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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Erudite, eh?

Last week the Godfather came to town (my actual godfather, not a head of an Irish branch of the Cosa Nostra). He is a very smart man. So smart, in fact, that he came first in an episode of The Weakest Link and has been on Mastermind not once but twice. Apparently his specialist topic was so broad that the producers asked his to make it even more specialised. He is the stuff of quiz show lore. He is just that intelligent.

We went for a very pleasant dinner with my aunt and uncle at a chinese restaurant. In between the Hot and Sour soup and prawn toast my aunt exclaimed that she had shown the Godfather my most recent column. I wracked my brain. Did I talk about shoes? For the sake of the man who was supposed to be the light by which my spiritual wellbeing was nurtured, I hoped that I had talked about the collected works of Anthony Trollope and not something that Bridget Jones would find pedestrian.

As a rule, I take criticism at face value, so I'll believe anything. However, he's the only family member that I know would tell the bald-faced truth without reserve. After a slight pause, he pronounced my work as 'erudite'. I thanked him, prentended that I knew what the word actually meant, finished my meal and promptly ran home to the bathroom where, inexplicably, my Italian housemate keeps the dictionary and looked up the meaning of 'erudite'.

It means 'full of learning' by the way. I know I'm full of something, but I'm fairly sure that it's not learning material. Maybe it was just a kind way of saying that I recover gracefully from all the stupid mistakes I make as the family's token unemployed person. Perhaps it was a comment on how the columns are always presented with a convenient conclusion; a story with a moral disguised with the smoke and mirrors of oddly-timed quips. Or my learned Godfather may actually think that I am a relatively smart person. It's the definition of irony then that I can't actually think of a conclusion for this week's piece. Or maybe it's just unfortunate. I'm not too sure. I might have to go consult the dictionary in the bathroom. It's all a learning process, after all.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Recessionistas (probably know a person that will) favour legal highs*

I'm at a loss at how to start this week's column. Usually, I throw in a couple of flippant remarks about being so poor that I have to steal toilet paper from pubs (everyone does it, I make no apologies) or formulate relationships with men just because they always have a handy supply of spaghetti and stir-in sauce (I won't tell him if you won't). Then I launch into an anecdote that leads into a conclusion that hopefully exposes a vein of the Irish Recessionista (or Recessionisto; this equally concerns the men) subculture that I'm a part of.

There are no flippant remarks about this week's chosen topic, only flippant attitudes. If you think that statement was hyperbolic, then draw the curtains, dim the lights and recoil in horror at the revelation that the average recessionista will, by merits of her age and social status, have come into contact with drugs, illegal or legal, at some stage in her life. She will either take some sort of drug recreationally or will have more than one friend that does.

I'm no anomaly. I am also not writing this in order to judge anyone. However, I do write this column every week as a marker of the shifting habits of my age group.

Drug taking trends, at least within my small cotierie of friend and friends-of-friends who partake, have changed from the acquiring of illegal,Class B substances from slightly dodgy dealers to legal, but possibly more dangerous substances that mimic the effects of cocaine and MDMA from head shops. I asked one friend about this shift - apparently it's a number of combinations.

It's becoming increasingly hard to find illegal drugs. Legal highs are generally much cheaper. However, these legal highs aren't marketed as such but rather as a range of products from plant fertilizer to bath salts to, disconcertingly, weedkiller. It's therefore impossible for someone to know how much is too much, which doesn't bode well in any context.

I'm not smart (or stupid) enough to pretend that I have a solution that would work for everyone from ravers to tokers with MS to sad sacks like me who just bob their heads and stare from the sidelines.

The likelihood is that we also know someone who died a drug-related death. A few nights ago I listened to a friend's laboured breathing as he slept after too many bath salts and hoped that he wouldn't be the next to go.

Like I said, I'm not here to judge. I just don't want anyone to get hurt.

*Print headline reads 'Recessionistas favour legal highs'

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Lucky for some

Some people have all the luck. They can accept every invitation extended. They only get sick when life has conveniently paused for them to snuffle in bed with a bottle of Olbas Oil and a big fat novel. I am not one of those people. I'm the kind of person who holds a grudge against self entitlement to such a degree that I snipe at those chosen few whose time management and general contentment is not due to overzealous reading of Bill Cullen tomes, but rather through a concentrated streak of luck.

During a very inconvenient bout in bed this week I finally got around to reading Freakonomics, a book concerning odd and unexpected correlations. The book's authors draw lines between schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers, estate agents and the Ku Klux Klan - all in terms of crime and progress. My highest qualification in the field of economics was a Leaving Certificate honours C3, so bear with me if the following question sounds nonsensical. Do lucky people commit more 'victimless' crimes?

It's impossible to quantify luck, but I do notice from personal experience that my lucky friends are the ones much more likely to cheat on their social welfare returns. Friends with bachelors degrees teach five grinds a week and can easily earn an extra €150 a week on top of their €200 or so dole payment. One friend had to be physically restrained from going to the post office to claim social welfare for his brother (who conveniently already had a job... in Canada).

It's much more likely that these people may well be lucky, but they are also used to things going their own way. Similarly, they are very surprised when it all goes pear-shaped and the government discovers that Fluffy the Pomeranian can't legally be considered a dependent child.

Myself, not so much. Every Tuesday when the dole cheque comes in the post I rip open the envelope expecting to see a crumpled note scrawled in blood asking why I didn't declare the tenner my nan gave me on my last visit home and that they're coming to put me in the chokey. However, I accept no money on the side for fear of repercussion. I'm safe as houses. That was, until this week when an ominous-looking letter arrived threatening to cut me off. In blue ink. Some people really do have all the luck. If you meet one, tell them I'd like mine back please.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Benefits In Kind

There are some situations that are just unwise. Getting into a car with a stranger just because they wave a Sherbet Dib Dab in your face would be an unwise choice. Similarly, mixing stripes and polka dots would be an unwise sartorial decision. Wearing slippery shoes walking down an icy Barrack Street, falling asleep in nightclub toilets, cutting your own hair; avoiding all of these situations have been drummed into us from an early age and yet we do them anyway.

Some women go for men who break their hearts, with some notable exceptions. My best friend has somehow ended with a man who may well break her bank balance.

My friend is not a rich woman. Like many females of our age, she is unemployed and subsisting on Social Welfare payments coupled with a few shifts in a corner shop. However, this man is a different species altogether. He exists in the misty ether between applying for government assistance and applying for a job. This man is in full time third-level education. She buys his breakfast rolls, she pays for the cinema, she finances his new sock fund and of course, I've been reliably informed in toe-curlingly inappropriate detail of the benefits-in-kind that she receives. It's a recessionary relationship.

Normally money or mismanagement of said money is a major problem for many couples. Men and women alike get inferiority complexes about the wages they do or don't pull in. Therefore, it's logical to conclude that, without money, couples would have less problems. It's an encouraging thought. She shares what she has, and so does he. It seems like an astonishingly egalitarian relationship, even if my brain does get frazzled at the thought of women actually having to pay for things in a relationship (my hand-to-mouth existence dictates that I pop on the recessionista hat and use money saving measures even with men).

I do find it a bit unnerving that she's always paying his way, even if he genuinely is broke. Sometimes I feel like I should stick my nose in and give her a motivational speech involving feminism or girl power or something, anything to assuage my own uneasiness. Then I look at the two of them together. It's blindingly evident that he makes her happy. Maybe I'll give the speech another day. It is only money, after all.