I come from a family of incredibly useful men. That wasn’t difficult because I had five handy brothers, and the only useless ones in the family, in terms of building and making things, and repairing things, were me and my mum. We seemed to break things rather than mend them.
We were dazed and confused by electric plugs and wallpapering. We got as much paint on us as on the wall. We were never dragooned into doing more than washing up and sweeping floors. Even my mother’s cooking left much to be desired. She could make nothing out of something, the exact opposite of what it should be. My dad was the better cook; my brothers excelled at it too.
My cackhandedness was clearly demonstrated when I was six and we lived opposite an enormous bombsite where the Nazis had reduced streets to rubble. I was the adventurer and climbed the fence to build myself a Wild West camp.
I got odd bits of bomb-damaged wood and made a hideaway, only for my elder brothers then to climb the fence too. Fearful at first of breaking some golden rule, they then built a splendid temple-like structure that would probably last a dozen years. You could walk on the roof, you could even jump on it. It was sound. Yet mine could be overturned by a pigeon flapping its wings too enthusiastically.
What happened to that generation, which I came from? What happened to that clever working class that could make and construct things as children?
Well, they grew up and got jobs and the jobs never took them anywhere. It marooned them in a world of semi-skilled or unskilled employment. Some of them learned skills on apprenticeships but most took the most well-paid jobs that had little future, little scope for improvement, and often little skill enhancement. A cheap wage economy that gave them just enough to marry and have children in poorly provided-for housing; dreaming of a new council house whose waiting list they were on from the moment their wives or girlfriends got pregnant.