Photo: Danny McL
I often think that my childhood and teenage years has helped me live a simple, frugal lifestyle.
There wasn’t much money around when I was young and most of what we had available Dad spent on beer. I know it isn't nice to speak badly of one's own family but he was an alcoholic (he's now very ill and senile) and very selfish with it. Mum was given a pittance for housekeeping and out of that she was expected to buy both her own and my clothes and anything else that we needed, too. She supplemented it buy taking an early morning cleaning job and doing child minding during the day but considering she also had to be pay the electricity bill, making ends meet was a constant struggle.
Dad didn’t care much about the house, he spent most of his time either at work or out drinking so why would he? It was never modernised so there was no hot water, no indoor loo, certainly no bathroom and the only heating was a simple gas fire in the living room. We boiled kettles and pans for hot water, the outside privy didn’t flush so we’d have to carry a bucket of water round with us whenever we wanted to go and bath day meant dragging a heavy tin bath into the house, filling it from umpteen kettles and pans and then dragging it full out into the back yard again, where it was emptied down the drain and hung back on its nail. There was no luxury in our house, believe me. The bedrooms were freezing but Mum couldn’t afford to keep electric heaters on; the bill was just about as much as she could handle as it was. Most of my clothes were hand-me-downs or things my nan sewed for me. She also sewed most of Mum’s clothes. She wasn’t very good so they were all in the same style.
As I grew into a teenager I obviously wanted to fit in with my peers more. I didn’t want to wear horrible crimplene dresses – I wanted 70s fashions. When I think back now, that must have put terrible pressure on Mum but she got me what she could and I never felt I was any worse dressed than my friends. In fact, I was more fashionable than some. I still didn’t have the latest gadgets they had though, but that didn’t bother me. And while their families all had phones, I didn’t consider it as hardship to walk to the phone box.
I think if I’d been given everything, or even most of what I’d wanted, I would never have learned to appreciate the small things. As it was, if Mum came home with a record she knew I’d wanted or a pair of fancy tights, it was like Christmas all over again!
We always had holidays, though. For all Dad's faults, he did make sure the family got away to the coast once a year. We also spent many a Sunday afternoon picnicing in Kent because Mum felt it was important to get me out of the polluted air of London's East End and let me breathe in some fresh stuff instead.
Regardless of how little we had, I have lots of happy memories from my childhood and Mum and I often have a good laugh on the phone reminiscing about the 'old days'. I had my mother's time and love, I had wonderful grandparents, and we lived in a street with a real sense of community. No amount of 'things' could ever have replaced those.
Debi put hit the nail on the head in the comments section of a post I wrote a while ago. She said “happiness is wanting what you have, not having what you want”. What a wise lady :-)
Sharon J xx