Lesley would almost apologize for talking about her. “Really, I am not to be pitied, there are much worse than me. » It’s just that life, for the past few years, has been ” a bit difficult “ : a divorce, the pandemic and now inflation. With her slightly upscale accent, her measured manners and her pronounced wrinkles when she flashes her slightly sad smile, one would easily imagine her having tea with her retired friends. But at 68, after a life as a dental assistant, she is forced to work in a shop on the high street of Brentwood, Essex. “I’m not exactly getting the retirement I had anticipated”she confides in a very English understatement, in reference to her broken marriage.
Lesley just receives the state pension (770 pounds per month, or 880 euros) and a few hundred pounds of “complementary”. Not quite enough to live decently. But ” really “, she does not want to moan: she has finished repaying the monthly payments for her accommodation and does not risk being thrown out. On the other hand, her heart sinks when she thinks of her children. “I’m a baby boomer, we’re a lucky generation, but it’s much harder for them. » Her 41-year-old daughter recently moved back in with her, also following a divorce. Impossible for her to pay rent, let alone buy an apartment.
Lesley is also worried about her son, who is facing heavy mortgage repayments now that interest rates have tripled in a year. “As for my granddaughter, she has just started university, where she is studying to become a teacher, but I am worried about her debts. » In England, a year of study costs 9,250 pounds. Once in working life, students then spend years repaying their loans. “I wonder where this is all going to end”asks Lesley. ” All that “ ? Real estate prices, debts, the cost of living… And salaries that do not follow.
Like Lesley, a diffuse sense of slow but inescapable decline dominates conversations in Brentwood. This city of 73,000 inhabitants Although it may be the first train stop at the north-east exit of London, the context changes radically: foreigners are becoming rarer, the conservatives reign supreme, Brexit has largely won. The place has even entered into national legend thanks to a reality TV show which has been filmed there for twelve years: “The Only Way is Essex”, which can be translated as “the only way to do it is to Essex” and which everyone in England calls “TOWIE”. The pitch? Young tattooed men with studied hairstyles flirt with young women with long painted nails, disproportionate false eyelashes and orange skin from dint of passing through tanning booths.
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