Ireland’s young are trapped in a long queue to their own future

Hilary Fannin: The young adult generation have no viable world to inhabit

‘I don’t have a life,’ my young friend had said. ‘I don’t have a partner or a job or independence or autonomy. I’ve stopped even imagining a future.’ Photograph: iStock

‘I don’t have a life,’ my young friend had said. ‘I don’t have a partner or a job or independence or autonomy. I’ve stopped even imagining a future.’ Photograph: iStock

 

I went to the park recently because someone on the radio said that, due to further coronavirus restrictions, a load of fresh fish that beleaguered Dublin eateries had planned on serving their customers was to be sold off from a market stall there. 

Away I galloped, in search of half-price hake, money-saving mackerel and a bag of penny-saving prawns. 

Having finally found parking in a treetop, I flung myself into a fish-frenzied melee, the entire population of north Co Dublin having apparently had exactly the same idea as me. The park was bursting at the seams with canny consumers, the line from the fish stall trailing on and on under the alders and black-leafed chestnuts. 

Whoops, I thought, noticing how my arrival had coincided with that of the local constabulary, who’d turned up in a panda car to restore law and chowder – sorry, I mean law and order. 

I watched the bewildered gardaí cruise through a throng of masked middle-aged folk armed with grim determination, hessian shopping bags and recipes for bouillabaisse – and then I watched them cruise right back out again. What were they going to do? Confiscate the cod pieces? Slap cuffs on the monkfish? Caution a ray wing?

I eventually found the end of the fish queue, which, I was informed by a bearded man with a bicycle and a neckerchief over his nose, was an oceanic two hours long. 

One could grow a sizeable pearl in one’s spleen standing in line for two hours, and, really, nothing with gills was enough of an inducement to wait it out. So I left, to wander around the rest of the market on that delicately beautiful afternoon of pale sun on bronze tree trunks. 

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Uneasy loveliness

The park was overrun, it seemed to me, with young families, busy parents marshalling tiny people in pink galoshes and glossy-haired little sprites as they trundled through other people’s legs on armoured tricycles.

“Good boy, Bradley! You’ve finished all your falafel!” said a sleek mother to her indifferent toddler, who, having no intention of being strapped into his turbocharged buggy, was making a beeline for the stall selling sweet-smelling wax candles and soap made from honey. 

There was an uneasy loveliness, a fearful joy, in seeing people congregate so enthusiastically that afternoon. 

Reassured by the crisp autumnal air, people’s attempts to social distance, around stalls selling stringed beads and hot chocolate and organic parsnips, had quickly diminished. 

I watched a beautiful young woman in a yellow dress sidle through the crowd with a bunch of sunflowers in her hands. Moving against the surge, ethereal and golden, she looked almost ghost-like, as if she was walking back into summer while the rest of us all plunged towards an unknowable, uncertain winter. 

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been struggling again this past week or so, turning away from the cacophony of voices on the radio and from the contradictory predictions, tuning out the warning in my head that we are all going to be in this for the long haul.

I know some friends and acquaintances who are feeling pretty overwhelmed. I count myself lucky – I read, I write, I cook, I work, I can manage. I am not alone. But I see my young adult children and their generation watch the clock, and long for them to have a viable world to inhabit. 

Vilified

I was speaking recently to a young friend, who explained how angry and despondent she felt about the way, in some sections of the media, her generation are being vilified. She, like many of her peers, has had her life beached by the virus. She is living a cautious, curtailed and controlled existence. 

She described how it felt to do an online job interview with a robot. A disembodied voice asked her a question, then a timer appeared on the screen, and she knew she had all of two minutes to petition the ether, to convince a faceless adjudicator to lift her out of the mist of unemployment. 

“I feel,” she told me, “so lonely”.

Walking back to my car that day in the park, fishless and soapless, I watched family cars being loaded up with babies and buggies, with the accoutrements of domesticity. 

“I don’t have a life,” my young friend had said. “I don’t have a partner or a job or independence or autonomy. I’ve stopped even imagining a future.”

I tried to reassure her that life is long, that some day all of this will be like a memory of winter. Or maybe I was trying to reassure myself.

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