FACING A TOUGH NEW YEAR IN IRELAND AGAIN
The start of a New Year is always an optimistic time for me. I’m one of nature’s well-intentioned list makers. “Lose 10lbs by end March!” “Give up smoking!” “Go to the gym twice a week!” “Colour co-ordinate wardrobe!” Most of my New Year Resolutions don’t come to fruition but despite this, I keep making the lists believing that this will be the year it all comes right. That is what makes me an optimist. I like that about myself – the innocent drive to believe that everything will be great. You get out what you put into life, and a positive attitude has always reaped its rewards for me.
This year, however, we Irish are facing into 2014 with a feeling of dread knowing that it isn’t over yet – we have another year of fiscal pain. 2012 was the year it started – when we Irish knew we were going to be taxed out of it as punishment for having the temerity to think that we’d finally “made it”. Two years later – we’re back there. Slash and burn the middle classes – make us pay until we’re poor .
Yes we all went mad during the Celtic Tiger years. Yes, house prices were inflated, no family needs a flat-screen TV in every room and far too many of us had swanky second houses in golf-resorts in Portugal. Did I enjoy the time of plenty? Yes I did but you know what? Like most people, I think I earned it. I am not a banker or a hedge-fund gambler or a property developer.
My last novel – City of Hope - is set during The Great Depression in America. It’s an uplifting story of community and how human resourcefulness can help people overcome terrible circumstances. I am all too aware of the idea that in being plunged into dire economic circumstances it can be construed that we are going back in time to the way things were “before”.
Those good old days when we had nothing, but we were neighbourly and kind - we brought in the hay for each other and we had “values”. There was no such thing as Versace or golf or BMW’s or panini’s; we had our meat and spuds in the middle of the day, at home, and hitched lifts into town for late pints with those of our neighbours who were lucky enough to have cars.
When many bemoaned the financial decline – some of us tried to put a positive spin on it. We used higher fuel prices as motivation to become more eco-friendly – retro insulating our houses, and growing our own vegetables. We cheered at the fall of the designer handbag and talked about a return to some of the more traditional values of the past like community and dignity.
This year though feels different.
Those of us who are lucky enough to have paid employment find we are working twice as hard for less money. “I am working like a twenty-five year old intern who has something to prove,” a friend of mine complained to me. We are both successful women in our forties, who had our last babies late in life. I am lucky because I can work from home – but she leaves the house at six thirty for her commute each day, and doesn’t get back until seven most evenings. At pushing fifty, we are both exhausted. Where she works in the corporate sector there are hungry graduates snapping at her heels; in the hand-to-mouth life of a writer there is no security. I cannot imagine what it must be like facing into Christmas unemployed.
Our forefathers worked the land to eat and survived on very little. Sheepswool insulation in the attic and a few organic vegetables in the back garden is not the same thing. We are not our forefathers. We are a pampered generation – convenience foods and two cars and hand-held entertainment are the staples of our life. We can’t afford them any more – and choosing to divest oneself of the trappings to be middle-class “eco” and the reality of not being able to afford to fill the tank twice this season or replace the ten year olds beloved Nintendo DS are two very different things.
However, even in the face of such misery, there really is no point in being negative. If there is one thing worth taking from our forefathers it is the stoic belief that we must keep ploughing on regardless. So I am going to come up with one resolution and that is to make as much room for family and friends as I can in 2012. Time is money, and instead of spending it I am going to book myself in for some cheap treats. Saturday nights in each other’s houses with good friends playing board games and drinking cheap wine; family sleepovers in each other’s houses.
It’s not a spa-weekend or the week in the sun I was hoping for – but in these difficult days, it’s imperative we all make sure we have something to look forward to in 2014.