“I never bothered to take school trip letters home, as I knew there would be no money spare.”

by M. Rathore

There is no shame in living in poverty – especially when you are a child.

I grew up in a big family – six children and only my dad working. We had absolutely nothing, except hand-me downs, furniture the neighbours had thrown out, and nothing nice or beautiful. Everything we had was…functional. No carpet, a lino floor and upturned milk crates to sit on. My siblings and I never brought friends home; we didn’t want others to see how we lived. 

I never bothered to take school trip letters home, as I knew there would be no money spare. We all probably smelled a bit too. I can still remember sitting next to a girl in primary school, and as she passed me her pencil to use, I could smell the nice soap she had used to wash her hands. We had large blocks of soap that my dad would saw chunks off and it didn’t smell nice; it was waxy and hard, and when it was used to a sliver, it would be pressed onto the new chunk. No bubble baths, no conditioner for our hair, no deodorant. 

Our local greengrocer, John Spicer and his wife, never had children. He loved it when our little gang would go in and ask, “Any bruised apples, John?” He would grab a few apples from the display, polish them on his jumper and gently chuck them at us all. One day, my dad found out – he was furious! He perceived this as begging. We were forbidden to do it again – even though most of the kids on the estate did it!

My big sister worked in the big department stores – she is ten years older than me, and from me being around five or six years old, she was the most glamorous person I knew. She wore fashionable clothes, wore perfume, nail polish – she used to go out in the evening and regale me with stories of fancy restaurants she’d been to, or the celebrities who had been in her shop. Sometimes, as I got older, she would give me a half-full bottle of perfume, or nail colour, or a lip gloss. It wasn’t much – but then, it felt as if a film star lived in our home.

A big turning point came when I was around nine. I was at school and being teased for being scruffy. A girl, (I’ll call her Susan Brown) said I was so scruffy, her mum had to send her old clothes over for me to wear – which of course, I denied. She gleefully grabbed my coat, and her name was still on a tape. I held in my tears, but that night, I cried tears of shame, tears of anger and humiliation. It was that night, I promised myself that my children would never feel like this.

The light that came from this dark was I learned that I had to change once I became an adult. There was nothing I could do as a child to change our family’s financial situation. I worked hard at school, and when I left, I took every opportunity that came my way. I scrubbed floors, worked in a car dealership, a dry cleaner and a publishing house. I’ve been a nightclub manager – twice, and many others before I came here to BCHS!

All sorts of jobs, giving different experiences that led to a better job than the one before. When my daughters came along, we may not have had a lot of spare cash, but they didn’t live in the poverty my family and I did. 

Please let me repeat: There is absolutely no shame in living in poverty – especially when you are a child.