My mum always said the happiest time of her life was when she was working.
She was born in Mile End in 1907, and she was the eldest of eight children.
She started work in the 1920s in a shop in the east end, she was very proud that after a while she became the manageress in charge of three other girls.
In those days it was okay for young, single women to work, but once you got married you were expected to give up work, it was seen as taking a job away from a man.
You were expected to be a housewife and make looking after a family a full time job.
So Mum had to give up her job when she got married.
But she’d often tell me how much she had loved working.
Mum was very friendly and chatty, working in a shop was ideal for her.
Then of course there’s the independence, that was the only time in her life that she’d earned her own money.
When she had started work as a teenager she was so proud that she’d bring in money to help her mum look after her six little brothers.
Mum’s sister Polly was the next oldest and started work a couple of years after Mum.
Between them they paid for the front room to have lino fitted on the floor, they were the only house in the street that had it.
As a bloke you forget what a great feeling independence must be, we take it for granted.
My wife, Cathy, came over from Singapore to go to art school in England.
After art school she got a job at an ad agency in London.
She still remembers how great it felt to actually have her own money, money that she’d earned, that she didn’t have to ask anyone for.
She could spend it how she wanted without asking anyone’s permission.
Cathy still feels that way, being Chinese she doesn’t see work as a chore to be escaped from.
She sees work as independence, freedom, as a privilege.
In the west we’re conditioned to see work as a drag, something we must endure until we can finally retire.
But I saw my dad when he retired, he didn’t know what to do with himself.
After 35 years in the police he’d had to retire, so he spent two years learning ‘the knowledge’ and became a cab driver.
He did that until he began to lose his eyesight and had to give it up, he was like a puppet with the strings cut.
He’d read the paper, take the dog for a walk, and wonder what to do with the rest of the day.
He really, really missed work, just the same as my mum did, just the same as Cathy would, just the same as I would.
Some people believe the hype that work is a drag and we’re all waiting to retire.
We don’t see the opportunity, the freedom, the interest that work gives us.
It might be good to retire if you’re in a truly awful job, but that isn’t us.
I’ve worked in factories, on ships, driving vans, descaling boilers, in a bank, for me they were all really boring jobs but lots of the people there were happy just to be working.
We forget what the simple fact of having a job means to some people.
It means independence, it means freedom, not just money but a reason to get up in the morning, to get out of the house, to meet people, to feel useful.
As Kahlil Gibran wrote in The Prophet:
“If you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.
For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger. And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distils a poison in the wine.”