Being skint, it’s hard to be able to say thank-you properly. My daughter was given two bags crammed full of excellent clothes by her school-mate today. I wanted to buy a card, or some flowers for the mum, but have no money. Absolutely none.
I will have worked four days this week, but have nowhere near the money I need to pay rent, bills, or buy food and petrol. If I get called in to work tomorrow, I may not be able to go because the car is empty. I don’t have £3.98 to print a photograph from an online shop for my mum’s birthday. It’s proving hard to remain chirpy on the school drop-off, to maintain a professional demeanour where I work, or even to remain patient with my daughter.
Despite education and an innoculation of middle-class expectations, poor choices and naiive optimism have lead me to this point of bankruptcy. The picture of a modest house, tasteful living and a comfortable pension has receded beyond view. What remains is a bit bleak:
a pokey flat, not enough food, shabby clothes, constant reminders of money owed, well-meaning condescension in the playground and a daughter with limited opportunities.
Can I go on this trip? No.
Can I have a guinea-pig? No.
Can I have music lessons? No.
Can I buy something? No.
Rent is the hardest bill to meet. I won’t go into how much it is etc., but should explain that in order to move into a cheaper property, my landlord is charging me extra. Despite working hard, looking after my daughter and being honest, I cannot meet my obligations and am sinking rapidly further into debt.
I have no idea what to do. My parents have already lent me five hundred pounds, which I cannot repay. My girlfriend has offered to give me a loan, but how can I borrow more from loved ones when there is no clear way to repay? Tomorrow, I will go to the council and see what can be done. My bank statements and bills will spell out exactly how bad it is. I have a feeling that my case will not be unusual or surprising; there’s a lot of it about.
Look at a piece of archive footage from the Seventies, or the Eighties and there’s a familiar tattiness about this country: a lot of litter about, a lot of queues. Men wearing unbranded blue jeans and thin t-shirts, sheepskin coats and Farahs. People smoking more, eating less nutritiously and exercising less. Most cars are second-hand and the paint-work is faded. Banks spent little on corporate branding, lending was frugal and greengrocers still existed. It didn’t seem shameful, but it was clear that most people didn’t have much money to spend.
We’re heading back to that place, or at least, I am.
When I consider the society I inhabit, where do I belong? The school-run, working as a supply teacher, driving in my car, food-shopping, holidays, in each of these, no money leads to difficulties. Most of my precious time seems to be spent swimming against the tide. Many people profit from my labour and it is hard to bring them all to mind. The letting agent that rents my house makes a tidy sum for little discernable work. The teaching agency that sends me to schools to cover sick teachers makes a lot for very little. The phone/ electricity/ gas/ water/ television companies all make their percentage. Once everyone else has been satisfied, there is little left.
I want my family to benefit from my work, not those who contractually oblige me to put them first. I want to buy unnecessary food sometimes, an occasional change of clothes, a book whilst out. I want to take my children to the seaside, camping, to the cinema and do what I consider to be normal things that people like me ought to do, but without excess money, it’s hard to join in.
It feels melodramatic to write something like the water is rising and the current is getting stronger, but, right now, it does feel as if I’m going under.