A Tory Childhood.
I was born on August 12th 1978. Less than a year later, on 4th May 1979, Margaret Thatcher won the general election and became the Prime Minister. I am the youngest of two children, my brother was born 3 years earlier.
My first memory of hardship was when I was about 2 years old. I remember a settee being carried though the house. It was light brown and there was a big rip in one of the arms. It had orange cushions on it with big white flowers printed onto the material. My brother sat poking at the ripped arm while I sat playing with one of the cushions. When the people carrying it had gone mum sat us both down and asked us if we liked it. Of course we did, it was new. It was then that mum explained it wasn’t really new, her friend had given it us because our old settee was knackered and she didn’t need her old one anymore. I remember feeling a bit confused but I was two, so quickly forgot about it.
In the years that followed there were many more instances like that, and as I grew older I understood a bit more. Christmas was hard for my parents. In good time they hired a video player and we were allowed to have 1 video each for the day. My wiley old dad always managed persuade me that My Little Pony was a bad choice and I should pick Monty Python instead, every year lol In bad times we got 1 present each from mum and dad, and relatives who could afford to bulked up our presents with colouring books, crayons and of course the free cup from school. I remember vividly my mum crying quietly on christmas day because she couldn’t get us what she wanted to, or couldn’t lay on a proper Christmas dinner for us. We were more than happy but mum was devastated.
At school in the Thatcher years I was taught in leaky classrooms. Pots and buckets were brought out every time it rained to catch the water that came in from the roof. We accepted it as normal, we knew nothing else. We had numerous days off when the heating failed and I remember being taught wearing my coat and gloves because it was so cold at one point. We shared textbooks between three of us. All of my uniform was second hand.
At some point, I don’t remember exactly when, my dad started roofing to supplement our income. He was already working long hours as a tooling engineer but it wasn’t enough to pay the mortgage, the bills and keep food on the table. As a result we rarely saw dad. He was up and gone before we woke up and very rarely got home before we went to bed. The roofing work meant he was working weekends too, just to make ends meet. I was told years later that his boss had tried to put him on short time but dad had argued with him and got quite angry, demanding he was given a full week or he would walk, so he was given a 5 day week and we survived, just. Mum told me after I’d left home many years later that it took till I was 15 for her to pay the gas bill on time. Dad ‘jumped ship’ from a few firms just before they went bust. I remember us driving around in the evening the day before dad handed his notice in more than once, dad calling on old work mates, old bosses, old contacts looking for a new job because he knew if he stayed where he was he’d be unemployed pretty soon. That worried me even from a young age.
Dad told mum which friends had lost their houses, which friends had lost their jobs and who was managing to scrape through. Dad told me about the miners striking and he was so glad he could give something to help them out of the little that we had. I had a friend in primary school who’s dad was a miner, we thought he was a hero!
My mum conned me for years that a bacon sandwich was a deluxe meal. We had a bacon sandwich every Friday for dinner. We thought we were living in luxury on Fridays. Clever mum lol She also taught me about handing clothes down. All of the clothes I grew out of were handed down to her friend who has two girls, and to my three girl cousins. It was a bit strange seeing photos of my cousins wearing my old clothes.
Our TV was a black & white tv, the ones where you turn the knob on the front to tune it into the programme you want to watch and I remember our living room carpet was pretty threadbare. Mum and dad didn’t decorate untill I was 8 years old. I take it for granted that I can afford to buy some paint and brushes and decorate a room, they couldn’t.
I’ll fast forward to my teenage years. My brother, being 3 years older than me, left school when I was in my 2nd year of high school. I assumed he’d get a job, he assumed he’d get a job, we all did. He wanted to be a mechanic. He was sent to do a YTS scheme at a garage that shall remain unnamed. The placement was for 3 months and he loved being there. He had been promised a job at the end of the three months if he worked hard. he worked his socks off and bore me to tears with his constant chatter about it. At the end of the first placement he was told the job wasn’t available and to go to the job centre again.
My brother did three YTS placements! He didn’t get a job with any of them! My dad kicked off at the last garage he was placed in, on a busy afternoon, in front of a queue of customers. He was so angry that his son had been exploited as cheap labour, had his hopes built up 3 times, worked his arse off as if he was being paid a full wage, only to be told to bugger off after 3 months. Dad told the boss my brother wouldn’t be going back, ever, and all those customers were told about cheap labour, how soul destroying it was, how my brother was devastated every time he was sent away with nothing. I remember hearing my brother crying in his room at night, sobbing his heart out because all he wanted was a proper job, some self worth, some appreciation, something other than being thrown on the scrap heap! Margaret Thatcher didn’t hear that, she didn’t see my brother depressed at 17, destroyed. After dad kicked off he got my brother into the firm he was working at. They trained him to work the machines and my brother did really well until he left. He’s now a sealer. He seals floors, worktops, ceilings, anything you can think of that needs sealing he can do it, and he gets a pretty good wage out of it too. That’s a poke in the eye for the Tories. A kid who left school with nothing, left to wallow on the scrapheap, now earns a tidy wage and has his own house! Anyone who thinks the current workfare scheme is all good and will help people, young, middle aged and old, have a sense of self worth, pride and get them ‘into the habit of work’ is seriously deluded. For every lucky person who actually gets a proper job out of it there are so many that won’t, and will be sent on a circular treadmill that goes nowhere. Anyone who disagrees should go and work for JSA for 6 months and see how fabulous they think it is then. My brother was lucky, he’s the exception.
I have two cousins, Chris and David. They’re about 15 years older than me. They were unemployed and claiming dole in the 80’s, desperate for work. They were told by the jobcentre that they could either go on a YTS scheme or sign off. No compromise, that was it. Lucky for them they still lived at home, not so lucky for my auntie Janet. One year auntie Janet and my mum went halves on a turkey, that was the only way they could afford it. The next year auntie Janet cried on Christmas eve. She couldn’t pay the bills, she had 3 boys living at home and couldn’t make ends meet. My mum cried too because she couldn’t help, we were skint aswell. No kid should have to see that, but plenty will this year.
When I was in high school, in my History class we must have had the oldest desks in the school. The graffiti on them was decades old! When I explain that to my 12 year old she’s amazed. They have almost new desks in her school, no leaky roof and they don’t share textbooks between 3 of them, not yet anyway.
I left school with good GCSE results. I went to 6th form and studied Business Studies, Psychology and IT. Psychology was the subject I was most interested in. Sadly I dropped out after a year and a half. I tried working in an office as an office junior but after a week I was let go. My face didn’t fit. I am rather common and didn’t enjoy it all. I felt like the odd one out. I spent a month claiming what was called a bridging allowance then until I got bored and decided to find a job. The lady at the careers place wanted me to work in a shop. I wasn’t interested in that at all.
I started work in a warehouse and the rest is history. I’ve only ever worked in warehouses.
When I ask my 12 year old what she wants to do when she leaves school she tells me she wants to be a fashion designer. She wants to go to college and university. She wants to do something amazing with her life and that makes me a very proud mum. She understands that there is no EMA for her, there are enormous tuition fees and it’s going to be hard for all of us, but she’s determined to prove the Tories wrong. She, and every child like her, is worth every penny of assistance they should receive, the deserve everything the Tories have taken away from them. Why on earth would anyone not want to invest in the future? She may be the product of a ‘broken home’ but that has no bearing on her ability, in fact, I believe it has strengthened her ability. She’s a strong person, extremely talented and will go far. Why do Tory governments insist on making it so bloody hard for our children to succeed in this world?
I do not want my children to have the same kind of childhood I had. I don’t want them to end up working as a packer either, they should be allowed to realise their ambitions regardless of their financial background.
My daughter sat with me and watched the EMA vote in the commons on TV. When she heard the results she turned to me and said “we’d better start saving now mum because I am going to college and university whether they like it or not!” I held back my tears and said “you tell ‘em!” She makes me very proud.
So what’s the moral of this blog?
Tory governments wrecked my childhood, almost destroyed my brother and gave my parents years of worry and anguish. Unless you want another generation to suffer the way those of us old enough to remember the Tories did, stand up, unite, fight them and change the way this country works! Give our kids a future, give them better than we had and get these poisonous Tories and the poisonous system they thrive on OUT! And keep it OUT!