I am a Baby Boomer.
I was born in 1950 in SE London just 5 years after the end of WW11, my father having just recovered from serious illness brought on by his RAF service in Burma.
Us BBs’ early lives hold memories of seeing many wartime veterans, some with limbs missing and some with terrible facial burns (these were airmen who had been shot down in flames). Not for our heroes the privileges afforded the French ‘mutiles de guerre’ such as preference given on public transport, or generous pensions: many of these men walked the streets of London begging. Employment was hard to come by (even for skilled craftsmen like my Father) and due to the devastation caused by bombing, housing was a problem, which Councils were trying to solve by the hasty building of ‘Council Houses’, which in some places took the form of much envied pre-fabs, and blocks of flats. Until the housing shortage was addressed, many of the returning servicemen and their families were obliged to share homes with their parents, a less than ideal arrangement for couples so long apart.
So it was that I began life in a pleasant council house in Bellingham, allocated to my Grandparents (having been ‘bombed out’ four times from different homes in Peckham.) The three bedroomed house was occupied by me, my Grandparents, my Mum and Dad, and my Auntie. When she got married her husband joined her. Quite a crowd! When my Aunt and Uncle elected to move out to one of the new ‘Garden Cities’, the overcrowding was somewhat eased, but my parents’ dream was a home of their own; a little house with a bit of garden. My sister was born 4 years later, and my Mother duly went off to the Housing Office to apply for a Council House.
She had struck up a friendship with the next door neighbour, a German war bride of a similar age. Their circumstances were precisely the same. She and her British soldier husband had 2 boys of exactly the same age as me and my sister, and they too lived with the husbands’ parents.
Imagine my Mother’s rage (actually I don’t have to imagine it myself as she often repeated this story throughout her life – the bitterness never left her) – when the couple with the German wife were housed long before my parents – and were given an actual HOUSE to boot!
My brave Mum trudged back to the Housing Office when she got fed up with waiting, and sat down, refusing to be moved until she was housed as she was ‘as much entitled as the enemy bride’. ‘Plus ca change’. Indeed they were housed eventually; but in a ‘maisonette’, new, but a flat by any other name. Sadly, that dream of my mothers was never to be fulfilled. It wasn’t much to ask really, was it? My parents spent the rest of their married lives there, until my Mum passed away over 50 years later.
In the street where I grew up, there were 2 so-called ‘bomb sites’; great gaping gaps in the rows of huge houses – once fashionable Georgian dwellings – where bombs or rockets had fallen during the Blitz, and which now provided exciting playgrounds for us kids, though of course we were forbidden to set foot there, as the craters still fell away beneath our feet, and lumps of metal and bits of broken china (which in our innocence we collected as our treasure troves) abounded, right into the 1970s, when at last new buildings appeared on these sites, which had in the intervening years become rich areas for wildlife and native British wildflowers.
Indeed, the flats we were housed in in 1955 were built on such a bomb site: where once beautiful Georgian mansions had housed 4 families and their households, now a plain, rather utilitarian looking square brick building provided homes for 16 families.
So, what is a Baby Boomer?
According to current thinking/publicity from the Government, we are deeply privileged, having had every advantage, beginning with National Health Orange Juice and ending with big fat pensions which they do not believe we have earned nor deserve!!
Indeed, I and others had a Grammar school education. The fact is, this was not a privilege; it was merely education tailored to ability. We were there because we, whatever ‘class’ of family we were from, were academically talented, and the reality was that the actual physical facilities at school were often considerably better at the secondary and of course the newly fashionable comprehensive schools, which the government was throwing money at right left and centre.
Being Grammar school kids did not make us rich, but just gave us the same chance at an academic or even classical and traditional education as those who could afford to pay. And experience has shown that it afforded us no advantage in the long run; were are now, in the 21st Century, back to pre-war standards where the rich only will be able to afford, for example, university education. If you are lucky enough to still be employed when over 40 and into your 50s and 60s, you are continually passed over for promotion, or for new employment, in favour of younger people with what passes these days as a degree, ignoring the fact, well recognised and accepted amongst academics, that ‘A’ levels gained in the 60s are worth more than a current degree! You see, what is often not acknowledged, is that back then most ‘Grammar School Kids’, in spite of the existence of actual grants to the very very poorest, just could not afford to go to university. Does this sound familiar? .
Many of us boomers bought houses on the open market, only to find one terrible day in some 30 years ago that our mortgage payments doubled overnight, leaving us financially crippled for the rest of our lives. Of course, at the same time, those council tenants lucky enough to have been able to benefit from the Right To Buy legislation leapfrogged over those of us unfortunate enough to have had to pay top dollar private rent then top whack for our houses; and have been able to upgrade their homes several times, whilst we languish in the same houses we had in the 60s or 70s, unimproved and often inconvenient.
So any cash any of us had managed to keep our hands on gradually vanished up the Swanee, including any redundancy payments which had come our way, and we faced an uncertain future living hand to mouth for as long as we can envisage, as we tried to keep our now grown-up kids and grandkids afloat too. With the Governments of all persuasions doing nothing to rein in the Banks who were doing their best to cripple us by raising Credit interest as soon as it looked like we were making any inroads into our bills, then refusing us loans for consolidation or necessities like a working car, many were forced to cash in their one asset – their homes, and were duly shafted by many ‘Equity Release’ schemes, leaving nothing for their kids to hope for after the Grim Reaper’s inevitable visit.
So here we are now, having to carry on slogging away with the Government moving the Old Age Pension goalposts ever further out of our reach, our homes getting shabbier as we continue to be forced to pay for those who have never worked and those from the EEC and other countries alike who arrive on these shores expecting – and usually getting it seems – our hard-earned money and a decent home, with no discernible connection to this country, while we move forward into an unhealthy old age – and we still haven’t been able to afford to install Central Heating!.
So that is what a Baby Boomer is. A mug.