When we met for the 50th #DailyWritingChallenge zoom meeting, it was lovely to “meet” some of the faces behind the wonderful blogs that I read an appreciate. We all got to choose the themes for the week…I chose “Roots”.
Why? Because I wanted to write about the things that ground me and keep me upright, nourish me and the very things that give me the ability to grow and flower. The roots, on first glance, are never really seen, appreciated or acknowledged on an initial meeting. You are attracted by the flower, the scent, the fruit of the hard labour. As you begin to appreciate the flower you start to ask questions, find out about its growing conditions and how to look after it.
My roots are in the soil, in the dark. Hidden. For some of my adult life I’ve been happy at where they were. Happy that they were hidden. I have lived all of my life in the same place. My roots are firmly rooted in a village within the town of Bolton. I moved out for around three years ( university years – but not to uni but to a flat with my boyfriend). I worked a weekend job covering a 16 hour contract and worked Thursday evenings in a clothes shop. I grafted hard for my flat and to pay my way through Uni. I would often have discussions with others on my drama course, about class. They insisted that I belonged in the middle classes as I was being “educated” A label I quite flately refused to have hung around my neck.
I was working class, living life in a middle class world – struggling to decide if I was ashamed to talk of my roots or happy to shout about them from the roof tops. I found it hard to fit in.
My parents were both very intelligent people but were held back as youngsters, not through capability but through the ability to afford. My mum won a scholarship to Bolton Girls School. Her mum and stepdad couldn’t afford the uniform. She didn’t go. My dad went straight into the army, met my mum while on leave, got married and they had me. Opportunities cut short through no faults of their own. So when I passed my A levels and secured a place at Lancaster University, I don’t think my parents could contain their excitement. That’s your job as a parent isn’t it? To always give your children opportunities that you never had. My parents did this and a whole lot more.
I grew up on a council estate and my parents bought our house during the Thatcher years. They both worked very hard, my mum supporting my dad’s career in the mines and his desire to train as a method study engineer. My mum worked part-time at a shoe shop called shu-string and I was made to wear “Nicks trainers” as she got discount. She drove bangers– I remember one Renault car that was banana coloured just as started secondary school- even my mates politely refused offers of lifts.
I remember the things that impacted us as a family, despite my parents trying to shield me. The miners strike of 1984-1985 firmly etched in my mind- the recession of 1991/92. The poll tax. Seeing my parents struggle to meet mortgage payments, my parents losing their jobs. My parents setting up a car-boot stall selling reconditioned car radios- which they’d recovered from a factory skip, for a small price and reconditioned in my dad’s garage. Packing car radios for another supplier in our kitchen. Making ends meet. I saw it all. I was taught the cost of living and the value of what it meant. I earned pocket money for doing jobs to help my parents. I saved and I knew what it meant to work.
Just because I was at university, didn’t mean I had to leave all that behind. ” I am working class, I just hang out in a middle class world.” I insisted. I thought I could maintain my roots but sadly I began to cover them in dirt and hide them away. I am ashamed to write this because those years saw me stress so much about who I was- I wanted to live in a house like my friends… on a nice estate, with the four bedroom house, en-suite and downstairs toilet. I wanted the two holidays per year and 4×4 on the driveway, complete with the Next store-card and American Express Card. Forgive me for being stereotypical and I don’t mean it any way to offend but that was what I naively believed middle-classes to be- materialistic. That’s what I was taught growing up. The estate built in the 80’s around the corner from us was full of these types of houses. We nicknamed them the “Jam Butty Estate kids” as we believed they all ate jam butties for their tea because every penny went on paying the mortgage and car repayments, not food. It’s awful now to think of how judgemental I was… but I was a kid.
As I began to move in different social circles, gained my degree and my professional job, I really struggled with where I lived and the people I lived amongst. I’d never accept lifts home for fear of people judging the fact that I’d bought my parents house from them and still lived on the council estate on which I was raised. I lived amongst the honest hardworking folk, thieves and drug users… poverty and hardship oozed out of every garden and hung at every window.
I started teaching in a really tough school. Sat in the middle of an estate very similar to where I lived. That feeling of not fitting in hitting me hard everyday. Parents would challenge me and parents evening was so difficult. I remember telling one mum that her son was really bright and she should really encourage his love of English. She was initially very pleased until I said that I had visions of him going to university. She switched like that! ” Don’t be filling his head with fancy shit like that. I can’t afford to send him to la-de-dah places like that. I know your type- think you can change the world…you’ve got no idea!”
I sat there shell shocked with the stark realisation that I didn’t belong in the working class camp and it was so uncomfortable competing to be accepted in the Middle class camp too. I was in limbo. My roots were dying…shrivelling up and there was nothing I could do about it. Or could I?
I quickly realised that the reason for not belonging to either camp was because I was trying to be in both. There’s no point in saying I don’t belong in a class- I do. Some might argue I’m now in the lower middle class… or upper working class. I don’t know! What I do know is my roots and where I have come from. The things I have seen and the experiences life has given me has shaped who I am. I still live on my council estate in my parents old house that has very small mortgage, a box room and only one bathroom.
I still live amongst the hardworking folks, thieves and drug users. I live amongst people who have known me all my life. I’m the one who signs the passport applications, because the doctor will charge them- I’m the one people come to to explain letters they’ve received but don’t understand. I’m the one who has kids knocking on the door for a plaster when they’ve cut themselves. Why? Because I’m the teacher, who’s decent. Who is honest and tells you straight. Who is respectful and compassionate and who doesn’t judge. I have grown up in my community. A community that has supported me through my brother’s traumatic brain injury, my mother’s cancer and all the other hard things that life throws at you.
I might not be a prize winning rose at Cheltenham Flower Show… but I’m a flower. An award winning daisy amongst the people who know who I am and respect me for who I am. I’m part of a community that nourishes my roots, make me grateful for all that I have and a community that keeps me grounded. I realise my job is to keep on encouraging more daisies to grow. Showing people you can achieve and grow even in the poorest of soils, if you have good roots.