FERGUS FINLAY: My fantasy car will get you away from everything – except reality

MY missus and I fell out over the choice of interior.

Things were going really well up to that point, but whereas I was really keen on the exclusive Black Bappa leather seating, Frieda was adamant that we had to have the Venetian Beige Dakota. It’s cheaper, she argued, and yet still somehow a lot classier. But the Black Nappa comes with sport seats, I said, and lumbar supports. You have to have lumbar supports.

She won, of course. Women always seem to win this type of argument, don’t they? (Except that I was able to sneak in the lumbar supports as an optional extra, later in the configuration. Cost another few bob, but well worth it, I reckon, considering that I’m the one who does most of the driving).

You might be wondering what we were at. No, we weren’t rebuilding the house, although the way things are with the building industry right now, that might have been cheaper.

We were just wondering (fantasising really) what it might be like to be one of the 350 people who bought a 5-series BMW in August – 349 to be exact. That’s exactly how many people bought what the manufacturer calls the ultimate driving machine last month. That was enough people to make the 5-series the most popular model in the country.

An exploration of beauty, that’s what they call the BMW on their website. And beauty, as you know, doesn’t come cheap. But fantasy is free. You too can be a virtual BMW-owner by logging onto bmw.ie and choosing the car configurator to help you build the car of your dreams.

I decided not to go for the really ostentatious GT versions of the car. A bit too much flash, too bling. The sort of car that makes other drivers hate you on sight. So I chose the slightly more sedate 535i SE saloon. Nice, bourgeois, the sort of thing your average solicitor or dentist might go for. And a steal, really, at €64,890. I went for a titanium silver paint job – thrown in with the purchase price.

But then we had our argument about the upholstery. Black Nappa or Venetian Dakota? I figured if Frieda and I were going to disagree about something as vitally important, as life-changing as the colour of the upholstery, then I wasn’t going to consult her at all about the rest of the stuff I wanted in the car. That’s the only way, I’ve discovered over the years, to win those arguments.

So, once I’d persuaded her to let me have unaccompanied access on the BMW website, I was able to add the absolutely essential media package for €3,500 (nobody can do without a media package – bluetooth for the phone and a navigation system, and they’re both voice-controlled. Much better than the €200 satnav system I bought for my battered Honda).

And of course, no car is complete without a DVD changer (€787) and a digital radio for €555. If you’re going to have them, you need a proper loudspeaker system, don’t you, and I’m having mine fitted for €724.

I was very tempted, I admit, by the TV function which could be fitted into the car for around €1,500, but I decided in the end it might be a bit self-indulgent. But my life wouldn’t be complete without an electric glass sunroof (€1,664) and automatic air-conditioning, which would add slightly less than another €700.

And because of all the driving I do, automatic transmission is essential, and it only raises the cost of my BMW by another €2,700.

There’s one finishing touch I’m going to add. It might be because of all the sun and glare we get in Ireland or (if I’m being honest) it might be because I really don’t want you to see me driving around like a complete poser. So I’m having dark glass fitted in all the windows for another €500 or so. And for all that, I’ll actually get some change if I lash out €80,000.

Well, €489.28 change, actually. The total cost of the basic car, with the sort of extras that are typical, is €79,510.72.

Good luck to them, say I. I’ve never driven a BMW, and I don’t suppose I ever will, but I’m sure they’re everything they’re cracked up to be.

I’m just a bit staggered by the fact that in the same month that we finally report a bit of economic growth, the 5-series BMW shows up as the most popular car in the market in Ireland. More than 5,000 cars were sold in Ireland last month and the most expensive car in the range was the single biggest seller.

That’s some statistic, isn’t it? But it wasn’t the only statistic published last month. The live register came out and it showed a further increase in people signing on for unemployment benefit. It doesn’t seem to top the news anymore the way it used to – maybe we’ve just become immune to all the bad news. But at its present rate, the live register will pass 500,000 people before next spring.

Perhaps that’s the sort of psychological barrier that will make even our sleepy policymakers sit up and take notice. All this banging on about FÁS during the past week, and nobody seems to have noticed we are rapidly moving towards a national unemployment emergency.

Although the live register is no longer regarded as the official measure of unemployment, it’s the best monthly indicator we have. And that indicator demonstrates that unemployment is simply not responding to the slight increase we have seen in economic growth.

It may be too early to say, but all the signs are that we are going to go through a period of what they call “jobless growth”.

THAT is the sort of situation that can only be changed if the government of the day decides that jobs are more important than anything else. And there is very little sign of that happening. The rapid growth in unemployment in Ireland and its nature (with, for example, a lot of two-income families suddenly becoming unemployed families) has already had devastating financial, psychological and emotional consequences.

There’s a link between unemployment and poverty, of course. But there are also links between unemployment and domestic violence, unemployment and depression, unemployment and suicide.

If we continue to wring our hands and pretend we can’t afford to make job creation a priority in Ireland, we’re ignoring the increasing risk of a wide range of other social conditions as well.

In our daily work in Barnardos, we’re encountering more hungry children than we did a year ago. Hunger, surely, should never be allowed to be a feature of Irish life, or tolerated by any aspect of Irish public policy.

And that’s why there’s such an irony in the fact that one of the first consequences of a slight increase in our national wealth is an increase in the sale of BMWs. We fell in love with flashy cars at the start of the Celtic Tiger, and it seems we can’t get that love affair out of our system.

But isn’t it time we developed some more mature priorities?


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