I have embraced my inner clutter goddess after finding a home

First published in the Irish Independent 09/10/2016

 

I am now the proud possessor of a hammer. A proper hammer, and I have used it a goodly number of times. About 20 times so far. To hang pictures. On the walls of the house where I rent.

A little over a month ago, I did not have walls to rent. I had exited my old house, rented for the past 10 years, where I had lived with my two daughters and our animals.

I had exited our house as the lease had been terminated. There was no trouble, just the owner wanted her house back. I searched Wicklow high and low for alternative rental accommodation but nothing was to hand.

As the months rushed together, I found myself getting more and more frantic. I looked at caravans, thinking I might buy one at the end of the summer. But like time shares, caravans should never be bought in warm months. Fortunately, the ones I viewed were so shabby as to be unattractive even in the heat, which was one positive consequence of a modest budget.

I planted my daughters in a cottage, found at the eleventh hour. A friend offered to rent me a bedroom and at the grand old age of 51, I went couch surfing. I had tried to embrace the new me, the new rental-continental me, and now the trendy couch-surfing me. But I was failing miserably.

I went each day to Lawless Hotel in Aughrim and plugged myself into the net. I pestered those patient staff with gentle requests to reset the modem when the internet went down. I drank endless cups of tea and sometimes, when budget allowed, bought lunch as well. I hid myself in a corner and did my best to ignore the busy rural trade plied in front of me.

I resigned myself to several months of stealing internet while I tried to set up my business again. It stuck me forcibly that having no fixed abode made it very hard to be upbeat and win business. I chatted on the phone and joked about my incipient alcoholism should I continue to have to work out of bars with internet. It was tough going.

But back to the hammer. In the middle of all this angst, I got a message from a friend. He had heard about my latest predicament (and there have been quite a few) and got in touch to say he had a cottage to rent. I saw the cottage the next day and moved in the following weekend.

Since that time, I have thrown all notions of minimalism out the window. I have rejected the clean interior designs beloved by the very cool. Instead, I have embraced my inner clutter goddess and have been nesting with an enthusiasm that is religious in its zealotry.

I realise that I had not bought one thing for the house I rented for the previous 10 years. After losing my original home to the banks, I had been coasting. I lived in the house but it was not a home, not in the material sense. I thought I was ‘over’ possessions. I had them all taken from me, or I had sold them or I had lost them – and I no longer cared.

Now, in my little unexpected dreamboat of a house I can only see my possessions, which are growing daily. I have raided all the charity shops in a 50-mile radius. I buy things, small things, clutter, knick- knacks, bric-a-brac, and bring them home to my little house. I place them on small tables, on window sills, and I hang pictures on the walls. With my little hammer.

I have never been so given over to materialism. It matters not one whit that my budget is modest and my target shops are charitable ones. Last week, I was trying on a skirt in a Saint Vincent de Paul shop in Tinahely. In the make-shift dressing room, I spotted a tangle of coloured glass. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a pendant lamp shade.

It was intended for use in the shop but the kind attendant sold it to me for a fiver. I brought it home and hung it in my bedroom. And then I turned on the light. The bling is terrific. The ceiling and walls of my bedroom are littered with shards of coloured light.

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I, who once had crystal chandeliers, am riveted by my coloured glass. I rush guests up to my bedroom and turn on the display. I am prouder than a circus master of my precious find.

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I am the same for every stick of furniture in the house, every trinket I purchase and every plant I buy. I walk around my home and talk to the contents. I thank them for their use or their beauty and sometimes both. It is like a veneer of pixie dust is covering the entire house. I never knew that I had missed feeling at home so much and having now arrived at home, I am so happy.

Irish Independent

Irish public should not pay for sins of the banks

First published by The Irish Independent on 30/09/2014

http://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/irish-public-should-not-pay-for-sins-of-the-banks-30547742.html

 

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in debt for a thousand euro is worried, but that when a man is in debt for a million, then the bank is worried.

Or it used to be like that. Now the odds are that someone has to be in debt for a multiple of that amount before anyone loses any sleep, least of all the banks. Actually, it is least of all the banks – the new rules of capitalism mean that while bank debt is socialised, bank profit is retained for the few.

How very convenient for them but, of course, it was always like that when it came to those too big to fail.

We live in very different world financially and the Irish have been hit the hardest in this recent catastrophe. Sometimes we forget that there is a global financial crisis and we are only a tiny cog in the middle of it.

The sad part is, like the new breed of capitalism, we have also been subject to new rules, sucking up 42pc of the Eurozone banking crisis debt. Given that we are a population of less than five million against 500 million-plus in the rest of the EU, it would seem a disproportionate allocation. Even the Irish can’t party that hard.

But going back to the worry issue. While people argue worrying does no good, it is core to why the ordinary person is suckered into thinking that maybe they did something wrong, especially when they are on the wrong side of the debt issue.

It is a bit like musical chairs, it doesn’t matter how much debt you have until the music stops; then it is just a question of luck (and sometimes brute force) about who is left out in the cold. Ireland Inc lost out to the brute force argument because the big guns in Europe held sway but, even more unfortunately, the little person in Ireland lost out even further when the ethics issue was brought into play.

Unless you are a too-big-to-fail bank or developer. For everyone else, that is the rule. And if you don’t pay it back, then the things that you bought with it are taken away. Again, for that rule please see exceptions under banks, developers, politicians, etc.

There is a very clear cause and effect for ordinary people.

Borrow and repay or lose your toys. Did I mention the uncharted waters we now live in? Or the musical chairs stacked in favour of the banks? Or the two-tier rules that apply to the rich and poor?

Well, add shame into that mix. Yes, shame, something we have come to know a lot about in the recent past.

Just what we need for shame only hangs out in very low places. It doesn’t rise to the top like cream and coat the too-big-to-fail types. Nope, shame lurks in low areas and covers the bottom dwellers in its oily mess. It’s a bit like a certain country-and-western song that we won’t mention here.

This is where language is used, and used with rapier effect, by the banks and the financial institutions.

From the mendacious mouths of banks came the biblical, judgement-laden terms of debt forgiveness, moral hazard and debt cleansing. Why not throw in a rocket or two for good effect, while they are at it?

The net effect is to coat the struggling ordinary person with a film of slimy shame. It is not enough that people cannot pay their debts, they are now condemned with shame, as if somehow their moral compass shifted during the dark night. This would be ironic, except the shifting of the rules actually did happen at the top of the food chain. Which makes it doubly galling for the ordinary person to be accused of moral hazard by the very inventors of the term.

Motes in eyes spring to mind or – to borrow a line from the movie Educating Rita – to land under a falling bank is more than tragic – it is a tragedy for the poor sod involved.

Which is why terms such as greed should be reserved for banks, not people. People are infinitely more diverse and complex than a profit-and-loss sheet.

Which is why terms such as moral hazard should be reserved for the banks, not people. We know from the Anglo tapes the levels of institutionalised dishonesty. And it is why shame should be reserved for the banks, not people. The banks are allowed ride roughshod over ordinary people as long as shame keeps them down.

Shame on you banks, shame on you instead.