"We never knew whether we were rich or poor until some social worker pointed it out. We just knew that we had to be home before dark.
When I first became a Probation Officer in 1970, it soon became apparent that I had entered a profession where most officers originated from the better off middle class of society. Apart from the educational qualifications we shared, it would have been more accurate to have described my own values and experiences as being closer to that of the clientele base than the background of my work colleagues. I eventually came to conclude in later life, that what had made me a good Probation Officer and highly effective in my work, was that I always knew that I was essentially working with 'my kind of people' and I was better able to understand them, having come from the same social class.
Being brought up in the 1950's was very much a class experience where there was a clear dividing line between 'us' and 'them'. What one ate, where, when and how one ate it, distinguished the widening gap between the classes; even the title of our meals was socially reversed to remind us of our place. Whereas I had my dinner at noon, the middle and upper classes had dinner during the evening.
I will never forget those long summer holidays from school where we would breakfast at 8.00 am and be put out to play until tea time; and we loved every fresh air minute of it. In fact, we couldn't get enough of it! We experienced an abundance of fresh air, ample adventure and the sufficient opportunity to soak up sunshine experiences all day long and laugh about stupid adults who never would understand the workings of a child's mind. When I think back, I marvel at the sheer inventiveness of the poor who would fashion games that all could play from the most basic of items one would find about the home or the street. Pebble and chalk playing hop scotch, a skipping rope, an old tin can to kick, a piece of wood and a wooden peg to hit as far as possible, marbles, conkers or a dustbin lid to use as a shield.
As for the older and tougher children, they would find a gas lamp and pick two teams. One person would lean against the gas lamp and form the head of a horse, while the remaining children of one team would squat down in a rugby-scrum fashion with their head between someone else's legs in single file, to form the back of a horse. Then, the other team would run and jump with as much force as they could to mount the human chain of children's backs. The aim of the jumpers was to jump as high as possible and land on the backs of the opposing team with such force that the child chain collapsed to the ground in a human heap. If the horse crumpled and collapsed, the team who had produced the collapse had another go. If it didn't collapse, the two teams swapped roles. It was not uncommon for many a child to arrive home for tea with a broken arm or a cracked rib. In fact, come to think of it, cracked ribs were so common that they were often dealt with by a tight wrapping of bandages and enforced rest without recourse to visiting either the doctor's surgery or the local hospital.
I recall during the 1980's, when well intentioned Social Workers and Probation Officers foolishly believed that to have been brought up on a council estate was disadvantageous to the growing child and left them devoid of any meaningful experience. What idiotic tosh! Indeed, they even started to spread this malicious class lie. Over a short period of time, clients who had previously lived happily on council estates were encouraged to feel disadvantaged for having had to. Consequently, many naturally started to feel deprived where no such feelings had previously existed. Very quickly, Social Workers had destroyed their happier memories of living on a council estate and in the process, they provided offenders with one more lame excuse upon which to blame their offending behaviour. Indeed, I'd go so far as to say that often the conventional wisdom of Probation Officers and Social Workers of the time was to project blame for the offender's behaviour onto their family and background; rarely themselves!
I was reared on Windybank Council Estate between the ages of 8 years until getting married at 26 years of age. In short, it was the best type of upbringing I could possibly have had. It put the spine into my backbone and helped build my character better than any other experience I could imagine. I grew up with a common set of community values which respected youth, elders, women and old age. We lived within a common code that demanded if ever you did wrong and got caught, you put up your hands, admitted your wrong doing and took your punishment without resentment or complaint. Anyone who could work did work and nobody I ever knew received weekly pocket money without doing household chores to earn it. There was no such thing in those days as receiving reward in the guise of pocket money for tidying one's room up and not living like a pig. Young men and women were not prevented from mixing, but sex before marriage was discouraged by all parents. In event of a girl getting pregnant, there was no arguing the toss as to what was 'the best thing to to do under the circumstances'. Having made their bed, the pair got quickly married and was expected to lie in it!
Those were the days when what to do seemed much clearer and doing what was required came more naturally. I will never regret being a war baby or of being brought up during the 1950's in a working class family on Windy Bank council estate. It was the making of me!" William Forde: June 21st, 2017.