November 2008: Recession Man

Today, I am making the prediction that the glorious Irish pub will soon be back to its former state of greatness. Why do I speak such madness? Have you got a minute or two and I’ll tell you? Of course, you have, aren’t you receding into a recession at the moment. You have plenty of redundant time on your hands.

Granted, up until I had this vision, I could picture myself telling my grandchildren about these places, where we went almost every evening to have a couple of pints, a quiet smoke and a chat with our neighbours. They would be enthralled by the fact that we were still allowed to light a peat fire, never mind smoke a cigarette as you sat chatting. They would be excited by the notion that we were still talking to our neighbours back in those days.

But, I digress. I was about to tell you about how the pub will be making a come-back over the next couple of years or so. This might sound like the rant of a poor pathetic alcoholic who cannot admit that there will be a drink drought in 2009 with not a pub in sight. But, I am willing to bet you the price of a pint that I am right. The pub will become the centre of attraction in our lives again.

Once more, very soon, it will feature on tourist ads populated by happy smiling faces. It will be the reference point when you are giving directions to the tourists that the same ads will attract. You mark my words. Let me lay down my overwhelming evidence in your mind.

The one most powerful argument for my prediction is the fact that the country is in a state of disgrace (as opposed to the kind that you are supposedly in after confession or death). In times of trouble, man turns to drink or religion. In Ireland, in the past, when there were enough priests to go around, we went to mass. Nowadays, the tendency has been to turn to drink, although, I’ll admit, we had this same urge in the past as well. And that is exactly what is happening, even as I write these words.

All across the country, the beleaguered publican is opening his doors on a Monday morning to find a customer waiting, with a rolled up tabloid newspaper under his arm. Ten minutes later, just as he plants the first bottle of the black stuff in front of him, Johnny-Come-Early is joined on the adjacent barstool by another man of similar ilk, the only difference being that he does not have a newspaper. He borrows yer man’s and soon both men are swapping racing tips, comparing notes and teasing out form with the paper spread on the counter before them. As the days and weeks wear on, another straggler or two joins the company.

Mr. Publican soon notices that his regular custom has grown. Pretty soon, the afternoons in his pub have become fairly raucous affairs, with much merriment and back-slapping, tip-swapping and counter-banging. In fact, there have been occasions when every barstool in the pub was occupied, something that has not happened since Ireland last played in the World Cup finals. He scratches his receding, greying hairline in puzzlement, wondering about the turnaround in his fortunes. The explanation is fairly simple. It is because of the recession (as opposed to his hairline) that these men are frequenting his pub once again.
You see, in the good old days, these men had jobs. They were making money. They worked hard, knew the bank manager by his first name, went on nice holidays. They hardly noticed the wee pub on the corner as they brought their wives or girlfriends, or both, out for meals on a Saturday night. They didn’t go to the pub to watch the football on the telly. Instead, they went to the games to see them live, grabbing a quick and cheap budget flight and a slow but expensive steak in the clubhouse restaurant after the game. But all this has changed.

With the job gone, as well as the girlfriend, Mr. Recession Man has more time on his hands. He is slowly realising how he has missed the pub. He remembers how he used to wish he could go in there and relax, as he drove past it on Monday mornings, starting his hundred mile round trip to work.. Now he suddenly realises that he can indeed do just that and he also discovers that he is not alone. There are many more Recession Men out there, just like him, who wished for just the same chance.

It’s back to basics, folks, for these lads. Recession Man needs to fill his time. He needs to feel wanted and understood. He can’t stay at home with the wife because he is not wanted there or, indeed, understood. He can’t even watch the football on the telly as he can’t afford the Sky package anymore.

So it’s off to the pub, just like the old times. He can do a bit of male bonding, have a flutter on the horses and not feel guilty about it because they are all in the same boat after all, jobless and footloose, if not entirely footless just yet. Except for the publican. He’s the only one who’s breaking a sweat and worrying about the taxman once more. Long may this recession last, he thinks as he pulls yet another pint to fuel his recession session.

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November 2008: Uncle Barry O’Bama

Many people have hailed the election of Barack Obama as the latest in a long line of Irish Presidents of the United States. After a little research, I can officially announce today that Barack Obama (or O’Bama as it should really be spelled) is indeed a true United States Irishman. (It always makes me nervous when I put the words ‘united’ and ‘Irish’ in the same sentence) The translation of his surname O’Bana is, literally, ‘son of the soil’.

You see, ‘Bama’ is the official state soil of Alabama and ‘O’, of course, translates into ‘son of’ from Irish. Look it up on ‘Tinternet’ if you don’t believe me. And don’t go telling me that he can’t be a true Irishman because of the colour of his skin: that would be like convincing me that Paul McGrath should have played for England or Philip Lynott never drank whiskey out of a jar. Unthinkable.

Barack- I can address him by his first name now as one true Irishman to another- is welcome in my house anytime. Of course, my invitation will have to take its place in the queue. A little Irish town has already claimed to have housed his ancestors. Presumably, these ancestors were members of the constabulary of the time and lived in the local barracks; the new president being named in honour of this fact when he was born. This is more proof, if any was needed, of Barack’s Irishness.
Anyway, this little ancestral town is called Moneygall. Mind you, with the state of the economy this last year or so, I’m sure the people are fairly fed up at the loss of jobs there and would like to change its appalling name to something more appealing; something like Galled-at-the-lack-of-Money, maybe.

Speaking about name-changing, will Uncle Barry (the more I write about his Irishness, the more I feel I can be personal with him) change the name of the White House now to something more appropriate given his ethnics? Perhaps he’ll go so far as to paint it a different colour?

 

Indeed, our embracing of Uncle O’Bama is in stark contrast to the ‘welcome’ (and I’m sure you’ll forgive my choice of verb here) rendered onto George Bush while he was in office. This is not surprising really considering that he probably thinks that Shannon is the capital of Ireland and consists mainly of a long strip of concrete with landing lights and a huge coffee shop, complete with smoking area for his gasping troops.

Some of you might recall that time when George actually found his way to our dear little island in 2004.  The welcome he got was not exactly comparable to that received by other presidents such as Reagan in Ballyporeen (another town that could have done with a name change, incidentally) and Kennedy in Wexford.
No, back in 2004, Bush visited Ireland for all the wrong reasons. He was garnishing support for the war in Iraq, trying to steal a bit of Clinton’s thunder by associating himself with the Northern Ireland peace process and, of course, he was wooing the Irish American vote for the upcoming second-term elections. Not exactly a sentimental fellow was George, and certainly we Irish never felt sentimental towards him. But now, finally, after eight long years, we have Uncle Barry to bring back to the oul’ sod.

O’Bama has already indicated that he is interested in visiting his ancestral homeland. The Washington Post wrote that Moneygall consists of ‘one stoplight, two pubs and a population of 298.’ Now that really amazes me. Only two pubs? And, according to the National Post newspaper, 100 of these villagers, a third of the entire population, packed into one of those bars on the night O’Bama was elected.

God knows what the place will belike when he finally gets to visit for the pint that he says he will have there. Showing another sign that he is truly Irish, he made this rash promise on 17th March 2008: as rash a promise as any Irishman has ever made on St. Patrick’s Days down through the ages.

No doubt, it will be a pint of the black stuff that our new Uncle will drink. . At least he won’t have to contend with Bertie trying to shove pints of Bass down his throat.

And in the same vein, I’ve just thought of an apt new name for one of the two pubs in Galled-at-the-lack-of Money. They could call it the Black Bush.

So we look forward to Uncle Barry O’Bama coming home to Ireland in the near future. Never mind that he has a different colour of skin to most of us. Sure, we’re all colour blind over here; the Irish for a ‘black man’ is ‘fear gorm’ after all, as I’m sure he’s been told already. And anyway, it could have been worse as far as we’re concerned and we should count our blessings. Heaven forbid if the new president was a woman.

November 2008: Patriotism

‘They say that patriotism is the last refuge

to which a scoundrel clings.

Steal a little and they throw you in jail,

steal a lot and they make you king …’

These words of Bob Dylan echoed in my head as Brian ‘The Brain’ Lenihan delivered the final words of his budget 2009 speech when he made his  ‘call to patriotic action’. (Yes, I know. I promise that this will be the last mention I’ll make of the budget. If I keep going like this, I’ll still be writing about it when the mini-budget comes about in January).

Anyway, we were talking about patriotism or the lack of it, maybe. Apparently, Brian would like us all to play our parts in the patriot game, to paraphrase another song. He has some neck really, as Bob Dylan points out so succinctly. Or maybe, he’s just cottoned on to the next big buzzword of our times.
After all, the American election threw up its fair share of patriotic speeches. Obama felt he had to defend himself when McCain … or McOld as one wag called him … questioned his patriotism. In a speech entitled ‘The America We Love’, the president-elect said; ‘I … believe that patriotism must, if it is to mean anything, involve the willingness to sacrifice – to give up something we value on behalf of a larger cause.’

This is the bit that Brian obviously read. But when you read further into his speech, you get this: ‘We must remember, though, that true patriotism cannot be forced or legislated with a mere set of government programmes. Instead, it must reside in the hearts of our people, and (be) cultivated in the heart of our culture, and nurtured in the hearts of our children.’

Perhaps Brian didn’t have time to read that far into the speech. If he had, he wouldn’t go about cultivating and nurturing patriotism in the hearts of our children by piling them into classrooms occupied by half a teacher (the upper body half, of course, in order to retain the brain which is vital to any teacher), would he?

Charlie Haughey and patriotism are not words that make easy bedfellows in any person’s mind. Apart from The Great Escape artist that is. Bertie, in his graveside oration at Haughey’s funeral, laid heavy emphasis on his former leader’s patriotism, his “proud identity with the people of Ireland …all of them”. Many people choked into their hankies during this speech and it was not tears that they were shedding.

To get to the origins of this patriotic kick that the current government is on at the moment, we have to go back to Cowen’s triumphant Offaly homecoming speech. I wasn’t lucky enough to be there myself but, according to my sources, the speech was delivered a little like one that an All-Ireland winning captain would give when he was about to receive the Sam Maguire.

He got a little bit wound up, apparently, as winning captains often do. Thankfully, on this occasion, my source tells me, he didn’t give in to the temptation of scratching his nether regions (although he didn’t put it that politely) as All-Ireland captains often do, or forget he had a microphone in his hand and shout so loud as to blow a speaker in the PA system.

However, he did come out with the words; ‘all national progress can only be predicted on an upsurge of patriotism’. This phrase, of course, was borrowed from Sean Lemass, another son of Fianna Fail. So Cowen seems big on the patriotism thing. Unlike Bertie, he bellows out the words of the national anthem at Lansdowne Road and Croke Park. Whether or not he’ll sing ‘Ireland’s Call’ will be interesting to see. Then again, he prides himself on being a ‘bit of a singer’, as we patriotic Irish quaintly have it.

So that’s where Mr. Lenihan was coming from in his wrap up of the budget speech. He was taking his cue from his leader. He wanted the old age pensioners who had already showed their patriotism in the 1980s by paying out over half their wages in tax and health levies to now start paying the state again to look after them in their final years. You have to hand it to The Brain. He gave us a whole new twist on the patriotic act of dying for your country.

But back to the future, and the real world.  Barack Obama, of course, continued on the patriotic road with his speech when he gave his victory speech in Chicago on Wednesday: ‘So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other’. Hmmm.

I wonder if the two Brians were listening to the president-elect, especially to that bit about looking after others. Maybe Cowen could ask Obama to explain real patriotism to him when he shoves the bowl of shamrock in his hands next March. That is, of course, if he is still Taoiseach then.

November 2008: Mature Students

My old neighbour has come up with his latest scheme. I am glad to see that he is getting pro-active again as he has, in the last week or so, taken to beating Fianna Fail county councillors over the head with a battered and rolled up copy of Budget 2009. This latest stunt comes hot on the heels of his failure to get permission to breed Natterjack Toads last year in a bog hole close to his farm. So, in a way, I am glad to see him making the leap from toads to teaching.
Let me explain his latest plan further.

Many of you will be aware that there has been a significant increase in mature study in recent years. Perhaps I should rephrase that in case you think that suddenly all our youngsters have hit the books in a big way; there has been a significant uptake in study by more mature people in recent years. Only last week we had the story of somebody in their eighties getting a third level degree or something equivalent.

My old neighbour got wind of this and he began asking me significant questions about it a couple of nights ago, over our usual weekly cup of tea in my house.

‘What’s with this mature student malarkey?’

I explained how people of a certain age were returning to education to ‘better themselves’, some of them having left school at an early age. ‘You see’ I said as he listened carefully, ‘you don’t need any qualifications nowadays to get into college, all you need to be of a … eh … certain age group…’

I realised as the words came out of my mouth how uncertain I was of the age of this particular audience. But it did not matter, as I watched his eyes mist over and I knew, from past experience, that there was some mad plan formulating in his head. Eventually, he deemed to share his thoughts with me:

‘So you’re saying that, if I wanted, I could go back to school?’

‘In a word, yes. If you wanted, that is …’

‘Hmm, now that’s interesting. And, if I wanted, I could maybe become a teacher some day?’

‘Maybe. If you wanted. Or even a politician but I don’t think you need any official qualifications for that other than not having a father as you are always telling me’

He got up and paced the room, in silence, for a while. He stopped and turned to face me.
‘What I’d like to know’, says he after a pause ‘is where all these “mature students”, as you call them, were last week on the Day of the Protests?  They must have been a bit confused, not knowing whether to protest against medical cards or against school fees.

‘I thought all those silver-haired devils were in that church in Dublin committing sacrilege by booing politicians over the medical card fiasco. But maybe there they were instead, lying down in the street with young ones a half … no, a third … of their age, protesting against the rise in college fees and the like.

‘Mind you, it all makes sense to me now. Shure, the young students nowadays wouldn’t have a clue how to protest, what with being born and reared in the good times. They needed a few old hippies and a 1980s PAYE worker to show them how it was done. That’s were the pension students came in, isn’t it?’

He was getting quite animated as he formulated his plan for his future career.

‘I can see a job for me in all this. Far better than battering politicians with bad paper budgets. I could become one of them mature students while still retaining my pension status. I could roll the two careers into one. Protest against the college fees in the daytime and against the hospital fees in the evening.’
‘And where will you get the time to study with all this protesting?’ I asked.

‘Yerrah, that would be no bother to me at all. Look at all the learning I have in life. Shure, it’d be a doddle for a wily old codger like meself. And I’ll tell you another thing, son …’

(It had been a while since he called me ‘son’ given his consistent insistence that he was not as old as he actually was; it seemed that that particular stance had now been discarded by the sprightly new mature student standing in my kitchen.)

‘… I’ll tell you another thing, son. This is no Johnny-Come-Lately they’re dealing with here. I’m in this for the long haul. I have plans. As soon as I get all my exams and am allowed to teach, I’ll set up my own school. I’ll be doing everybody a favour, seeing that they’re giving out about the sizes of classrooms these days as well. I could fix up that old shed I was going to use as a cafe in the tourist season a few years back … there’s a nice blackthorn hedge growing beside it for shelter too … I could call it the Hedge School …’

September 2008: The ageing process

One of the surest signs that you are getting old is when you realise that, across from the breakfast table from you one morning, you have a fifty year old, bald headed son. And watching and listening to the chat all week about kids starting school made me realise that the only time in our lives when we can’t wait to grow older is when we’re kids.  If you’re less than ten years old, you’re so excited and anxious about age that you think in fractions.

Just ask your young nephew his age.  “I’m four and a half!” he responses with pride. Try telling somebody that you’re thirty-six and a half and watch the expression on their face. But your nephew is four and a half, going on five. That’s the key to a proper aging process as far as he is concerned.

Later, when he gets into his teens, he’ll begin to take a few more risks with age. Teenage girls are especially good at this.  They jump to the next number, or even a few ahead.

“How old are you?”

“I’m going to be sixteen!”

She might only be thirteen, but it’s not telling you a lie by saying; “I’m going to going to be sixteen!” When she reaches thirty though, it’s a different story, as we all know.

After the teens, comes the greatest day of your life. You become twenty one years of age. Or, if you’re one of the impatient teenagers of today, you become eighteen, allegedly the age of reason. Three years is a long time when you’re young, you see. But whether you’re eighteen or twenty-one, it’s the wording of that phrase that matters. You become that age.

It sounds like an achievement, which indicates a real ritual is taking place. There are lots of erstwhile forbidden and forbidding stuff you can do now, like voting undeserving idiots into power and buying fags over the counter.

On reaching this major milestone, the rest of your twenties roll into one big long year. Whether you’re twenty three or twenty seven, you’re still the same age and so are your friends.

But then you turn thirty. This is when the women begin to get forgetful. Suddenly you turn the big three oh.  The phrase itself makes it sound like you were a glass of bad milk. You can hear your friend’s remark:  “She turned thirty, we had to throw her out as she went sour on us”. There’s no more fun now, the good times are over.

You “become” at twenty one and then you “turn” thirty. Things can only get worse. What’s in store for you next? I’ll tell you what. Now, my aging friend, you’re “pushing” forty. Hold on there a minute. Put on the brakes, it’s all slipping away. We try and console ourselves by saying that forty is the new thirty. Not a bit of it. Forty years old is forty years old. Don’t kid yourself, your kid days are well and truly over.

And before you know it, you’ve “reached” 50 and all your dreams have faded away. Your life, for all intents and purposes is over. Again the language we use tells us the real story. “Reaching” fifty a major achievement in itself, a struggle, a race to the bottom, as it were.

But wait. There’s more, if you’re lucky. Your friends might find themselves telling everyone that you’ve “made it” to sixty. It is around this time that people start to speak on your behalf as if you weren’t in the room with them. “He’s made it to sixty, you  know, just last week”.

So far, you have become twenty one, turned thirty, pushed forty, reached fifty and made it to sixty. At this stage in your life, you’ve built up so much momentum that you actually “hit” seventy.  In between things start to go all wrong, Body wise, everything hurts, and what doesn’t hurt doesn’t work.  You feel like you’ve partied the night before, and you haven’t been out anywhere. You address book contains only the phone numbers of professional medical people and you have too much room in the house and not enough in the medicine cabinet.

The only gleam in your eye is when the sunlight hits your bi focal glasses. You know all the answers, but nobody asks you the questions anymore. You turn out the lights for economic rather than romantic reasons. When you bend down to pick something off the floor, you think to yourself “is there anything else I need while I’m down here?”

And it gets worse. Have you ever found yourself standing on the landing, forgetting whether you were going up or coming down the stairs? No? What about when you go into a room and forget what you came in for? You end up doing a tour of the house looking for signs of recent activity like a DIY job in progress or a phone off the hook, ignoring the strange looks your nearly and dearly loved ones are giving you.

A dead give away to the aging process is when you start holding onto little bits of timber just because you might need them to stir the paint during next year’s planned house makeover. That is the day you have become your father.

And when you get into your eighties, every day is a complete cycle and a huge landmark.  You “hit” lunchtime, you “make” teatime and you “reach” bedtime, which gets earlier and earlier every week as you struggle to stay awake past the nine o’clock news.

Time, in your mind’s eye, is slowing down drastically and when you get to your nineties, you have started going backwards in age.  You find yourself saying things like “I’m in my early nineties” and “I was just ninety four last birthday”. And you revert to using phrases like “I’m ninety two and a half”; just as your great grandson proudly announces that his is five and a half. Ah yes, the cycle of life.

September 2008: Mr & Mrs Average-Cliché

 

I hope you don’t find this week’s few words boring. It’s just that I’ve been feeling that way lately ever since my new neighbours moved in. I am referring to Mr Cliché and Miss Average. Of course, they are now known as Mr and Mrs Average-Cliché. That is only to be expected.

They have been married a while and have two point four children. The two whole ones came at first. A boy, then a girl. The third Average-Cliché is a bit of a boy-girl combination. I haven’t quite had a good look at him or her or it, whatever, yet but when I do I’m sure I’ll figure it out with the help of a calculator.

I am unsure whether the point four is a vertical point four or a horizontal point four. In any case, it’s nearly a half, be it with one leg and arm, plus point four of a brain. Hopefully, it is a vertical point four as a point four child cut off just below or above the waist would be a distinctly disadvantaged child and not proper for a Average-Clichéd family at all, at all.

They all live in a two up, two down house. Nowadays, that probably means two bathrooms upstairs and two utility rooms downstairs. I don’t know as I have not been invited over there yet, which, if I may say so, is a bit average even for modern times. I’m a bit odd, you see, and probably wouldn’t fit in with Mr and Mrs Average-Cliché’s crowd.

They live just a stone’s throw away from me and if one of them decided to toss such a projectile in my direction, they would probably kill two birds with it when doing so. They’re that sort of couple, you see.

They use phrases like “It’ll be alright on the night” and then say they never go to the theatre. Or they say “not a bad day, is it?” when the rain is pelting down.

 

I meet them most mornings as they go out to work. One’s a teacher and the other’s a nurse. Or is it a civil servant? In any event, they both serve the public in some form or other, earning an average enough wage to keep them in good stead. At least I think so. There is the fact that he calls her the Better Half, which obviously means she’s either good at gambling or that he earns more than him. Perhaps it is the former, as I heard her praising him the other day as being the main Breadwinner. Then again this could mean that he is a bit of a Gordon Ramsay in the local baking contests.  It can be very disconcerting at times, the phrases they use.

They used to go out to the pub, but now I see them hauling in crates of wine from their car every Friday night. They invite their families over, and the place can be running amok with average men and clichéd woman until all hours. The Average intake of alcohol is 2 units per day. I discovered this by careful analysis of their bottle recycling habits.

They tell me that they go on a couple of holidays a year to The Usual Places, which must be a group of islands near the Canaries or somewhere.  I have this vision of all these Average relations, all 17.6 of them,  sitting around a barbeque in the Usual Places, sipping a unit of wine and dining on five portions of fruit and vegetables.  The lean meat they are grilling will be chicken, with portions no bigger than the palm of the Average hand.

The Average-Clichés are alright as neighbours really.  They never play music at odd times of the night. They get up, on average, between eight and eight fifteen every day. Except every second alternative Sunday when they have a lie in, before heading over to the Averages-in-law and Clichés-in-law for Sunday lunch of roast beef and roast potatoes.

So, all in all, I’m happy to have the Average-Clichés as neighbours. They have standards, you see. They may not be very high standards in many people’s eyes but they are very useful when I compare my own standard of life with theirs. I can gloat when I exceed their standards and worry when I fall below them. They may be boring but at least they’re consistently boring. And they have a funny way of looking at life which keeps me amused.

I bumped into the pair of them in the supermarket one Saturday while they were doing their Average shopping and, naturally enough, asked how they were. He said “Grand, can’t complain, no worries.”  Now such statements are fine and dandy for normal supermarket encounters except that it was obvious the man was in bother, what with him being in wheelchair with a broken leg and fractured arm. Apparently, he fell off the back of a lorry while flying his own kite in an effort to go with the flow. That’s what Mrs. Cliché told me anyhow and who am I to argue with her?

 

August 2008: Fashionable Recession

Last week I talked about what how some things would become unfashionable during the recession. Somebody mentioned to me during the week that I forgot to mention tribunals as the country cannot afford them any more. I countered that at least the Flood tribunal would remain popular given our recent doomsday weather.

Anyway, as they tell me that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, this week we can ruminate on what will become fashionable over the impending hair shirt days. And, like fashion trends, some things are just coming back into fashion under different labels rather than being new inventions, which don’t fool the veterans of the 1983 to 1992 Recession War amongst us, of course.
No siree, we can recognise a wolf in sheep’s clothing when we see one. Take all this grow-your-own-vegetables-it’s-good-for-you advice we’re getting. Most of us couldn’t give a crooked carrot for this baloney. We would much prefer to be able to but our spuds in the shop if we could afford them.

Unfortunately, now that famine times are imminent, it may be that we have to take out the rusty spade again, beg a bit of dung from the local farmer and plant our own Pipers. We didn’t seem to notice the cost of the humble potato increasing during the good times, did we? We were too busy trying our hand-made Italian pastas and subtle saffron-flavoured rice in our shiny new chrome kitchens.

Supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl will become fashionable in our brave new world. We will learn how to pronounce the names of such outlets properly at last and say their names out loud and proud. And we will get used to picking up our bananas and oranges from the very boxes they arrived into this country in. I find it somewhat reassuring that I can examine the side of the box and find out which exotic country is supplying me with my fine beans. And yes, I’m admitting to doing my shopping there at last.

Another recycled “fashionable” notion is this cycling lark that is being foisted on us as a healthy thing to do by the likes of Jolly Green Gormley. You won’t get me buying into that bit of PR, even if I could afford to. The bottom line, if you’ll excuse the pun, is that nobody in their right mind would straddle a saddle in this day and age were it not for the recession and the price of petrol. Who wants to face into half-finished roundabouts, streets with no cycling paths and waterways built on flood plains that masqueraded as roads in the good times when we didn’t care about such bad planning acts?

Daytime television will become popular again and RTE will not be able to get away with the same type of programming as they have done in the past ten years or so as the old overstuffed armchair comes back into fashion. Babysitters like Barney and that Bear in the Big Blue House will become redundant and join the rest of us on the back-into-fashion dole queue.

They will be replaced with shows such as “Pennywise” and “I’m Redundant …Get Me Out of Here”. “Daniel O’Donnell’s DIY Show” and “How to Home Brew” will be the hits of the coming winter, as “Off the Rails” becomes “Ireland: Off the Rails” and “How Long Will You Live?” evolves into “How Long Can You Survive?”.

Fashion programmes will, ironically enough, be out of fashion and there will be nary a property programme in sight. But RTE 1 and 2 will be right up there as fashionable as we ditch the expensive Sky packages that we thought we couldn’t do without. Sure who needs more than two channels anyway?

Religion will make a comeback as we realise that the Money God proved to be a false one.  Of course a church comeback will mean another avenue for free socialising and instead of paying expensive psychiatrist fees one could just sit in the confessional and talk about one’s thoughts (or at least the bad ones) at no cost to one’s pocket. Over time, becoming a priest might even become fashionable too.

Local community halls will be full houses as Bingo become popular again. Bored unemployed youths will form dodgy-sounding rock bands and the next U2 will be born in a couple of year’s time. Farming in the west of Ireland will be the in-thing for real people rather than the haven of painters and sculptors who have sold their doubtfully inspired works to the doubtlessly uninspired property-ladder climbers of recent years.

And best of all, for me at least, the Real Santa Claus will be back in fashion next Christmas. No more trips to Lapland where kids discover the place is not as magical as they had imagined. No more quads parked outside the door on Christmas Day without as much as a ribbon wrapped around them to give it some semblance of a Santa gift.

Thankfully, it will be back to families going out to cut holly off the local trees, back to baking mince pies and Christmas cakes (at least that coffee table cookery book you got from your mad friend two years will be used at last), and back to lighted candles on the window sills as we save on electricity. A recession is not all bad, you know.

August 2008: Recession unfashionable

The country is in recession. Not a block or a pipe has been laid in any building site in the country in the past few months.  And while I was listening to a program on the radio the other day about the re-introduction of third-level educational fees, I was suddenly aware of how some things were coming back into fashion as our economic hairline recedes.

You see the last time we talked about paying school and college fees we were just emerging from a recession. Now, we’re talking about them as we enter a recession. What goes around comes around, as they say. But if dole queues and college fees are becoming fashionable again, other exotic habits and pastimes are going out of fashion. Fast.

The first ones to feel the pinch will be the animals. Just as they’ve got used to nice normal non-GM eating habits and freedom to roam the fields, the general population decide that they can’t afford the hyper-expensive prices that organic meat costs. We will all revert to the water-pumped, force fed chickens once again. Because they’re cheap.  So it’s back to artificial fertiliser-laden fodder for our poor cows and back battered battery hens for Sunday lunch, I’m afraid.

If you think that organic feed and lifestyles for the animals will be unfashionable in the coming years, their pampered cousins will have it worse. When we ran out of ideas on how to spend our money on pampering ourselves, we started to pamper our pets as well. Now, in these straitened times, Rover will no longer be done up like the dog’s dinner. Dog grooming, pet-sitting, fur-cuts, nail clipping: you name it, we paid for it for our pooches.

We put them up in pet hotels when we went on holidays, we paid pet insurance to cover the cost of the vet’s visits when they got sick and, when they finally popped off, we sent them to the big dog kennel in the sky by way of cremation.

God love us, we couldn’t do enough for our pampered pooches. We were like Gaius Caligula, that general from the hedonistic Roman times, who made his horse a member of the senate.

Of course, we only started that nonsense after we had exhausted ways of pampering our own bodies. We have fake tanned ourselves to a deep shade of brown, we wear gel nails, we take diet supplements to counteract our fast food habits (no time to cook, you see, and we can afford takeaways every night). We installed gym equipment in our spare rooms in another effort to fight our bad eating habits. Teeth whitening became popular and cosmetic surgery was no longer a taboo topic for discussion over morning coffee.

Some F words have become very unfashionable as the recession bites deeper. “Flipping” property has become “flippin’ property we can’t sell” rather than a quick turnaround of a property purchase with maximum profit. Foreign workers will no longer be welcome on our shores as we fight to keep our own jobs.  It’s back to effing basics.

A lot of jobs that were created by our personal wealthy lifestyles will now be as unfashionable, and as unprofitable as they were before tiger times. Wedding planners will disappear into whatever black hole they crawled out of in the first place. Children’s party entertainers will go back to parading on Paddy’s day in silly costumes and auditioning for kid’s TV programmes. We will no longer pay people to iron our shirts, cut our lawns or clean our houses.

And I’d imagine that people will no longer pay others to mind their children in a “play zone” for four hours, at a tenner an hour, while they shopped until they dropped.

I heard of that money-spinner down the country recently. Now the poor darlings will have to put up with being unwillingly dragged around the shops as was foisted on us when we were young.

I mentioned wedding planners earlier. We have also been subjected to the “day after the wedding” party. I’m sure some of you have been forced into attending these. Usually, they are held in some relative’s house, where the guests whom have not embarrassed themselves too much at the real wedding the day before can relate their stories of the day, comment on how the bride looked and cure their hangover without remorse. You needed to buy another outfit to attend these. Another shopping trip to America justified.

Of course, even this was not enough for some people and lately, before the recession bit our bums, newly weds were having these post mortems in the same hotel that held the wedding or hiring in caterers. I suppose it was one way of showing off your new five thousand square foot house.

If all this sounds alien to you, don’t worry. You have been living in the real world and the recession might not affect you too badly, if you can hold onto your job. I, for one, will not miss listening to the stories about pampered pets, partied-out prodigies and extravagant weddings.

And there is one thing that I will be glad to see confined to the recession skip, along with the clapped out children’s trampoline, the propane barbeque and the punctured bouncy castle. That item is the property ladder. There are plenty who won’t be climbing that particular apparatus for a few years to come yet.

August 2008: Olympic couch potatoes

Ah, the good old Olympics. I’ll bet all the couch potatoes are in heaven these days (not, of course, because they have died of heart attacks due to the sedentary lifestyle of their profession but, rather, the joy they are feeling at watching wall-to-wall Olympic TV).

Of course another reason for their heavenly state may be that they are actually over there competing in the Olympics. You needn’t try and tell me that they wouldn’t be able to do so. If you have watched the Chinese puzzle that is the Olympics, you’ll know what I am talking about.

Archery looks a little bit of a handy sport for anyone who has a phobia for perspiring anywhere other than when lying on a beach with a blue-coloured drink in their paw. I mean all you have to do is hold up a bow, point an arrow at a target and pull the string. Well, that’s the theory of it anyhow.

I notice how they have tried to complicate the art of archery by added bits and bobs onto the bow, making it weigh a ton, no doubt, and hard to lift. They have also resorted to tying the competitor’s (I nearly wrote “athlete’s” there by mistake) podgy fingers together to make it more difficult. It’s a wonder they don’t blindfold them while they’re at it.

At least the scoring is easy to follow in archery. This means you can watch it while you’re half asleep, which is something that I don’t recommend to male readers when they are watching women’s beach volleyball; especially the Brazilians. You are likely to have some weird dreams if you nod off between sets in that sport.

Then we have the synchronised swimming which, allegedly, is a cross between gymnastics, dance and swimming. In this “sport”, women (for it is a woman’s only sport, men obviously have more sense than to make fools of themselves in a swimming pool unless they are abroad on holidays) put a clamp on their noses and a super-glued super-grin on their faces while they try and stop themselves from sinking Titanic-like to the bottom of the pool by thrashing about in unison.

The connection with this “sport” and gymnastics is not surprising really. Have you seen that gymnastic “discipline” (and I use the word advisedly) where they stand on a mat and wave a ribbon about while some innocuous tune is played in the back ground?  I think it’s called “rhythmic gymnastics” or something like that. Whatever way you dress it up, it’s a nasty bit of gymnastics.

The bottom line for me is that a sport where judges can give points for “style” is not a sport at all. It’s an art form. It may be a difficult thing to do, it may be a physical activity, but it’s not a sport unless the winner can be determined by something measurable like length, height, time, goals, score, duration etc.

My idea would be to give the gold medal to the synchronised swimmer who stayed under the water, upside down, for the longest length of time without drowning. Similarly, give the kudos to the gymnast who manages to twirl her ribbon for the longest length of time, or at least until the judges got tired and went home.

There is plenty of fighting going on at the Olympics as usual. Leaving the politics aside though, there is no shortage of boxing, wrestling, judo or, God bless it, the art of Taekwondo. This is the national sport of North Korea. Traditionally, Taekwondo was not even competition-oriented but somebody decided it should be a competition in the Olympics. And we wnat to keep the North Koreans happy, don’t we?

This sport is not exactly practised on a worldwide basis, is it? So can anyone tell me why Gaelic football or hurling is not an Olympic sport? At least we’d win a few medals at that if we could get Kilkenny or Kerry over there.

We have little other chance it seems. There was a time when we could rely on the good old fighting Irish spirit in the boxing ring.

Mind you, I have my own ideas about that sport. I can’t understand why they are allowed to divide it into weight categories. Surely there should be just one boxing medal and anyone of any weight could enter the competition?

Of course, some of you will argue that there needs to be weight categories because the smaller boxers would get killed by the heavy weights. Not a bit of it. Ever heard of David and Goliath? As far as I can see, this separation by weight is just a racket to get more medals for more boxers.

Look at it this way. If we extended this strange logic to all sports, then we’d have high jump and basketball medals for various categories of shorter people who can’t jump as high as tall people.  Or what about a 100 metre sprint for slow people?
Speaking about basketball, there are many professional athletes and players getting pampered at the Olympics. As I lay on my couch watching the USA scoring over a hundred points against the hapless Chinese the other day, I wondered how many of those American basketball stars will get a chance to meet the six year olds who make their shoes.

I switched back over to the Brazilian women’s beach volleyball game immediately and dismissed the thought from my head.

August 2008: Mary’s Contrary Bank Antics

It didn’t take them long to stick the boot in. Memories of the good old bad-old-Eighties came flooding back as contrary Mary Hanafin appeared on our telly screens this week, like a modern-day made-up version of Charlie McCreevy, talking about her proposed new bank antics.

Now, there was a time when we expected the unemployed to get the boot from the boys in the Dáil. It was part of our heritage, almost, going back to the black days of the seventies when nobody had a job. Those in the dole queue were lined up like skittles to be knocked over by unsympathetic political bowlers.

But there was a certain romance about signing on the dole in the last recession. Back then, men introduced their eighteen year old sons to the nice ladies in the dole office when they reached manhood. Thereafter, it was expected that they would spend their days queuing up, following in the family tradition of “signing on”. Then the Celtic Tiger rose and our traditional values fell.

No more were there lines of people outside the dole office, waiting patiently for their turn, puffing on fags and chatting with others like themselves. Of course there were those of us who ignored the Tiger’s roar in the backwash of society, unable to face this brave new world. We included amongst us the depressed and the demented, the drug-dependent and deluded. They remained with all the failed priests, failed poets and failed politicians.

But our lives improved. No longer did you have to sign on once a week through an unwanted visit to your local Garda Station, where the sergeant waited for you, issuing a summons for your unlicenced dog, before letting you sign your slip and go in peace. Now, we only had to hop into the welfare once a month and sign on the dotted line.

No longer did we have to collect our money in cash in the dole office itself (that is if we were lucky that the office had not been robbed by the Provos that day). Now we could go to the post office and collect it. Even better still, we could get our money paid into a bank account, if we had one, and withdraw it whenever we liked. We could take out at a fiver a day, every day, if we wanted. We could pretend that

we had a job and, therefore, loads of money by doing that. We were part of the brave new world, despite ourselves.

In fact, things got so good that nobody knew we were on the dole at all.  A quick monthly visit to the dole and we were free men until the next signing day. People treated us the same as a working man and our dirty little secret was safe. We managed to avoid the worst excesses of the Celtic Tiger and we preserved our twentieth century culture with pride.

Everybody forgot about us and life was easy. Ireland had “full employment” we heard, economists accepting that the 4% of us that stayed on the dole were a natural thing in any society. Naturally, we concurred with this view. So we went back to drinking and writing poetry and speaking at parish pumps.

Suddenly, all hell has broken loose. Building work stopped, construction crews disbanded and immigrants climbed over each other to get on the next plane out of this country. And our comfortable little world has been invaded by the newly unemployed, men and women who don’t even know what a Butter Voucher was. With them, they have brought attention back onto us and we are caught in the spotlight.

Mary Hanafin reacted to the appeal for savings that Brian Cowan made last week by announcing that her department was cutting back on our easy lives. Under the guise of catching a few immigrants who have decided that their ties with this country were too strong to stop claiming social welfare, even though they are now back with their families in mainland Europe, Mary has withdrawn the privileges of letting us get our benefits paid into the bank.

The argument is that ten per cent of two thousands claimants were getting paid while not living in Ireland. I would like to know how many of that sample were true Irishmen, born and bred on the dole in the good old days. I’m willing to bet you won’t find that any of us would even contemplate such a 21st Century type of fraud.

Personally, I blame Michael O’Leary and his cheap flights for all this. In any case, Mary the contrary reckons that we should all go back to the good old bad-old-Eighties style of doing things, just because of these few fly-by-nights. She has us queuing up again, this time to get our money out the post office. She is hoping that we will go away and thus save our spendthrift government some money, as well as face.

She has banned the use of modern technology, on-line shopping, laser purchases,

bank links and the rest by the unemployed. She has ruined the civilised status that we Dolemen have worked so hard to achieve. Has she no respect for us? Of course, she hasn’t. But we are made of sterner stuff than she thinks. We will call her bluff. Better ministers than her have tried to chase us away.

Contrary Mary should leave us old Dolemen alone. After all, I’m trying to build up a good credit rating and not getting my dole paid directly into the bank will do me no favours at all with my bank manager. Of course, it could all be a cunning plan on the part of the government to keep the rural post offices open, couldn’t it?