We all have our weird little obsessions or, if you wanted to be high falutin’ about it, our insights. As some readers may be aware, there’s a part of me that’s convinced we’re just repeating the 1980s.
I’ve written previously about the resurgence of ’80s-themed TV shows like Stranger Things, and the popularity of previously forgotten acts from that decade who are now making a good living playing on the heritage circuit. Many of them are bands who made their name back then, retired into obscurity for a few decades and now find themselves playing festivals to larger crowds than they enjoyed during their first flush of fame.
Then, in the ultimate form of a horrible tribute act to a weird decade, we’ve even returned to fretting about the long-forgotten possibility of nuclear war, thanks to Putin’s deranged and incompetent land grab. The more cornered he feels as his troops lose more ground and become more of a laughing stock, the more likely he is to use a nuke. Even Nato generals are now openly talking about that grim possibility.
But there was one survey which emerged this week that really hurtled me back to that time with all the speed of a souped-up DeLorean. According to the National Youth Council, and reported in the Independent, up to 70pc of young Irish people are now seriously considering emigration because they feel that there is nothing for them here any more.
The cost of living is bad enough, and student fees are exorbitant. But the fact that they are also the first generation of Irish people who will probably never own their home is more than enough reason to pack the bags and get out of Dodge. I can’t blame them. Can you?
That’s where my sense of déjà vu kicks in, because when I left school in 1989, the option of emigration was all we had.
In fact, I had one guidance counsellor who would pour cold water on our career aspirations and simply tell us that by the time we got our Leaving Cert results, half of us would be in the UK or the US. It was a rather brutal and quite unwelcome assessment — but it wasn’t incorrect.
Back in those days, many of us realised that we simply had more chances of getting a job in London or New York than we did of bagging a gig in Dublin.
That’s why I feel genuine empathy for young people today and, like any true sci-fi nerd, I even have a phrase for it — the subtle catchphrase from Battlestar Galactica: “All this has happened before and all this will happen again.”
We didn’t think it was going to happen again, but that’s the mire in which we now find ourselves. I had several friends who left our shores with their final words being something along the lines of: “I’m never coming back to this kip again.”
True, that had as much to do with the extortionate price of a plane ticket — it should be noted that Michael O’Leary has never received the credit he deserved for democratising air travel. After all, back then, an Aer Lingus flight to London could set you back 300 quid.
But their sentiment, and their resentment, were entirely real as half a generation of our best and brightest moved abroad for a better life. It was a brain drain the likes of which we had never really seen before.
Well, we’re seeing it now. But the difference between then and now is a stark one — where you do you want to emigrate to? In the bad old days of the ’80s and early ’90s, the most popular destinations were America and England; they were the lands of milk and honey compared to the rather desolate wasteland we lived in.
These days? New York, the place I love the most and have always considered to be the greatest city on Earth, has become a crime-ridden hell hole and while the pre-Giuliani era of NYC was lawless, the situation is worse now. Where once I’d bite the hand off anyone who offered a chance to visit, I’d now think twice. LA is just as bad and San Francisco is worse.
Does moving to a post-Brexit London fill anyone with a sense of glee? Frankly, the whole country seems to be having a collective nervous breakdown and decamping there seems a rather more daunting task than it used to be. A rock and a hard place; the frying pan and the fire — these are the options which successive governments have offered our kids.
But it should also be remembered that it’s not only the young people. In an almost direct repeat of the ’80s, a friend of mine went to London back then to work for an English newspaper. He came home when the going was good but when business dried up... he found himself returning to London at 53 because that was the only place he could find work. Moving abroad when you’re young is hard, but still an adventure. Being forced to move abroad, for the second time, when you’re in your fifties is hard, but no longer has the sense of adventure — now he just feels a sense of despondency and failure.
But while the options aren’t as attractive now as they were back then, I’d urge any young person to pack their bags and book their tickets.
And that’s a damn shame.
The first time I encountered the phrase ‘cashless society’ was on a flight to the US where you had to use a credit card to buy a beer or glass of wine with your dinner.
I thought it was just a fad, or a way for the airline to stop staff pocketing dollars but, as usual, I was wrong.
Because we now seem to have moved into an almost entirely cash-free society. I was struck by that fact when I recently ventured into a barber shop for my annual hair cut only to discover he didn’t have a card machine and would only accept cash.
Of course, I had no cash in my wallet and had to hit the pass machine.
What surprised me was, well, my own surprise at such a radical departure from the normal rules of payment.
This has been one of the least acknowledged outcomes of the pandemic — people were urged to used cards rather than notes to prevent the spread of the virus and what seemed like a temporary measure is now, it appears, here to stay.
There are, of course, arguments about privacy and state surveillance and while I rather doubt that the Government cares if I used my card to buy a loaf of bread in Tesco, there are legitimate concerns there.
But apart from my abundance of libertarian crankiness, I just simply prefer to know how much I have in my wallet.
As someone who is absolutely useless with money — my accountant absolutely hates me — taking out a limited amount in cash means that I can’t go wild.
But there’s another objection: this could herald the end of tipping. After all, it’s easy to leave some spare change for service staff in bars and cafés, but how often do you remember to tip when you’re simply tapping your card or phone?
Nah, I’ll stick with cash for as long as I can, ta very much.