one good excerpt: Caitlin Moran in Moranthology
I grew up in a family that had very little money for rather a long time.
Luckily, by the time that I began to become even remotely aware of this fact, we had more money than before and I didn’t have to walk around with rain in my limbs every day of my life.
We were never — not by any Western means — well to do, but I grew up in PNG around extreme third-world poverty — skinny, mangy dogs by the roadside, toddlers with swollen bellies from malnourishment sucking down Coke and Twisties beneath their snot-streaming noses, the scent of rot and decay everywhere — so wealth, to me, is relative.
Even as a student, scraping by on Youth Allowance and part-time jobs, I had it good. I mean, I had Youth Allowance and part-time jobs! I didn’t have to pay for my education up-front: I am paying for those degrees retrospectively. I was never naked, too broke to afford medication, or ridiculed because of my shanty house. I lived on nice streets, ate nice food, and wore coats bought new from department stores.
Today, my closet and my stomach are still full. But I know what it’s like to worry about money. I am at a stage of life wherein my peers are generally partnered up and in possession of property. They have lucrative jobs and go overseas every year on holiday.
I am a start-up, freelance writer.
I do not have or do these things.
Sometimes it gets me down. But seriously. Seriously.
Geez, I’m lucky.
This excerpt from Caitlin Moran’s Moranthology was both familiar and so foreign — a perfect kick up the pants for ever feeling sorry for myself… but also a gentle pat on the back for being where I am regardless of my parents’ bank account in 1984.
Allow me to be trite and sentimental for just one moment: this is a lucky country.
I know what it’s like to be poor. They took away the TV, and we cried.
We’ve recently heard a lot about the gulf between the rich and the poor – the difference between those with money and without.
Well, I’ve been poor, and I’ve been rich. When I was poor, I knew I was poor because we lived on benefits, slept on mattresses on the floor, and would share a Mars bar between ten for dessert.
Now I’m rich, I know I’m rich because I’ve got underfloor heating, and could afford to eat out at Pizza Express up to three times a week, if I so chose. I’m basically living the life of a billionaire. I am loaded.
So, having been a rich person and a poor person, what I notice is how similar they both are, really. There’s not that much difference at all. Everyone cheerfully plays the system they find themselves in.
In Wolverhampton, when you needed dodgy inspection papers for the car, an uncle’s mate would be given a tenner ‘for a pint’, and an exhaust pipe would magically appear out of somewhere — to the ultimate financial detriment of the garage it had been lifted from, but hey-ho.
Now I’m in London, friends of friends recommend good accountants who will ‘sort out’ your VAT problem for a pint-equivalent fee — to the ultimate economic detriment of the country, but hey-ho.
We’re all just monkeys using sticks to get grubs out of logs, really. However. There is one, massive difference between being rich and being poor, and it is this: when you are poor, you feel heavy. Heavy like your limbs are filled with water. Perhaps it is rain water — there is a lot more rain in your life, when you are poor. Rain that can’t be escaped in a cab. Rain that has to be stood in, until the bus comes. Rain that gets into cheap shoes and coats, and through old windows — often followed by cold, and then mildew. A little bit damp, a little bit dirty, a little bit cold — you are never at your best, or ready to shine. You always need something to pep you up: sugar, a cigarette, a new fast song on the radio.
But the heaviness is not really, of course, from the rain. The heaviness comes from the sclerosis of being broke. Because when you’re poor, nothing ever changes. Every idea you have for moving things on is quashed through there never being any money. You dream of a house with sky-blue walls; wearing a coat with red buttons; going out on a Saturday and walking by a river. Instead, you see the same crack in the same wall, push-start the same car down the same hill, and nothing ever changes, except for the worse: the things you originally had are now slowly wearing out — breaking under your fingertips, and left unreplaced.
This has the effect of making your limbs feel heavy; like you’re perpetually slightly drowning. You’re dragging ten years of non-progress behind you like a wheel-less cart. Perhaps there’s something out there you would be superlatively good at — something that would give you so much joy, you feel like you are flying. But you’ll never find out: the world is a shop and it is closed to your empty pockets, and you are standing still, heavy, in the dead centre of your life. You look around, and start to suspect you might not exist. After all, you appear not to be able to make an impression on the world — you can’t even change the colour of your front door. Twenty-six years, now; forty-two, and you’ve never even been to your neighbouring town – it’s too far away. And so you sit. You sit still. Because your limbs are heavy. They are full of rain.
If you’ve never been poor, I don’t think you could imagine what it’s like — simply because of the timescale. You could envision a day, maybe, or a year — but not a lifetime. Not generations of it, passed down like drizzle, or a blindness. Not how, if kids from a poor background achieve something, it’s while dragging this weight behind them. How it takes ten times the effort to get anywhere from a bad postcode.
My children can’t imagine it. They love playing at their Sylvanian Family rabbits being ‘poor’; they love the ingenuity of a sofa turning into a bed for five rabbits; of having only one thing to wear.
‘It’s all cosy,’ they say. ‘It’s all – little.’
I can see how if you were – say – a Coalition government consisting of public [in the British sense] school kids and millionaires, you could convince yourself that the poor are snug in their motor homes. That all they need to bridge the ‘gulf’ between them and the rich is for things to be less cosy. That making their life harder — withdrawing benefits and council housing — incentivises them in a way making life harder for the wealthy — imposing higher tax-rates — would apparently disincentives them.
But the last thing — the very last thing — anyone poor needs is for things to be harder. These limbs are full to bursting.
from pages 165–167
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