It strikes me there are four basic ways people existed in the white heat of the red-hot revolution of the 1960’s.
Firstly, there was the War Generation. My parents’ group. They endured the Second World War, came through rationing and were used to being grey and dull and remembering vaguely what colour used to be like. Authoritarian for the ‘general good’ – even if the basic premise of what that meant was fallacious; prone to obey orders and to do the occasional bullying. A bit of discipline and pretty damn terrific at ‘making do’ with substandard stuff because that’s the way things were. Born in the 1920’s, they also had the War-Born Generation as like-minded thinkers, mostly.
Secondly, we had the Baby Boomers. Born sometime between, say 1943 and 1951, they began to throw off the shackles of Old Thinking and wanted to rebuild broken and bombed places into a new utopia, a Promised Land of greater freedom of thought, word and deed than ever before. Social mobility, the sexual revolution… all that came to be just as they started to hit puberty and began to demand a better life for themselves; their younger brothers and sisters came along for the ride…
Thirdly, there was my lot. We became Invisible. Born sometime between 1958 and 1963, we were looking at what the Big Kids were doing and… man, we couldn’t wait for our turn. Like, it looked so cool, even trickling into our popular culture – American animation company Hanna-Barbera hit paydirt with Scooby-Doo, a ‘children’s cartoon’ that not only has stood the test of time in our affections, but has been reinvented with each passing decade to become an icon. Even some dreadful live-action films couldn’t kill Scooby and his stoner sidekick Shaggy. We didn’t know about Stoners then, but somehow we got the joke.
Finally, our younger siblings and cousins came along from the mid-60’s, became Thatcher’s Children and destroyed the world. All we could do was to stand by uselessly as these upstarts came along and managed to bypass us. They were encouraged to become hotshots and motivators, ‘self-sufficient’ and ‘self-reliant’, yet didn’t have the extra tang of life-smarts that we had. Caught at the crossroads, we observed impotently as our own ideas of what the Big Kids had done were stolen from us and co-opted into the cultural obscenities and social disintegration of the 1980’s. They had mistaken ‘self-sufficient’ and ‘self-reliant’ for ‘looking out for Number One to the detriment of all others.’
With our heads and hearts still trapped in the 1970’s, we watched, horrified and helpless as piece by piece things we had taken for granted were taken away from us and sold to the lowest bidder. Then sold back to us, repackaged in glitter, for twice the price.
We had grown up being used to the National Health Service, the welfare state, free dentistry and living pensions for all… ‘From the Cradle to the Grave’; the absolute right to have a roof over our heads. We were looking forward to having happy hippy trippy sex in huge amounts – with lots of people – and to be able to get a job.
Yes, walk right into a job, try it for a couple of weeks and if we didn’t like it, just quit and get another one before our last payday wages ran out… then if we liked it, we would be set for life or as long as we wanted – whichever was longer. A lot of the time, if you played it right, you could accidentally end up in a career of some sort, progressing from rung to rung on the fabled ladder to success and fortune… or a comfortable living, at the very least.
If your flat or house got too expensive, you’d look in the paper and get another one. There was no ‘one month key money, one month deposit, one month in advance, security bond and no pets, smoking or benefits scroungers’ (although you could still find people who didn’t want ‘certain’ types of tenant).
We got stiffed.
Thatcher had told everyone that there was no such thing as society and sold all the council houses, Gordon Gekko had pronounced that greed was good; but nobody realised how insane Thatcher was (even then), nor that Gekko was a satirical character. People believed. For my part, it was bewildering. Still trying to get my head around the idea that somehow the Promised Land hadn’t magically moved into view as the Big Kids had predicted, Thatcher’s Children stole the rest of everything.
Powerless, I (and many others), wondered in amazement at how so many of Thatcher’s Children were ‘company directors’ and were wielding power and influence with untutored hands and inelegance. It was a time when nobody seemed to do anything – unless you were a manual worker.
I asked one of these strange middlemen what he did.
“I’m responsible for…” and I forgot to listen to the dull corporate-speak, because I couldn’t help thinking that if so many people were ‘responsible’ for things, why was no one taking any actual responsibility? Aware that he had stopped speaking, thinking that he had answered my question, I spoke again.
“But what do you actually DO?” I pressed, and had a reworded version of the first answer, followed by an enquiry as to my occupation. Picture it: three third-rate, wannabe Yuppies in bottle-green and bottle-blue heavily tailored shapeless jackets asking a be-denimed longhair beardy what he did for a living. “Guess,” I said and sipped my bourbon. They thought I was a student. “Wrong,” I told them. “I’m a cleaner.” And they turned away, breaking the little circle. Which I briefly reformed.
“Hey!” I exclaimed sharply and snapped my fingers right in the centre of where the circle had been. They turned. “Two people have the keys to the Executive Washroom that you guys aspire to have so badly: the executives – that’s you, that is. And the one thing I know is that you complain like merry hell at the slightest stain or bad odour, about how it just isn’t up to standard and the person responsible should have been doing the job properly… a person like me.”
“Now people like you can’t live without people like me because you don’t want to get your hands dirty, you honestly think you’re more important and deserve to be freed from the ‘meniality’ of such tasks. But people like me sure as hell can do without people like you because our lives would be a lot easier without having to clear up after the mess you guys make. We do it though; beyond the highest standards you would want or expect. To spite you.” As it was my considered opinion that they wouldn’t understand the last few words I wanted to say, so I left it at that. I drained my glass and left.
When I got home, I reflected upon the experience. It was clear that they had no regard for people like me although they relied on us. The delivery guys, the cleaners and food servers, the people who lurk in the background or come out late at night or early in the morning to do our thing. We Invisibles. I poured myself a drink and looked in the mirror. Raised my glass. Made a toast.
“To We Who Do. May we be always sarcastic,” and I chuckled.
I mean, seeing as a toilet cleaner is someone who… extracts the urine… well, sarcasm’s part of the job, surely? The only trouble is, though, that joke was on us, and that’s the price for being Invisible.
© Jeremiah Savant – used by permission
Jeremiah is ashamed to be British and has fallen through almost every safety net. Finally finding a voice, read his explosive memoirs...