Guest blogger Sarah Thoms discusses why she loved growing up poor…@sarahthoms14
I loved growing up poor – an odd thing to say perhaps – but I work in politics surrounded by the widest social spectrum and it makes you think about these things more than you may do in other professions. I grew up in a shipyard town in a house where Thatcher’s name was banned so it’s pretty obvious which side I bat for.
I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say this given that form they made me sign, but I will anyway. I advised the most senior politicians in the country, travelled all over the world and got checked out by Bill Clinton. I am so much more proud of the work I did while in government having grown up in a council estate in Fife on a diet of Findus cheese pancakes and beef olives because I fought and clawed my way to get there.
David Cameron talks about the Big Society in the most patronising condescending manner only possible from a man who has never had to check his bank balance and divide it by the days remaining until the end of the month. He preaches about communities joining together and helping each other out like this is a new phenomenon. He has no idea what has held normal working class communities together all these years. We didn’t hire a blue-sky thinking PR Company on a £20,000 a month retainer to come up with a fancy name for it. We just called it getting on with life and helping each other out.
I grew up around genuine grafters, men up and out at work before you were even up for school, women breaking their backs juggling a full time job and taking in washing and ironing and going to the schools and offices cleaning toilets. Neighbours helped each other out, whether it was lending £5 ’til Friday or whether it was looking after the kids for an hour. All of these things were just normal in our community.
Our flat was full of books with a mum who raised us on her own with spirit, guts and all the love that exists in the world pouring from her heart. Unlike some other kids from the estate, we were lucky. We didn’t have anything to run away from, we didn’t have to be out on the streets at night if we didn’t want to be. Our parents weren’t fighting, there was no alcohol or drug abuse so we were safe with this lady who taught us nothing is impossible.
I told her at 4 I wanted to be a hairdresser, she said ‘great’, at 6 it was an air hostess, she said ‘as long as I get some free tickets’, at 10 it was a hotel magnate, she said ‘as long as I get to stay for free’ at 14 it was Prime Minister, she said ‘I’m not sure about you moving all the way to London’.
Then at 16, realising being Prime Minister would be a rubbish job full of stress, I decided on Foreign Secretary. Mum said ‘Well as long as you remember to get enough sleep’. By the time I was 17 and had got through the works of Hunter S Thompson I decided on being a journalist, she just said “no drugs’.
I realised something important around this time, seeing other richer kids from my school whose parents got them work experience, and went on all these great adventure holidays to beef up their university applications chatting about their chances of heading to Oxbridge. I realised that everything I would get in life would be down to sheer hard graft with the support of my family and the inspiration from this poor community I grew up in.
So I set about a solid programme of work experience at a local paper and hospital radio while studying, setting up the school paper and radio station and working at my part time job. I took a gap year spent working, saving and getting more work experience with TV production companies, the BBC, local papers all gained by pestering them continuously until they said yes.
I did journalism at uni, and being an expert at being poor, was the richest student around. Have you any idea how many meals you can make with a tin of beans?
I made contacts right around the country while some of the others sat in the pub and the day after my last exam moved to England to sub-edit for the Press Association.
When I got my big girl job working for the government having worked so hard, having no money, looking at all the Oxbridge ‘fast streamers’ surrounding me, I felt better than them. I felt I had earned it more and I was very glad to have been poor growing up. I know that sounds terrible, and I’m sure they worked very hard too, but money gives you knowledge of where to look, where the doors are and who to speak to. Growing up in my council estate meant I went in blind and it made me love my ridiculous Scottish accent amongst a sea of middle class, middle aged plummy men.
Growing up poor makes you appreciate everything you have. Not to get all sentimental, but it makes you realise that things can be taken from you in a heartbeat, that most things are just ‘stuff’ we don’t really need. Growing up poor made me realise that we grew up genuinely and completely happy because our home was full of love, not money. Of course, I wouldn’t have complained if we’d had both, but hey!