Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Money - it depends what you're brought up to expect

A friend of mine was once a Tory MP. A nice Tory, one of the good guys, lost his seat in the Commons in 1966 and, realising the mood of the party was swinging about his kind of Conservatism, he said "I had no money, a wife and children, I had to find something to do". This rung in my ears afresh when he brought me a bit of paper to sign, to vouch for him - as a clerk in holy orders - to continue owning a couple of shotguns. "I don't use them, they were my grandfather's, antiques now". And I thought, "so you had no money, huh?"

I was born in 1966, and my parents was struggling to pay the mortgage on a two-up, two-down, house in the backwater of Cobham. One year my godparents gave them a ton of coal for Christmas, and it was the best present they ever had. They had no money.

Being a nosy sort of person, after he died I did a little research. He was born in 1930. The grandfather with the shotguns - I assume, but of course he had two - left £138,000 in the late 1930s. His own father died during the war, leaving £74,000. Both estates may well have been highly taxed, but unless there were many pockets to fill - and by the time his father was born, the upper classes were aping the middle classes, and having fewer children to make the money go further, or last longer - there will still have been plenty left by 1966.

Or plenty by my standards.

My friend went into the shipping industry, and it was his proud boast that the workers in his companies were the best paid in the trade, and I believed that, and I believed it to be morally important to him, because he was a good Christian man.

When he died, he had a spacious flat that overlooked Hyde Park, a house in Nice, went on holiday as many times a year as he pleased, gave immense amounts to charity (including me), and had things set up for his children and grandchildren, all privately educated, and with no fear of university debts.

"I had no money". Of course he had no money. By comparison with what he expected.

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
January 2017


  1. We were well off. I thought. But I caused problems winning a place at grammar school because of uniforms etc. I still remember my mortification because we couldn't afford football shorts so Mother altered a pair of my sister's knickers. It's all a question of priorities. Happy now, though.

  2. I once did a teaching practice in Cowley,Oxford. The car workers there had so much money coming in they were afraid for their children to do well at school in case they'd then want to stay on after fifteen and go to into a profession, which meant they would earn a fraction of what they'd have got on an assembly line. These high earners thought of themselves as the poor downtrodden workers.They didn't spend their income on things such as independent education, music lessons, mortgages,concerts,tennis,books or visits to historical sites - the kind of thing professional people early in their careers found they couldn't afford. What they did buy I'll sound patronising if I say. It's not just how much money you've got,it's what you'd do or not do with it if you had it. You weren't allowed to buy twenty bags of coal when I was a child, but I'm sure my parents would have welcomed a gift like that too.