I COME from a long history of gamblers and alcoholics who would have taken the eye out of your head and come back for the eyelashes, on a bad day. (On a good day, they would have loved you to bits.) Naturally, when I leaned into my sweetheart’s ear on my wedding day and whispered, ‘For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, all the days of my life’, I of course didn’t mean a word of it — well, at least not the ‘for poorer’ bit.
So, when I took my three children to Eddie Rocket’s for dessert late last year and discovered that I had no money in my Laser account to pay for the bill, I panicked. I phoned my wife who was in China diligently working to bring us back an extra few bob to take the edge off the recession. “Oh, the money must have run out of the account,” she explained, to my horror, and I could feel her reproof for over-indulging the kids while she was away, which I had indeed done.
A few days later she returned home laden with gifts. A few days after that, I drove to Dublin to meet her for lunch. She was sitting under a tree — or a lamp-post — I don’t know which. All I could see was her beauty. I was in love.
“I have no money,” she said as we entered the restaurant, “Would you get this?”
“You have no money?” I said, aghast, “but it’s only the start of the month”.
“Yes, but I haven’t taken my money out of the ATM yet,” she said.
“Hold on a minute,” I said. “You go out to China in the sweltering heat to slog for extra money for the family and you can’t buy me lunch. You’ve lost 25% of your salary due to the recession, but we haven’t changed our spending one iota. We have to do things differently. Something has to give.”
Soon after that, we began putting our groceries on Mastercard.
Sound familiar? The story of a nation? So, I cut up my credit card and my wife put her card under lock and key for emergencies. We drew up an accounts’ ledger and we began to monitor our cash flow, but, of course, not before I made a few other unnecessary purchases, like a Richard Dawkins book that I haven’t opened yet, a bench in my garden that I have never sat upon, a frying-pan — my fourth — that I didn’t need, and a foreign holiday — proof that right up to the (bitter) end I was refusing to get real.
The Celtic Tiger wasn’t a tiger; it was a pup, and we were sold it. Worse, I bought it.
But, you know, I’ve learned a thing or two along the way. (The recession is a great, if harsh teacher.) For one thing, there’s a lot to be said for keeping things simple and living within ones means. (Today I counted 63 pairs of socks and 51 pairs of footwear in my kids’ bedrooms. I didn’t dare count their school-bags — probably around 15 — pyjamas? — 40, I’d say — and cuddly toys? — millions, as far as I can see.) For another, I wouldn’t leave my wife in a fit even if she were a prolific gambler, like some of my ancestors. My wife means more to me than silver and gold (or the lack of it). After all, people are more important than profit — I’m betting on this.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved