I’ve lived in the East End of London for coming up to nearly forty years now.
The city’s face has changed significantly since I first arrived.
As much as I’d like to promise you that ‘change’ is always something that is instantly noticeable – the truth is really quite the opposite and, as a result, a troubling concept.
Change is an insidious beast. For years it will work behind the scenes of your everyday life. You’ll assume that because you’re in the same job and you’re living in the same place, that your life, as you know it, is sedentary. An unmoving constant, a flatline on a graph, a calm sea. Of course, if this is the way you think, then you couldn’t be any more wrong.
Let me give you an example.
When my children were just starting school, in the early 90s, times were tough. I was a jobbing tradesman, still fresh faced and newly married. I’d struggled to get work for the past year or so, but with the economy the way it was, it looked like we all would have to tighten our belts for the foreseeable future.
Children are often more perceptive than we choose to think. It’s a common mistake of the older generations to assume that the thoughts of a child are free of all worries and doubts. I was given a reminder of this, on what was to be the most heart-breaking conversations with my oldest daughter, she was 8 at the time. We were just leaving the local Oxfam with a veritable treasure trove of clothes – enough to last her and her sister for at least the next six months. As we stepped out into the High Street, I remember her gazing at the glossy shops on either side of the tatty store we’d just left and turning to me with a puzzled expression on her face. I’ll never forget the words she asked me:
“Dad, are we poor?”
What do you do when you’re asked that question?
I’d never been a rich man, but it hurt me to think that my daughter might think less of herself for not being as wealthy as her class mates. Was she really that conscious of her surroundings? Of course she was. Thankfully, that was the last time that she asked me a question like that – but it didn’t stop me from thinking about it.
10 years later and we had all managed to come through the ordeal that was the first Financial Crisis relatively unscathed. Despite both my daughters transforming into anti-establishment, politically motivated young women – that day still stuck in my head and I still felt the need to buy them the things that I could not buy them when they were younger. I knew they were a little too old and testy for a trip to Disney Land, but there was one guilty pleasure that I knew they would still enjoy: clothes.
Although, ironically, both of them now did the majority of their shopping in charity shops, they still obsessed over finding the best deals and they were most excited when they discovered high-end fashion brands at low prices. Knowing this, I began to dote on them, at completely random intervals. Packages began arriving addressed to them: Monnalisa Clothes from Kathryn’s, Fresh Cream Cakes from Pattiserie Valerie and Tickets to Concerts.
Initially they were overjoyed; to be showered with unexpected gifts is a pleasant feeling after all. But, something strange happened after a couple of weeks. My daughters sat me down with serious expressions on their face. They told me that they appreciated all these gifts but that they didn’t want anymore. I’d raised them to be frugal and now they were starting to feel guilt-ridden that too much money was being spent on them. I would happily have kept on spending but their serious faces made me think again.