Yet another scary reason to count down to calamity

Mon, Feb 6, 2012, 00:00

A nation can only take so much emergency, and we’ve been at this since 2008, writes ANN MARIE HOURIHANE

HOW MANY timebombs can one little country take? We’re up to here with blooming timebombs.

The latest is the cancer timebomb, discovered ticking away last week as the World Cancer Research Fund predicted a rise in Ireland of cancer cases of 71.77 per cent between now and 2030. You’ve got to admire the .77 there.

Like many of the timebombs currently throbbing under the tawdry veil of ordinary life, the cancer timebomb is decidedly mixed, if you can screw up the courage to examine it. It seems the huge rise in the predicted number of cancer cases is directly attributable to our ageing population and the way it might throw tumours at you. And the fact our general population has grown. Yerra, never mind all that, it’s a timebomb all the same.

But not so fast, because the cancer timebomb is going to have to get in line behind all the others.

There’s the pensions timebomb, obviously, which is going to blow everyone but public servants into appalling geriatric poverty, and have us dying in dustbins, and then we’ll never be collected. There’s the mortgage timebomb, which is going to blow everyone but property developers and bankers out of their houses. That seems fair.

There’s the credit card timebomb, which was brought about simply by irresponsible women buying extremely expensive handbags, thus bringing their poor husbands to the point of ruin. There’s the obesity timebomb, which needs no explanation.

There is also the dementia timebomb, which we are doing our best to forget.

There’s the emigration timebomb, which is particularly harmful to the GAA. There’s the immigration timebomb, which is hard to translate in real terms.

And then there are the international timebombs, of which the greatest is probably the global warming timebomb, which has the daffs out early. The whole thing is a catastrophe.

So here we have a country that was once cruising on a tide of adrenalin, beginning to shudder to a halt. A nation can only take so much emergency, and we’ve been at this since 2008.

You’ve heard of crisis management. Well in Ireland it may well be that our esteemed leaders don’t manage anything until it is a crisis – and that they don’t do so terribly well at that point either. Or it could just be that esteemed colleagues in the media are trying to whip up a headline . . . Goodness, it’s hard to tell which of those scenarios is more likely.

No wonder the general population is spending more and more of its time in its pyjamas. We are worn out with the worry and the crisis. We’ve got adrenal fatigue. Our anxiety levels are stratospheric. We are reaching the point where we simply cannot look disaster in the face any more; who knew that disaster had so many faces?

It hasn’t escaped our attention either that most of the people making these apocalyptic predictions about timebombs are prosperous types who are well got. They’re chatting to the radio programmes on their mobiles – they are too important to come into the studio – but in fact they could just as well be walking up and down the motorway wearing their “The End Is Nigh” sandwich boards. Which is not what we need right now.

It used to be said, by liberal and reformist types, that the type of Christianity practised in Ireland, both Protestant and Catholic, was particularly joyless and founded on the fear of hellfire. That may or may not have been true – there do seem to have been a lot of “No Singing” signs up in pubs in those apparently desperate days, a cheery sight which is unknown now. But the liberal and reformist types had no sooner got their hands on the levers of power than they started trying to scare us all to death.

In the old days you could go to church and pray like crazy, believing – or simply hoping – this might protect you and your children from harm. There isn’t a whole lot you can do about the pensions/ mortgage/credit card/dementia/immigration/emigration timebombs. We are helpless before them. This is not a good feeling.

Even the obesity and cancer timebombs, which we could partially defuse by changing our own behaviour, are presented to us as already achieved disasters which we can do nothing to prevent, which is simply inaccurate.

It is at this point the country pulls the national duvet over its head and decides to watch television for a living – and not current affairs programmes either. No wonder Downton Abbey has been such a smash. No wonder everybody’s drinking at home.

The Irish used to tiptoe their way around adversity in a genteel manner, hardly naming it. Now we’re being bombarded with crises by the people who are supposed to be on our side – government and media both. Things are bad enough – see the series on Ireland’s Squeezed Middle in this paper this week – without throwing in hysteria as well.

There are those of us who grew up in the age of the bomb scare. It must have been great craic phoning in a hoax bomb scare, but people got tired of all the unnecessary drama and started arresting the hoaxers. It’s just a thought.