Michael Higgins Reviews The Works by Paul Salveson
Paul Salveson has had a long association with railways and with politics, beginning as a temporary railway worker at Horwich Locomotive works in the 1970s, through to various senior rail industry roles. He has also published a life of Allen Clarke, the Bolton Lancashire Dialect writer and the workings of the Bolton Walt Whitman Society. He also has a PHD in Lancashire Dialect Literature.
So it is no surprise that The Works, a novel of the imaginary survival of the Horwich Locomotive Works in 1983, and beyond, has something for everyone who lived through the industrial strife of the 1980s.
But this novel has a twist. Though the real works closed down in 1983, this story has the workers form a co-operative to save it from British Rail and Thatcher years’ closures and privatisations. But here there is something for all shades here as trades union shenanigans, politics and human greed all give way to visions of ‘practical socialism’ ‘ state capitalism’ and ‘commercial co-operation’ as the Works re-invents itself as a locomotive builder in the new age of electricity and fuel cells and retro- trourist steam trains.
Not the least of the latter is the inviting Irwell Valley Steam Railway which comes into existence during the Works’ expansion into the 21st century. Along the way communists become capitalists, capitalists become climate wary and Lesbians, gay chaps, countless heteros, libertarians, socialists, Labour throwbacks and even good Tories mix with local churchfolk of all denominations to make the enterprise work. With a little Chinese investment and a view beyond the EU, and walk- on parts by the once young and upcoming MP Jeremy Corbin and much later on by Her Majesty the Queen and China’s premier, this novel has to be experienced to be believed.
And what would a Lancashire works be like if it did not have the annual beer fuelled trip to Blackpool illuminations and the Chinese love of tripe? There is pathos as well as humour, and it must be admitted occasional bad language. And some of it is in Lancashire Dialect too!. All in all this is a feel- good book that also teaches –all about boilers, steam gauges and foundries. And it ends before Coronavirus has threatened rail journeys in ways no one imagined.
As I said, thur’s summat fer aw i’ this book so get crackin’.