Dinner parties can be tricky these days. There was a time when holiday conversations were fairly safe. But now even simple questions like, 'Did you go anywhere this summer? or Still have that place in Bulgaria?' can be answered with a resentful silence
The recession has made us all wary. None of us quite know what to say any more. For example I've always found the question, 'What do you do?' pretty invasive. But now it seems positively rude in a country with over 14pc unemployed.
When I tell people I'm a writer, they usually ask if I've had anything published, which in itself is quite offensive. Obviously, I look like somebody who shouldn't be able to get a sentence published. When I tell them I write a column they are positively astounded. If I add that I'm a novelist, it's often all a bit much. 'What kind of novels? Women's fiction? Oh, I don't really read that stuff. I prefer books like The Kite Runner. Is there any money in your sort of books? I mean, can you survive financially?' Again, pretty rude.
I want to say I've written a history book. But they've changed topics now. Where do you live?
I live in Donnybrook. They want to ask if I bought before the boom. Or at the height of it. Most importantly, they want to know if I'm in negative equity. But nobody can ask that. That's just a step beyond general rudeness.
Property used to be such a popular subject at social gatherings. Folk rambled on about the amazing pile of bricks they bought for x amount and how it was now worth triple that. Oh, but there was no point you jumping on the bandwagon, mate, because you had missed the boat.
Property was soaring. Ordinary people would go to bed at night and wake up millionaires. But home-owning dreamers coming after them couldn't get a toe on the ladder, never mind an entire foot.
Now we're all in the same boat, except that we're not really. There is somebody in society who is not at all popular at social gatherings. In fact he is so unpopular, it's a miracle he is ever invited anywhere. He is the long-term renter. He is the person everyone thought was mad throwing away dead money.
His foolishness of yesteryear used to make others feel smug. If you sat next to him at dinner, well, you were the landlord and he was the proverbial serf. Now nobody wants to sit anywhere near him. Because he is just waiting for somebody, anybody, to ask whether he has bought yet. And his answer is simply that he's in no hurry and might wait another year or two until the market has completely bottomed out. Hmm. No wonder he has no friends. This game is no longer any fun.
We're all still on the Monopoly board but there's only one person rattling the dice.