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Levelling Up - the undeserving poor

 

Brought up to stretch scarce resources:
food, love, time, hand-me-downs,
he only learnt he was poor after passing an exam
allowing him to attend a school 
which was dug deep in rich kids’ territory;
his mum wondered how she would manage the money,
his dad laughed at him.

The sleeves of his school blazer shot up to his elbows,
while the rich kids had their permanently pristine cuffs on display;
blazers were expensive, more than his dad earned in a week,
he made mining tools in the local factory,
which the rich kids’ fathers owned.

First lesson: nothing is ever fair or easy,
those few other poor kids who’d, inexplicably, passed the exam
were expelled from school one after the other, all for fighting:
i.e. for defending themselves against the taunts of the rich kids.

Him? He was sneaky, he only ever thumped the toffee-nosed bastards 
when off school premises.
So, he never gave them the chance to chuck him out,
he was never grassed up by the posh boys,
with their bruises and bloody noses,
they did not want to cross him, again.

Second lesson: get your retaliation in first,
he knew how to make threats stick,
he’d learnt from his dad, 
who, in his turn, had learnt 
from being bullied and abused as an orphan
dragged up in the hungry 30s.

So, from before his eleventh birthday he worked 
— he wanted money — 
deliveries, farm work, scrubbing cars, digging gardens
— he learned to survive at their expense.

Only much, much later did his truculence grow
into that tough solidarity and mutual co-operation,
that collective self-help, that socialist endeavour,
he routinely contributed to, 
and benefitted from.
What goes around comes around. Huh?

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🌷(8)

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Comments

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John Marks

Sat 20th Apr 2024 14:16

Thanks for the support Stephen A and Stephen G, Hugh, Larisa, Holden and Landi and for the comments Leon & Keith.

"England is the most class-ridden country under the sun. It is a land of snobbery and privilege, ruled largely by the old and silly."
George Orwell, Why I Write

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leon stolgard

Fri 19th Apr 2024 12:00

How very much your writings enrich this site Mr Marks

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keith jeffries

Thu 18th Apr 2024 22:43

John,
Thank you for this profile which I am so able to relate to. I had three jobs to earn extra cash. A milk round, an evening paper round and shelf stacking in one of the new supermarkets on Saturdays. I went to a Secondary Modern School, passed with two O levels. A failure but at the age of 39 years I arrived in Oxford and proved to the bastards that I did have a brain and dignity.
Great poem and thank you for it,
Keith

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