By Mark Salad.
The photograph is my place of birth, the world I was born into. It was rough, depressing and squalid. It was a slum. It was already better than my parent’s world. My father – orphaned in his teens – watched his mother die of cancer screaming on the kitchen table. No money meant no doctor, no hospital, no painkillers. There’s precious little of that “cinema working class stoicism and nobility” here – my father grew up into a troubled violent alcoholic. Life expectancy was such that I never met a grandparent.
Luck and some level of determination enabled my parents to get out of this place. Moving just two or three miles was a different world with things called gardens, where the default state wasn’t filth. Eventually, at a cost, we ended up as a working class family in a suburban middle class life. The changes bought a few years on the cycle – I was in my early 20s when my parents died. They died in hospitals, being cared for by trained staff and receiving medications that made their passing less painful. Quantifiable improvements.
The state paid for my education – in full – had it been any other way it would likely have been curtailed earlier. The education guaranteed nothing, but afforded opportunity to put more distance between myself and where I started.
I’m middle class now, dont’cha know – shopped at Waitrose and everything.
All this has happened across two generations. My grandparents were Egyptian, Irish, German and English – mostly migrants – the world that I was born into was already an improvement for them.
So, back to this phrase – heard on both sides:
“I want my country back.”
I don’t want my country back. My country was shit. I want something better than that. For everyone.
The advance of liberalism is infuriatingly slow, but it does happen – incrementally. Even with the occasional setback things are so much better than they were in our supposed golden age.
When the incredibly affluent talk about “taking our country back” the reality of that for the non-affluent is a massive step backward to a time of few rights, no protections and no safety net – that’s not a place you are in any way equipped to survive, let alone thrive.
Drop the nostalgia filter, things used to be awful.