HOW TO THRIVE AND SURVIVE HARDSHIP
If there’s one thing I can claim expertise in, it’s the above. I’m the firstborn of a low caste immigrant and a working class war baby and spent my formative years with my great grandma who had survived two wars, still worked the land and ran a household for a landowner and managed a farm. I was obsessed with my Nana, obsessed. While other kids wanted Lego and Sindy dolls, I wanted to organise her Green Shield and Co Op Savings stamp books, analyse the old war time ration book she kept, and learn how a building society worked. She lived on a council estate yet weekly gave to the poor and needy (LEPRA and BMS), was a staunch Temperance member, creative and wacky with a fierce indomitable energy. For her, the sign of wealth was your capacity to give – not the figures in your bank account. She would always find ways to give, to care, to serve. That was her M.O.
My parents were like that too. They scrimped and really went without so we never went hungry. So what our clothes were handmade or hand-me-downs? I still looked and felt like a princess. The strikes in the 1970’s I remember as exciting, watching the view of north west Barnsley blinking into blackness, our cold house lit by candles. I’ve never been scared of the dark since. But I am petrified of gales and falling slates!
The bread strikes meant Mum baked brown bread and rolls which was the Best Thing Ever. Warm, soft chewy bread with lots of butter and Nana’s marmalade. I hated Mother’s Pride and the local sliced white loaves that tasted of nothing.
We didn’t have gas central heating or a coal fire so it was just an oil heater and lots of jumpers and hot water bottles, extra blankets and wincyette sheets in the winter. We had a party when we got double glazing in the mid-eighties.
The recession meant I had lots of time to think and wonder and create with what I had. There wasn’t really TV for kids in the 1970’s – apart from Kizzy and Blue Peter, which made recycling far more exciting and creative than any contemporary initiative. Blue Peter was the bane of my mother’s life and the reason why we became cereal killers and monitored the level of Fairy Liquid and toilet roll daily. Mum was trying to make them last; we were trying to use them up!
Recession for a writer or artist is par for the course. Disconnection from society. Boredom. Restricted resources. Solitude. Imagination. It all unleashes a strange energy you can’t manufacture any other way. Britpop and the Young British Artists, Luella Bartley, Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen and countless other leaders of iconic fashion in the 1990s were all the enfants terrible who were kids in the 1970s.
If you can disconnect from the media and put the brakes on the helter-skelter the Insta-net has taught you to expect from the global economy, you will find your own creative pace. Discipline yourself to invest in it for periods of time. If no one’s paying you your value, pay it to yourself in time. It will reap real results.
I have used this pattern throughout my life and don’t see myself stopping. Perceived poverty creates invisibility; I learned this after I returned from Los Angeles in the late 1990s. Being without funds and living hand to mouth for several years was mortifying, hard and desperately lonely but it’s also when I wrote like a fury, completed ‘How To Survive Puberty at 25’ and reclaimed myself from a toxic family situation. Learning how to survive in desperate times is also the most empowering thing ever.
If you’ve never been broke, really broke, poverty may seem like the end of the world. But if you have survived poverty and kept your soul, you know it is not. It makes you bold enough to take risks, to commit, to plan, to strategise, to observe.
Everything I am today is because of what I learned during the hard times. I value education, self-care, health, financial literacy and building friendships with people of good character. Once I make a decision, I commit one hundred per cent. I learned fear and despair are the real enemies – not the lack of funds for there is always enough for what you need to do.
Anyway, enough of the ramble which makes it sound like I enjoy deprivation. I do not – I hate it – and that’s how I learned fast how to overcome it. So here are some practical tips or shortcuts to opportunities for success on days when you feel powerless: