Dear Angela,

Monday, 20 June 2011

I thought your comment about my ‘total ignorance of working class life’ was rather unfair. Perhaps Candace’s ‘How the Other Half Live’ experiment wasn’t perfect. Well, one can hardly expect laboratory conditions and double-blind random samples, can one? It was just a group of enthusiastic people trying to walk (or sleep, in this case) in another man’s shoes, for a mile or so.
And now a note about the ‘working life’ part. The experiment was never supposed to give us a taste of that, admittedly unappealing, lifestyle. We were just going to feel what it was like to live in a very small house with few amenities. And do admit, I slept in the very smallest habitat one could imagine, and with no conveniences whatsoever! Very few of the poor live in 45 square ft, Angela. And most of them possess a bucket for Nature’s Call, at the very least. I had no such thing.
Granted, we did not have to toil, as the ‘toiling masses’ have to, one is told at nauseam. And I will never claim to have a thorough understanding of such a regrettable predicament. But that isn’t to say that, with one’s aptitude for imagination, one cannot envision what it would be like. Some people need years of experience, in order to feel something, while others need but a second of a certain profound emotion.
You see what I mean?
In my young years, I almost did one honest day’s labour. Almost, I say – I didn’t quite make it through the day. Which is all the more proof of how deeply it affected me. And I thought it would be fun! Imagine that. It still seems to me that a lot of jobs are probably most enjoyable. If only I had the time! I wouldn’t mind working, you know. It’s a way to employ one’s talents, isn’t it. And I know I put mine to use, already, but sometimes I wish I could be ordinary, like most people, and go to work and be appreciated for it. It seems a much simpler life.
But this was nothing like I imagined it to be. Toby Waybroke had a little printing business, and was making posters for some charity that he convinced me I should get behind. This was unpaid work – both for him and me. Never one to ignore someone’s plea for help, I reported to his business place at 10.30 a.m. – a time when I usually don’t even think about getting up. I was supposed to help pull these posters through some awkward, frightening machine I was continually worried would cut off my fingers (though Toby said it was only rubber, and my fingers could get crushed, possibly, but never cut off), and then roll them up, fasten a piece of string around them and put them in a cardboard cylinder for mailing out.
Sounds innocent? Well, it wasn’t. It was unbearably monotonous! After about 50 minutes of going through the same, unnatural motions, my shoulder began to hurt. I tried to ignore it, and somehow managed to struggle on for hours. They were the longest hours of my life.
And the terrible popular music that blasted from Toby’s loudspeakers! I can never see what is so attractive, or remotely respectable, about music for the masses – music for the people at large, that is to say: popular music. Art, I always say, is elitist by nature. I’m sorry if I offend anyone by saying it, but it’s simply true. These dreadful sounds are the cheap drugs that the populace blast their brains out with. Making me endure it is beyond rude.
After those beastly hours, my shoulder froze completely, and I had to tell Toby I quit. He had the audacity to make a long face! Instead of being grateful for the tenacity with which I had punished my body for him, he felt it appropriate to tell me I was “unreliable”, and even: “spoiled”. Can you imagine it? I could have seriously harmed my shoulder! I went to see my doctor straight away, and he said I had ‘very strained muscles’. Oh, for a good massage…
Believe me, dear, after you’ve suffered pain and terminal boredom for five hours, you don’t need to go through it for 8 hours, or 10,000: you know what working feels like. It’s all a matter of seeing the whole in a small part – I can suffer more in one minute, than some people do in 10 years. It is the bane of the highly sensitive person. Cf., for this, Dalí's "Diary of a Genius." Could have been written by me, myself, it's so close to my own sensibilities! He gets an infection in the finger during the time of the Spanish Civil War. In his Parisian hotel room he worries dreadfully that he may lose his hand. And even die, ultimately. And will they make a small casket especially for the hand? He concludes, after days of suffering, that he doesn't need to go to the war in Spain. He has been through more, right there on his bed, than someone ever could on the battlefield.
Quite apart from this, I have also worked in a grapevine, years ago. You see, then, that my experience is both varied and intense.
Felt I had to share this. I was really taken aback, darling, at your aggressive criticism. Sad emoticon!

Dear Helen,

I know you are interested in social issues – well let me tell you, I have just returned from a night of ‘Living Like the Other Half’! Very eye-opening.
It was an initiative of Candace’s. She’s quite as socially minded as you. Me, I hardly have to find out what Living Like the Other Half is like, since I’ve been with Burke – he’s paying alimony for three ex-wives, plus a girlfriend of old who has fallen on hard times – or has his child, I’m not really sure which.
Candace’s plan was that we all spend the night in tiny, old campers, with little or no facilities. Not easy, for me! There was no loo (or ‘toilet’, as the common people call it), no kitchen, no shower even…Imagine it, me without a shower! But the loo thing was of course the worst of it…I made sure not to drink any alcohol in the evening. There was a café not 100 meters down a charming sandy path, but I had only a ginger tea – you know how alcohol hits the bladder so aggressively. Of course Candace’s hare-brained idea was that we would relieve ourselves outside…But most poor people don’t even do that! So there’s no way I’d go through that sort of ordeal, not for all the social ‘engagement’ in the world.
It wasn’t too bad a night, really, and some of it was actually fun – staring up at the night sky through a little window in the roof of my ancient Volkswagen, for instance, and there was some sort of adventurous excitement about making it on your own, with nothing and nobody to fall back on. Even sleeping in that horribly small makeshift bed (1.20 m wide!) had its charms, so long as I knew it was only going to be for one night. It’s a rewarding challenge to make do, I find.
On the serious side: the privations that come with even one single night of significant inconvenience have to be experienced firsthand to be fully appreciated, and I did feel this gave me a notion of what it’s like to do without. I was constantly concerned that some deranged local might break into the camper. We were all parked at least 50 meters from one another, and any scary nutjob could have crept up to the Volkswagen and forced his way in. I had Barnaby with me, of course. I knew his barking would alert me, so at least I wouldn’t be assaulted in my sleep. But it was a frightening idea.
I’ve never been alone in my life, you see. There have always been men, and even though I’ve traveled alone, there was always staff I could alert through the mere lifting of a phone. It was a first, for me, to be locked into my own little space, with nobody at hand to provide assistance or safety.
A sobering experience, in that regard. As I say, I do know, more or less, what it’s like to live a life of poverty, since being with Burke (isn’t it interesting how Angela always said I only ever date rich men, and I’m ‘in it for the money’? What would I be doing with Burke, if money was really all I cared about?) But needless to say, I’ve never spent a night without showering, both in the evening and the morning. I felt filthy and scruffy, in the morning – went out for a short walk with Barnaby while, apparently, all the others were still asleep, and ran into a man also walking his dog. He has a yacht in the little marina nearby, quite a sophisticated sort, it seemed.
I was very insecure and inhibited, in talking with him! Felt acutely aware of my unkempt hair and my naked, tired face – I’d only dabbed a little day cream on, a little rouge and some mascara, but without a large mirror I can’t do  my usual routine.
He did seem charmed by me, but I could tell he was a little guarded – as I would be, when confronted with a messy looking stranger. This is why poor women never catch rich men, isn’t it? They take so little care of themselves. Bad make-up, cheap clothes, hair that gets cut once a month, if that…The rich are instinctively repelled by such outward signs of disorganization, of letting oneself go. I find that most poor women have little self-discipline. If they did, they would spend what money they do have on good clothes and a beautician, and they’d be far more likely to escape from their life of poverty. By which I don’t mean to say that it’s always people’s own fault if they’re poor. Just that they might show a little more initiative.
Must say I feel quite happy to sleep in my 1.80 bed, tonight! I fear I’m not cut out for real privation – beyond what Burke and I go through, these days.

Copyright © 2009 Grunge Girl Blogger Template Designed by Ipietoon Blogger Template
Girl Vector Copyrighted to Dapino Colada