The poorest I’ve ever been

642 Things to write about #5

Goodness me, the poorest I’ve ever been…

I grew up in poverty. My father worked on farms. Ploughman was his job title, but he did far more. Animal husbandry. Crops. Managed staff. He was paid a pittance, his poverty wages supplemented by bags of potatoes and coal and the tenure of a series of damp, poky farm cottages that my mother somehow transformed into warm, cosy homes.

We knew we were poor, we couldn’t help but know it. But it didn’t scar us, too much.

There were times, when as a young single parent I struggled to stretch my weekly income to over the basics. My mother still laughs when she recalls my favourite cook book of the time, 101 Ways to Cook Mince, and there were nights when I couldn’t sleep for worry about how I was going to pay the electricity bill or buy new shoes for my growing boys.

I knew we were poor. But it didn’t scar us, too much.

And there have been times in recent years when, despite my husband and I both earning well above the average income, I struggled to pay my credit cards, or had to resort to using a credit card to pay for the essentials of life, and not just Jo Malone candles.

Like millions of others, including, I am sad to say, the last Labour government, I fell for the smooth talking marketing men who promised me, and the country, that we could enjoy never-ending growth simply by borrowing more.

Gordon Brown paid through the nose for much needed new schools and hospitals. I bought Prada handbags. I suppose that makes him a better person, but I was better dressed.

So even when I was richer than my father could have ever dreamed of, I knew I was really poor.

And now, five years after the world economy almost collapsed, thanks to the lies peddled by those smooth talking marketing men and my husband and I blew the last of our savings on a mid-life gap year, I am a freelancer.

Do I feel poor?

Well, I have no job security, and plan only three months ahead.

I have no savings (my premium bonds don’t really count).

And I haven’t been in Harvey Nicks for a very long time.

But I no longer feel poor. Because poverty is not having access to clean water. It’s having nothing to eat but maize porridge. It is being unable to treat your baby’s illness because you can’t afford to buy medicine.

It’s sleeping in a shop doorway. Its being forced to move out of your home because you have a spare bedroom. It’s switching off the heating in the winter because you can’t pay the gas bill.

I don’t feel rich either, despite those guilty Prada handbags hiding in the cupboard.

I feel alright. And it’s quite a nice place to be.

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