Who ate all the pies?

8th February 2013 at 00:00

I know all about you, said the short, red-faced student (short because that was how she was made, red-faced because she was working herself up into a state of righteous indignation). You're one of those fat people who ate all the pies. And now all we've been left with are the crumbs.

Overweight, perhaps, I said. But never fat. And I haven't eaten a pie since, ooh, lunchtime.

I was speaking metaphorically, she said, as you well know. You taught me the word in the first place. But I've been reading all about your greedy generation. The baby bombers.

Boomers, I said. The bombers stopped in 1945. Then we were born. As a consequence of the bombers stopping, if you see what I mean.

She didn't. But it didn't stop her. In fact, she became more vociferous than ever. She waved a newspaper cutting at me. I couldn't quite see but I like to think it came from the Daily Mail.

You all bought houses, she said, when they were worth practically nothing and they were giving out mortgages like sweeties at Halloween. (So it was the Daily Mail.) Then you sat back and watched the prices soar out of the reach of the rest of us. Most of you had a job for life - particularly if you were teachers. Then at the end of it they gave you a gold-plated pension. Do you know how long my generation will have to work before we get ours?

I had to say that I didn't. Not the precise figure anyway. But I did have something to tell her. It's funny, I said, but when I look back on my life it doesn't seem quite as, well, "cosy" as you depict. Go on then, she said, getting even redder. Surprise me.

Have you ever heard of rationing? I asked. Food, fuel, clothes - even sweets. You could only have the meagre amounts the government allowed. It didn't end until I was 5. Not many homes had central heating back then, either. Mine didn't, for one. (I decided not to tell her about how we warmed our hands on the red crepe paper in the grate, for fear she'd think I was exaggerating.) And we didn't have a television in the house until I was 12, or a phone.

You mean you had to use your mobile even when you were at home?

Not exactly, I said. Opportunities were pretty limited, too, unless you were fortunate enough to pass the 11-plus. Most people went to schools called secondary moderns, at the end of which you were expected to go into some form of menial work, or perhaps an apprenticeship if you were lucky. And only 5 per cent of us could go to university, compared with close to 50 per cent now.

Ah, but you didn't have to fight in any wars, did you? Not like your parents.

No, but we had the Cold War, with nuclear annihilation a real possibility every time the politicians felt like flexing their muscles. As for those easy mortgages, it took us years to save a deposit and the repayments meant that the only car most of us could afford was some dodgy old rust bucket. Yes, I've got a pension, but I had to work - and pay - for more than 30 years to get it. And as for my soft job, I earn a quarter of what my son does in the City and I haven't had a pay rise for three years.

Hmm, she said, gathering up her papers, and by now looking rather more pink than red. But you're not going to be handing back that bus pass any day soon, are you?

Stephen Jones is a lecturer in an FE college in London.

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