I could still have realistically avoided the world of work for a while but my friend, a head teacher, stepped in. Bending over backwards to accommodate me, she presented me with a year’s contract working just Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. That’s three days on and four days off as people seem to be clamouring to point out. Am I grateful for my friend’s efforts? Am I hell! I have sulked all week and it was left to a male friend to point out over the weekend that I have become rather spoiled. In
fact, he had the temerity to call me a prima donna.
The fact is I am spoiled. I always have been but I don’t think I’m the only one. I reckon I am a product of a generation that, whilst not the ‘having it all’ baby boom generation, is definitely the ‘me me me’ spoiled generation. We were the last generation to experience the full benefits of this county’s fleeting commitment to social reform, primarily through free education. That’s not the only perk that we enjoyed, however. We were shaped by the fact that we caught the last bit of the world in simpler times before everything got bigger, faster and more complicated.
My childhood was pretty typical, I think, in that my parents lived in the shadow of the Second World War. They had been babies during the actual war but their childhoods were defined by rationing and the physical and emotional hardship of a country left ravaged. Consequently, they were driven by a need to provide their own children with whatever luxuries they could afford. I can’t remember ever going without anything and grew up in a house of plenty.
I think my parents' motivation also stemmed from the knowledge that their own parents' experiences had been defined by poverty and the desire for a better life. My father’s parents arrived in England, as Irish immigrants, in the 1930s with just a pocket full of aspirations. My father was one of nine children and my mother one of five. There is no doubt that their childhood was very different to mine and, although they liked to remind me of that in my more frivolous moments, I suspect that deep down they were glad that I had no concept of hardship.
The problem with this philosophy is that it is often the hardship that gives birth to drive and ambition. Looking around, I can’t help but think that my entire generation are a bunch of feckless slackers but then maybe I am being unfair and speaking merely from my own experience. Education was always a priority as I was growing up. My mother had passed her 11plus exam to go to grammar school but her parents were unable to afford for her to go. This fact, more than anything else, shaped her views on
education and there were never any alternatives for my siblings and me other than to succeed at school and go to university.
We were educated in the glorious years of the early 80s when all you needed to get into university were the grades. Tuition was free and what’s more we were given generous grants which covered living expenses. When I was given a scholarship to study in the USA everything was paid for including the flights. My experience was the norm and the only thing that my generation of students had to worry about was maintaining the grades. Compare that to young people now, who not only have to fight for
places at university, but are then saddled with debts that could potentially last them a life time.
We also grew up at a time when things were far simpler. There probably wasn’t an abundance of money about but life was smaller then and needs basic. Feminism hadn’t quite reached our neighbourhood, where everybody’s mum stayed at home, and we never questioned the idea that they might want more. As far as we were concerned, mums existed to keep everything ticking over at home and basically address our every need. The fact is though that all those mums drummed education into their own daughters which in hindsight speaks volumes. How many hopes and dreams must have been snuffed out in those heat filled kitchens?
My generation came of age at a time when the world seemed to be opening up mainly because air travel became more accessible. We travelled in a way that previous generations had been unable to. It was a short burst of freedom before any idea of security or the tourist industry had fully developed. Everything was unsophisticated, even those glitzy metropolises like Paris and New York were mostly seedy because they hadn’t yet realised how much money was to be made by scrubbing up and appealing to the kind of tourists who want everything just so.
Looking back, I think my parents’generation were denied the opportunity to fulfil their ambitions and so they impressed them onto their children instead. My generation, who lived out our parents’dreams without having to strive or fight for them. If we consider
then the mess we are in now, with a collective mindset that seems to demand instant gratification as a birthright, we have to ask did it all start with us? Have we had it too easy? I recently read an article by a WW2 veteran who caused something of a furore when, whilst despairing at the antics of modern society, said every generation needs a war to toughen them up. While I wouldn’t go that far, it’s not hard to see where he is coming from.
I don’t have any answers I’m afraid and maybe I am not even a good representation of a generation. All I know is that when I go to work tomorrow I intend to show a little gratitude. I may even summon a smile the next time someone feels the need to point out the upside of three days on four days off. I’m not making any promises though.