Licentiate Columns

Daytime TV

>In 1945, after a period of social and economic instability, the UN was set up, ostensibly to establish and protect the rights of man. These include the right to food, shelter and a lifetime of being forced to watch Angelina Jolie wear a beatific smile in Namibia as she continues on yet another child collecting… sorry, goodwill mission.

As the UN continued to grow and diversify, so too did the expectations of man. Now we expect the right to food, shelter, and a Sky Plus box, preferably in HD. Unfortunately for me, my idea of high definition includes watching stuttering videos online and my surround sound system is made up almost exclusively of the blaring sounds of snoring coming through the walls from the man next door.

I moved into my current abode because of the low cost of rent. “It’s a beautiful house”, the landlord told me. “However, there are a few things…” I waited to hear some sort of horror story; maybe the house was a crime scene, perhaps it was made entirely out of asbestos and matchstick heads. It was possible that a deformed ghoul lived in the attic, subsisting entirely on fish heads, the administration of which would be part of the rent agreement.

As it turns out, the house has no parking space, microwave, or television. All are workable obstacles, or so I thought. Being a garden variety type of dole scum, I have the time to walk places and thus have no car. I have the time to cook my own food, what with not having a go-getting lifestyle that would necessitate my porridge to be made in three minutes in the microwave as opposed to fifteen on the stove. All this free time works to my economic advantage.

Not so with the television. My daytime tv withdrawal symptoms are such that I almost cried because I had only managed to see the last thirty seconds of the Ellen Degeneres Show at a friend’s house. The lights… the colours… the incessant dancing… I had to prop my head on the kitchen counter to prevent it from rolling off in shock. It was as if I was watching real life, but with more spot prizes and jabs at reality television starlets. It was life as the UN might have imagined it. If they spent all of their spare time on the couch with only daytime television for company.

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Celebutards, Tanorexics and everything in between

>The noughties era was a bad decade for many things. Its was a terrible decade for the world in terms of economy and natural disasters (Lindsay Lohan being a prime example). On the flip side, it was a great decade for reality television and Heat Magazine – lest we forget that every cloud has a silver lining. The period 2000-2009 was, above all, a generator for new and exciting buzzwords.

While people of the Roaring Twenties could be the Big Cheese or the Bee’s Knees, we of the past decade are confined to being Tanorexics, Celebutards or Recessionistas (we should thank every lucky star in the solar system that the Singleton decade has long passed us by).

Having been defined by friends, family and co-workers as a textbook example of an Irish Recessionista, I really should know what one is. However, the common view of a recessionista usually involves profligate spending repacked in a much more palatable way. Women still spend a hundred euro in one go on tops, but now instead of buying one, they buy twenty at a fiver a pop and congratulate themselves for being such expert bargainers by getting an expensive blow dry at the hottest salon. I don’t even own a hairbrush.

The real recessionistas are elusive creatures. They don’t hang out in packs discussing the newest shipments of designers lookalikes in Penneys. Nor do they haunt the €12.50 Meal Deal aisle in Marks and Sparks, rifling through piles of over-fondled sauteed potatoes in search of the last elusive roast duck main course.

In an ideal world the Recessionista isn’t a type of person but rather a state of mind. The recessionista isn’t you but the person who sits on your shoulder and calculates just how much tinned Scotch Broth you will have to eat and for how long in order to buy a new pair of shoes. It’s the voice in your head that reminds you which bills are due and when, which bars have the best cut-price cocktails and table quiz prizes and which of your friends is the same dress size as you. It knows that new things are always worth trying and that deals are there to be taken advantage of. In truth, every woman regardless of her hairdo is a recessionista – the recession has shown us that. No blowdry required.

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Culture Shock

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I’ve been in Cairo on the ultimate recessionistas holiday (paid in full by the Bank of Mom and Dad) and the phrase ‘culture shock’ would be a mild understatement when describing a place where six year olds make a living selling postcards by the Sphinx and, as the family tour guide Manal enlightens me, Pizza Hut is considered a chi-chi dining establishment for a young, hip crowd.

I’m not quite sure how gullible Manal thinks I am, but the fact is evident that Cairo is Poor with a capital P. Driving in from the airport I could count on one hand the amount of apartment blocks that had actually finished construction. Tenants were evidently so assured that the buildings might never be completed that satellite dishes peppered the flat makeshift roofs amongst ancient tarpaulins and creaky girders. On the way to the hotel a car crashed on the motorway and cars stopped across eight lanes of traffic as men swarmed over the accident to check the damage. It was chaos. My father leaned over to me and said in an unnecessarily confidential tone for a minivan occupant, “This is what Ireland was forty years ago”. It made me wonder where in the home country Daddy Dearest had seen a satellite dish circa 1970, but I presume he must have been driving down a now lost Irish Autobahn as he did so.

However, I get his point. Ireland was capital P Poor until the mid nineties. Our country became affluent in the course of half a generation. It only took fifteen years or so to beget a whole new cadre of young adults who were incapable of remembering the poverty of a thousand years past. My parents often remind me that, while I may be cruising down the Nile now on a boat worthy of an Agatha Christie novel, twenty years ago we were living in a damp three room apartment with suspicious-looking (and sadly, inedible) mushrooms growing on the bathroom walls.

I wouldn’t be the first person to suggest that a recession is merely a return to normality for the land of saints and scholars, and I certainly won’t be the last. But what is normal? The new generation of Celtic Cubs adjust their idea of normality every day. We were rich yesterday – now we’re not. Today a cruise ship, tomorrow a chilly house share on Barrack Street. It’s best just to enjoy the good things – no matter how small or how fleeting.

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Time For Change

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Regular readers of this column may have gathered now that when it comes to holidays, I’m a devotee of the ‘Bah, Humbug’ Christmas tradition. Every year I get sucked into a whirling vortex of panicking people at a shopping centre at 5.55pm on Christmas Eve and emerge with a twelve pack of socks and last April’s Easter Eggs to be shared out between visibly deflated family members.

Every year I decide that resolutions are useless for a variety of reasons, then halfheartedly try for a size 8 on the basis that I can’t afford to go to Tesco anyway.

Not so this year. This year my loosely-termed resolution is to rearrange my boundaries. By the time you read this, I will be dead. Actually no, I won’t, I’ll be in Egypt on the first family holiday I’ve been on since I was sixteen (in Italy – all I remember is my father’s face going puce outside the Duomo trying to control three teenage girls amongst all the swarthy Florentine brawn on Vespas and the unfortunate spaghetti-throwing incident that followed).

So, in the interest of family togetherness, breaking old boundaries and, er, gawking at disinterred mummies, I’ll be eschewing January Sales for trips down the Nile, a monumental change in not only location but attitude. I’m set in my ways. I don’t do sun. I don’t do sightseeing. I get frustrated when I’m with my family in a confined space for an extended period of time. Especially if spaghetti is involved.

Sometimes a full and frank appraisal of the year is needed. Fully and frankly, if my 2009 was graded, I’d just about scrape a C. It started promisingly, with a job, a degree and a great boyfriend. 1 January was rung in with a bubble bath and a White Russian (the cocktail, not the man). Then it lost momentum and gradually petered out, eventually turning me into a hermit-like Howard Hughes figure with Kleenex boxes for shoes who constantly made excuses for herself and her woes.

I can’t change my circumstances. However, my attitude could do with a bit of a tune-up. I needed reminding that agonising over an all-expenses paid sun holiday in January was a very foolish move when one considered that the alternative was shivering at home under twelve duvets without a sympathetic mommy on call.

There is never a good time for questioning your life choices, but if there was, surely the end of a year would be the most opportune. The most prevalent question at the moment for myself and many other people is a hard one: Was 2009 bad because of the recession, or because of me?

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Not so Happy New Year

>I’m not a big fan of New Years Eve. Two reasons – one practical, one totally illogical. In another life, I was a bar supervisor at a large nightclub in a one horse town. Without the vital protection of beer goggles I saw (albeit through a cynical lens) that New Years Eve is just your typical Saturday night, magnified a hundred times. The queues are a hundred times longer, entrance fees are multiplied by a hundred percent. Girls weep a hundred tears because their hope for a New Years kiss is currently pawing a seventeen year old who resembles nothing so much as a Barbie that’s spent too much time in the sun. And then there’s the vomit. A hundred times the normal amount of human effluvium, all waiting to be swept up in preparation for the brand new (and sparking clean) year ahead.

If you think about it, New Years Celebrations are a microcosm of the year itself. It’s all about bingeing and purging, literally and metaphorically. ‘Out with the Old, in with the New’ is the new maxim. Everyone shakes off the hangover and tries to find a new sense of equilibrium, only to fling themselves off the rickety see-saw with one too many Cosmos at next years shindig.
Which brings me to my nonsensical reason for abhorring the New Year. The endless cycle of self-improvement, failure and staring again leads me to think that humans are willfully repeating itself. What was so wrong with the Old? I liked 2009! I finished my degree. I was published. I moved into a house on my own and became independent (of my parents but woefully not the State).
What if 2010 is the year that I catch Swine Flu or lose out at the Topshop January Sale? Or worse still, what if, by December 31st 2010, I still don’t have my first proper big girl job and am still on the dole?
For many people, NYE is an opportunity to celebrate. For a minority of people in a transition period (translation – me), it’s a precipice. My fear of change and failure are making me drag my heels. Unfortunately for me, there’s only one way to go, and that’s forward. The only option is to jump off the edge and hope to fly instead of fall.
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