Resentment and suspicion bloom in recession


The great retreat from wealth is under way, and the going is getting tough. We’re in the knuckle-down phase

WAS IT really only two and a bit years ago that a dulcet-toned personal account manager from AIB would ring me occasionally, wanting to know if there was anything I needed, anything at all?

At the time, I was never really sure what she was on about, such was the softness of the sell, but clearly that was my chance to borrow lots of money and make some really exciting investments and indeed lifestyle choices.

Perhaps she might have facilitated the purchase of a string of properties so that like the Air Corps pilot who hit the headlines this week, I might now owe €8 million to the bank with little chance of paying it off.

She might have been able to introduce me to a consortium that bought hotels or casinos; or directed me towards some AIB shares at €24 each?

At one stage I asked her for a new cheque book but in fact this was beyond her scope.

I’d lost my existing book and so the crucial cheque near the back that triggers the issue of a new book had not materialised.

There was nothing that she could do about that, but anything else I wanted.

Just say the word. Is this the sort of gold-plated, not-many-questions asked service that AIB bank chief Eugene Sheehy now says he regrets? This honey-voiced lady is gone, and my old bank manager has reappeared.

He never calls to ask how I am, but I feel his presence all the same, which is as it should be.

When we do meet, I babble on about bargains and deals, which is all anyone talks about these days anyway, that is when they are not fretting about Ireland’s international reputation, our shame in the eyes of the world and what they would do with the bankers if they were in charge. . . rivers of blood would flow from beneath office doors and so forth.

The all-together-now spirit that the Taoiseach wants us to embrace is breaking through, but in a rather irritating, Joyce Grenfell kind of way.

If one more person tells me to keep the chin up, or put the best foot forward, or that it’s time to dig deep, or that we’re all in the trenches now, I’ll bally well scream. We’re in a recession, not a war zone.

Butter is not being rationed, to the best of my knowledge, though there are self-imposed blackouts thanks to the disgraceful rise in the cost of electricity.

Yes, the great retreat from wealth is under way, and yes the going is getting tough. We’re in the knuckle-down phase of the recession, when it behoves us all to make do and mend, to switch off lights, use hot water bottles, bring sandwiches to work and have our old clothes, rather than our bodies, nipped and tucked.

Tailors that specialise in alterations are flying, cobblers the same, while car dealers, restaurant owners and wine merchants are sitting in back rooms with fists stuffed into their mouths over the VAT bills.

Fresh, unheard of cutbacks are being made across suburbia. One friend has heroically cancelled her photo rejuvenation appointments. That’s something you can get done to help a nose that has had too much sun over the years and now makes you look like a boozer. Five sessions at €200 a pop puts it right, but she can’t justify it now.

Dishwashers and driers are falling silent, hot showers are being taken in the gym, people are doing interesting things with mince, and bikini lines are blurring – it’s more Desperate Dan these days than Brazilian.

Elderly relatives are getting a hearing at last for their Monty Pythonesque lectures about the really hard times – the ’40s and ’50s – when you were glad to have two square meals a day and there was Christmas to look forward to, and the first cuckoo. Halcyon days when there was one handbag in the house and everyone knew how to preserve eggs or knit stockings using four needles for the heel.

Those times are poised to come again. There has been a run on marmalade-making paraphernalia in the supermarkets. Apparently you can’t get those plastic discs for the top of jam anywhere. We are up to four dozen jars of marmalade, working out at a cost of approximately 40 cent each, if you don’t include the many hours of labour, or the expensive muslin bought from Selfridges, where the homewares department was doing a brisk trade in nostalgic tea cosies, cake-stands and china mugs saying “More Tea, Vicar?”.

Not all the old values are good. Begrudgery is back, if it ever went away. Resentment and suspicion are blooming in everyday life. A schoolteacher friend was astounded when a parent noticed chocolate biscuits being served at a staff meeting, and snarkily asked if that’s where his fees were going. Still, she says, it makes a change from the brash old days when social-climbing parents used to ask for their children to be seated next to the offspring of rich and successful people. That trend is over for now, since no one knows if anyone has any money any more.