My Nana had her share of tragedy and difficulty. She contracted Meningitis early into her marriage and was told she may never have children. This made my mother’s birth all the more special but she then lost a child before having my uncle. My grandfather uprooted the family and moved them from the South she knew so well and where her family were to Yorkshire, a county she found cold and frightening. But she made a home and ended up living out her days on the outskirts of the Dales. She raised her children and then in part my brother and I, for many of my childhood memories are set against the Yorkshire Dales with my Grandparents taking us on picnics by a certain stretch of river with their dog, our dog, Sophie.
My Nana had a certain way of pursing her lips when she disapproved of something. Ever the stoic, she bore her lost baby and difficult early years up North, but she gave herself away with a momentary pursing of lips before letting forth a generosity of spirit I have never seen rivalled (although my mother reminds me more of her every time I see her, something that gives me hope for my own personality over the coming years). Still, I wonder how she’d have reacted to the student demonstrations this week.
While I come from a privileged background, we do not have a history of wealth. When my Nana and Grandad were first married they didn’t have a bathroom. My Grandad would haul a tin bath from the yard up to their flat to be filled painstakingly with buckets of water. He was the eldest of four boys and a sister and was told in no uncertain terms that his father might possibly send one son to university but that it would not be him for he was not sufficiently intelligent. My Grandfather went on to enjoy great success in his career. He was a self made man. My father was born into a Lancashire farming family where money was tight until my early childhood where the farmland was sold for real estate. Notably bright, my father did well at his Grammar school and went on to do two degrees. He worked in sales for a number of years before starting his own company. He was a self made man.
Privileged I may be but I am very aware of that and have always experienced gratitude. I grew up with stories such as the one where my paternal grandparents’ calves inexplicably died one year. There was no governmental support, the calves all died and they were really really scared. Most of their money was tied up in those animals and they all died.
We don’t live like that today. We don’t see holes where our neighbours used to live. We don’t secretly slaughter a runty piglet so the family can eat meat (my paternal grandfather was in charge of stifling its squeal). We don’t start married life stockpiling jam as my Granny did under instruction from our mothers that this one’s going to be worse for rationing lass. We don’t join queues without knowing what they’re for but knowing if it’s food we’ll happily queue all day to feed our kids whilst our men are all at war.
I’m privileged not just because I grew up in big houses with riding lessons at the weekend and a foreign holiday every summer, I’m privileged because those that gave their lives at war allowed my family the chance to build their world. Today I appreciate that and I appreciate the service men and women still working for my freedom. I think it’s partly my Grandparents’ stories and partly my travelling experience (the landmines that are still in Cambodia break my heart) but mostly it’s because I take time to stop and appreciate how lucky we all are.
The fiancé and I are in the process of trying to buy a property that we’ll transform into a gorgeous five-bedroom home. We want to fill it with the noise and chaos of his boys and later add a baby of our own. We want dogs and cats and chickens and towering firs and juicy turkeys at Christmas and barbecues and fairy lit parties that stretch late into summer evenings. Friends and family and food. Music lessons and homework and teenage angst. While I may not agree with the governments that go to war, the people fighting for my chance to build my dream life humble me with gratitude.
The reason I’m so grateful is that I don’t feel that I’m entitled to any of this. I am not rolling my eyes at these students because I have had my heavily subsidised education. I’m rolling them because I know how blessed I was. There are men and women giving their lives for the idea of a world where people are safe and able to pursue freedom and happiness. If you have the chance to go to university you are so very lucky. Today I heard a man giving his opinion on plans to make the long term unemployed do community service. He argued we aren’t all cut out to move bricks. Actual disability aside, of course we are! That the fiancé and I are both managers that sit in front of computers for the most of each working day doesn’t negate the fact we’re healthy people capable of manual labour. Our skills may be best suited to accounting and marketing but we can both move bricks.
So remember. Not just the men and women that sacrifice their lives for us but that everything is a gift. Any kind of welfare state is a gift. Before complaining that your “entitlement” is being cut, think about what entitles you to such things and perhaps be a little less quick to complain and appreciate how good you have it.
And if you can’t do that then at least chuck a fiver in when you buy a poppy.