By Jennifer O’Connell
As of last week, we are officially in a double dip recession. If you didn’t notice the bit in between the two dips, don’t worry; nobody else except Brian Lenihan and Brian Cowen did either.
But, cheer up. It’s not all bad news. There are plenty of advantages to being able to stop pretending that the economic meltdown was a mere blip in our stellar financial trajectory. I know that I cannot, for instance, be alone in failing to mourn the demise of the raised outdoor hot-tub.
So now that we are officially in the grip of a proper, grown-up, stop-washing-and-eating-and-sleeping depression, there are a few other accoutrements of success from which I propose we collectively divest ourselves.
I’m not talking subordinated Anglo bonds, though I’ll personally be happy to drive to the recycling centre the day we decide to dump those.
We may not be able to achieve the kind of unity of purpose needed to form a national government or agree on a new President, but I bet we’d all back a manifesto that included the immediate abolition of the following:
Don’t get me wrong. I approve of cake in almost all its forms – muffin, carrot, brownie, Blackforest.
Fairy cakes – as in small, dried out lumps of a sponge with a carelessly applied daub of white icing sugar and a Smartie stuck on top – I have a particular fondness for.
But it’s the fairy cake-meets-art-installation universally known as the cupcake I can’t abide.
It is not just the disproportionate human effort that goes into them – all that piping and dusting and decorating and accessorising with edible, glittery ballet-dancing pandas – or the dubious cultural heritage or the extortionate cost, or even the ridiculous size (I recently spent €5.25 on a cupcake the size of a Big Mac for one of my children, on which she promptly gagged and spat into a bin). And that’s the nub of the problem. Chiefly, what I have against cupcakes is that they never taste very good. Like so much of what gripped this country over the past eight years, they represent the ultimate triumph of marketing, greed and pretension over desire.
2. Wood, zinc or titanium cladding on houses; houses with glass box extensions or garden rooms; houses what my granny would have called ‘notions’
The Celtic Tiger had never seemed a more distant memory than when I read last week about the €4 million court case being taken by director Jim Sheridan and his wife, Fran, against eight separate defendants over alleged defective works on their seafront home in Dalkey.
The Sheridans’ home, Martha’s Vineyard, is unquestionably a beautiful property. It was built on the footprint of a fisherman’s cottage they bought in 1997, and was intended to be one of “the finest coastal properties in Ireland”. It scooped an RIAI award in 2006, and went on the market for €8 million the following year, when the Irish Times visited it and wrote in reverential tones how: “the sea seems close enough to touch, though the floor-to-ceiling windows are in triple strength glass to withstand the weather.”
Unfortunately, even triple strength glass could not hold the tide back, and the Sheridans claim their house now leaks in more than 17 places. There’s a parable in there somewhere, I’m sure.
3. Queuing for your child's place in national school
One morning last week, my husband got out of bed at 6am, and went to stand in the rain outside the secretary’s office at the national school in the next parish for three hours.
Later that day I got a message that another primary school in an affluent suburb nearby – one of many I phoned in late 2007 to be told by the perfectly pleasant secretary that I was much too late to put my child’s name down for September 2011 – suddenly had spaces left in the Junior Infants class for 2010.
It’s an alarming indication of the speed at which emigration is becoming a solution to the financial woes of many families, that there are no longer enough four-to-five year olds to fill up the junior infants class in one of the most prosperous suburbs in the capital.
But on the upside, think of all those extra hours in bed for the parents who stay behind.
4. VBL. Visible Boxers Line
Young men of Ireland, we don’t care how much your boxer shorts cost you, or how pert your bum cheeks are. We really, really don’t want to see them peeking out above the waistline of your trousers, which you have for some reason opted to wear suspended halfway between the backs of your knees and your buttocks. We all know that the country hasn’t got an arse in its trousers, but there’s really no need to go around pretending to be the living embodiment of this phenomenon.
5. Smart TVs
I recently encountered the concept of a TV with a built in motion sensor. If you don’t wave at it every so often, it shuts itself down in protest. I thought the whole purpose of a television was to give you an excuse to slump comatose on your sofa (unless, of course, you’re watching Brendan O’Connor on Saturday Night Live, in which case the point is to sit on your sofa and shout insults). Can we please just stop this madness? TVs mounted on the wall over the fireplace; TVs with high definition and cinematic surround sound… they’re all wrong. A TV was designed to be a small, unobtrusive box in the corner, not a demanding, shouty toddler, who wants to be listened to and admired and waved at all the time.
6. All of the following phrases....
Rent is dead money. You don’t even need money to buy property these days. This is a good time to invest. It’s always a good time to buy. Ireland is different. We’re punching above our weight. We are where we are. This is a new paradigm. The fundamentals of the economy are sound. There will be a soft landing. Our Irishness gives us a distinct selling point. We are where we are. We’re in a period of adjustment. This is not about apportioning blame. We all lost the run of ourselves. My conscience is a million per cent clear. The economy has turned the corner. We need to stop talking the economy down. It’s all the media/Lehmans/cheap-shot commentators/Twitter’s fault. At least we’re not Iceland. At least we’re not Spain. At least we’re not Greece. While we are where we are, at least we’re not where we were…. etc.
This column first appeared in The Sunday Business Post on October 3, 2010.