When I was around the 10-11 age I got two expensive presents: a new bike and a radio-cassette player. I mentioned this back in a chapter of my autobiography. My parents had encouraged me to learn to ride so I could have some independence (and get out of their hair more) and had persuaded 2sis to teach me to ride on an old second-hand bike they had bought. After I learned to ride it for some reason I smashed it into a lamp post. I begged for a new one with racing handlebars rather than another second-hand one. I had to pay half of it, which considering I got limited pocket money, didn’t receive money for chores and had no other means of earning any meant that I had to save up said pocket money for six months or so. Having a bike also meant I could cycle to and from the rail station on the way to school thus saving my mother the car journey.
My radio cassette player, with headphones, was a means of escaping the world and listening to the local radio station until late at night. I still have the cassettes I recorded off this and it lasted 20-25 years which for however much it cost then is really quite a bargain. It’s possibly the only gadget I look upon with love. But along with the bike I had to fight for it as well as pay for it. My parents didn’t believe in spending more than £20-25 on birthday or Christmas presents (otherwise we’d all be spoilt brats you understand). I had to explain that this way I could listen to the radio in my room, rather than disturbing them in the sitting room and could use headphones so not bother them. I used to get in trouble if I’d used the radio downstairs while they were out and hadn’t turned it back to a respectable radio station, let alone left the volume up. My recollection is that it was probably a birthday and Christmas present combined with another six months pocket money.
These were the only large things I remember asking for as presents and they certainly helped changed my life. For that reason they were worth fighting for. I might be able to explain to my mother why I wanted something but even when she was willing it was a case of I’ll have to ask my father. He would ask silly questions like what do you want it for, why do you want it, is it a phase or are you going to get your money’s worth, how much is it? Many of which are perfectly adequate questions but I felt that I, along with my request, was put on trial. I felt I was asking for something that was reasonable, not extravagant and that I was entitled to a few luxuries. I also felt that the battle was worth it. I did once look at starting a train set but gave up as I realised that the cost was extortionate and it really wasn’t worth while although I do remember actually looking at them in a shop with my parents, so they weren’t unwilling to consider things, just unwilling to be generous.
I felt powerless and I resented that. I felt that I had to grovel and that I shouldn’t have to. I felt that their belief that I/we would be spoilt was unreasonable. The value of money was drummed into us, and as I grew older I realised it seemed to be used more when it wasn’t something my father wanted.
When I was 14 I was offered a school trip to Russia for 10 days, 3 cities for £300. That seemed to me a bargain but my father said no. I remember even the trip organiser phoning him up and not being able to get any sense out of him. What I resented then was that he couldn’t give me a good reason. I never bothered asking for skiing trips or the like as these were clearly frivolous. But I thought this was educational and good value for money. I think money was tight then, but I wasn’t in the know and my father never said, “We can’t afford it”. Words I would not, could not have argued with. It still rankles because he treated me like a child, making the decision for me which he was certainly entitled to do so, but not giving me an explanation. Maybe he was embarrassed to say he couldn’t have afforded it. Money was always found for my parents’ holidays though.
And that’s another thing. There were different rules for them than there were for me. Now, being parents and child, that’s as should be. I suppose I felt that there was money budgeted for their holidays which became increasingly extravagant as my father earned more money and my sisters finally left home, but that I was left over and there was nothing left over for me. I felt that there were carefully created rules that my parents were playing by, but that they didn’t tell me what the rules were. Certainly they got upset when I said that I didn’t know that money was tight even though I hadn’t been told; we’d moved back to London and bought a house in the centre; that didn’t tell me we had no money. But it was my fault for not working it out.
Now it makes me angry that they ignored me when they wanted to, but expected me to know or agree automatically. When the decision was taken to move back to London, my father came back from the first round of his job interview and we had champagne that evening and my parents were clearly very happy about something but told me they were just celebrating him coming home as if I was that stupid. He then went for his second interview, got the job and they announced that we were moving back, just as I’d settled into my new school and for the first time was relatively content. But they thought I wanted to go back to London. They never asked me or even told me they were considering it and were upset that I didn’t want to go. But my father did ask both my mother and I a few years earlier whether we’d like to move to Berlin. I think we got asked when he hadn’t already decided or to confirm his decision not to.
And that’s ultimately what it’s about. He makes his mind up and then goes through a period of supposed consultation which is fine as long as my mother and/or I agree with him. He decides what I think, and then acts surprised that I don’t always agree with him.
This has rambled for a bit but I’m trying to re-feel that rancour that I felt as well as work out what it is that makes me so angry. I wasn’t allowed a mind of my own but was supposed to copy his.