Keeping Up Appearances

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Today on the Daily Mail website is this article;

Keeping up appearances: Jane's husband doesn't have a job anymore ... and she can barely live with the shame

The title alone got me a bit annoyed.  With everything that's been happening in the economy you'd think by now there wouldn't be so much 'shame' and stigma about losing your job.  There's millions unemployed.  Unless you've got blinkers on and live in your own little world, you'll know someone who has been affected in some way, either by losing their job, their job currently at risk, or simply struggling with their bills.

So with trepidation, I read the article.

The first half of the opening paragraph left me with extremely limited sympathy.

"The children still have pony lessons, she's kept on the cleaner ..."

They have three children.  One girl is noted as having the riding lessons, a boy having tennis lessons.  Neither of these past times are cheap!  And as for the cleaner - can you not pick up a loo-brush yourself?  It's not hard to run the hoover around.

The youngest daughter, aged 8, suggests to her unemployed father about training as a bus driver - she saw an advert about the training opportunity and he could earn £125 a day.

"My husband, Andy, winces.  My eyes fill with tears.  He's got a History degree from Cambridge, a Masters degree in Business, and years of senior experience in strategic management.  Bus driving isn't exactly the future he'd planned."

No one who is employment planned for it.  Plenty of people with degrees are out of work.  I've got a ten-year solid work history, good skills and experience and I struggled to find something - but I did find some work.  I did not turn my nose up at the offer of delivering leaflets and working in a shop which was something I never wanted to go back to, but seriously, you can not afford to be picky.

This man has been unemployed for four years - perhaps he ought to lower his expectations a little?  I swallowed my pride early on and applied to fast food restaurants.  No offense to anybody who works in those places, but for me, at the time, it felt like desperation was kicking in - I wanted a job, any job.  This 'Andy' who has a wife and three children apparently failed to see the potential opportunity his eight-year-old presented him with.  Who says bus driving was to be his new career?  If it meant some income I'd have jumped at the chance!  Hell, I'd jump at it now!  £125 per day?  That's twice what I'm earning now.  There are plenty of people who would take that opportunity and be grateful for it.

"We were once a typical middle class family - comfortable, not super-rich, children in good state schools but with private lessons for tennis and riding. Skiing in February, a nice hotel in Spain or Italy in the summer."

Sorry, that's typical middle class??  I would peg that as 'lower-upper' at the very least.  My family is considered 'upper-middle' - we have a nice big house (most of the mortgage has been paid off, we've been here since before I was born), four children who went to local state schools (not the best but not bad, we all did well in our exams) but we certainly couldn't afford private lessons.  We each got pocket money each month which wasn't much but we learnt the value of money early on, saving up for nice things that we wanted; we were not handed luxuries to us on a plate.   As for holidays, we went to a caravan site most years, occasionally renting a nice villa in France in later years when we were all earning money and could contribute to the holiday as a family.   I wore a lot of hand-me-down clothes from my elder sister, my brothers did the same with their clothes.  We went to charity shops and car boot sales for toys and books rather than buying the latest new thing.   Christmases and birthdays, we never went without anything!

We were not poor, we just knew how to handle our money and not waste it on the most expensive things just because they're the most expensive things.

"Since Andy was made redundant four years now, our income has plummeted."

First thing to go would be the cleaner!  Honestly, who can't run a hoover or duster around?  Andy out of work, the children all old enough to help out and Jane works freelance - and they still need a cleaner to come by??

"Andy will probably have to sign on ... but it's unlikely that he'll find any jobs for his level of seniority advertised at the local job centre."

Apparently Andy hasn't bothered to even look.  There are all kinds of level of jobs being advertised, and if he has to take a job that's a little below 'his level' then boo-hoo; at least he'd have a job!

The attitude of this pair is mind-boggling.

"Some friends of ours were terrified of traumatising their children if they admitted that Daddy didn't have a job anymore.  So each morning he'd dress in a suit and head for the station, take a train to London and spend the day in a library.  They lived this charade for six months until he set up his own business."

Seriously?  I think those people were more traumatised than their children were likely to be!  You're not alone in this situation!!  I steadfastly maintain that it is not that shameful!!  Instead, they lied to their children instead of educating them that sometimes bad things happen and the family has to be careful with their money.  What's so traumatising?  Do the little darlings need to be kept in the dark so they can still enjoy their designer label clothing?   What bubble do these people live in?!

To Jane and Andy's credit, they explained the situation to their children instead of putting their heads in the sand.  But that said ...

"The kids have learned to do without expensive clothes and electronic gadgets; the paint is peeling from our windowsills.  There's a long list of things we dont' buy anymore; books, clothes, magazines, handbags.  Lucy proudly boasts of the money she's saved when she goes shopping with her friends."

Why buy kids expensive clothes in the first place?  They're kids!  They're going to play around in them.  A nice set of clothes for going out, fine, but don't stock their wardrobes with nothing from Next and then act like it's terrible to have to buy second-hand now and then.  Magazines and handbags?  Why are you buying handbags on a regular basis??  Mags and books - there's such a thing called a library where you can borrow them for free!  As for the girl boasting of money she's saved - she's 16 according to the article, has she found a part-time job or is that pocket money she's spending?

"We've managed to keep up Jack's tennis lessons and Emily's riding, with help from my parents.  I know they'd do anything to help us ... but it still felt humiliating when I paid their cheque into our account."

Unless your child is on track to become a world class tennis player or horse rider, these are expensive luxuries that they can survive without.  If there's a career in it and the child is set on it, that's different, you invest in their talent now.  But if I were the child getting pricey private lessons knowing my dad was out of work I'd volunteer to give up the lessons or contribute my pocket money / get a part time job to help cover the cost.  I wouldn't have my parents shouldering the full cost like that.  And we don't have grandparents to help with the costs either - we either pay for things ourselves or we go without.  We don't keep a cleaner and take money from others to pay for horse riding!

"Even worse was applying for a bursary so that Jack could go abroad with his cricket team.  I knew it was the only way we could afford it; I knew he'd be upset if he couldn't go.  But the thought of people in the cricket club - our peers, our equals - judging our need, made me physically sick.  I wrote the application three times, and three times I threw it away before forcing myself to send it off.  The bursary was granted and Jack went on his tour.  I haven't set foot in the cricket club since."

The boy does tennis and cricket?  How many clubs and lessons does this boy attend?  Sorry, if you're in financial difficulties you'd have to reduce the outgoings, even if that means you ask the child to pick which one they'd rather stick with.  As for 'the only way we could afford it', again, get rid of the cleaner for a start!

I notice she refers to the cricket club people as peers and equals.  Not as friends.  Friends wouldn't judge you.  If they're going to mock you for getting a bursary then they aren't very nice people, so why would you want to hang out with them in the first place?  The bursaries are there for a reason!  And so what if they know you applied?  They could be having money problems for their own for all you know.

Andy is also not keen on re-training given the time involved in re-training.  He's had four years out of work - he could have re-trained in something at the beginning and already be earning some money - but no, starting at the bottom means a salary to match.  A low income verses no income ... sorry, that's a no-brainer.

"And why re-train when head-hunters are still calling with opportunities?"

Perhaps because instead of waiting around for someone to phone you with 'the perfect job' Andy could look for work and get a job by himself?  He gets to spend more time with his children which is a good thing (and I'm sure it wouldn't kill him to put some washing on or change a few beds instead of having the cleaner do it) but aside from the head-hunter calls, there's no mention of him attending interviews on a regular basis or even applying for other jobs that he found off his own efforts.

I feel sorry for him having a bit of a break-down with the stress of not having a job.  I was climbing the walls within weeks!  But if the stress is that bad, then surely he'd take any job, if he's as keen for work as Jane claims.

"It's not that I think materialistic things matter, but life feels dreary and miserable without them."

Which is blatantly saying that you do think materialistic things matter.  If they didn't, then life wouldn't feel dreary and miserable!  You'd appreciate what you have and realise that you can live without lots of luxuries.  It's not all doom and gloom just because you can't buy yourself another handbag to cheer yourself up!

As for treating themselves to the cinema once a week ... my boyfriend and I go perhaps once a month, often less than that, and we use the Orange Wednesday phone offer of buying one ticket and getting one free.  That is a treat for us!  How terrible that this poor family can only afford to go once a week. (Note the heavy sarcasm.)

"I'm proud of his flexibility, his survival instinct.  I rage at the world which can't find a use for his talent and experience."

Flexibility?  Survival instinct??  He can't bring himself to apply to be a bus driver and earn some money, any money, to put food on the table for his family!  He's sat waiting for someone to call with his dream senior-level career position so he can go back to earning what he did before!  That's not survival or being flexible in the slightest.

My sympathies are extremely limited for these kind of people - making out they're enduring such hardships when they don't know what hardship is  There's no denying that we as a country are in a mess and a lot of people are struggling - and I mean really struggling, not like Jane and Andy here.  I'll admit, I'm not in a terrible position - my income is limited, but I have two jobs, I'm not on benefits, my parents are keeping a roof over my head and I contribute to the household bills.  I can afford to run my car (just!) and I have good friends who didn't and don't judge me for what happened with my job situation.

I am wealthy in friends and family.  My account may not have much in it, but I'm optimistic and continuing my search for a full time job.  I'm not saying it'll happen soon, but I'm confident that I'll find full time work eventually.  The recession will end and the economy will recover - we're all just having to ride it out and make the best of things.


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