Beyond the neon runes

The law of averages

I got some great news this week. It was a real boost, just what I needed, the perfect tonic as I headed into the new year. I was informed that my household, my one-bedroom, city-centre flat, with its misfiring shower and questionable colour scheme, has never been wealthier. There I was, sat on my creaking couch, one of those crummy two-seater ones, struggling to get a bit of warmth out of a cheap electric heater, wondering if should wear a pair of gloves going to bed that night, when I was told that I’d never had it so good, that the glory days were back.

Well, I needn’t tell you, I whacked up that heater to eleventy-stupid straight away. Electricity bill? Bah, who cares. I was rich, rolling in it. Buoyed by my good fortune I threw out the defrosting chicken fillet I’d set aside for dinner, put on my nicest shirt and headed straight for the Hampton’s: One of your finest steaks, Sir, and no delay! As it was a Monday night in early January there weren’t many other patrons, but even if there had been I would have still sent a free bottle of champers to everyone in the establishment.

Some hours later, as I rolled out of the last pub in town, I made my way home, singing an undiscernible song as I went. I was in rare form. This was what my life would be like from now on. No more scrimping and saving, no more raiding the penny jar of a Wednesday, feeding the coins into the self-service checkout, afraid to look round in case they were all staring at me. I was golden, the latest addition to the glitterati, a high-liver, a shot-caller, an absolute baller. In one final dash of joyous indulgence I flung my arms round a lady waiting for a taxi, “Come back to mine,” I ordered, “I’m minted.” “You’re drunk,” she replied, shaking me off irritably. I was. But I was also minted.

The next morning, I awoke to a nasty hangover, an unpleasant little number which I knew would haunt me for the day. That wasn’t my main concern though, far from it. I was freezing, absolutely perishing. It was so cold I could see my breath. I wasn’t outside though, I hadn’t joined the poor unfortunate souls forced to brave the elements on the coldest night of the year. No, I was safely tucked up in my own bed, wearing the new Man United pyjamas I got for Christmas. Why was I so cold? It didn’t make sense. They’d told me not twelve hours previous that my household had never been wealthier, and yet here I was, still waking up with frost on the inside of the windows and icicles hanging from my nose.

Sign up for the weekly Limerick Post newsletter

Worse was to follow. I had nine missed calls on my phone, all from my bank. I’d exceeded my overdraft, they needed to see me immediately. This was most troubling. Locking the doors, closing the curtains and putting my phone on silent, I re-opened the story I’d read the day before. Maybe I’d made a mistake, misinterpreted the information. But no, there it was, in plain black ink: “the net wealth position of Irish households in nominal terms has never been better.” Sure, there were a couple of caveats; ‘net’ wealth, ‘nominal’ terms. But I hadn’t read it wrong, the message had been clear: The good times are back. Party like it’s 1999.

But my mistake was in thinking that this party extended to everyone, that I had been invited. The article might have said that Irish households have never been wealthier, but it didn’t mean my household. What it meant was the households which have always been relatively wealthy, the ones which, even during the darkest years, still had more than most, are flying it at the moment. They are finally making the money they deserve, the money they missed out on over the past decade. And their good fortune, their return to the top table, was to be viewed as a positive for us all, even those on the outside looking in.

Compiled by Ibec, who represent Irish businesses domestically and internationally, the report also states that our disposable income is four times that of the euro-zone average. It goes on to predict that investment in our economy will rise by more than 10% in 2018, that consumer spending will continue to increase, and that growth in employment will slow but only because we are nearing the utopian state of full employment. It’s a rosy picture, and one with the stats and facts to back it up. So, who am I to argue with such good news? After years of being told to tighten our belts, to hunker down and take another few lashes of Angela’s whip, this is a welcome change, is it not?

But whereas the Celtic Tiger seemed content to let everyone to clamber on board, this new era of supposed opulence merely magnifies the divisions within Irish society. Because while some people are clearly benefiting from this new-found consumer confidence, and some people are finding loads of spare change down the back of their fancy L-shaped couches, hundreds of thousands aren’t. According to Social Justice Ireland, there are one million people in this country living in deprivation. Many of these people are in full employment. These are our “working poor”, people in low-income jobs who prop up our economy and allow grandstanding politicians to point to increased employment and all that it entails.

And with so many working people struggling to make ends meet, it begs the question as to how much those at the upper end of the spectrum are making? Because let’s not forget, the average Irish household is wealthier than ever before. The truth is however, that the average Irish household doesn’t exist. These are just figures, numbers collated together to make a palatable soundbite. By taking the wealth of the haves and combining it with the poverty of the have-nots, Ibec has created the happiest of mediums, a notional level of wealth which only a small percentage of the nation actually enjoy. And the majority of this exclusive club reside in or around the Dublin area.

So sadly, for those on this side of the country, nothing has changed at all. For those living in rented accommodation nothing has changed. For those in low-paid, minimum wage jobs nothing has changed either. Essentially, for the average Irish person everything remains exactly as it was. We’re still looking over our shoulder, wondering where that ripple effect is, and whether some of this new money is ever going to find its way into our pockets.

In the meantime, we’ll dine out in the Hampton’s of this world when we God damn feel like it, and worry about the consequences later. It’s unlikely that we’ll treat everyone in the place to a free bottle of champagne though. That’d be just reckless.


A brass neck and balls of steel

Remember when you were in the shop with your mates, when you were just a little kid, and someone came up with the bright idea of robbing a load of sweets? Remember how you pretended not to like any of the sweets in this particular shop because you were terrified of being caught and of being sent to jail for the rest of your life? And how you walked home with your friends, drooling uncontrollably, as they gorged themselves on bon bons and chocolate eclairs?

That was shite, wasn’t it? I often think back to those days and ask myself why I didn’t help myself to the wares on offer, why I didn’t give in temptation and take at least a Mars bar. And I realised it’s because I didn’t have the balls, it was because, somewhere along the line, my mother had installed an innate fear of retribution into my angelic young mind. At that age I truly believed that if I did something bad, even if I did it in a separate country, on another planet, she would somehow find out.

Not everyone was as fortunate as me. Some kids lived without fear, and some grew into men with not only big balls but also a considerable neck. Like the chap who injured his scrotum while committing a burglary in 2015. Subsequently apprehended by the guards, this miscreant was given a suspended sentence, but only after his severed package had been tended to by doctors. Now fully healed, but in prison for a separate incident, the bumbling thief has decided to sue the owner of the shop he tried to rob, claiming that because the injury occurred on his premises the shop owner is liable.

Not only must we install alarms and remain vigilant at all times, we must also be mindful of the welfare of any intruders, lest they injure themselves while relieving us of our property.