Helern Moorhouse: No need to keep up with the Jones’s anymore ... the recession has screwed them as well
IN a parallel universe, it's Friday night, and you're savouring truffled ballotine of quail with friends, debating politics, fine art and the three plays you've only managed to see this month.
In the real world, it's Friday night and you're impatiently waiting for the big treat of the week – the M&S meal deal, a large glass of wine and pressing 'play' on the episode of The Bridge you've been saving since last Saturday.
It's May, it hasn't stopped raining since the dawn of time, it's freezing but you don't dare put the heating on again, and that damned recession is inescapable. Troikas, bailouts, austerity, Noonan – Take me to the parallel universe because this one sucks.
Or does it?
Recently, running my kids around the park (to stay warm), I spotted a gathering at a goodie-laden trestle table. Some kids kicked a ball and before long a very convivial scene played out under a big oak tree. What hippy carry-on was this you ask? It was, in fact, a confirmation celebration. The confirmling shrugged off his be-badged jacket and commenced chucking a ball around with cousins and friends, and I thought to myself, at last. The pressure's off.
Ten years ago, if you weren't feeding Jack or Chloe and fifty others four-star restaurant nuggets and chips on confirmation day, then you were a bad parent. If everyone – including granny and the dog – didn't have something spanking new to wear then you were a social pariah. Flash forward to 2012 and a gathering of friends, relatives, neighbours and probably a few stragglers (well, the sausage rolls looked delicious and my kids were starving) were in a public park, dressed only for warmth, eating, drinking and having a ball, adults chatting, presumably about the cost of living; kids running around, getting nice and tired and bothering absolutely no one.
This, I thought, is a positive side to pocket-tightening. This is the bit of the recession that's a relief.
Don't get me wrong, the current economy has left us feeling so many pinches that we're blacker and bluer than a sad piece of coal.
But isn't there something nice about not to having to hide that your clothes are from Penneys anymore? Isn't it a relief to think that it's at last acceptable to re-wear an outfit to a wedding, or pop into a charity shop for something 'vintage' that's a complete bargain? And better still to be able to trumpet it in front of your friends who are similarly clad. 'What's that? Your top cost three euro? Are you made of money?”.
All those years spent with 'About Home Economics' are finally coming into play with the new rule that not single scrap of food in the house is wasted – before, we'd have chucked a soggy leaf for being unappealing. Now, if it's hard, toast it; if it's soft, puree it, if it's just about empty then scrape the living daylights out of it, just like your mammy did. There's a comfort to leaving out the buffalo mozzarella and specially sourced Tuscan sunblush tomatoes and just having jam in your sandwich instead.
Couldn't beat a holiday in Courtown when you were a kid? Just as well - you're spending a fortnight down there this year – if you're lucky enough to be going on holiday at all. Which means no queuing, not restricting yourself to a paltry three items of clothing in a case the size of a child's sock; bringing some home comforts, including the family pet (although Fido does have to travel on the roofrack, kids); and there's no spending on fripperies like sun cream and light clothing - they're completely unnecessary.
It's not embarrassing anymore when a friend calls unexpectedly and there's only one soft Rich Tea and a hard Jaffa Cake left in the biscuit barrel. Gone are the days when you'd have jam and cream filled delights in the fridge, just incase. And if there are, it's possible that you actually baked them yourself. And without going all tree-huggy about it, isn't this reducing, re-using, recycling good for the planet while we're at it?
Call me Pollyanna, but there's something to be said for living a simpler life, for not having to compete to have the latest, the greatest, the shiniest, the newest. To grow, bake, invent, re-gift, to seek value for money and maybe even pass some old-fashioned values on to the next generation.
No one's saying for a second that they'd prefer to live hand to mouth. No one's happy with the fact that we, and our children, are paying for the selfish mistakes of others with our hard-earned cash, our jobs, our homes and any semblance of comfort that we might deserve. But if the Irish are good at anything, it's making the best of a bad lot – we've been doing it for generations. So it looks like we're knuckling down yet again, seeing what little silver lining we can in this bloody great cloud appreciating the odd sense of community that comes from everyone being in the same boat. Because we've got to get used to it. To wearing an extra jumper, cutting off the mouldy crusts and bagsying the free picnic tables. Heaven knows we'll be doing it a while longer yet.