When I was young my dad would occasionally stop to point to a roof and proudly say “That’s one of mine!”
He was a roofer and tiler and I echoed his pride when I told people at school what work he did. But as time went on I started to realise that my schoolmates did not think that was something to be proud of. By passing my eleven plus I landed in a very different environment with a very different class of people. And I started then to to notice the huge gaps in our lived experience and I started to feel shame about my working class roots. At the age of 62 I still struggle with this every day – for different reasons.
I work in the academic world and am constantly reminded that I do not come from the same place as many of my peers. I have to work very hard at not feeling resentful about their privilege and complete lack of awareness of the very different world where my family exist. Of course, I bridge both worlds now and know that many do, thanks to the opportunities that my generation had. I was the first in my family to progress to a degree at a polytechnic. My son could not be described as working class.
As an autistic woman I learned to mask my differences to survive and this included masking my background, although my Leeds accent gives away a lot:) I’m sure that many of my peers might be surprised that this is even an issue for me. When I used to be physically out and about in the academic world I think I came across as very confident (if not too confident as a woman in the edtech world).
But this post is about my dad, who died on Sunday. There will be no obituary in the guardian or the times about my dad, (or in the daily mirror – the paper we always had delivered). There are no tributes from people saying their lives were changed by him. He lived a quiet life in his council flat. Before his cancer devastated his body he liked to go out and about in town and chat to whoever would listen. And he made it to 86 which was no mean feat for someone who smoked for 70 of those years. It is also no mean feat considering his roots.
From humble beginnings
Peter Benedict McGill was born in Scotland in 1937 into an Irish catholic family that lived in Possilpark, Glasgow – one of the poorest areas in the UK. Life expectancy for people in Possilpark now is 66 so he lasted 20 years more than that. All of his 6 brothers and sisters died long ago.