‘I’m a firm believer in the Blink Moment: see it, buy it’

Me & My Money: Food writer John McKenna

John McKenna: Considers the bill for three generations of the family gathering at Dublin’s Chapter One restaurant for a graduation lunch was worth every cent.

John McKenna: Considers the bill for three generations of the family gathering at Dublin’s Chapter One restaurant for a graduation lunch was worth every cent.

 

Are you a saver or a spender?
Being born in Northern Ireland in the late 1950s, I came out of a fastidious saver culture. Getting to understand the culture of food and wine, however, showed me that money spent on seemingly evanescent things – the pleasures of food, travel, wine – is the best way to spend money. So, spender, yes.

Do you shop around for better value?
No. I’m a firm believer in the Blink Moment: see it, buy it.

What has been your most extravagant purchase and how much did it cost?
It was a kayaking holiday with all the family to Baja, Mexico, and it cost about €10,000. Hands down, it was the best experience each of us has ever enjoyed.

What purchase have you made that you consider the best value for money?
Three generations of the family gathered at Dublin’s Chapter One restaurant for a graduation lunch. I paid the bill, and it was worth every cent. Ross Lewis and his team offer us a taste of the sublime at really decent prices.

How do you prefer to shop – online or local?
Local, and super-local. I’m a fixture at the Friday Bantry Farmers’ Market, with my little shopping bag and my wee dog, Holly.

Do you haggle over prices?
No way. I have too much respect for people who work retail.

Has the recession changed your spending habits?
No. I grew up in the Ireland of hard times, so you always cut your cloth as needed.

Do you invest in shares?
Allowing someone else to decide the destiny of my money seems to me the greatest financial folly of all. I have never bought a share, and never will.

Cash or card?
Card most of the time, cash at the farmers’ markets.

What was the last thing you bought and was it good value for money?
I bought a signed copy of JP McMahon’s The Irish Cookbook from the Aniar restaurant website. Every serious cookbook is a true investment in your skills and kitchen abilities, and McMahon is a singular cook and a serious student of Irish food. For the distillation of a life’s work, €55 seems to me brilliant value for money.

Have you ever successfully saved up for a relatively big purchase?
No, but thanks to the good graces of the lovely team in my local credit union in Bantry, I managed to buy a 1967 VW camper van for €16,000, back in 2008.

Have you ever lost money?
Fortunately, not. That old Northern Irish thing probably makes me eternally cautious, even when it might be better to be eternally vigilant.

Are you a gambler and, if so, have you ever had a big win?
I once backed a horse called No Good Johnny at Down Royal racecourse, and the nag romped home at 20/1. I was eight years old. I collected my money from the Tote, and immediately got out at the top. I have never gambled since.

Is money important to you?
I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that money is a completely abstract concept, and yet it has come to dominate every aspect of global discourse. Living in an age of neo-Liberal economics, as we do, has led me to have less respect for money than ever. Deep down, I’ve always been a Clause 4 Socialist, and it’s too late to stop now.

How much money do you have on you now?
I have €65: three twenties and a fiver. My youngest son is a student, so I’m not expecting the cash to last the weekend.

John McKenna, food writer and co-author, with Sally McKenna, of Where to Eat and Stay on the Wild Atlantic Way (Collins £10stg.) guides.ie

In conversation with Tony Clayton-Lea

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