Symbols of being poor

I’m notorious in my household for coming out with terrible comments about my childhood.

Famously, a friend asked the room: “did you guys have awkward silences and really bad communication about feelings with your family around the dinner table?”

And I replied “we didn’t have a dinner table”.

The dynamic that is actually playing out is simply that I live with middle class people, who had middle class problems, but I was raised in a working class socio-economic way and had entirely different problems. Those problems are possibly more tragic in some ways and are shocking to my middle class friends becuase it involves so much that they take as given.

Anyway, I sometimes speak in more detail about the long-term consequences of being poor. An example struck me today that is adjacent to the Vimes Boots Theory of Socio-economic Unfairness and it is about shoeboxes.

When I was a kid and watched Blue Peter (and only Blue Peter, because the walk home from school took so long that I only managed to watch the last show of the day in children’s programming) and they often had a segment on crafting.

The crafting would be “make a house for your hamster” or a “build a rocket outfit” or some such and always used the same household materials: cereal box, tinfoil, loo paper tube etc.

I would always be pumped to follow along and try to make one of the craft pieces and unleash my childish sticky tape creativity. However, each and every week I was deeply disappointed because the crafting involved using a shoebox.

We weren’t exactly too poor to have shoes but my family certainly only bought shoes when the others fell apart. Even cheap shoes have a cost. Many shoes could outlast more than one school year. I’m fairly certain my mum replaced her shoes even less often. And we also went to shops that didn’t even sell shoes in boxes, they were off-the-rack that you carried home in bag. I felt as a child that I had never had access to a shoebox in my whole life and yet Blue Peter acted as if these things were as common as toilet paper.

Now, in 2019, I have been buying good quality shoes for about a year. I didn’t really realise until today, when a new pair of good quality hiking boots arrived and I couldn’t fit the box into my usual space for shoe boxes, that I had been saving the shoe boxes as a rare and highly prized item and had a space especially for storing shoeboxes. I looked at the huge pile of shoeboxes and realised I don’t have a hamster, or a desire to pretend to be a rocket, and will almost certainly not use these shoeboxes for anything at all.

I don’t need them for anything, but I haven’t thrown them away yet. Not just yet.

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