. . . cheap and cheerful


I am standing in the convenience store that shall not be named, counting out the last of my five cent coins and having cross words with the bored-looking man in the shop about whether the golf ball-sized plum I am purchasing is in fact worth 67 cent, when the thought hits me: I have exactly no shame about this kind of thing anymore.

Which is liberating, but you’d think I might have copped on to my shamelessness at least a year earlier. Here I am last December giving one of my best friends his Christmas present in the pub: just as he is about to open it I realise that my clever re-gifting idea – it’s a book I know he’ll love – may be about to blow up in my face.

“Argh, wait, give it back to me,” I say, turning scarlet, just as he starts to open the present which I have suddenly and stomach churningly realised features a loving inscription from my mother to me. (Sorry, Ma, but you know, needs must.) My kind friend assumes that what’s happened is I’ve brought the wrong present along to our annual gift-giving ceremony. He further assumes that his similarly wrapped present is back at my house under the tree. He assumes very wrong.

“Don’t worry about it,” he says, seeing my stricken face and ordering me a brandy which I upgrade to a double because now I’m suffering from post re-gifting shock disorder. I shove the half-opened package in my bag, not quite believing I’ve gotten away with it. Well, I had until now. So that’s somebody who will be getting an extra special Crimbo present this year. One I might actually have paid for myself if he’s really lucky.

You see I’ve changed. I’m not embarrassed to admit that for a variety of reasons, I’m like a lot of Irish people who, when the essentials are covered, don’t have much left to spend on 67 cent plums. (I negotiated my way down to 50 cent, by the way).

Some years ago I remember waiting in line behind a group of five students who were deciding how they could make best use of the €20 one of them was about to extract from the cash machine. When I got to the ATM, I took out an extra 50 and handed it them, saying “enjoy your night”. I’d love to be in a position to do that now but I’m sorry, students, I’ve spent it on cereal and briquettes so you’ll have to find some other smug benefactor. This ship has sailed.

I mostly don’t mind that I am where I am. If the past has taught me anything it’s that I’m not good around excess money. I am a better, more controlled person when reigned in by a budget with zero wriggle room. So I no longer walk into clothes shops and come out with at least five things that don’t fit/don’t suit/cost too much. I don’t dash wild-eyed around shops wondering what stuff I can buy to fill the emptiness inside. The emptiness is still there, mind you, but it’s friendlier now that I’m not fooling myself that yet another black dress will fill it.

I wander around shops now sniffing the leather on bags I will never buy because at the end of the day they are just bags. One shop in particular draws me in around once a month for purely aesthetic reasons. I treat the shop like a museum of contemporary art where everything has a price tag. I am on an escalator in this sort-of museum when I spot someone I don’t expect to see here among the Hermes scarves. It turns out we are both here for the same reasons, just enjoying the Jo Malone-scented air, loitering without intent.

I have my bad days though. Last week when I joined the commemoration for Savita Halappanavar outside the Dáil it sent me into a spiral of negativity about this country. And then later that night I went to see Anglo the Musical. During the darker, chair-squirming moments of the show I felt I might have been attending my own funeral except with the addition of killer gags. The funereal feeling stayed with me for days but I still think everyone should see it.

Thankfully those dodgy days are few and far between. Mostly I am delighted with myself cooking meals for half nothing, appreciating the emergency tenners loaned by colleagues and having flashbacks to the fun I used to have as a kid searching for coins down the back of the sofa.

Most of the time I am cheap and cheerful, just like this issue of the magazine, and there’s an awful lot to be said for that.

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