When he began to do particularly well in the Aberystwyth high-tech company where he had landed, the fear was that, because it was a multinational, the grasping hand of HQ would reach out from Buffalo, New York, and the family, when they got to see him once a year, would be half amused, half ashamed of the Nu Yawk inflections he would inevitably pick up over there.
Not that he wanted to head off to the second most populous city in the state of New York. He wanted to head home, but, in the first year after his departure, that didn’t look likely. The papers were filled with pictures of individuals in long queues hoping to get temporary Mac jobs. That’s when they weren’t filled with pictures of people lining up for free soup-kitchen food. The troika was in town, the Government was inflicting austerity on everybody and the talk was of a generation who would — just as he had done — go overseas in search of a job, most of them never to return, even if they wanted to as much as he did.
Sometime in March, he decided that the Welsh sojourn was over. He had been a happy, successful exile, but it was time to come home, so he handed in his notice and let the property company running the apartment block know he would be gone within the month.
The reaction of the company employing him was to offer him more money, which made him laugh out loud. Nothing wrong with the salary, he told them, he just wanted to live in Ireland. But we don’t have a plant there, they pointed out. True, he said, amused by their clear belief that nobody sane would want to live in a country that didn’t have a branch of their organisation. He rang the mammy to ask if she and his dad could give him houseroom until he got somewhere to live and work, packed and came home.
He applied immediately for three jobs, since, according to his granny, letting the grass grow under his feet was not something likely to benefit either him or the grass, and was promptly called for two interviews. The first resulted in a job offer, the second in a request to attend a selection process. He took the offer and turned down the selection process.
Four weeks after his first job, he had his own apartment and was finding his way around the new job, only slightly distracted by the company in Wales contacting him to ask about the possibility of him consulting with them if they made a stab at opening an Irish operation. He was unsurprised by the ease of getting a job.
The way he sees it, recessions go in cycles, and even the most fiscally-disciplined government action will do little more than speed up the recovery that would happen anyway, sooner or later. He took the first job that was offered, not because of fear, but because of confidence, believing that if, after a few months, he decided he didn’t like it, several other comparable jobs would then be available to him.
None of what the 24-year-old back from Wales has experienced adds up to any kind of legitimate measure of the passing of the recession. But it’s a measure, nonetheless. Just as the Lidl traffic jam is an indicator. Date? Thursday June 10. Location? Swords.
Just in case you’ve never frequented the Swords Lidl, it is one of the bigger branches of that chain, has a big car park, and sits close to a conglomeration of shops including JCs and Dunnes Stores, which are surrounded by a positively ginormous car park, which is within walking distance of Lidl.
On Thursday afternoon, that store was at the heart of a massive traffic jam, partly caused by a container truck delivering stuff, and contributed to by the design of the carpark, which is unsatisfactory at the best of times. But on this afternoon, cars were fighting to get in, fighting to get out, fighting to get parked, the access road stuffed with stalled traffic right back to the main street. I sat for a long time parallel to an Audi driven by a man.
Or, rather, parallel to an Audi with a man behind the driving wheel, but at that particular moment, not going anywhere. Both of us had our windows rolled down. Eventually, Audi man’s line of cars began to move. He gestured at the twin queues.
“Recovery,” he said, and drove off.
The word trailed him like Tinkerbell’s little train of stardust. Of course. Economic recovery means traffic jams and container trucks where they shouldn’t be, and it also means a level of survivor good humour which prevents people yelling and leaning on their horn. Inside the store, the signs of recovery were everywhere. First, Lidl generally is going a bit up-market, which worries me. I learned the Lidl brand during the living-on-cornflakes years. The Lidl brand is cheap and grim, as opposed to cheap and cheerful, with oddities like small boats and the odd guest bed thrown in to confuse the issue. Them going up-market runs counter to that brand, so I was relieved on Thursday, to find they had wedgies for women at €12 made from plasterboard so hard, even trying one of them on lamed me for a week. Oddly comforting to know the move up-market goes only so far.
Just as the behaviour of shoppers outside in cars has changed, so, too, has behaviour inside. Up to recently, people shopped at speed, on the principle that if you kept moving, you wouldn’t be tempted by what you couldn’t afford. If you saw a couple comparing jars, it was to find the cheaper of the two. At the moment, if you see a couple comparing jars, it’s to find the one with the lower salt content.
Now you may say that the pace and humour of shoppers is no proof that the economy has recovered. So let me offer you one last indicator which may not be scientific but which is valid, nonetheless.
A traffic corps garda of my acquaintance says that a year ago, traffic at ‘rush-hour’ slowed by five minutes. In recent months, despite school and work holidays (and crowds of families this weekend at the airport heading off to sunshine) traffic at morning and evening rush hours has slowed by 20 minutes.
If you’re reading this from a paper thrown on the passenger seat of the car you’re not able to get moving right now, you may not be that pleased by me telling you it’s a significant indicator of economic bounce back. All I’m saying is this. Let’s not look a gift horse in the exhaust pipe.