Wednesday, April 17, 2024
HomeCulture WarI grew up in a council house. So what?

I grew up in a council house. So what?


WHEN celebrities get their offspring a gig (such as Gordon Ramsay’s girl Tilly on Strictly Come Dancing) it does grate a little. But it is also a little bit of a leveller as most parents the world over would give their children what makes them happy. The commentators who complain? They would do it too.

There is a tendency for some former working-class writers (such as Julie Burchill in Spiked), to be particularly incensed at nepotism. ‘I grew up in a council house’ is a much-used credential with the message that it was talent, and not connections that got them where they are today. Julie, I love your writing, but you were lucky to end up in a great job. For most of us swimming around like fish in the deep ocean, the discussion among the flotsam and jetsam at the top about who was lucky and who was talented is interesting only to themselves. If Kate Middleton were to bemoan that she didn’t come from royalty, and that she therefore was disadvantaged, that would be about the level of it.  

I grew up in a council house. At the time, everyone I knew grew up in a council house. ‘Bought’ house people were to me an unknown category (rich to very, very rich). I found out later that this range was expansive and could have included quite the range from a small business owner to billionaires. It was the same with ‘council house’ people – there was a full range. Yes, there were poor people ranging from feckless and worthy poor to the many workers, double incomers and professionals who wanted good housing at a low cost. There were teachers and middle management in industry. I hate to burst Julie’s bubble, but there was a woman in my street who had a piano.  

Disadvantaged? Maybe relatively, but let’s stop reading that anyone successful from a council-house background is a sign of innate talent, like a rose growing from the dirt. It makes the rest of us feel like we were the dirt and that we just didn’t have the talent to ‘break free’. Some people get a cool job. Lots of people from any number of backgrounds would have liked that job, but being in the right time and right place mattered also. And there are only so many cool jobs going. People who ‘make it’ also need luck. Your dad being rich and influential is even more super-duper lucky and yes, it’s galling when those children don’t acknowledge their luck, but when those with great jobs don’t acknowledge their own luck, it also grates a little. Using council housing as a credential is just humble-bragging.   

Others being lucky doesn’t necessarily make me unlucky or disadvantaged. I am not disadvantaged because I’m not related to money or celebrity. I am not disadvantaged because I didn’t get a plum writing job or grew up in a council house. But I am white (advantaged?) a woman (disadvantaged)? I can’t do gymnastics (am I disadvantaged?) but I can walk (am I advantaged?) If I need an equation to work out my level of advantage/disadvantage maybe we are placing too much emphasis in understanding why we are not getting to a position which is statistically improbable for most of us. Questions that used to be reserved for sociologists are now everywhere and suit the victim culture that we seem to have embraced.  

In the bell curve most of us are normal and regular. And being regular, despite what the columnists say, is not so bad, not to mention statistically probable.

But to be clear to the Tilly Ramsays, Flora Gills, Scarlett Curtises, Destry Spielbergs, Giles Corens, Ethan Kings and Maya Hawkes and many, many others. Lucky, lucky you. Enjoy it. Be gracious in your splendid fortune. But saying you didn’t get special treatment? That’s annoying. Don’t do that.  

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Gail MacDonald
Gail MacDonald
Gail MacDonald is a professional psychologist and writer. Views expressed here are her own.

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