Tag Archives: unemployment

Whose Side Are You On?

Last Friday I celebrated the feast day of a third century Roman saint. I didn’t go to church, burn a candle, say a prayer, or take communion. But nor did most of this countries husbands and wives and lovers. They bought flowers, and cards, and broke bread together. And it’s easy to mock those who fall for the commercial sting that is St Valentine’s Day. Easy to dismiss an ancient festival, that may have it’s origins in pagan worship. Easy to say it was invented by card manufactures; when it wasn’t.

St Valentine or Valentinus as he was known in the third century, is lost to us. On the 14th February he was martyred on Via Flaminia in the north of Rome. And that’s about all we know about him. He’s on the Catholic Churches list of officially recognized saints for local veneration; the Anglican, Lutheran and Orthodox Churches all recognise him. So he’s the real deal; not some capitalists dream.

Valentinus died for his beliefs. He died because the persecution of Christians  was an empire wide sport before Constantine adopted Christianity. The early Christians perplexed the pagan world. They happily embraced death; no matter how horrific. Sometimes they sought out martyrdom because it venerated Jesus Christ. Because they were certain of meeting God.

People like Valentinus were executed because they were considered a threat. Because they believed in things like: Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

Two millennia have passed. His persecutors empire has crumbled into dust. Christianity is a global religion. In Western Europe, people are no longer put to death. Yet in Britain a million children go to school hungry. Families who rely on food banks are called lazy. People born into privilege and wealth, accumulate more wealth.

I don’t know what Valentinus would make of a bunch of millionaires persecuting the sick, poor and disabled. But I do know whose side he’d be on.

I See

I see a homeless person

Dressed in rags.

I see everyone walking by

And looking the other way.

I see people spending money

On things they don’t need.

I see the   filthy looks

and  the muttering.

They say:

Dirty Beggar


They say:

You don’t matter

Because you’re not like me.

I see someone who once lived in a house

And was proud of that house.

I see them travelling to work

Each day

On a packed commuter train.

I see their hopes and dreams,

Their fanciful schemes.

I see them holding a child

Minutes after it was born.

I see a great mass of people

In motion.

And that person standing still

Frozen like a statue,

Hand outstretched.

I see green fields and the sea-side

Children building sandcastles

And others splashing in the waves.

I see

A handshake

A smile

And a pat on the back

I see a hospital bed,

And tubes going into an arm

There’s a beep every second or so

That says , this person is alive.

I see skin as thin as parchment

And a choir singing Christmas carols

To a hospital ward full of people.

I see someone who is too sick to work

Who can’t pay the bills.

I see a family argument and

Brimming suitcases.

I see the hostel

Where people shout at night.

The small room

With a wardrobe and sink.

I see sadness and tears

And hope slipping away.

I see me,

Who do you see ?


The original draft of When Dad Lost His Job, was written in fury. It came as I meditated on the on the cost of Margaret Thatcher’s funeral, and the fact that more and more people are reliant on food banks to feed their children.

I passed the text on to couple of friends; both female, one’s an economist, the other a teacher. There were two main points of criticism: one, it was too depressing and quite scary (in the original both parents are unemployed and one develops a serious illness). And the second point of criticism was the book offered no hope. The move at the end of the book had the child estranged from her grandparents.

Family configurations vary; many children have one or more grandparents. Many are cared for and given a safe-haven by a grandparent. Books tend to shy away from the sad reality that biological parents do not always make fit parents.  I, like a lot of children from my class and background experienced a grandparent as a surrogate parent. Not only did I receive the usual gifts of sweets and toys from my grandmother, she also provided clothes, food and shelter.

The child in When Dad Lost His Job may not live with her grandparents, but her life is sustained by them. It’s grandmother who pays the parents household bills, and the grandparent’s caravan provides a holiday. They provide much needed hope and financial support.

Real world examples of this are happening every day. I know of a family who without the support of a grandparent in her 80s, would have been forced to default on their mortgage. And for those without such support: there are food banks and squalid temporary accommodation. There’s hopelessness hard to imagine if you only breathe the rarefied air of Westminster.

When Dad Lost His Job, contains no dedication, but if it did I would dedicate the book to my grandmother:  a woman who supported a whole family of unemployed brothers during the last depression; who lit a fire for her (shoeless) pupils to warm their feet; and who taught me how to be compassionate and humane.

When Dad Lost His Job

whendad crop - Dan McGill

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