My wife and I were waiting outside the airport to catch our flight home and we got chatting to a nice couple who were also flying back to the UK that afternoon…they had obviously had a fantastic time as they ruefully told us that they really didn’t want to leave.
We got talking about their lives back in the UK, what did they do for a living and did they have family, it was the classic kind of conversation that many people will have when they meet strangers for the first time. We were getting on well and the conversation was flowing, we moved to the topic of their children of which they were obviously very proud. The eldest of their two children had just graduated from university and at this point the conversation moved up a gear from a polite exchange of information to a more candid sharing of views.
Their eldest child had just graduated from university with debts of about £40,000, and their youngest who was in the first year of university was quickly moving to exceed this figure. As they talked about the pressures that they felt their children faced, their body language spoke volumes…it was as if the very thought of what the future might hold for their children was causing all the relaxation that they had discovered on holiday to drain from them in an instant. They were concerned that having a degree was no longer a guarantee of a job for their children, they knew that unless they won the lottery that their children would probably not be able to afford a home of their own for the foreseeable future, if ever. They worried that even if their kids could find work, any work, not meaningful work, that they wouldn’t be able to plan for any sort of retirement amongst saving for a house and paying back their student debts.
I asked them how they dealt with their fears about their children and as he stared down towards the floor and she looked to the heavens they both said in unison, “I just don’t think about it”…they laughed and looked at each other as they realised what they had both just done. He stood up as if to bring some clarity to his view and said, “we just can’t afford to think about it, we know that there is nothing we can do to change things and thinking about it just drives us nuts. When we had kids we always thought that their future would be better than ours but know we know it won’t be,we put a brave face on for the kids and just tell them that everything will work out”. Their sense of hopelessness was palpable; I moved the conversation to football.
It seems as if we have become like the boiled frogs of the infamous experiment…we are in the boiling water now but it warmed up so gradually and slowly that we didn’t know what was going on. We have arrived in a surreal place in which we are no longer surprised that we can afford to pay for wars and weapons but not healthcare and education, as we remember those who stormed the beaches of Western Europe in defence of democracy and a better future for us all, perhaps the best way we can honour them is to demand more from those who govern us…write a letter, raise your voice, start the conversation, simply because you can…