Reeling in the decades: A look back at the first two decades of the century so far

As we prepare to enter the 2020s, Pat Fitzpatrick takes a look back at the first two decades of the century so far.

Reeling in the decades: A look back at the first two decades of the century so far

As we prepare to enter the 2020s, Pat Fitzpatrick takes a look back at the first two decades of the century so far.

I spent New Year’s Eve 1999 with some posh hippy friends in Leitrim.

I remember illicit refreshments, prancing around a large outdoor fire and texting Happy New Year to selected names from the address book on my Nokia.

You couldn’t contact everyone, because texts weren’t bundled back then and it would cost a fortune — but you’d still wake up the next morning and discover you’d gone through a fairly in-depth dialogue with someone called ‘EddieElectrician’.

There won’t be much texting going on come December 31, 2019. The best you can hope for is a puking GIF on your cousin’s Instagram story, to show how he’s going to feel the following day.

We’re over-connected to each other now — there’s no need to make a fuss just because the year changed.

I blame Snake. You remember it alright — it was the game that Nokia included on their 3310 phones which came out in 2000.

This was the Killer App for mobiles, the first inkling that they were more than just a phone you could carry around with you.

And 20 years later, we Irish spend over four hours a day face down in our smartphones.

It’s been a period of blistering change, unless you live in rural Ireland, where broadband speeds are still pretty much the same.

The white-heat of change gave us a proper taste of boom and bust economics.

Bertie Ahern was taoiseach in 2000, back when he was known as Good Bertie, the man who helped shape the Good Friday Agreement.

His journey to Bad Bertie defined the first 10 years of the new millennium in Ireland (we wouldn’t have used the word ‘journey’ back in 2000, because we were still waiting for X-Factor to start in 2004, after which everything became a journey).

The ‘Celtic Tiger years’ is a trigger phrase for anyone who bought a house between 2005 and 2007. It was great for a while, and then it wasn’t.

For reasons which remain unclear, a group of Irish taxi-drivers ended up owning half of Bulgaria. Unfortunately, it was the half that wasn’t yet built.

House prices here rose from 2000 to 2007, dropped from there to 2013 and have been rising ever since.

The good news is the latest survey shows we’re still 30% lower than the peak average price in 2007.

Everyone agrees those peak prices were a one-off madness, and we can never ever let them reach that level again.

The bad news is some economists reckon they could reach those levels within the next 24 months. Just remember to pretend that this time isdifferent.

There is only word to sum up the last 20 years in Irish sport. Saipan.

Roy Keane leaving the Irish campbefore the 2002 World Cup was the most seismic thing to happen to a lot of Irish people, because it allowed us to believe we could have won the thing outright if he had stayed put.

If the decade ended in 2018, I’d have to include a paragraph on rugby. Back then Ireland were Grand Slam champions and fresh from a win over the All Blacks.

One disastrous World Cup later, there are loud enough voices saying the Irish rugby team is full of private school chokers.

Listen, we never claimed to be loyal or level-headed.

A quick word on the GAA in last 20 years. Dublin.

Once they figure out how to buy hurling championships as well, that will be the end of the GAA.

There is only one word to sum up the last 20 years in TV. Reality.

The reality being there isn’t much money in terrestrial television any more, so we’re reduced to watching 20-somethings using that word ‘journey’ to describe sexting a stranger in a villa by the Med.

In fairness, there have been standout dramas like ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Game of Thrones’. And water-cooler moments, like the finale of ‘Friends’ in 2004 which attracted over 50 million viewers in the US alone.

But if you told someone in 1999 that they’d end up addicted to a baking contest for jolly nervous posh people, they’d probably throw their TVs out the window. The only good news is we’re almost rid of that annual crying and singing contest, ‘X-Factor’.

X-Factor winner Matt Cardle
X-Factor winner Matt Cardle

The high point was the 2010 final, when 14.3 UK viewers watched the record deal go to Matt Cardle. Or as he’s known these days, Matt Who.

In other news, Irish people are drinking a lot less than we used to. Annual alcohol consumption mushroomed in Ireland from 1960 to 2001, when it stood at 14.3 litres of pure alcohol per capita.

It’s dropped off since, reaching 11 litres in 2018.

A lot of this is driven by the fact that young people don’t drink as much as their parents; other reports suggest the same young people are unhappy and having less sex than previous generations.

I’m not suggesting there is a link between these three things, but maybe someone should look into it. And please drink responsibly.

As for safe sex, try that too. If you are going to have sex, there is a good chance it will be a foreigner (good news for the gene pool there).

The number of non-nationals living in Ireland increased by 143% in the nine years from 2002 to 2011.

Not only that, they came from all over. Back in the day, if you had a guy from Poland living in your area, he would be known locally as The Polish Guy.

That won’t cut it any more, with over 120,000 Poles living here.

Only a fool would predict the future make-up of the country for the next 20 years.

All we can say for certain is half of the UK will move here next year to escape from Brexit. So push up in the bed.

One of the side effects of Europeans moving here is the growth of German supermarkets.

Aldi and Lidl managed a breakthrough in the Irish market by appealing to the growing middle classes.

Which is short-hand for “they started stocking decent wine and seven minutes later there was a queue of Nissan Qashais trying to get into the car park.”

They also changed the way we buy stuff. If you wanted to buy a cuckoo-clock in 1999, you went to a cuckoo-clock shop. Now you go to Aldi or Lidl to check if they have one.

They don’t, so you come home with a hot-tub and jar of gherkins, along with plans to put up a garden shed for extra storage because you already bought a hot tub last year (it was in the middle aisle — what else were you supposed to do?).

The most memorable weather event here in the last 20 years wasn’t Storm Ophelia, the scorching hot summer of 2006, or the washout at my wedding in June 2008.

It was RTÉ’s Teresa Mannion getting her face blown sideways by Storm Desmond in Galway back in 2015.

The truth is we don’t take climate change that seriously.

“Who worries about warming when you live in a cold country?” says any Irish person who doesn’t live in a flood-plain, imagining a summer where we don’t have to fly down to Spain.

Our only hope now is that the young people grow up quickly and take the country off us before it sinks into the sea.

Finally, if this was an episode of ‘Reeling in the Years’, here is where you’d turn off the music.

The defining image of the last 20 years is two planes flying into the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.

It went further than the horror of watching more than 3,000 people dying live on TV.

A lot of us had been up the top of the World Trade Centre in New York; more of us knew people who died or were saved that day because they missed a flight or took a sickie to hang out with a new girlfriend.

We don’t talk about it as much as we used to, but 9/11 changed our view of the world and injected a strong dose of anxiety into the air.

And 19 years later, there is no shortage of Donald Trump, climate change, Brexit-fuelled pessimism.

But if the last 20 years has taught us anything, it’s that no one knows what’s coming next.

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