There are often stories in the newspapers about large families pleading with their local council for a bigger house or to have two council houses knocked into one...
Whey-faced women clutching the latest baby while surrounded by ten or more assorted small people and a dozy looking bloke who's been out of work ever since he left school. Right at the bottom of the article the reporter will announce...gleefully, I always think...that the woman is expecting her eleventh, or fourteenth child any day now...
Sometimes there are accompanying photographs...grubby bunk-beds with equally grubby bedding...babies cots I personally wouldn't put Millie in to sleep so disgusting they are and then the inevitable enormous television in the sparsely furnished and dirty sitting room...
I've no idea how many people live in Tina and Charlie's modest bungalow now...they have fifteen children but some of them are married and have their own babies and still live at home...so I suppose, at a rough estimate, there'd be about eighteen people living there at any one time. And that little bungalow is spotless...the windows shine...the net curtains are brilliant white and I'd eat off Tina's kitchen floor without a bother.
While looking at a census record for 1911 of one of my second cousins, I was struck by the fact he had five little daughters...three lodgers, one of whom was elderly, and his wife and himself. They lived in a cottage with five rooms. Of course it might have been a hovel, but I don't suppose it was for one minute.
The Irish census of 1911 shows the cottages in our street...there were two more then than now and one two storey which has long gone. Every cottage had three rooms...and every single family had at least eight children. No huge T.V hanging on the wall and no bunk-beds in those days so the little ones would either have slept head to tail in a big bed or up in the roof space under the thatch with the cats and the chickens...some of those families also had elderly parents living there. And there was no regular payment from the Government towards the cost of rearing those children either...
A packet of the cheapest washing powder in our supermarket costs 5 euro for a huge packet that'd last for ages even if you washed every day...a plastic bucket to soak the grubbiest clothes costs about 1 euro. A length of stout string to make a clothes line can probably be borrowed or nicked...a big plastic washing basket can be a bath for small ones...and so on. But then who am I kidding...the complaint isn't about the amount of money they receive in benefits and dole and that sort of thing...the complaint lies with the local council who are being badgered to provide a larger house for a woman who can't stop breeding and a man who needs to have the snip and get off his bottom and paint the inside of the feckin' house.
Sheer pride would never let me actually invite the Press into my home if it was a dirty hovel with peeling wallpaper and badly scuffed paint...there is no way I'd let anyone take photographs of my toddlers if their faces were grubby and they had dirty dummies stuck in their mouths and I'd be dammed if I allowed a camera man into my sitting room to film some gormless bloke I'd taken up with who was boasting he'd never had a job since leaving school...
There was a time, and it wasn't so long ago either, when I'd always, but always, come down on the side of the underdog...I'd make excuses and come up with a load of social worker speak and take forever to carefully explain about the poverty gap and the housing shortage and I'd bend your ears until you'd wish I'd go away. But, times, and I, have changed...now I announce firmly that there is no excuse for being dirty...a bar of cheap soap and a kettle full of hot water with a bit of clean rag to act as a flannel. A pot of paint on special offer, and a brush, makes a room look fresh and clean...
There's no excuse for dirty bedding in a child's cot...charity shops are heaving with blankets and sheets for pennies...and I've watched the lady in the Hospice shop listen to a tale of woe and simply stuff things in a bag and hand it over without payment...then she catches my eye and shrugs...couldn't let the poor girl go without she says...so I buy a bit extra to make up and she knows what I'm doing and tells me to choose some more books 'cos they'll be going to the recycling place anyway...go get some more she says...there's no charge.
I've not the faintest idea whether the people who lived in our street in 1911 thought themselves hard done by...I doubt they did. They washed their laundry and hung it over the bushes to dry in the sun and the wind and bathed the children...the cleanest one first...the dirtiest last, in a tin tub in front of the fire. They cooked stews from simple ingredients and baked soda breads and fattened a goose for the Christmas and worked all the hours God sent...but I very much doubt they went to the newspapers and complained because the cottage they lived in wasn't big enough...they'd have been mortified to do so.
Off my soapbox now, but I daresay there'll come a time soon enough when I find something else that gets my knickers in a twist.