefly with Newcastle and Sunderland, before penetrating North Yorkshire as it picks up speed. In and out of Leeds and Sheffield, it plunges into Nottinghamshire, through Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire before climaxing in London. It’s Britain’s longest road, and Britain’s oldest road. Hunter-gatherers used its mud-tracks to find food about 10,000 years ago, before the Romans paved it in parts from around 400AD. It’s taken various forms since then, until the Department of Transport awarded it numbered status in 1921. It has always, like many A-roads, been a site for illicit sexual activity like dogging. But its sex appeal didn’t go mainstream until the hot summer of ’92. It was after a boozy day at Ascot races that Eastenders star Gillian Taylforth was arrested for giving her husband, Geoff, a blowjob in a Range Rover parked in a lay-by. She was arrested but the charges were dropped. Then The Sun caught wind and ran the story, spawning a libel case which Taylforth lost. It was the beginning of a sexual revolution that would sweep the A1. A mile south of P&C, Pontefract, there’s a lorry parked in a field. On it are the words: “PREPARE TO MEET YOUR GOD,” and some other Bible bombast. No sign of the farmer who put it up. I wonder if he has a Fleshlight in his tractor. Still, no time to find out. Pulse and Cocktails, Grantham, is next and it looks exactly like Pulse and Cocktails, Pontefract. The only real difference is that this one was a McDonald’s (though, it was a Little Chef before that). It has the same cornucopia of sex gear as Pontefract, and the staff a man and a woman also wear black. Three couples, all in their forties, browse the shelves, whispering earnestly about what to buy. “We get all kinds of customers here,” says the female staff member. “Couples, singles, old people thinking it’s a coffee shop, young people thinking it’s a strip club…” Her colleague cuts her short: “Don’t forget the man last year who tried wanking in the DVD section. I had to confiscate his laptop. We get way more customers since they put up speed cameras on the road. Cars don’t just fly by any more. Though, people still do come in asking for bacon and eggs. They think we’re still a Little Chef.” Pulse and Cocktails owes its success on the A1 largely to Little Chef’s failure. In 2007, the roadside diner went into administration, forcing the closure of 28 branches across Britain. Pulse and Cocktails pounced converting Grantham in 2008, then Sawtry (40 miles south) two years later, followed by Pontefract in 2012. “The three [Little Chefs] that we’ve converted are ideal sex shop premises,” says Graham Kidd. “They are the perfect size, enabling us to stock a large selection of toys, lingerie, bondage items etc; they have excellent parking and are in great locations.” But most importantly, it’s about anonymity. “Because we’re British and you don’t get this on the continent a lot of people are frightened to death of being seen going into a store,” says Graham. “That is changing, but in converting redundant roadside diners we’ve found a niche, but also a place where people can go and shop discretely and safely.” In other words, you’re less likely to bump into your mother-in-law in a sex shop on a remote piece of A-road than you are in the one on your local high street. “The internet has had a massive impact on the adult industry,” Graham adds. “I can’t remember the last time a sex shop opened anywhere. But because we’ve saturated the A1, people see us on their way to work or holiday. It’s basically free advertising.” A fair point according to the Department of Transport, between 50,000 and 100,000 vehicles drive the A1 every day. “And we’ve got some incredible products. So people can come in, hold the product in their hands, see how it works. You can’t do that on the internet.” You know what else you can’t do on the internet? Have no-strings sex with strangers. Swingers club Tease II is next, a hotel in a truck stop at Alconbury Services (technically P&C Sawtry is next, as the crow flies, but because it’s on the other side of the road it makes sense to visit Tease II first and go back to Sawtry later). Tease II is run by a husband and wife called Stu and Nikki Hobbs. Stu, 49, is fixing a water pipe in the ceiling at reception when we arrive. “The jacuzzi’s bloody packed in and taken all the hot water with it,” he growls, standing on a ladder with a spanner. “You want a tour? I’ll give you a tour.” The first thing you notice is the smell leather and old smoke, but mostly lavender Febreze. “Smell’s very important in a place like this,” says Stu, winking. “You can imagine why.” There are about five rooms, including a cinema (currently showing an eye-watering amount of anal-fisting) with a viewing area behind glass under a bed; a jungle room with a sex swing and a fetish room with a bondage cross and a spanking bench. The main bar has a dance-pole and some sofas, as well as a well-stocked bar with a baseball bat mounted on the wall. “We’ve got 8,500 members, including Premiership footballers, judges, barristers, coppers, firemen, road workers, carpenters… you name it, from every background,” says Stu. “Here you’re all on one level; when you’re all naked, you’re as good as the man standing next to you.” Tease II opened in 2011, after the Hobbs’ first club, Xscape, was sued for trademark infringement by the indoor adventure park of the same name. Stu insists the lawsuit ended amicably. Now, nights have names like Greedy Girls Gangbang and Wednesday Hump Day Party. Entry costs 20 for couples and 35 for single men (single women, known as “unicorns” in swinging circles because they’re so rare, go free). There was a time when the UK’s swinging scene was the reserve of bored middle-aged couples putting their car keys in a cowboy hat and riding their luck. But the death of religion, plus sexual liberation and the internet, has fuelled a boom in sex parties among couples of all ages. Stu insists the scene is far from seedy. “People who think that don’t know the business,” he says. “People expect keys in a bowl, naked orgies; they think they’re guaranteed a shag. Women run this scene, let me tell you. I got more sex when I worked on the buses.” What about the A1? It must bring some surprising customers. “We don’t like passing trade,” says Stu, shaking his head. “We prefer word of mouth. Though, last year we had one of our gang bangs on during the day 22 men and three women at it in the cinema. I’m out front smoking and this guy of about 55 pulls up. ‘Tease?’ he asks. I sent him upstairs to where the action was. Five minutes later he comes back white as a sheet. ‘I meant do you serve teas, not… that,’ he says. Then he leans in and whispers, ‘But have you got any cards?'” Business is booming at Tease II. Though it does look a little worn in places, Stu insists that’s all part of its charm. “We’re more a venue for the working man,” he says. “If you want to see the higher end of the market, go see Jules and Scott at the Vanilla Alternative down at Tempsford. Lovely couple. Their cliental are a bit la-di-da.” The Vanilla Alternative is 20 minutes south. Jules Davis, the venue’s proprietress, answers the door. She’s a tall, attractive woman with blonde hair, jeans and a cardigan and fluffy slippers on her feet. She offers us a cup of tea just as her phone rings her ringtone is “Sex on Fire” by Kings of Leon. If Tease II is a house of sex, The Vanilla Alternative is a sex Narnia. A converted roadside inn once a grandiose place called The Anchor Lodge the VA opened in 2011. It now has 10,500 registered members. Its d cor is all lavish purples, burgundies and blacks. It’s got Chesterfield sofas in the bar area, a disco dance-floor and a 15-foot jacuzzi. Two of the communal rooms are wall-to-wall with beds, all ready-made for tonight’s action. “Oh, it’s nothing special tonight,” says Jules, “just our usual Frisky Friday.” Jules, like Stu, can tell a story. For the next 45 minutes she regales me about the time a woman went into labour at a sex party; how she once threw another stark-naked onto the side of the A1 for starting a fight in an orgy. There was the father who almost walked in on his daughter giving a blowjob in the jacuzzi, were it not for some quick-thinking diversionary tactics from Jules and Scott, and the time a man asked her to sneak him out because his dentist was at the bar and he had an appointment the following Monday. “So I said, just make sure you don’t have pubes between your teeth when you go, in case they’re his wife’s.” She talks, we listen, all to that gentle hum of passing traffic outside. “Most people either think it’s fat old ugly guys who’ve stepped out of the 60s with hairy armpits and pubic hair down to their knees,” she says. “Or they think you’ve got to be 26, blonde, blue eyes and big boobs. In here, yeah, we get both those sets of people, but it’s mostly normal bods who fancy a bit of excitement.” The VA, like Tease II, is fully licensed and above board. Sexual health charity The Terrence Higgins Trust even sends a nurse to every event to give STI checks and hand out free condoms. “We always say, there are two classifications of swingers,” Jules continues, “those who want to and those who need to. If you need to be doing this to fix your relationship, it will destroy you. Repair your own relationship before you involve anyone else in it.” She’s also keen to point out that her’s is one of the few swingers clubs in Britain where drugs are strictly banned. “I’ve seen clubs destroyed by drugs,” she says, “but the police just don’t want to know.” Why? She gives a knowing glance: “Let’s just say there are a lot of police involved in this scene. So if you report it to the local force, the chances are someone there goes to the club and it tends to get lost in the paperwork.” That’s all she’ll say on the matter. “We take client confidentiality very seriously,” she says. With that, some guests arrive a good-looking couple in their early thirties. I’m politely asked to hit the road. There’s nothing confidential about Happy Lovers A1 the penultimate destination of my journey. The A1’s first ever sex shop, it’s bang on the northbound carriageway outside the village of Sandy, next to the Bedfordshire BBQ Centre and an Esso garage. It was never a Little Chef, but a Happy Eater, then an Indian restaurant. “We’ve been here 14 years,” says shop manager Irene Busby. “I think Pulse and Cocktails only came to the A1 because they saw how well we were doing here. They wanted a seat at the party.” But there’s one thing Happy Lovers has that Pulse and Cocktails will never have a hole in the wall where a brick used to be. “Oh, that’s where Jimmy Savile’s brick was,” says Irene, way too flippantly for such a statement. In 1981, Savile made 100 commemorative bricks, to be auctioned off for his charity. One ended up in the wall when it was a Happy Eater. “When we took over,” says Irene, “this local councillor launched a campaign to have it removed, claiming it was an insult to Savile’s memory. We saw no reason at the time to take it out, so we left it. Then Savile’s crimes came to light, and we realised we had to get rid of it sharpish. No business wants an association like that especially not a sex shop on the A1.” Nobody knows how the roadside sex industry has changed better than Irene. “Originally it was just sales reps and lorry drivers who came in,” she says. “The reps had the money and the truckers were on the road alone for long periods of time. But then the internet killed the sales business and the recession killed the truckers’ spare cash.” Now, local porn stars are key to Happy Lovers’ daily business (apparently there are a lot in rural Bedfordshire) and come in as much for a chat with Irene as to buy a new vibrator. Local fetishists play a part, too. But mostly, she says, it’s “normal people”: couples en route to a dirty weekend, men over 50 who don’t get the internet or single women with an itch to scratch. “We do get people led in on dog leads and a lot of bosses with their secretaries,” she adds. “Last month I had a guy come in because he’d broken his penis pump through over-use and wanted me to fix it.” Did she? “Nah,” she says. “I sold him another one.” My final stop is a little way back up the A1 at Sawtry. It’s also the final Pulse and Cocktails as you drive north to south on the A1. Again, it’s exactly the same as the other two. There are no customers, just an affable blonde attendant behind the counter. No wonder it’s quiet; this is the shop that almost sent the local village into meltdown when it opened six years ago. There was an outcry, public meetings, a petition; a local councillor promised to “remain vigilant”. One condition of granting the licence was that the shop must not use the village’s name in its title or any advertising literature. “No one wants Sawtry to become synonymous with a sex shop,” said the angry councillor. “You’ve no idea how difficult it is to get a license for a sex shop,” says Graham. “They can’t be in built up areas, near schools or homes. That’s another reason why a motorway is a good location. Still, at Sawtry we had over 2,000 objections.” The ire didn’t last. Soon, he says, the shop was employing people from the village. “Now they use the shop all the time,” he says. “It’s become part of the community.” It’s no real surprise that village communities freak out at the thought of a sex business opening on their doorstep. Every business I speak to faced initial backlashes from the villagentsia: fears that they would attract doggers, paedophiles, rapists and other undesirables. “YOU WOULDNT THINK PEOPLE WERE GETTING RAPED EVERY DAY WOULD YOU (sic),” harrumphed one commenter under a MailOnline story at the time. “It’s nonsense,” says Graham. “Our customers are no different to those who go to supermarkets or anywhere else.” As I drive back to London, the A1’s orange street lights beginning to fizz and flicker on, I spot the corpse of a badger lying on the hard shoulder, its legs stiff and straight like a Pass the Pig on its side. It reminds me of one very dangerous side effect of a motorway sex shop, which I learned about during breakfast at DD’s roadside caf , directly opposite the first Pulse and Cocktails at Pontefract. “You’d be amazed at how many people park in our carpark and run across the motorway to the sex shop,” said the waitress, also DD’s mum, as she cleared away my plates. “Desperate times call for desperate measures, I suppose. The sex toys in there must really be to die for.” Then, handing me my bill, she added: “You know, we never had this problem when it was a Little Chef.” @mattblakeuk / @CBethell_Photo [1] [2] More on VICE: Here’s Everyone You’re Going to Have Sex with at University [3] My Life as a Sugar Baby [4] We Spent 24 Hours with a Pornstar Couple [5] References ^ @mattblakeuk (twitter.com) ^ @CBethell_Photo (twitter.com) ^ Here’s Everyone You’re Going to Have Sex with at University (www.vice.com) ^ My Life as a Sugar Baby (www.vice.com) ^ We Spent 24 Hours with a Pornstar Couple (www.vice.com)

Sex Shops and Swingers Clubs: How the A1 Became Britain’s Dirtiest Road 0

Sex Shops and Swingers Clubs: How the A1 Became Britain’s Dirtiest Road

When Graham Kidd started converting Little Chefs on the A1 into sex shops, he was sure the local farmers would be the first to complain. It was 2008, and Graham, whose firm Pulse and Cocktails owns 21 stores across Britain, had just opened his inaugural shop on the A1 (he now has three along the road). Like any new business, the first few weeks were slow. Cars whizzed by and locals didn’t want to know. Then, one day, a tractor pulled into the forecourt. “The farmer wandered in,” says Graham. “After browsing the magazines and blow-up dolls, he picked up a Fleshlight and asked what it was. When our staff explained that it’s a male masturbation tool disguised as a torch, he was amazed. ‘Wow,’ he said. ‘This’d be great for when I’m working the fields.'” The farmer bought the device and the staff thought nothing more of it, until the next day. “The following lunchtime, literally five tractors drove in from the A1 and all five farmers each bought a Fleshlight,” Graham says. “They couldn’t get enough! We had to ring central office to ship more down to cope with the demand.” To this day, he says, that shop is Pulse and Cocktails’ biggest seller of imitation Maglite vaginas. “I won’t tell you which store it is, only that it’s surrounded by fields,” he adds. “I wouldn’t want to scare off our best customers.” Welcome to the A1 the mothership of the motorway sex industry. Motorways should not be sexy. Nothing says “it’s not you, it’s me” like a cold, emotionless strip of tarmac. They are portals of frustration, designed for the sole purpose of getting you from a place to another place. It’s about the destination, never the journey. They aren’t fun like high-streets, or picturesque like country lanes. That’s why kids watch TV inside cars because there’s nothing to see outside them. Then there is the A1. Haven’t you ever noticed one of the half-dozen roadside sex businesses dotted along the 165-mile stretch between Leeds and London? I did during a drive north a few months ago. On the way back, I counted them four sex shops and two dedicated swingers clubs. If you’re looking, they’re near-impossible to miss. Then I looked online. “I drive past these all the time,” wrote “Rubberduck” on one forum I stumbled across. “Anyone been in one? … Surely better to just order stuff online than from one of these seedy places? Would have thought they would have gone out of business years ago but what do I know?” Rubberduck got me thinking. Are they seedy? Why are they there? Who visits them? And why is the A1 a good place to sell sex? I drove from Leeds to London to find out. Before the Pontefract branch of Pulse and Cocktails sold sex, it sold breakfast. It was a Little Chef until it underwent the change two years ago, becoming the A1’s first “adult superstore” south of Leeds, tacked onto the forecourt of a Shell garage. Two long-haul lorries are parked outside. One driver is asleep in his cab. The other, it turns out, is buying porn. The hum of traffic here is constant, until you step inside. The shop itself is like any high-end adult store in Britain. Its bright white walls are festooned with sex aids, from PVC costumes, bondage masks, whips and chains to sex dolls, vibrators, medieval stocks and penis pumps, not to mention the usual staple of smut material. A Mediterranean-looking man in work-boots and a high-vis jacket his lorry is presumably the empty one outside is perusing the girl-on-girl section. He buys a stack of DVDs and leaves without a word. “That’s called the Big Fist,” the store clerk tells me when I ask about a terrifying 13-inch dildo shaped like a punch. “Y’know, I’ve never once sold one to a woman. Only men. In fact, about 50 percent of the fetish costumes are bought by men in this store, too. That’s the A1 for you.” The A1 is cobbled together from bits of the old North Road. Snaking from Edinburgh to London, it starts slowly, caressing the North East’s coastline, flirting briefly with Newcastle and Sunderland, before penetrating North Yorkshire as it picks up speed. In and out of Leeds and Sheffield, it plunges into Nottinghamshire, through Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire before climaxing in London. It’s Britain’s longest road, and Britain’s oldest road. Hunter-gatherers used its mud-tracks to find food about 10,000 years ago, before the Romans paved it in parts from around 400AD. It’s taken various forms since then, until the Department of Transport awarded it numbered status in 1921. It has always, like many A-roads, been a site for illicit sexual activity like dogging. But its sex appeal didn’t go mainstream until the hot summer of ’92. It was after a boozy day at Ascot races that Eastenders star Gillian Taylforth was arrested for giving her husband, Geoff, a blowjob in a Range Rover parked in a lay-by. She was arrested but the charges were dropped. Then The Sun caught wind and ran the story, spawning a libel case which Taylforth lost. It was the beginning of a sexual revolution that would sweep the A1. A mile south of P&C, Pontefract, there’s a lorry parked in a field. On it are the words: “PREPARE TO MEET YOUR GOD,” and some other Bible bombast. No sign of the farmer who put it up. I wonder if he has a Fleshlight in his tractor. Still, no time to find out. Pulse and Cocktails, Grantham, is next and it looks exactly like Pulse and Cocktails, Pontefract. The only real difference is that this one was a McDonald’s (though, it was a Little Chef before that). It has the same cornucopia of sex gear as Pontefract, and the staff a man and a woman also wear black. Three couples, all in their forties, browse the shelves, whispering earnestly about what to buy. “We get all kinds of customers here,” says the female staff member. “Couples, singles, old people thinking it’s a coffee shop, young people thinking it’s a strip club…” Her colleague cuts her short: “Don’t forget the man last year who tried wanking in the DVD section. I had to confiscate his laptop. We get way more customers since they put up speed cameras on the road. Cars don’t just fly by any more. Though, people still do come in asking for bacon and eggs. They think we’re still a Little Chef.” Pulse and Cocktails owes its success on the A1 largely to Little Chef’s failure. In 2007, the roadside diner went into administration, forcing the closure of 28 branches across Britain. Pulse and Cocktails pounced converting Grantham in 2008, then Sawtry (40 miles south) two years later, followed by Pontefract in 2012. “The three [Little Chefs] that we’ve converted are ideal sex shop premises,” says Graham Kidd. “They are the perfect size, enabling us to stock a large selection of toys, lingerie, bondage items etc; they have excellent parking and are in great locations.” But most importantly, it’s about anonymity. “Because we’re British and you don’t get this on the continent a lot of people are frightened to death of being seen going into a store,” says Graham. “That is changing, but in converting redundant roadside diners we’ve found a niche, but also a place where people can go and shop discretely and safely.” In other words, you’re less likely to bump into your mother-in-law in a sex shop on a remote piece of A-road than you are in the one on your local high street. “The internet has had a massive impact on the adult industry,” Graham adds. “I can’t remember the last time a sex shop opened anywhere. But because we’ve saturated the A1, people see us on their way to work or holiday. It’s basically free advertising.” A fair point according to the Department of Transport, between 50,000 and 100,000 vehicles drive the A1 every day. “And we’ve got some incredible products. So people can come in, hold the product in their hands, see how it works. You can’t do that on the internet.” You know what else you can’t do on the internet? Have no-strings sex with strangers. Swingers club Tease II is next, a hotel in a truck stop at Alconbury Services (technically P&C Sawtry is next, as the crow flies, but because it’s on the other side of the road it makes sense to visit Tease II first and go back to Sawtry later). Tease II is run by a husband and wife called Stu and Nikki Hobbs. Stu, 49, is fixing a water pipe in the ceiling at reception when we arrive. “The jacuzzi’s bloody packed in and taken all the hot water with it,” he growls, standing on a ladder with a spanner. “You want a tour? I’ll give you a tour.” The first thing you notice is the smell leather and old smoke, but mostly lavender Febreze. “Smell’s very important in a place like this,” says Stu, winking. “You can imagine why.” There are about five rooms, including a cinema (currently showing an eye-watering amount of anal-fisting) with a viewing area behind glass under a bed; a jungle room with a sex swing and a fetish room with a bondage cross and a spanking bench. The main bar has a dance-pole and some sofas, as well as a well-stocked bar with a baseball bat mounted on the wall. “We’ve got 8,500 members, including Premiership footballers, judges, barristers, coppers, firemen, road workers, carpenters… you name it, from every background,” says Stu. “Here you’re all on one level; when you’re all naked, you’re as good as the man standing next to you.” Tease II opened in 2011, after the Hobbs’ first club, Xscape, was sued for trademark infringement by the indoor adventure park of the same name. Stu insists the lawsuit ended amicably. Now, nights have names like Greedy Girls Gangbang and Wednesday Hump Day Party. Entry costs 20 for couples and 35 for single men (single women, known as “unicorns” in swinging circles because they’re so rare, go free). There was a time when the UK’s swinging scene was the reserve of bored middle-aged couples putting their car keys in a cowboy hat and riding their luck. But the death of religion, plus sexual liberation and the internet, has fuelled a boom in sex parties among couples of all ages. Stu insists the scene is far from seedy. “People who think that don’t know the business,” he says. “People expect keys in a bowl, naked orgies; they think they’re guaranteed a shag. Women run this scene, let me tell you. I got more sex when I worked on the buses.” What about the A1? It must bring some surprising customers. “We don’t like passing trade,” says Stu, shaking his head. “We prefer word of mouth. Though, last year we had one of our gang bangs on during the day 22 men and three women at it in the cinema. I’m out front smoking and this guy of about 55 pulls up. ‘Tease?’ he asks. I sent him upstairs to where the action was. Five minutes later he comes back white as a sheet. ‘I meant do you serve teas, not… that,’ he says. Then he leans in and whispers, ‘But have you got any cards?'” Business is booming at Tease II. Though it does look a little worn in places, and a little sticky in others, Stu insists that’s all part of its charm. “We’re more a venue for the working man,” he says. “If you want to see the higher end of the market, go see Jules and Scott at the Vanilla Alternative down at Tempsford. Lovely couple. Their cliental are a bit la-di-da.” The Vanilla Alternative is 20 minutes south. Jules Davis, the venue’s proprietress, answers the door. She’s a tall, handsome woman of 44 with blonde hair and wearing a very low-cut black halterneck top. She’s got a pair of needle-sharp stilettos in her hand and fluffy slippers on her feet. She invites us in just as her phone rings her ringtone is “Sex on Fire” by Kings of Leon. If Tease II is a sex den, The Vanilla Alternative is a sex Narnia. A converted roadside inn once a grandiose place called The Anchor Lodge the VA opened in 2011. It now has 10,500 registered members. Its d cor is all purples, burgundies and blacks. It’s got Chesterfield sofas in the bar area, a disco dance-floor and a 15-foot jacuzzi. Two of the communal rooms are wall-to-wall with beds, all ready-made for tonight’s action. “Oh, it’s nothing special tonight,” says Jules, “just our usual Frisky Friday.” Jules, like Stu, can tell a story like an Irish sailor on the rum. For the next 45 minutes she regales me about the time a woman gave birth at a sex party; how she once threw another stark-naked onto the side of the A1 for starting a fight in an orgy. There was the man who bumped into his own daughter as she gave a stranger a blowjob in the hot tub, and the time a man asked her to sneak him out because his dentist was at the bar and he had an appointment on Monday. “So I said, just make sure you don’t have pubes between your teeth when you go, in case they’re his wife’s.” She talks, we listen, all to that gentle hum of passing traffic outside. “Most people either think it’s fat old ugly guys who’ve stepped out of the 60s with hairy armpits and pubic hair down to their knees,” she says. “Or they think you’ve got to be 26, blonde, blue eyes and big boobs. In here, yeah, we get both those sets of people, but it’s mostly normal bods who fancy a bit of excitement.” The VA, like Tease II, is fully licensed and above board. Sexual health charity The Terrence Higgins Trust even sends a nurse to every event to give STI checks and hand out free condoms. “We always say, there are two classifications of swingers,” Jules continues, “those who want to and those who need to. If you need to be doing this to fix your relationship, it will destroy you. Repair your own relationship before you involve anyone else in it.” She’s also keen to point out that her’s is one of the few swingers clubs in Britain where drugs are strictly banned. “I’ve seen clubs destroyed by drugs,” she says, “but the police just don’t want to know.” Why? She gives a knowing glance: “Let’s just say there are a lot of police involved in this scene. So if you report it to the local force, the chances are someone there goes to the club and it tends to get lost in the paperwork.” That’s all she’ll say on the matter; she mumbles something about client confidentiality. Some guests arrive a good-looking couple in their early thirties. I’m politely asked to hit the road. There’s nothing confidential about Happy Lovers A1 the penultimate destination of my journey. The A1’s first ever sex shop, it’s bang on the northbound carriageway outside the village of Sandy, next to the Bedfordshire BBQ Centre and an Esso garage. It was never a Little Chef, but a Happy Eater, then an Indian restaurant. “We’ve been here 14 years,” says shop manager Irene Busby. “I think Pulse and Cocktails only came to the A1 because they saw how well we were doing here. They wanted a seat at the party.” But there’s one thing Happy Lovers has that Pulse and Cocktails will never have a hole in the wall where a brick used to be. “Oh, that’s where Jimmy Savile’s brick was,” says Irene, way too flippantly for such a statement. In 1981, Savile made 100 commemorative bricks, to be auctioned off for his charity. One ended up in the wall when it was a Happy Eater. “When we took over,” says Irene, “this local councillor launched a campaign to have it removed, claiming it was an insult to Savile’s memory. We saw no reason at the time to take it out, so we left it. Then Savile’s crimes came to light, and we realised we had to get rid of it sharpish. No business wants an association like that especially not a sex shop on the A1.” Nobody knows how the roadside sex industry has changed better than Irene. “Originally it was just sales reps and lorry drivers who came in,” she says. “The reps had the money and the truckers were on the road alone for long periods of time. But then the internet killed the sales business and the recession killed the truckers’ spare cash.” Now, local porn stars are key to Happy Lovers’ daily business (apparently there are a lot in rural Bedfordshire) and come in as much for a chat with Irene as to buy a new vibrator. Local fetishists play a part, too. But mostly, she says, it’s “normal people”: couples en route to a dirty weekend, men over 50 who don’t get the internet or single women with an itch to scratch. “We do get people led in on dog leads and a lot of bosses with their secretaries,” she adds. “Last month I had a guy come in because he’d broken his penis pump through over-use and wanted me to fix it.” Did she? “Nah,” she says. “I sold him another one.” My final stop is a little way back up the A1 at Sawtry. It’s also the final Pulse and Cocktails as you drive north to south on the A1. Again, it’s exactly the same as the other two. There are no customers, just an affable blonde attendant behind the counter. No wonder it’s quiet; this is the shop that almost sent the local village into meltdown when it opened six years ago. There was an outcry, public meetings, a petition; a local councillor promised to “remain vigilant”. One condition of granting the licence was that the shop must not use the village’s name in its title or any advertising literature. “No one wants Sawtry to become synonymous with a sex shop,” said the angry councillor. “You’ve no idea how difficult it is to get a license for a sex shop,” says Graham. “They can’t be in built up areas, near schools or homes. That’s another reason why a motorway is a good location. Still, at Sawtry we had over 2,000 objections.” The ire didn’t last. Soon, he says, the shop was employing people from the village. “Now they use the shop all the time,” he says. “It’s become part of the community.” It’s no real surprise that village communities freak out at the thought of a sex business opening on their doorstep. Every business I speak to faced initial backlashes from the villagentsia: fears that they would attract doggers, paedophiles, rapists and other undesirables. “YOU WOULDNT THINK PEOPLE WERE GETTING RAPED EVERY DAY WOULD YOU (sic),” harrumphed one commenter under a MailOnline story at the time. “It’s nonsense,” says Graham. “Our customers are no different to those who go to supermarkets or anywhere else.” As I drive back to London, the A1’s orange street lights beginning to fizz and flicker on, I spot the corpse of a badger lying on the hard shoulder, its legs stiff and straight like a Pass the Pig on its side. It reminds me of one very dangerous side effect of a motorway sex shop, which I learned about during breakfast at DD’s roadside caf , directly opposite the first Pulse and Cocktails at Pontefract. “You’d be amazed at how many people park in our carpark and run across the motorway to the sex shop,” said the waitress, also DD’s mum, as she cleared away my plates. “Desperate times call for desperate measures, I suppose. The sex toys in there must really be to die for.” Then, handing me my bill, she added: “You know, we never had this problem when it was a Little Chef.” @mattblakeuk / @CBethell_Photo [1] [2] More on VICE: Here’s Everyone You’re Going to Have Sex with at University [3] My Life as a Sugar Baby [4] We Spent 24 Hours with a Pornstar Couple [5] References ^ @mattblakeuk (twitter.com) ^ @CBethell_Photo (twitter.com) ^ Here’s Everyone You’re Going to Have Sex with at University (www.vice.com) ^ My Life as a Sugar Baby (www.vice.com) ^ We Spent 24 Hours with a Pornstar Couple (www.vice.com)

Orgreave revisited – Financial Times 0

Orgreave revisited – Financial Times

The Barnsley headquarters of the National Union of Mineworkers today David Severn When Norman Strike was a coal miner, his surname was apposite. In 1983, at the age of 32, Strike stood for election as a union official at his mine, Westoe colliery in South Tyneside. He lost by seven votes: I said it was because nobody wanted to vote for a Strike. A year later, on June 18 1984 32 years ago this weekend Strike reached the top of a hill above the Orgreave [1] coking works near Rotherham in South Yorkshire. It was just after 8am on a hot, sunny day and he was in a group of miners who had come by coach from Westoe to picket. The National Union of Mineworkers, led by its controversial president Arthur Scargill, had called a national strike three months before to resist a programme of pit closures backed by Margaret Thatcher s government. From his vantage point, Strike gazed down on a scene of battle. He heard a loud roar as hundreds of miners ran up a field towards him, chased by mounted police. Beyond them, he saw lines of police in riot gear, and behind them the plant itself, a sprawling, smoking complex at which fuel was refined from coal. Strike had been reading Germinal , Emile Zola s novel about a miners strike in 19th-century France, as part of an Open University course, and he remembers that a passage from it came vividly to mind: This pit, piled up in the bottom of a hollow with its squat brick buildings, raising its chimney like a threatening horn, seemed to him to have the evil air of a gluttonous beast, crouching there to devour the earth. The day culminated in a pitched fight in the village of Orgreave, with a car set on fire, miners throwing bricks and stones, and mounted police cantering along a village street beating miners and others with batons. There were more than 120 official casualties, including broken bones, cuts from bricks and truncheon blows. Ninety-three miners were arrested and 55 were later charged with riot, then a common law offence for which the maximum sentence was life imprisonment. Orgreave was a pivotal moment in the strike, which lasted until March 1985 before being called off as many miners crossed picket lines to return to work. By the end of June 18 1984, it was clear picketing would not halt coke production at Orgreave and thus close the steelworks at Scunthorpe that relied on it. Scargill was injured and taken to hospital, with one of his key aims defeated. Until then, I was optimistic that we could win but the writing was on the wall after that, says Strike. We were outnumbered, out-armed and outdone. The winners were the National Coal Board and Thatcher, who wanted to impose the government s will over nationalised industries, and stop unions blocking closures or shrinkage. With the defeat of the NUM, and later of the print workers in the 1986 Wapping dispute, the government had the upper hand. Thatcher s ability to reform the economy and unleash the rationalisation of lossmaking industries and deregulation of the City of London in 1986 was ensured at Orgreave. June 18 1984: miners run from the police at the Orgreave coking plant near Rotherham Martin Shakeshaft History is written by the victors, and the narrative of Orgreave is that the police had to battle to contain violent picketing. But after 32 years, the losers may be about to rewrite it. Pressure on home secretary Theresa May to set up an inquiry increased when an inquest jury found in April that South Yorkshire police, the force in charge at Orgreave, contributed to the deaths of 96 Liverpool football fans at Hillsborough [2] in 1989. Officers then tried to hide their blunders by blaming fans. Barbara Jackson, a former NCB employee who took part in the strike, leads the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign, a pressure group of former miners and allies formed four years ago. Thatcher won industrially but she did not win culturally or emotionally, she says. It has not made people love what happened. For a lot of them, it was a shock to see a government could treat its own people like that. It is another sunny day as I ascend to the spot where Strike stood in 1984. The landscape is hugely changed. The coking plant was demolished after its closure in 1990 and the field is steadily being covered. Welcome to Renaissance, reads one sign advertising a fantastic range of three and four bedroom houses , selling for up to 320,000. An industrial park sits nearby, with a manufacturing research centre run by Sheffield University, two wind turbines and a new Rolls-Royce engine blade plant. The past is buried and the new town on the site of the battle has been christened Waverley . Kevin Horne, a former miner arrested that day and charged with unlawful assembly, although the charge was later dropped, walks beside me. Horne is part of the Orgreave campaign and argues that South Yorkshire police could gain as much from an inquiry as ex-miners and their relatives. He says it may provide a sense of closure since police are still distrusted in former mining villages although most are too young to have been there. I was upset at the time and even if I see it on television now, I get upset, Horne says. He coughs slightly as he climbs the hill. My wife cries, even my granddaughter cries. She s 18. They re the people I would like to start respecting the police again, because we can t go on forever. They re all we ve got, no matter how good or bad they are. We ve got to give them a chance to make a fresh start. I was at Orgreave on May 29 1984, another day of trouble three weeks earlier. It featured mounted police charges, stone throwing, pickets shoving police lines, and 80 arrests. Scargill was arrested for obstruction the next morning as he stopped on that hill and the Yorkshire Post s headline read, The Battle of Orgreave . It turned out to be a prelude to the bloodier, decisive battle to come. As a 25-year-old news reporter for the northern edition of the Daily Mail, I spent weeks that year reporting on the strike, arriving in pit villages before dawn to see whether any miners would cross picket lines. After that, I might walk to the makeshift canteens set up by the Women Against Pit Closures group and have a cup of tea. The Mail s sympathies were heavily with the government and working miners, but I usually got a polite welcome. On May 29, I drove to Orgreave and walked down the hill to a pen behind the police lines where the media were corralled. The Mail had sent more senior reporters and my presence was superfluous, so I decided to climb up and stand among pickets who were gathering to try to block lorries of coking coal from leaving the plant. It was 7am and, with the midsummer solstice near, the sun was already high. The Waverley housing development on the site of the battle between miners and police David Severn For a while, the few hundred miners milled around and chatted in front of a line of police, or sat on the stubble in the mown field and enjoyed the sun. Scargill arrived, in a trucker s cap with the logo of a supportive US union, and stood 50m to my right. At 8am, as 35 lorries laden with coke emerged, the miners chanted, Here we go, here we go, and trotted forward to push en masse at the police lines. As they did, a few men threw missiles stones and half-bricks from the back. Scargill emerged from the crowd to remonstrate through a loudhailer. We are not going to do anything by throwing things except hit our own lads, I noted him saying at the time. If there had been no missiles, we would down be at the gates by now. But as frustration grew, so did disorder and police reaction, with mounted police riding out to break up the crowd. By the end of the day, 24 police had been treated for injuries, along with 19 pickets. The battles of Orgreave might not have occurred at all. Some officials in the NUM s Yorkshire area, which had 250,000 working members at the time, thought focusing on Orgreave was a waste of energy because the police were so well organised. They favoured sending more pickets to Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, where many miners were still working. Norman Strike, former miner: ‘We were outnumbered, out-armed and outdone’ David Severn Flying pickets striking miners who went to other regions to enforce the strike found their task hard, though. Pressed by the government to block mass picketing, the police turned cars full of miners away from motorway exits near pits. But they did not cordon off Orgreave. The police told us where to go. They couldn t have been more helpful unless they d put on valet parking, says Chris Kitchen, then a 17-year-old striker and now the NUM general secretary. With hindsight, that was probably a good reason to say, Hang on, we ll go somewhere else. Scargill chose Orgreave in an effort to repeat his victory at the Saltley Gate coke works in Birmingham in 1972, shut by a mass picket of the NUM and other unions in protest at the pay restraint policy of Edward Heath s government. Thatcher was determined not to be caught in the same way, and South Yorkshire police were extremely well prepared. On June 18, they assembled a force of 4,200 from 10 counties, including 50 mounted police, 58 police dogs and several riot units. That June morning, as Norman Strike ran down the hill to join other pickets, he was joining the second phase of battle. The first, before 8am, involved a build-up similar to May 29, with miners milling around in front of the police lines and probably (although some dispute it) sporadic stone throwing. The second started at 8am, after an initial shove against police lines as the lorries entered the plant to load up. The lines parted and mounted police cantered through, sending miners running. As Strike arrived, the police line had reformed. Scargill was at the front and I was right beside him. I remember him saying, Come on lads, I ve seen bigger horses at Scarborough racecourse. The miners pushed forward at the line again, with more missiles being thrown from the back. There was a core of dedicated pickets and others who went along for the ride and would throw stones, Strike says. Often they d hit us. I assume they were miners but I called them bloody idiots. Battle of Orgreave: how it happened 1. Miners gather in front of police lines and push forward, with stones thrown 2. Mounted police advance three times amid clashes with miners 3. Mounted and riot police clear field by chasing miners towards railway bridge 4. Battle of police and miners around bridge 5. Mounted police chase miners into Orgreave village A line of police in riot helmets, holding long shields, now stood at the front. A second mounted advance had no greater effect in calming the crowd the reverse, in fact and finally, at 8.30am, a historic event occurred. The line again parted and horses cantered forward, this time followed by riot police running out with round shields and truncheons raised. It was one of the first times that riot tactics drawn from policing in Hong Kong and former British colonies had been used on the mainland. You know what you are doing. No heads, bodies only, one officer was recorded calling on police video. In the melee of police and miners fighting as the riot snatch squad tried to pull particular people out of the crowd, an ITV camera crew filmed one officer with a raised truncheon striking the head and shoulders of a miner who was falling to the ground. It had a shock effect when broadcast on national news that evening, along with other scenes of running battles and violence. The Telegraph reported the following day that the Queen had expressed concern at the televised spectacle. After the third cavalry charge, calm returned and some miners drifted off to buy drinks on what was by then a hot, thirsty day. ( Miners work in that temperature all the time, so we know about keeping hydrated, Kitchen jokes.) The police, many helmeted and in heavy uniform, had less opportunity for refreshment, which may have made them touchier. As tensions mounted again, Anthony Clement, the assistant chief constable in charge of operations, fatefully ordered the clearance of the field. Three decades later, it is not clear why he did, rather than ordering the police to hold the line and soak up the pressure. Strike thinks the move was provoked by a group nearby setting fire to a riot shield they had captured. I was talking to a journalist from Socialist Worker and he said, Norman, your trousers are on fire. The stubble was very dry and flames had spread. As I bent down to put them out, the line parted again. I can still see the horses trotting out and breaking into a gallop. The police chased hundreds of miners up the field towards a railway embankment and bridge leading into the village. A horse was coming after me, and I heard the swish of a truncheon, Strike recalls. I leapt over a wall at the top and rolled down the embankment. Ken Capstick, who later became the Yorkshire NUM s vice-president, ran across the bridge with his son and into a supermarket. God knows what the shoppers thought when the miners invaded for shelter, he says. A mounted officer leans out to strike Lesley Boulton John Harris/Reportdigital.co.uk Events were now spiralling out of control. The police were far from the coking plant, facing hundreds of frightened, angry miners. Scargill was injured and taken to hospital, claiming to have been struck on the head by a riot shield (police said he had fallen over). Some strikers built barricades, and a car was dragged across the road by the bridge and set on fire. The stone and brick throwing intensified. Finally, Clement ordered a charge of mounted police into Orgreave village itself. An iconic photograph of Orgreave was taken there: Lesley Boulton, from the Sheffield Women Against Pit Closures group, raising her arm as a mounted officer leans out to strike her with a long baton. I remember seeing one man run up a fire escape at the side of the supermarket, and a police horse trying to chase him up it, says Strike. There might have been some stones thrown, but come on. [The police] were armed from head to toe, and it was our lads who got their heads beaten. Mike McColgan, legal adviser to the Orgreave campaign, was then a trainee solicitor in Sheffield and knew Gareth Peirce, a human rights lawyer who had represented striking miners. Gareth phoned and said, Oh, Mike, I wonder if you could come over to Rotherham? We ve got 71 clients in custody. There were six to eight to a cell and it was boiling hot. Horne, who had been arrested in a picket near the coking plant gates, remembers being taken to a courtyard at a Sheffield police station, and finding a group of injured miners. They were in a very bad way, bleeding from their heads and some with broken legs. Most injuries were on the backs of their heads, as if they had been running away. The best we could do was bandage them with T-shirts. The 1985 riot trial ended with the prosecution withdrawing its case after Clement faced tough cross-examination on his version of events, and police statements about individual arrests were found to have many similar phrases. Charges against other miners were dropped and South Yorkshire police paid 525,000 compensation and legal costs in a settlement. Batons were used without compunction on that day and caused inordinate injuries, says Michael Mansfield, a defence barrister at that trial. Yet not a single police officer has been disciplined or prosecuted. Kevin Horne, former miner: ‘I would like people to start respecting the police again. We ve got to give them a chance to make a fresh start David Severn South Yorkshire Police has declared itself open to an Orgreave inquiry. Dave Jones, appointed interim chief constable after the Hillsborough inquest, says he would welcome an appropriate independent assessment . Until now, the nearest to an inquiry was a scoping exercise last year by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which decided not to conduct a full investigation, partly because of the passage of time making it impossible to pursue allegations of assault. The police conduct is not the only source of resentment; there was also the conduct of the media, especially the BBC. Although Fleet Street newspapers such as the Mail tended to take the government s side, public service broadcasters were supposed to be balanced. The BBC s 5.40pm news bulletin on the day did not have the same footage as ITV of police hitting miners and Alan Protheroe, the BBC s assistant director-general, told an internal meeting later in the week that he thought it might not have been wholly impartial . Another accusation first noted in the same meeting has steadily escalated over the years: that the BBC reversed the footage deliberately or accidentally to give the impression that police had attacked miners before the latter responded with stone-throwing. The late Tony Benn, MP for the mining constituency of Chesterfield, told parliament near the end of the strike that, I know from BBC editors who took part in that bulletin that there were three cavalry charges before a single stone was thrown. Barbara Jackson, secretary of the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign: It was a shock to see a government could treat its own people like that David Severn This version of history is clearly untrue no one I talked to who was there on June 18 argues that. Some, including Kitchen, make a lesser claim: that miners threw stones only after the first mounted advance. Even this appears quite unlikely. Howard Giles, a historical re-enactment specialist who in 2001 worked with the artist Jeremy Deller on his reconstruction of the battle of Orgreave in 2001 (an event involving 800 miners, police and volunteers) believes it is inaccurate. The miners were standing around, it was quite good-natured and there was a bit of football and banter between lines. Then the stones started hitting, the police brought in long shields, and it started to turn nasty, says Giles, who interviewed many participants on both sides. Whoever threw those stones set off a battle that the vast majority of the police and miners did not want. In 1991 the NUM s The Miner newspaper reported one BBC manager admitting in a letter that an editor inadvertently reversed one sequence, but the correspondence has since been lost. I am not sure that I have ever got to the bottom of that, says Tony Harcup, a senior lecturer in journalism at Sheffield University who investigated the affair. The BBC has never officially conceded it and there were so many advances and counter-attacks that it is not even clear what the missing letter meant. ‘Largely a museum now’: union history at the NUM headquarters David Severn There is a danger of replacing one myth that the battle of Orgreave was entirely the striking miners fault with the equal and opposite myth that they were victims of wholly unprovoked aggression. A more plausible history is that occasional stone throwing in the early stages, such as I witnessed on May 29, triggered a police response that passed through choreographed stages of escalation to violent, chaotic loss of control. Clifford Stott, a professor of social psychology at Keele University, has studied other examples of public demonstrations that turned violent. There is often a tendency to focus on who started it, but it is really in the interaction of both sides, he says. Often, it s the outcome of what is essentially police ineptitude. Senior commanders attempt to disperse the crowd but they are not really in control. Units start to act independently as they get embedded in hostile conflicts of their own creation. For the Orgreave campaigners, ineptitude is an insufficient explanation. They point to how police guided miners there while turning them away from other sites. If the police and the government didn t want June 18 to happen, all they had to do was put road blocks in place, says Barbara Jackson. It was a set-up and a showdown. This is unfinished business because it is so close to us. The miners are convinced that there is one rule of law for them and another for other people. Chris Kitchen, general secretary, NUM: ‘The police couldn t have been more helpful beforehand. With hindsight, that was a good reason to say, Hang on, we ll go somewhere else David Severn The psychological impact of the strike has lingered longer than most physical injuries. Many miners felt betrayed not just by police actions but how the story was told. Nick Jones, industrial correspondent for BBC radio at the time, partly agrees. There was no doubt the strike was seen as a threat to democracy, and I think I ended up becoming a sort of cheerleader for the return to work. I reported on a narrative that suited the establishment. In one respect, Jones thinks Orgreave would be impossible today. At Orgreave as with other confrontations, the media tended to be behind police lines or at the edge of the action. There are very few press pictures [in the middle], which is why the image of Lesley Boulton is so memorable. Today, everyone has a camera in his or her phone. There would be so much material that it would be impossible for the police to get away with what they did. The Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre by the Orgreave site is an encouraging example of what was often promised to regenerate industrial areas but too rarely delivered. It is run by Sheffield University in partnership with aerospace and high technology manufacturers including Boeing, Airbus and Rolls-Royce. It researches techniques such as how to make an aero engine s titanium shell with less waste. From six employees in 2012, the centre has grown to 530 and expects to double that. David Severn Three years ago, it opened a training centre at which 350 apprentices are being taught to work in such companies. They join at 16 and study for four years, during which they are paid between 7,000 and 12,000 a year. With the history of this area, a number of them are earning the only income in their families, says Colin Sirett, chief executive of the AMRC. It is very humbling to hear the challenges they ve faced. The last miners jobs vanished from Yorkshire last December when the Kellingley deep mine closed [3] with the loss of 450 jobs. The NUM, once one of the UK s largest and strongest unions has been reduced to a curiosity it has only 300 paying members. Kitchen works at the union s head office in Barnsley, where banners from all the old mines line its grand assembly hall. What was once an embodiment of a living industry is largely a museum. The union provides advice to retired miners on health conditions, often lung diseases such as pneumoconiosis, bronchitis and emphysema. Kitchen estimates that 60 per cent of former miners have health issues. With the benefit of hindsight, it was always going to be an uphill struggle, he says of the strike. It was never going to be won with the Tories in power because they were pursuing a plan to privatise the assets. Not because I m a miner, purely as a UK citizen, I think that s damaged everyone. Ken Capstick, former vice-president of the Yorkshire NUM: God knows what the shoppers thought when we invaded the supermarket for shelter David Severn I met Margaret Thatcher only once, two years after Orgreave, when I had left the Daily Mail for the Daily Telegraph (a year later, I would join the FT as a labour correspondent). The strike was beaten and she was nearing the peak of her powers as the economy expanded and unemployment fell. The biggest criticism she faced was that the north was being left behind as the south boomed then called the north-south divide . Thatcher was touring Manchester and came one evening to visit the Telegraph s new print plant. I was among a group of employees to whom she was introduced and she chatted to us for two minutes. The next day I covered her visit to a hospital, outside which a noisy crowd of protesters had gathered. What about the north-south divide, Mrs Thatcher? a journalist asked amid the din, as she stood with her back to me. There is no such thing, she declared. There are examples of enterprise around the country As she spoke, she turned and, incredibly, recognised me. such as the Telegraph plant in Trafford Park, she finished triumphantly to my face. It is how I remember the prime minister who defeated the miners defying shouts of protest and, in an instant, seizing the narrative. John Gapper is the FT s chief business commentator Photographs: David Severn; Martin Shakeshaft; John Harris/Reportdigital.co.uk References ^ Orgreave (next.ft.com) ^ Hillsborough (next.ft.com) ^ Kellingley deep mine closed (next.ft.com)