I had another disconcerting experience on the canal boat which I will hang on to as a memory I need to keep.  We only had any hot water if the engine had been running.  And we only had a warm boat once the empty gas bottle had been replaced.  Having a cold shower in a cold boat was not my idea of fun, so I kept my clothes on.  I was also pretty miserable.  I even slept in my clothes on the first couple of nights when everything was so uncomfortable.  They were outdoor clothes chosen for their ability to keep me warm and dry, not because they looked nice or showed me off to good advantage. 

 When we arrived in Bath we were moored outside a sports centre which would allow us to use the showers for £2.00.   As soon as I woke up the next morning, at about 7.30am, I gathered together all the things I needed and paid to get clean.  I left the sports centre at the same time as a man dressed entirely in camouflage gear carrying a huge camouflage rucksack who had been doing the same thing.  He walked off into town, head down.

The point of all this is spent long enough feeling unwashed in less than fresh clothes to realise that I wanted to be invisible.  I did not want people to notice me.  I wanted to keep my distance.  I did not feel like engaging with anybody.  I felt as if I lived in a different world.  This was a novel experience for me.  Usually I can choose to be seen when I am clean, have washed my hair, and have chosen my clothes and shoes from a collection that fills several cupboards and drawers.

I read this article (Jenni Russell, Inequality is closing down our concern for others) in the Guardian which begins with an affecting, convicting, description of the psychological pain caused by inequality.  A working class man describes the internal humiliation he feels whenever he encounters the well-dressed, casually confident middle classes.  He is sitting next to one of them in a waiting room:

“I start sweating, I start bungling, shuffling … You know you insult them … they look at you like they’re disgusted … Straight away you feel, I shouldn’t be there. It makes you not want to go out … It fucking stresses you. You get exhausted … It’s everywhere.”

but is really about the desperate need that most people have to keep on their rung of the ladder, and the disappointment and anger they feel when they contemplate those who stand on a higher rung which leads them to avoid people more “succesful” than they feel.  It is an article which encourages the Labour government to increase taxes on the rich so that the middle classes can feel less poor.  It is a rather self-pitying article, though there are many who would say that I can afford to say that.  The writer concludes:

“…the government has long taken the position that the wealth of those at the very top doesn’t matter to the rest of society. They have concentrated their energy on helping those at the bottom. It isn’t enough. We are all social beings, and we assess our worth by looking at those around us. Labour should be bold enough to start by increasing taxes on the very wealthy – simply because, as a society, we can’t afford to make that the standard against which the rest of us are measured.”

I think a better answer is to look straight ahead rather than up or down.  At work my clients were a couple whose teenage daughter is in a coma.  The doctors have written “Do Not Resuscitate” on her notes.  That keeps everything in perspective.  Makes me want to cry.

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