My mother was the second youngest of 10 children, or 11 if you count an infant death. When she left school, she became a seamstress. She married my father shortly before the war broke out. It was a shotgun wedding. This was not unusual, at least not in her family, some of whom, irrespective of gender, had already married on the same terms having been ordered to do so by their mother.
I was around 18 when I noticed the discrepancy between the dates of the marriage and my elder brother's birth. My mother owned up at once and without any shame at all. When my father found out she had owned up, he was embarrassed and shocked. I too was shocked, but for different reasons: I was then still young enough to know everything and one of the things I knew was that we baby boomers were the first generation in all of history to be at it prior to marriage.
While my father was away in the war, my mother was set to work making uniforms and later submarine nets. Except in the broadest of terms it is difficult to imagine the overlap between the skills required. Meanwhile, many Polish soldiers arrived in the area. Like other women at the time, my mother was susceptible to the Poles, for the Poles were courteous and charming in stark contrast to the local product. I can remember as a child she and her sisters reminiscing and giggling madly about the Poles. It was magical to sit at their feet and listen, even though much of it was beyond me. What did it mean, for example, that their much-adored Liberace was 'one of those'?; or that Uncle Edward had to be put in the oven to warm him up first?
My mother was articulate and was quick to find humour in things: 'There's room for it,' she said on hearing that one of her brothers-in-law had taken up night classes in order to improve his mind. She was especially funny when exercising her talent for vocal mimicry. One of the many stories she told was to do with when she was sent to Aberdeen to train other seamstresses to make parachutes. She made friends easily and soon teamed up with a local woman on the course. One day, after work, they went to a hotel for tea and cakes. Then they walked together to the woman's home for another cup of tea. The woman's husband, already half-cut and annoyed that he had come home to an empty house, angrily demanded to know where his wife had been. She told him the name of the hotel. 'What!' he bawled. 'That's nothing but a hoor shop!'
The woman snapped out a response in that marvellous Aberdeen accent which my mother later took off so well. I can only write it phonetically and hope that it comes over in all its King James Bible majesty: 'Ah dinna ken fit hoo you kent it wiz a hoor shop cos ah've bed here ah mih days an ah nivver kent it wiz a hoor shop!'.
In the mid-1950s, my sister, 18 months older than me, got polio. She was in Bridge of Earn hospital for many months. We could visit only once a week and then only for an hour. It took about two hours to get there by bus. In order to cheer my sister up, my mother got a little dog, a Scottie, to take with us when we visited the hospital. After much fuss, the matron reluctantly allowed us to enter the ward with the dog. No sooner had we reached my sister's bed, than the little dog did a doings on the floor. We were immediately ejected and spent the remainder of the allotted hour standing in the rain at the bus stop. I am pleased to say that my sister eventually recovered fully.
In the late 1950s, my father gave up bus-driving and began a long struggle to set himself up as a self-employed joiner. Money was tight. My mother made all of our children's clothes except the shoes. I have a school photograph of me in those clothes. In exchange for 17 shillings and sixpence you could have a class photograph plus an individual photograph. Several of us in the class could not afford this. Yet we longed for the photographs, the desirability of which would probably be equivalent to an iPhone today. Desperate, I followed my mother one morning as she went off to work, pleading for the money. She kept walking and said nothing. I badgered and badgered. Eventually, she stopped to look at me. 'I haven't got it,' she said before bursting into tears and hurrying away. Although I was only eight, I can still recall the exact spot on the street where this happened, and I can describe the weather too.
But I did get the pictures, and so did the others who couldn't afford them. Many years later, I found out that our class teacher, Mr Frankel, had paid for them without saying anything to anybody.
I did not progress despite
going to state schools and having the parents I had. I progressed because
of them. When Sajid Javid brags about how he overcame his parents and his education, he is, even if inadvertently, implying that they were handicaps. Even if they were, his unqualified bragging would still be an insult to all other bus drivers and all other state schools – state schools for which his government is responsible. Perhaps as Chancellor he might now like to do something about them. But that this Remain-voter has secured his preferment in a hardcore Leave government suggests it would be unwise to hold your breath while waiting for any selfless behaviour to come along.
It seems to have escaped Javid that the man whose job he aspires to, the man who gave him his preferment, had all the advantages in the world yet still turned out to be not much more than a mendacious sneak.