I was at a funeral on Friday: my paternal grandmother, my last surviving grandparent and a woman best described as formidable. Rather than let someone who didn’t know her do the eulogy, my dad stood up and talked about her life. He did her proud, but what struck me wasn’t so much what my dad said as the difference between her life and ours. Bear in mind that two days after the funeral, both the Observer and the Sunday Times decided that what really mattered – that is, what they put on their front pages – was whether Stephen Fry was quitting Twitter. That, according to newspaper editors, is what really matters now.
My gran was born in a Welsh mining village, a place devastated by the miners’ strike, and she was born on Boxing Day. Funds didn’t stretch to giving her a birthday and Christmas. One year she saw food being smuggled in on Boxing Day, assumed it was for a surprise party, and went to her room. She put on her good dress and waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. Eventually her absence was noted, and she discovered that the food was for some aunt’s birthday. My gran got leathered for wearing her good dress.
When my grandmother was in her early teens, she was put on a train to stay with relatives. Turns out there were no relatives, or at least no relatives waiting for her. She’d been put into service, getting up at the crack of dawn to look after her new employers, working until late for precious little money. That was in Bath. My gran was bombed out by the Nazis there, her home destroyed, every trace of her old life gone. In her early twenties she essentially started again, from scratch.
We don’t know we’re born.