Tuesday 15 January 2019
Real tough men versus what currently passes for it
As a child I had opportunity to see the tail-end of a culture of real tough men - I mean the face working coal miners of Northumberland, such as my grandfather.
They toiled eight hours per day deep underground in 18" seams with a pickaxe and shovel, removing coal and rock (eight hours at the actual coal face - they were not paid for the 'travelling time' getting there and back).
These were smallish, wiry, bow-legged men of immense strength, stamina and toughness.
Very few could do this face-work - most who tried it failed and were reallocated to lighter but lesser-paid types of work.
And these miners were not just exempted-from, but forbidden to enlist for the military during the two world wars; because their work was essential. Indeed, some conscripts ('Bevan Boys') were sent to the mines instead of the army - but very few were able to do the work.
The contrast with the modern idea of a tough guy - the product of weight training, hormones and the tattoo artist - could not be greater.
In contrast with those miners, the modern tough guy looks like a Hollywood hero, a comic strip, or a member of The Village People. The one was calibrated against tons of coal shifted against time, the lash of hunger and the constant threat of disablement or death; the other by posing in front of a mirror.
The one was reality, the other a simulacrum based on fantasy.