My parents were lucky. They grew up in families who survived the ravages of Hitler.
They may have lost relatives (and some in the war before too) and their parents may have lost many of the things they’d worked for between the wars, but when things went wrong or were just a bit trying they had to quickly learn to ‘just get on with it’.
It’s probably true that communities were stronger then. You could pop next door for a cup of sugar and you could usually find a shoulder to cry on but you had to be ‘strong’ and you had to ‘look after your own’. I can’t imagine how tough it was for them, but I heard some stories. Like the time my Nan had to run for her life across a railway line with a pram and a couple of toddlers while under fire. Or the time my Grandad got blown off his bike by a bomb. (He survived with a broken arm but got back on his bike anyway.) And then there was the post war trauma that my poor mother suffered for years into adulthood because she grew up on the South Coast of England where the German invasion was half expected at any moment.
After the war there was little to go around. If you had a roof over your head and food in the cupboard you were doing alright. God forbid that you dared want or hope for more than that. My parents had grown up on rations of egg substitute and tinned carrots. Occasionally in my early days I dared to turn my nose up at some of the things they’d got used to: “Eugh, not tinned carrots!” “You don’t know how lucky you are my girl! When I was your age…..!”
Well I didn’t know did I?! I was growing up in the sixties. Mum and Dad had managed to get a mortgage on a brand new little house on a brand new housing estate. We had loads of hiding places on the half-built estate to muck about in from dawn till dusk. If we felt brave we would cross the road and go to the meadows and play in the stream. We had bikes and telephone boxes and ice cream vans and the Corona lorry. We had school dinners and a school nurse and a library in a van. We had a brand new school with massive playing fields to get lost in. We had a proper NHS and a local cottage hospital. I had my tonsils out there. I got ice cream every day.
I didn’t know I was born.
In the 1980s I and my classmates had the chance of free further education. We weren’t going to have to leave school at 14, do an apprenticeship then go to night classes after a day’s work and do pub shifts at the weekends to pay for it all. If we passed our A Levels we were going to the brand new Polytechnic to get a degree! A degree! We could better ourselves; we could achieve even more. So, somehow without really trying, we became middle class teachers and electronic engineers. We landed decent jobs and bought our first flats.
Then in the 1990s we had our own kids. We moved to our first house and farmed the babies out to their grandparents while we tried to hold down our ever increasing workloads. It turned out that it wasn’t possible to give my kids everything that I’d had when I were growing up. We still felt working class but our kids had become middle class. They had stuff. They had daytime telly and Little Tykes and bouncy birthday castles. They had Pampers and Postman Pat and the Teletubbies. They had after school clubs and swimming lessons. But they couldn’t really play out in the streets with their mates from next door, or throw sticks at the dog down the road. They had to have play dates instead. Oh God, play dates! More ferrying about. In and out of their car seats stowed in the back of the executive Ford Sierra we worked so hard to pay for. My generation may have had it good but we just about burned ourselves out.
No wonder. All that pressure on high achieving grown ups who had learned as kids to ‘just get on with it’, suddenly finding that ‘just getting on with it’ doesn’t cut the mustard. We wanted more out of life. To be listened to.
And now I’m older, the kids have gone and tbh, I’m bloody tired. Everything seems worse when you’re tired. Stuff I stashed away, that I couldn’t talk about, sometimes rears right up like an angry, unbroken wild horse. I find myself at 55 years old raging with a fury that I can hardly express. The guilt and shame that I feel for daring to be angry at all are sometimes so overwhelming I don’t know what to do with myself. Except to cry in the shower where no one hears and tell myself over and over: Be grateful for what you’ve got and remember how lucky you are. Because my girl, you’re a child of the sixties.
This post also appears in ‘Dwell Time’ an arts publication for the Penistone Line Railway dwelltimepress.wordpress.com