I used to be an Asshole – Lessons in Genteel Poverty (with apologies to my mother for the headline)

Genteel Poverty

I met a new friend last year. He once had a good job in the private sector but fell into trouble, lost his job and put his home in jeopardy. His new found interest in debt propelled him into a filmic project to talk about the impact of financial ruin on individuals. He asked me, as the then poster girl for debt, to talk about my experiences. And he said something that had a huge impact on me. His words went as follows – I used to be an asshole but I’m okay now. I didn’t have to ask him to explain. As someone who had crossed over to the other side of the debt fence, I knew exactly what he meant. Applying the pejorative noun to myself, it wasn’t that I had literally been such an insensitive person, but I little knew the privations of everyday poverty while still gainfully employed. And that is the kind of privation that wears you down. It’s not the big things, although God knows that can be tough too, but the financial destitution that leaves you with no money in your wallet at the end of the week, or even worse, nearer the start, is the kind of soul destroying existence that breaks you down. And it is not until you cross that line that you can even begin to comprehend the fragility of your soul. An extra egg for your tea may not have added a gloss to your soul, but staring at the empty cup can pare it away, sliver by tiny sliver.

To be honest, I am good without possessions. I have to be since I have either lost them, was dispossessed of them or in happier moments, managed to flog them. I am, however, in possession of a very fine collection of shoes, all costing in the range of €10, in the size of 8 and with tottering high heels. I may never wear the half of them as they gather dust on my book shelves (where else would rogue shoes retire to) but they served a purpose over the recent years as my buying powers diminished to the point of necessity. Shoes are never a necessity, not matter what the infamous Mrs Marcos may have argued. My dust laden bargains sing to me still. It was my own swan song of commercialism.

So having established my impecunious state, let me try and tell you what it feels like to be the part of the new class, the genteel poor. This is where the coping classes meet the severely downtrodden and out-of-all-luck classes.  It is akin to ironing the front of your shirt, but leaving the remaining, and unseen cloth, creased. I thought it was only a passing phase, one to be shaken off with a new job offer and reinstatement of financial comfort. They say it is better to have loved and lost, then never to have loved at all, but I might argue it is easier never to have to have loved. It’s the losing that is the trouble, the chink too wide that fosters the loss of self.

The first I knew of my new genteel state was the change in grocery shopping. Not only was the weekly filled-to-the-brim basket a distant memory, my choice of shops and what I bought altered fundamentally. Once, at the start of my slide into genteel poverty, I arrived at a till with insufficient cash to pay for my food. I had to leave the trolley, grunting ‘I’d be back’ in a poor Arnie imitation. I was, once I recovered my rainy-day notes hidden down the back of the sofa, but not without embarrassing my teenage daughter to the point of mortification. I didn’t like to tell her, but it was to get worse. I began shopping in the different discount stores to create a full shop. I stopped buying anything in bulk, including obvious items such as toilet rolls. I literally didn’t have the money to purchase more than a week’s supply. So any possible bargains that I might have availed of, as a broke person, were beyond my means. The irony was not lost on me. They say that people waste as much as a quarter of the food they buy, having to dump it uneaten. I would argue that mostly happens in households where food is bought in bulk. When you buy vegetables for the week, they are unlikely to be chucked out. Our portion size goes down too. When I purchase those popular ‘three for a tenner’ deals in one of our homegrown multiples and where the fish portions are calculated on the basis of leprechaun appetites, we manage to divide the two tiny fillets between three. It can be very tasty but I did not expect nouveau cuisine to be so popular in Ireland in 2014.

Then there is the discount shelf in the more expensive multiples.  There is a technique to purchasing off the discount shelf as the actual shelf is tiny – a bare two feet wide and two unrelated shoppers would find it difficult to stand shoulder to shoulder and view the items. A gradual crawl around the aisle is first needed to make sure no one else is looking at the food on offer. If someone is already there, then a detour to another aisle is necessary until you can get in line. Once there, you can view the very mixed range of food stuffs – from meat to fish to funny cast-offs – which are labelled with their mark down.

On one occasion, my daughters and I saw steak on the shelf but it was not marked down. We hesitated. Then I decided to be a grownup about the situation. I grabbed the package and marched over to the butcher’s counter. A sign said that Mike was on duty, but he wasn’t. It was Tony or something similar. He looked at me and then at the steak before informing me that particular steak didn’t get marked down until 4pm – which was about forty minutes from that time. I wanted to remonstrate with him about responsible and accurate price marking and what would have happened had I tried to pay for it before 4pm. Even as I felt the familiar indignation wind up in my brain about such poor labelling, I deflated it immediately. It would have been hard to take the high moral ground when looking for discounted foods. I thanked him, returned the meat to the shelf and left without buying it. Outside in the car, I started to cry but my girls just laughed, not unkindly, at me. They loved getting a bargain, they said. I loved getting a bargain, they reminded me. But all I could think was while I loved getting a bargain, I hated being reliant on one.

The necessity continues with that other staple of country life, the car. I am now the proud possessor of a thirteen year old Opel Corsa which is very cheap to run. And the annual car tax is only €180 – so how come I could only afford to tax it for six months? It is the same with my petrol consumption. Do you realise that the optimum speed to run a car of that age and make is at 40 mph? Well, if you are ever stuck behind me on a country road or overtake me on the motorway, you’ll know the reason why.

Welcome to the brave new world!

Jillian Godsil

This article first ran in the Sunday Independent on Sunday 30 November, 2014 

Coming out

It is wonderful to see mental health issues being talked about in the open. Last week on television, footballing brothers, Ian and Gary Kinsela, launched 32countyjerseys in memory of their brother Jonathan and in aid of Pieta House. Another Dublin footballer Paul Flynn said talking about mental health was pivotal to dealing with it. If he had a hamstring injury he would go to the doctor, so why not a mental issue?

This is a huge step forward. The TV3  interviewer Aidan Cooney, being a man of a certain age, said that talking about mental health was very much frowned upon when he was growing up.  No one would dare say they felt under the weather or needed a hug. It could be misconstrued in a number of ways, and none of them were welcome.

A couple of years ago, I was involved with a Twitter-based initiative called #Depressionhurts run by the admirable Norah Boran and Alan Lavender and through the programme people shared their stories of mental health issues. It was the first time I came across the term ‘the black dog’ which has since become a keystone in describing depression. I remember vividly one man wrote about the randomness of the black dog, how it might appear and stay for a long time before it went. How no amount of being told ‘to pull himself together’ would have any impact whatsoever on his condition. It was an insight into another world and I am very grateful for the chance to understand. I also believe that as we talk more about mental health issues that the shame and fear associated with identifying them and treating them lessens. It is all about coming out – it is hard for shame to thrive in the daylight.

This week too sees the launch of a very popular, annual men’s rowing calendar in the UK. The Warwick Rowers calendar is a bit of a byword for male eye candy; a male version of the Pirelli bathing suit calendar. Only these rowers don’t wear any clothes at all. They are naked. The first calendar was published in 2009 and the purpose is twofold. The first is to raise awareness of homophobia. This year’s centrefold is quoted as saying through the experience he had met many people of the LGBT community and was honoured to be part of the calendar. The second purpose is to raise money for Sport Allies, a charity aimed at ending discrimination and bullying of homosexuals in the sporting world.

warwick rowers warwick 3

 

 

 

 

 

Normalisation of sexual orientation is to be welcomed. If young people can see role models embracing diversity, especially the Warwick rowers, then the accompanying shame and bullying can be overcome. Coming out and overcoming shame, especially if you are not gay, is brilliant.

Shame can be a force for good – if the actions are worthy of shame. Last month an unrepentant Rolf Harris mocked his victims by showing none. But shame applied unjustly can be much more damaging. The shame applied to mental health issues or to homosexuality for example. Or what about the shame applied to debt?

It is estimated some 300,000 households are in mortgage arrears right now. People brave enough to put their head above the parapet and confess their inability to repay their debt are routinely called greedy. Or in more extreme cases accused of not paying their debts on purpose; which is a form of inverted thieving. As a bankrupt I get a lot of reactions to my condition. One woman, a very well-meaning woman, told me that she was brought up to pay her debts. It was only as I travelled home the enormity of what she had said struck me. She was putting me, and the other 300,000 non performing mortgage holders, into the same boat. We were now people who had been brought up not to pay out debts. How had the moral compass moved not only for me, but for the other 300,000 people in arrears? Had we all somehow morphed into artful dodgers?

The answer is of course that our moral convictions had not changed. We had not somehow put aside the tenets of honesty, truthfulness and responsibility. If one person catches a cold, it may be considered unfortunate, if an entire village is laid low, then it can be called a plague. This is a global financial endemic where banks have become too big to fail and where bank debt is socialised but profits still retained internally. The financial system is broken and history will write a very different account than the current peddling in popular journals.

The shame heaped onto people in debt is misapplied. Debt happens. And then sometimes it happens so much that the person cannot repay it. Fact. It is also a fact that ordinary people will lose things if they cannot repay their debt – their homes, possession and income. But they should not also lose their health and their self-esteem. If you are rich and become bankrupt, the unjust system means you hang on to your lifestyle. If you are ordinary and in debt, you can lose it all. But not your self-esteem please. It is only money after all. Let’s shine a light on shame and with whatever money we have left, let’s all buy the 2015 Warwick Rowers Calendar.

warwick 2

 

 

Giving Thanks

I want to give thanks for my children, Georgina and Kathryn

I want to give thanks for my mum Mary and my five siblings: Arthur, Ena, Richard, Ann and John

I want to give thanks for my nephews and nieces

I want to give thanks for my friends

I want to give thanks for my neighbours

I want to give thanks for my acquaintances

I want to give thank for strangers who gave me a kind word

I want to give thanks to everyone who helped me along the way

I want to give thanks for every kind wish sent my way

I want to give thanks for everyone who listened to me

I want to give thanks for being alive and well and full of joy

I give thanks

Let’s ALL be somebody!

We are a talkative nation. Put any two Irish people together and we will talk. We will talk in a bus queue, after mass, in the pub, on the street, in our homes and in our offices. And we are not behind in our opinions. We can be quite forceful in our views. And we are also very good about giving out when things are not right. Talk to Joe on RTE radio is one of our longest running programmes and it is amazing the number of topics we can give out about. And when we give out, we often say that somebody should do something about that. Somebody should do something.

 

Well, I decided to be that somebody. It wasn’t that I considered myself better than anyone else at doing something. It wasn’t that I felt I was any more qualified to be that somebody. It wasn’t even that I thought I had a God-given right to be that somebody – I just felt that I had to be the change I wanted to see. So I had to be that somebody.

 

Of course, somebody is also your mother, your sister, your daughter, your wife. Somebody is your friend, your first date, your last date, your golf partner. Somebody is the girl next door, is Mrs Murphy down the street, is the woman in the shop, is the woman hanging out the washing. Somebody is the attendant in the petrol station, the bus driver, the chap smoking on the corner, the woman pushing her child in her pram. Somebody is also you.

 

Even as I become that somebody, I would love if you could become somebody too. When I stand for election, I would love if somebody would vote for me, somebody just like you, in fact, it is you!

Jillian Godsil

 

Through a looking glass, darkly

panti

What has happened with our country? We are going through one of the darkest periods of our modern history, with more people queuing up to see Garth Brooks than demonstrating against our governmental self-inflicted poverty. And when it comes to showing what is happening we are reliant on the outsiders to show the truth, even if we have to view our society through a fake wig and eye lashes. When did the truth become more true when delivered by a man dressed as woman. And please do not get me wrong, I have nothing against a man dressed as a woman, maybe not my man, but I fully support Panti’s dress code, gender code, wig code., but doesn’t it say something when the so called ‘outsiders’ of a society are leading the truth charge?

In the same way, feminist, activist, erotica writer Aoife Brennan is leading a little charge all of her own. I interviewed her last year about her first book of erotica and it was all about ‘real world sex’ but the second two books developed into full scale feminism and her trilogy has become thinking women’s erotica. Her erotica is the genre that dares to speak its name. Her books, which touch on financially inspired suicide, the banks, social media, women’s choices, austerity, legal issues, and much more, including graphic sex, were quoted on Twitter recently as being the lynchpin of Enda’s comments. So the Irish prime minster is now relying on a feminist erotic book to explain what is going wrong with the country.

When the outsiders of society point to harsh truths, then it is time to listen …

visit Aoife Brennan here and Pantibar here

cougar diaries

 

This is what bankruptcy looks like…

This is what bankruptcy looks like…

 

€650 bankruptcy fee

€650 bankruptcy fee

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yesterday I handed over €650 to The Insolvency Service of Ireland in order to go bankrupt. This is what the fee looks like: €650 in coins and some fivers and tens.

 

It could be worse. In recent weeks another client of the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation (IMHO) handed over a cheque from Saint Vincent de Paul for the same purpose. Going bankrupt is not a pleasant action. It is not an easy action. For most people it is the end of the road. The bankrupt may claim it is a new beginning, but it is hard to form a new beginning when you don’t have anything or a job or an income to start over.

 

Bankruptcy is the end of the road. It is the elimination of debt. That is to be welcomed. But it should also be remembered that unlike the high rollers who take this route, who have pensions and salaries and multiple homes, there are many people like myself who have to scrape together the fee, who no longer own a home and who have no means of income except social welfare.

 

I welcome becoming a bankrupt, to calling a halt on my debt. However, it is not something that I would have aspired to as a teenager. I didn’t day dream that one day I could be a bankrupt and start all over again. It is a necessary evil.

 

In about ten days I should be in the High Court finding out if I am to be accepted as a bankrupt. I have waited a long time for this but it is one life event that I shall not be celebrating. I am pensive as I journey in this direction, hope intact but in short supply, eroded as it has been by the daily privations of encroaching debt. Even as I hope to undo my shackles, I am not sure what will replace them.

 

It is good to be free, but freedom like health, is better enjoyed with money than without.

 

Well, hello bankruptcy!

 

 

First Lines 2014

First Lines

New lines

Bare branches scratched a grey sky

Love is not enough

I was the evil twin

They would throw a party if they changed their knickers

She’s had so much plastic surgery she’d melt if she stood near a candle

I used to be an asshole but I’m alright now

The lady who fell as she walked

Cracking wings of pheasants, gun loud in the November air

The ginger prince

All roads lead south

I grew up with the smell of pine in my nostrils

Just as I reach Rose Cottage my coverage falls, every time, it’s the Bermuda spot in the village

I am an amoeba

Sorry I stole your life

We are seduced by the oily mendacity of the City

Sup smelly. Whas a crackakackin?

Even though people are the author of the own lives, they don’t always get dealt a fair hand at the start

You are never far from the ground

Where to begin?

Happy New Year!

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Hoping to be Bankrupt for Christmas …

first printed in IrishCentral on December 14, 2013

jill in fur coatThe New York Times has thrown cold water onto the success story that is Ireland. It has challenged the public perception peddled by Irish politicians that we are the ‘good boy’ of Europe and that ‘austerity politics are serving us well’. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth and what is emerging today in Ireland is a two tier society with the those in control enjoying large pensions, fat salaries and ‘top-ups’ to their income, while the middle classes have largely been eradicated and along with the poor are faced with stealth taxes; taxes applied universally so that proportionately the less well-off are hit harder.

 

Emigration numbers are at famine levels, suicides now number two a day and some 40percent of all households have no disposal income at the beginning of each month.

 

I can personally attest to the direct impact of austerity on Ireland and I can see no light at the end of the tunnel.  Six years ago a perfect storm of divorce and recession left me with a mortgage of €1million on a house worth half that. I accumulated huge legal fees (my divorce lawyer for half the proceedings was the current Minister for Justice, then a serving TD) in the region of €100,000. My once successful business crumbled away under the strain and I had the unedifying and deeply upsetting visit from bailiffs to seize goods. I kept on thinking I could go no lower. I had moved out of the family home, a Georgian manor house once valued at €1.65million, four years ago into a rented two bedroom cottage with my two children.  My ex-husband returned to the UK and went bankrupt in the much more tolerant laws there. In a year he was cleansed of his debts. The upshot was that I in turn was responsible for the entire debt of €1million. I tried everything to recover but it was too much for me.  I made a video to sell the house in 2011 which went viral and I received a cash offer of €500,000 but the banks refused consent to sell. They preferred to repossess the house which they did in August of this year. It was sold two weeks ago for less than €160,000. Sadly under Irish law I am still liable for the debt despite the disposal of the underlying asset.

 

Struggling to find some way out, to try and regain my place in society again, I waited with eager interest to the new Insolvency Service launched in September 2013 to handle to debt time-bomb of middle Ireland. However, these new laws are clumsy and inefficient and moreover the banks have veto over any settlement. In an ever more bizarre turn, you have to be well off to enter the service. I am literally too broke to avail of the new laws – despite having pro bono representation from the debt advocacy group Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation (IMHO)

 

Last week new bankruptcy laws were introduced and I am again at the top of this queue. The new laws have reduced the duration of the bankruptcy period from 12 to three years and cut the fees in half. I am with IMHO tomorrow and hope that I can be bankrupt by Christmas. It is an ironic observation that I am looking forward to being bankrupt but I so want to try and start my life again. I have spent six years in financial wilderness and it is not pleasant.

 

What does it feel like to have debt that cannot be cleansed – waiting for the banks to engage or the government to bring in laws to help the struggling citizens? I liken it to dragging a stinking corpse of debt around with me. The debt fills my brain and I can think of little else. Everything is a struggle. It takes so much energy just to be, let alone to live. People say you can’t get blood from a stone, but I reply ‘try being that stone’.

 

I was filling in yet another set of forms today in preparation for my meeting tomorrow. I record my modest income and the miss-match with my outgoings. I list my assets – but I am not sure that a ten year old fridge freezer can be considered an asset. I list my debts but I am guessing now at the final amounts as interest has been piled on interest.  I tell myself I came into the world with nothing and I shall leave it in the same unencumbered fashion, but it would be nice to hang on to some possessions along the way.

 

Last winter we had no home heating fuel and the children watched television under duvets. We don’t eat out, I shop for groceries at the discount stores and holidays – let’s just say we don’t do holidays. But we are not alone. Death by the kitchen table is happening in households all over the country with parents unable to meet mortgages, pay the new taxes and even put food on the table.  In some ways I was lucky that I had moved out of my home into the rented cottage before it was repossessed. I cannot imagine the heartache of a sheriff evicting my family. When he came in August  to take my home I was far away in Dublin filming a documentary about sex (an appropriate contrast I thought at the time).

 

Ireland will survive but it won’t be because of the austerity policies. No one ever recovered an economy by breaking it further. Ireland will survive because we are an indomitable, creative maverick people. However, we are being let down so very badly by our leaders who refuse to call to account those who lead our country into debt,  who prop up the banks on all fronts and who cannot see or do not care about the thousands of families suffering from debt. It is ironic that our very own Beckett said “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail againFail better” as we are being punished by our own.

 

PS

I won’t make Christmas but I hope to be bankrupt in January :-)

 

HOPE

I sat with a wise woman once. She spoke about people who lose hope.  It might only be transitory but can prove fatal. It might be continuous and unrelenting and pernicious and prove fatal. It can be intermittent but still fatal. For the loss of hope to become permanent only requires that the person cannot see beyond that loss. But the wise woman also told me of an expression oft used in such hopeless situations. This too will pass.

This too will pass. That could be said of many things. Things that pass include seasons without fail, people who curtail, wishes that just derail, dreams that set sail and desires that never unveil.  Other things to pass are met with more welcome goodbyes, enmities that interrupt, wars that erupt, hate that volupts, cruelty that fillups and vile noxious views that corrupt. All things can pass and while some we may mourn, yet for others we may bless ourselves and walk on quickly, pleased that the gods have spared us for another day, another fight.

Knowing that things are transitory is our biggest defence against the loss of hope, ironically. It makes the beautiful more wonderful, special and wanted. It makes the darkest hour bearable. The hour before the dawn is the most dark but it is followed by the light, if we but stay.

Here is a lyric. Stay, just a little bit longer. This is the secret to surviving the loss of hope. Hanging about, even when hope is lost. Do not underestimate the devastation the loss of hope can wreck upon a person. Hanging about is very brave and much misunderstood. Just being can be so tough.

People say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I agree. But I say back to them, you have to take into account the collateral damage. It is not as though anyone can walk through life without getting a few scars but really serious injuries, the kind that will not kill you, can leave you maimed and changed.  It’s akin to the road traffic fatalities, often quoted in conjunction with suicides, where the numbers with life changing injuries are not counted.

What doesn’t kill you may make you stronger.  However, it may also kill bits of you, shed body parts with abandon, pieces of you that you might have preferred, given the choice, to hang on to. I think strangely of ears, flesh, breasts, fingers when I say this. Arbitrary but quite important body parts, parts you would not voluntarily give up, unless on that crass and horrible Saw Trilogy, but enough said there.

Having said all that, I must harken back to the film Calendar Girls. John Clarke, the character who died of cancer at the centre of the film, asked this to be read at the Women’s Institute.  “The flowers of Yorkshire are like the women of Yorkshire. Every stage of their growth has its own beauty, but the last phase is always the most glorious. Then very quickly they all go to seed.”

We need to embrace the changes that befall us, that we create, that our friends and family wrought upon us. We need to know that our beauty lies in our accepting those changes and calling them our own, living through them, and naming them as who we are. Even as childbirth marks a mother, we need to know that when we come past the delirium of birth, we can celebrate its effect upon us.

I think we need to know that this too will pass when hope is in very short supply, that staying a little bit longer, just hanging around can make a difference, and that while we are not killed, we may expect to lose bits, gain scars, and show our humanity. And then in the greatest triumph that humankind can offer, we can live despite all this, love in the midst of it, and comfort and support others in the same way of it. It is called the human condition and it is to be shared.

I believe I am more beautiful now for my scars than before, more beautiful for the changes in my body and mind than before. More courageous in my beliefs, more passionate in my views and more compassionate in my attempt to understand this world than before.

This is why I stay. This is why I know things will pass, good, bad and indifferent. This is why I know my blooming means different things to different people. That my love is only growing and my right to life on this planet is secured. And if I hit a loss of hope, that I know, this too will pass.

 

My week on @Ireland – my parting message

What an amazing week. I will write about my lovely time as the curator of the @Ireland account tomorrow but I am running out the door now and so I just want to ask people who follow the account to look at this presentation I did on debt, survival and hope.

http://bcove.me/i68kpnpg  or click on the icon on www.SouthEastTelevision.ie

This is a talk I did with SouthEast Television called I wonder – about debt,survival and hope

I really put my heart and soul into this. I think it is important. I am passionate about not being ashamed at failing financially. Neither should you be – if you have the misfortune to be down on your luck.

God bless!

 

Remember – This too will pass…