"Virtually everyone on the front benches has never had a proper job in their lives" - Nigel Farage MEP, on "Any Questions" on R4 last night.
It's been said a lot about the present generation of politicians, as an explanation of their seeming unawareness of the ways of the world, and the lives of ordinary people (whether "hard-working" or not, although obviously only the hard-working matter). They leave the grander universities, get internships doing spin for their chosen party, get selected by Central Office, and off they pop, to represent the great unwashed without ever having visiting their bathrooms. Of course, there's nothing to stop them visiting the great unwashed, and seeing if they are actually welcome in the front room, let alone the bathroom, and they could exercise perhaps a little imagination, if they have it, about other lives than their own. Maybe some do it. Economic policy in recent years has suggested that they don't.
The phrase "a proper job" has a resonance for me. I grew up with a father who was very fond of "real work". Not "hard work" - although it was a necessary quality of real work that it should be hard too - but the reality was not to be found in the money it made, the hours put in, the skills, the concentration, the effort, the focus, the social usefulness. I've thought over the years it might be any of those things, but now I sit down to type about it (not itself real work, obviously) I realise it's a more elusive quality than I thought I knew.
It's easier to know what was NOT real work. Generally, thieving and trickery wasn't (although there were blurred boundaries here if the people tricked were either much richer or entirely undeserving). Art, music, literature, likewise. Teaching in a difficult school possibly would qualify, but a school like the one he worked his socks off to send me to, no, teaching there wouldn't be. University teaching certainly wouldn't. Managing wasn't real work - whether money, or farms, or people. No, it had somehow to involve your own hands - not just the finger tips - and it had to involve sweat. It had to make you fitter. Not just physically - going to the gym was most definitely not real work - but morally too. He genuinely dwelt under the Genesis Curse that Adam would live by the sweat of his brow - would live, and must live.
Then there was "women's work". You don't often hear that these days, although it's a category we can all instantly recognise - anything involving babies, small children, nursing, cleaning, or catering. This was real work, but only if done by a woman. He believed strongly that a mother should stay at home and look after her children every hour of the day - at the very least while they are small - although the corollary was that a father should work every hour of the day to pay for them all. That the father might therefore see very little of them was of relatively little consequence to him. This was "duty". Duty was like real work, and if anything, on higher plane, so that derelictions of duty were grave sins in his catechism, but the thing about duty was to get the job done. So, although to have a nanny, or send a child away to boarding school, or to have made enough money not to have to work, was cheating, nonetheless duty was still being done, so that was OK.
What was odder still in this irrational, but not uncommon, moral universe was that he also believed in education - in the hope that his son and daughter would never have to work as hard as he had. Turn that round, and it's a colossal investment in perpetual moral superiority. His scheme - certainly for me - was that I should be entirely unfitted for practical work of any sort, because it didn't pay enough. And I should one day live the life of Riley as a lawyer or (better - because you choose whether to buy newspapers) a journalist, and he would be able to lord it over me as someone who'd "never done a day's work in his life". When I went to Oxford, I could change a lightbulb, but I'd never wired a plug. I did ask, but his idea of "teaching" was to do it for you, then so "there, it's easy" and walk away. Maybe that's why he had such a low opinion of the teachers whose private-sector wages he was paying? If my teachers had taught me like that, I'd never have got to Oxford.
The experiment went wrong, alas, and my sister left school early, and I wasted my Oxford degree on footling about teaching for crammers (trying to educate the failures who didn't, in his view, deserve another chance) and then threw it away completely by becoming a priest. For all that, my sister was redeemed by motherhood, at which she is very good, and he'd even sometimes grudgingly admit that her drawing skills are far above and beyond the ordinary; and there was one job he admitted I did better than him - planting chrysanthemum cuttings by the thousand - and one he couldn't do at all - taking the funeral for Auntie Margaret, my godfather's widow, someone we all loved immensely.
Eventually the family sold up their business in London - taking advantage of the property price boom, and selling their scrap yard for what turned out to be, for once, the top of the market price. After that he never really made a living. The nursery where I planted all those chrysanthemums never engaged his attention in the way that metal, and building, making, breaking, dismantling, things did. He was angry that though he continued to toil, he was barely rewarded financially. He never quite accepted that the glory days of paying off mortgages, buying freeholds, having children in private schools, were all paid for by brains, not brawn. He was the smartest accountant I have ever known; the taxman would have been most surprised to learn about our education. He knew how to load a skip so that however it was unloaded, the good stuff, for testing, would be on the top (and he'd taught himself the testing, too). There could be a 1000% mark-up in that. He could have done all that from a wheelchair. And yet, it was never real work.
And here I am, a "Jobseeker". Am I looking for "a proper job"? No, I'm looking for money. I don't want any more life experience - frankly I've had more than enough - I just want freedom from the fear of bills and debt and the insecurity of living in someone else's house.
Have I ever done a "real day's work in my life"? Since planting all those chrysanthemums for him, quite possibly not. But I've had work, as a priest. Work that made me feel completely alive. From time to time I have bursts of it still. And when I get lost in my genealogical researches, sometimes I remember sitting next to my father in Canterbury Cathedral library, looking at the bishop's transcripts of parish registers, trying to find his ancestors, and I still have the meticulous notes he took, utter attention to detail, just like his accounts, totally absorbed. And I wonder if we were so very different.
Would Mr Farage think I, an Oxbridge twit, and worse still, a failed vicar, had ever done a proper job? Maybe not. But if he'd asked me to bury his granny, he might change his tune.
Some work is not a curse.