Tuesday 17 February 2009

Are we poor?

‘Mum, are we poor?’
I fight my immediate urge which is to stare wild-eyed and shout in a loud despairing way, ‘Yes, of course we’re poor – absolutely on our uppers; outrageously, revoltingly, disgustingly poor’. Instead I pause. Possibly too long.
‘Mum? Did you hear me? Are we poor?’
‘Er, why do you ask?’ (Always deflect a tricky question by asking another question).
‘Well, it’s only that Henry said we were poor.’

Did he indeed? Having always held Henry high in my estimation (lovely manners, helps clear up, polite, always comes armed with a nice line in ‘thank you for having me’ gifts) his crown is now slipping wildly. Nasty little tyke, horrible child. No matter that he is clearly stating the obvious. After all, what child wouldn’t look around the Bonkers House in all its faded, damp-ridden desperation and not think ‘hard up verging on insolvent’? The parents have all given up asking the hopeful little question, ‘Building work finished yet?’ because the answer is patently no, mainly because all work ceased several months back. But then, nobody likes to be reminded of the truth, do they?
‘Er. No. Not really. No.’ Shakes head. Gets a grip. ‘Not at all. Well. It’s all relative, isn’t it? Obviously we’re not Poor poor – we have a house, enough food, clothes. In fact we’re really very lucky.’
James is not looking impressed.
‘But equally obviously we’re not rich. Certainly not Rich rich.’
‘As in we don’t have a huge swimming pool or a deer park.’
It really doesn’t help that James goes to the kind of school where children do indeed have huge swimming pools and tennis courts and, yes, even deer parks.
When James went to the village school you couldn't tell which of the mothers owned several thousand acres of moorland and a vast pile and which lived in a council house (they all dressed the same and the landrovers were equally beaten up). The 'deep' countryside is a huge leveller I think - people just got on with it. But his present school has a townie/suburban intake as well as 'real' countryside and also a lot of 'trophy' landowners and I am occasionally appalled at some of the oneupmanship behaviour.

The other week I overheard two fathers at the school gate having the most hilariously revolting conversation, obviously sizing each other up and doing the 'I've got more than you' thing. It seemed they only knew one another vaguely as they had to ascertain where each lived before launching into something like this.....

'Had much ice up your way?'

'Well, not too bad up at the house. The stables were pretty bad.' (ie, we have stables).

'Yes, ours too.' (so do we). 'Frozen pipe in the large barn too though the cottages seem OK.' (and we've got a big barn and cottages.)

'Yup, ours smashed and flooded while we were in Antigua.' (see, we were away somewhere hot and smart).

'Bad luck. But, yeah, don't have that problem in our place in Grand Bahama.' (I go to hot smart places too and I own a house there.)

'True, true (he he). Mind you, doesn't seem to happen at the place in Chamonix.' (OK, so I haven't got a house in Antigua but we do have our own ski chalet.)

'Pity the poor puggers who have to go out to work though.' (I don't)

'Yeah. Had to cancel my trip to New York - two miles of icy driveway? Just wasn't worth the risk.' (I go to important places and I've got a pucking long drive).....

'You want to get someone to do that for you..' (haven't you got staff?)

This was evaded (to my intense satisfaction) and then followed a long debate about the various bits of smart techology they had before their children finally emerged and shut them up. I suppose I should be grateful they didn’t get their willies out to compare size.
Anyhow, all this flurried through my head before I realised James was still waiting patiently. Er, where were we? Oh yes, deer parks.
‘But, hey, who wants a deer park when you’ve got the moor on your doorstep eh? We can see deer any day of the week….’

It clearly wasn't working so I fell back on that favourite old chestnut, ‘be grateful for what we’ve got’ and its sister platitude ‘we’ve got each other.’
James rolls his eyes.

But truly, we are lucky. In this consumer society, it’s all too easy to slip into that daft game of one-upmanship, that idea that life would be tickety-boo if only we had a better job, a smarter house, a new fancy car or HD/plasma/blu-ray/whatever TV. Try telling that to the poor souls in Australia who lost the lot. One chap stood out in that disaster. Piecing through the soot and ashes that was his home, he stood up, smiled and said something along the lines of, ‘It isn’t the end of the world. We’re all alive. We can rebuild.’ Of course they can. We are so spoiled, we forget that human life is very fragile and at any moment we are just a heartbeat away from death. That may sound dramatic but it’s true. This last year has been a shocker for funerals – not just the old who, you could argue, have Had Their Time but also the young. One moment riding along a lane; the next lying in the morgue. It’s gloomy and it’s depressing but it does ram home the thought that, truly, you can’t take it with you. Who gives a flying puck if you’ve got the perfect car, the pristine lawn, the latest gadget? In this mixed-up, muddled-up, shook-up world we should be darn well grateful to be alive, to have people we love and who love us. That should be enough. So, I re-evaluate my reply to James.

‘Actually, dear child, we are pretty darn rich. Rich as Croesus. Just slathered in riches.’
I then swallow him in a huge, all-enveloping hug and as he wriggles to get out, add quietly…

‘Er, you couldn’t lend me a fiver, could you?’

PS - apologies to purplecooers who may have a sense of deja vu on some of this post. I'm trying to haul myself back into blogging so a half-written post was a blessing.


Zoë said...

I can understand James question, I was a scholarship girl, at 7 went off to my first boarding school and hobknobbed it with all the rich and well connected; my brothers experiences as a scholarship boy were worse, Millfield and Winchester! I knew we were poor, but for some reason this never bothered me, back then people didn't seem to judge me too much either for being the poor family scholarship girl, it was more about whether I knew how to behave. I wonder if it is a sign of the times, and even young children have become aware of the Mammon driven society we have today? It is so sad.

Fennie said...

Oh yes - what a great post with so much sense (and fun!) It's only at my venerable age that I am learning the truth of the axiom - 'Count Your Blessings!' and also to review at the end of the day those things that have gone well and for which you are grateful.

Tessa said...

What does 'depatic' mean? (It's the word veri thing...)

Ah yes. School and rich pitches. An unpleasant side effect of a decent education, alas.

Gosh, it's lovely to see you back in the blogosphere! I've really missed your hilarious and pithy posts.

Maggie Christie said...

And what is inergy? (Word veri thing again. Yours is very creative.)

I adored that oneupmanship conversation. Utterly priceless! At least it makes the school run more entertaining.

One of H7's friends visited our falling down cottage the other day and clocked the new widescreen TV (which belongs to my credit card). "You must be rich!" she exclaimed. "Really?" said H7, surprised. "Are we?" Not rich in any way shape or form. Not even middling. Possibly foolishly blinkered. But at least we haven't been burned to a cinder.

Brilliant blog EJ - funny and thought-provoking.

Sorrow said...

Your writing!
or should i say blogging!
and of course you have snagged the most
wonderfully and delightfully banal of topics.
thrust the pen in and stirred up the shit.
lots of folks I know give lip service to what "real value is" and then have more shoes than sense.
but, it takes a great deal to be aware of what has the most importance, and be ok, striding along outside the cultural saccharine and Styrofoam ingenues.
so good to have you back!

Ladybird World Mother said...

Welcome back!! Brilliant post. Said through gritted teeth as I would have liked to have written it.
Loved the conversation between the dads. Get that a lot out at awful dinner parties... Have you been skiing again this year? (yiah) kind of thing. I remember Joanna Lumley in an interview once... she was talking about when her kid was young and she was a single mum blah blah, and she said that she wasn't poor in those days. Just skint. Such a difference. Poor is no house. Nothing. Skint is having stuff but not much money.
Am blabbering. Good to read such a fab post. You're damned good at this writing thing. Dammit. XXX

Irene said...

I am poor, but you can't tell by looking at me. I do it in style and with a stiff upper lip. I have just enough of what matters and nothing more, but I can't play oneupmanship. They'll leave me in the dust, though I don't care. I am my own classless society and find enough kindred spirits. Luckily, I don't have any kids now whom I have to buy iPods for and other technologies.

It's good to have you back.

Mopsa said...

What do you mean they didn't get their willies out? They did, they did!

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Glad you are back Jane. (I'm trying to get myself back in the saddle too.) Have also heard those conversations and also (in my weaker days) been sucked into them. Yes: we are as rich as Croesus in so many things...life, love and happiness. Less so with regard to the filthy lucre but, an (in)sane way, I am caring less and less about that...

Hadriana's Treasures said...

in an (in)sane way...

"tyke": absolutely adore that word for some reason...

Elizabeth Musgrave said...

Fabulous blog Jane. I have heard so many of these conversations - you have such an ear for it!
We weren't rich either.

Suffolkmum said...

Just saw you'd blogged - so nice to read you again. I've just launched myself back too - I felt like a kid who'd run away and come home. I can so empathise with this blog!

Anonymous said...

Great to see you back and brilliant willy waving competition!

In my experience school is also a leveller. I went somewhere they had families with staff/islands/money coming out fo their ears. But they weren't necessarily the cool/popular ones. Those were the girls who were sporty/musical/fun and came equally from all ranges of the spectrum. It was only as an adult that I really realised the differences between them.

And Ladybird World Mother has hit the nail on the head. We may be skint, but that isn't the same as being poor!

Lindsay said...

Good Post! I remember a very funny occasion when my father and I went to pick up my son from his prep school. The headmaster had his favourite parents, usually well-heeled and with double barrelled surnames. We were not one of those favoured few! My dad had recently had a hernia op and was wearing dungerees because of sore tummy. The headmaster was in the drive and saw Dad in the passenger seat and not bothering to look at me enquired whether we had arrived to cut down some trees!!!

walter and me said...

Hi Jane, great to see you posting, and with your usual wonderful observations that have me sitting here helpless with laughter. It's easy to think we're poor when in fact we have so much....
xx Diana

Anonymous said...

Could read that over and over again - it's priceless. But what I love about it is that you've now made me aware of 2 blokes who stand at our school gate and do exactly the same thing. I almost emailed you last week when I heard them, it was bizarre! But I thought you might think I need to get out more.

CJ xx

Pipany said...

Great to see you back Jane and chatting about the money thing which is our constant bane too. Harder when friends make the compatison to you isn't it? Shame some parents can't think before opening their mouths in front of their children and so introduce something that wouldn't have been considered by the child. Ah well, I'll be your peniless companion! xx

Cait O'Connor said...

Berludy fantastic Jane.
You have said it all.

Pondside said...

That was wonderful, Jane! The oneupmanship chat was right on.
I hope you'll be back on this page more often - I've missed your posts!

claire p said...

Your words were very timely. Got told today my dad may have cancer. So yes some things are worth more than money.

Norma Murray said...

I always feel so sorry for 'poor little rich kids' the only way they can go is down. If you start off humble the only way left to you is up. Riches are relative.
Great blog Jane.

Withy Brook said...

Lovely blog, Jane and I didn't mind the dejas vue - it bears reading more than once!
And what does lingsh mean?

Chris Stovell said...

I thoroughly enjoyed eavesdropping on the one-up-dads' conversation. Brilliant piece, Jane.

Yorkshire Pudding said...

Hi There!
I enjoyed this post. I don't have many philosophies but one I do apply is never to tell somebody what I do for a living and never to ask what they do upon first meeting. There are far more important things than work and wealth. It's nice to get to know somebody without those sort of references.

Faith said...

Great post Jane. What a shame isnt it when children lose their innocence and start looking at what material possessions they, their parents and everyone else has. Best wishes.

Kitty said...

'House finished yet?' is a constant question to us too. I just snort and say it will never be finished because just as we think we're getting there we notice we actually need to start again on some parts, it being so long since they were started they've already begun to fall apart.
I think we're in the same boat as you, not in the holiday-home-in-France league, but not in the poor house yet!

Cecil Cedric III said...

Arnold, Eton, Harrow, Lawrence House, Pius X. I went to many a prep school and it seems to have done me nought but harm. Not that I'm irretrievably snotty but rather distanced from the hoi polloi. Whenever the mundane or banal encroaches upon my life I drink, (recently blog), dance (after a fashion, we're not sure of which fashion. . . defo not ball room class), and eat junkfood 'til it hurts, play my drums (poorly) and dream of re taking up horse riding. Some may even call it a lifestyle.
Waiting for your next utterance with baited breath, even if no one reads my blog (hint hint). I'm sure James will survive his burgeoning questions for higher truth as you shall endure,



Cc x

Ps Melanie Philips is a battle-axe and often wrong, don't you think? Even when she (scarcely) has a point.

bayou said...

Hi Jane! So, NOW I can comment! Can you remember how long that is since I had to send you messages to say how much I enjoy your blogs?
We too, had this question coming up one day --- it does no harm it just makes us think. But there were no welly wearers in front of the school, though ;-)
I wonder what you do with Henry when you see him next ;-)?

Kimberly said...

Bravo *seashell clapping hangs and cheers to you, Jane!!! Oh this is fantastic. Ha! You bet, my teens over here in the USA hear/see this at their school. I can relate to this--oh gosh I sure can. xxx seashell

Kimberly said...

*clapping hands* LOL!! cold hands this am that cannot type without making spelling errors.

Sally Townsend said...

Good to see you back girl,further comment on the subject I will avoid !!


It's all relative, isn't it. I read in the guardian yesterday that the so-called "poverty line" for a family of two adults and two children was an income of something like £283.20 a week, after housing costs have been taken away. I rang up the Joseph Rowntree Foundation this morning just to check (well, it was the guardian) - and yes, it seemed to be more or less right. Which means we've been scuttling about somewhere below the the poverty line for the last six months. Of course we're not really poor. I think it's really a matter of perception. I'm afraid I really have no time for the w***ers who feel the need to go on about their second homes and huuuuuuge tracts of land.

Lane Mathias said...

Oooh - can soo relate to this.

And being skintypoor is probably preferably to being like those 'men' at the school gate:-)

pinkfairygran said...

I am reminded of my daughter-in-law (sort of, they're not married) who wants all designer labels for their new baby daughter, my granddaughter for whom I knitted pretty pastel jackets, vibrant coloured jackets, modern little clothes in a rainbow of colours, stripey socks, crocheted a shawl, a little poncho... all of which I discovered as son proudly showed off all the storage, were stuffed into a large airing cupboard containing bedlinens and towels, stuffed under older towels obviously not used, not good enough to be on show in their new home. In the childs nursery, a clothes rack full of little jackets, dresses and so on, none of which were the ones I made, and most of which had recognisable labels, like BABY GAP. I wouldn't mind if they could easily afford the darned things, but as I said, if they want to dress their child like every other, good luck to them. Me? I prefer a bit of individuality.

Milla said...

hoorah, Jane, you're back at the keyboard where you belong - and bask in all this love!

CAMILLA said...

Absolutely brilliant blog Jane, and oh yes, can completely agree with what you say, brings it all back to me now when I was Nanny to four over-privileged children moons ago.


Unknown said...

Totally bloody brilliant post!

Isn't this just what is so sick and sad about the consumerist societies we live in - all me me me and how much I've got compared to you - and it all sets up the next generation with some very confused and befuddled values.

As for the two plonkers at the school gate well, actually they were comparing virtual willies and the only reason they didn't haul the real things out was because they both knew full well that they'd be embarrassed in the manhood department - hence the need for all the other flash! I swear, each time I see a man in huge car behaving like a plonker on the road, I automatically assume he's from the teeny tiny willy brigade.

So, so glad to see you blogging again!

Calico Kate said...

Loved the school gate story Jane.
It is interesting how others perceive income, possessions, size of house etc. as the measurement of success. Not happiness, or a successful marriage, or happy well adjusted children with both parents at home, or a well maintained veg patch. When we moved into our current house, a ‘large’ bungalow, (that the government pays for if you know what I mean!!) folks in the pub thought we were loaded and had retired early (very early, I was only 36 when we moved here!), then they learned (from goodness knows where) that we rent it, we hadn’t bought it and boy did the attitudes change.
I agree with the PFG that to be ‘different’ is good but only now I have ‘grown up’. Oh how I wanted a wall to wall carpet (no flat screen tv’s or even computers to lust over) but we lived in a tall Victorian town house with large ‘rugs’ over (now I would say very nice) oak floorboards, I so wasn’t impressed!
Looking forward to reading more Jane.

Lois said...

Sometimes I wish for a natural disaster to come upon us in my neck of the woods. The anxious effort I have to make as a supposed grownup adult to keep all this stuff in proper perspective and not give into the desire to have a tantrum because I want what the 'jones' have, is just all too exhausting sometimes. A natural disaster, like an earthquake or a flood or a fire . . would level the playing field and certainly take my mind off the fact that my good sense and maturity has to work so hard telling myself to 'count my blessings', 'value my relationships' but my never dying foolish, immature self wants what 'they' have too. What a complete waste of time this contradiction inside of me is. Maybe when I am 60, 70 ? I will really believe what I tell my kids when they ask me, are we poor? Which would be exactly what you told yours. Maybe someday, I will truly be content.
Loved that you put words to this. It is a struggle.

Gwen Buchanan said...

All I'm going to say is... if you were not such a good writer I'd have more time to do other things!!!!!!

well ok then.... just one more thing
... We grew up poor and we never knew it.. I thought everybody had big holes in the bottom of their shoes filled with newspaper...

Minnie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Exmoorjane said...

Phildelm, hi.... I don't usually reply to comments on here as like to try to respond on the other person's blog but can't with you as, sadly, you don't have one. Wish you did. Without (I hope) sounding patronising I think it would be fabulous if you could blog.. You can clear write your socks off and your viewpoint is one that would be hugely valid to read. I do hope you take up the chllenge. It certainly sounds as if life has kicked you in the teeth but never give up. Amazing things can and do happen. Give life a chance; give yourself a second chance. Now I know that sounds flippant and it really isn't meant that way: please write, please blog - I for one would love to read more of your writing.
My very best wishes, Jane

martine said...

excellent morning for laughs today, just LOVED your recitation of the father's conversation.
thnaks Martine

Rachel Selby said...

44 comments! You're the richest person I know!
This post is hilarious and very true - people with health, homes, food, family and love are certainly rich.
I admit I gave up reading the comments about half way down but I love the Joanna Lumley quote - not poor just skint. That's me!

digressica said...

I remember asking my mum the same question. I was about 4 or 5, and actually I asked, "Are we rich or poor?". My mum replied, "Er... we're average." I was pretty happy with that.

I never felt rich growing up, but equally never felt poor. We owned our own house on a good block of land in a nice suburb, my brothers and sisters and I all went to music and sport lessons, got presents at birthdays and Christmas etc. Of course I realise now we were very fortunate really, compared to how a lot of people in the world live.

It was only when I moved to the UK when I was 22 that I had any concept of the fact that I came from a "working class" family. The class thing is SO present in Britain, it really surprised me to be honest. It's never seemed terribly important in Australia.

That conversation between the two dads at the school gate is BRILLIANT. Absolutely hilarious.