A hot day in Ireland – more special than Christmas. That feast arrives once a year, like it or not. Hot weather is significantly less dependable. If it comes at all, you know not the day nor the hour. Where the wind and the water currents of the Atlantic collide with land, weather is about as predictable as a fruit machine. So hot days are precious.
Which is why I gave up any idea of getting work done and went swimming. I had no choice.
It was lovely at the lake. The water hasn’t got very warm yet, but it was fine for swimming. Mostly young people there, throwing themselves and each other in. Some had brought hurls and sliotars (hurling balls) and were practising in the water. The ball landed near me at one stage and I threw it back – or tried. Ever thrown something while floating in water? It’s weird, and largely unsuccessful. I was throwing myself backwards as much as the ball forwards. Embarrassing.
I was impressed though by this positive attitude. Galway lost the Leinster Championship final yesterday, to underdogs Dublin. (No Galway isn’t in Leinster – it’s a long story.) Some might have wanted to forget about hurling for a while after that, but here these young guys were not just practising, but apparently developing an entirely new tactical approach that involves flooding the pitch to a depth of over two metres.
It may be romantic optimism brought on by the weather, but I see hope for the future in that.
What James Reilly did was nothing special, just politics as usual. That’s precisely why he has to go. What passes for usual politics in this country is the whole problem. Politics as usual is what we threw Fianna Fáil out for.
James Reilly is our Minister for Health, in case you’re wondering. For the moment at least. And believe it or not, this has little or nothing to do with the Savita Halappanavar tragedy. There was a time when, as an actual doctor running the health service instead of a career politician, he seemed like a breath of fresh air. That chapter was brief, its ending a few months ago decidedly anticlimactic. His Labour party junior at the Department gave up, accusing him of manipulating health service priorities to bring investment and facilities to his own constituency. Documents released now appear to confirm this.
Is that not just the inevitable outcome of representative democracy? People expect their reps to bring back the goods. A little thumb on the scales.
No. A TD is not a warrior-champion, not a hunter. We’re sending them to Dublin to represent us there, not to loot it. Government tends to look away when a minister slips some spoils to the folks back home. It helps keep the seat safe at the next election. For ministers, it helps them keep their job and its lavish pay – not to mention its influence. Public money is diverted for their personal benefit in an only very slightly indirect way. In other words, it’s corruption. The sort of endemic, omnipresent corruption we used to mistake for normality.
But this is not a victimless crime. Favouring his own constituency disfavours the rest of the country. By taking a hospital from where it’s needed most to where it’s needed less he’s reducing someone’s chances of survival – and doing it for his own gain. Just like the worst sort of career politician.
But you can’t exactly disagree. In a way, house prices are always stable. A house is always worth… about a house. A person can eat a lot or a little food, own a hundred cars or none, but houses tend to stabilise somewhere around the level of one per every two adults. Because try as you might, you can’t live in much more than one house at a time. Logically then, housing ought to be one of the most stable commodities on the market. It’s actually the rest of the economy that has been vigorously swung around this anchor point. During the housing boom, wages may have gone up on paper, but in house-buying terms they plunged through the floor.
Which gives me an idea… We need a new currency, right? The euro, well, it’s lovely and all. I like the colours, and the handy map on the back. But the thing is, we just can’t really afford it. Using the euro is like having a currency on the gold standard when the world is desperately short of gold. You can’t have a functional economy when the standard unit of exchange is hen’s teeth.
And what do we have plenty of? Why, houses! Too many houses, not enough euro banknotes. Think about it.
Of course you can’t put houses in your wallet or bring them to the shops. There will still have to be tokens. But the base currency unit should be fixed to the value of the standard house – say the sort of small two-bedroom starter home that was produced like popcorn during the boom. Notes should be denominated in fractions of a house. That way, the price of a home can never run away from you. Save up 1,000 of the new thousandth-of-a-house notes, and you can exchange them for one standard house at your nearest branch of NAMA.
It won’t stop people charging more than the standard house price of course, for bigger residences in better locations. But the existence of a perfectly adequate house at a fixed price – well, a price that money is fixed to – should act as a powerful stabilising influence. You’ll be able to look at a property ad and say “Well it’s a good house. But is it really worth two houses?”
Of course I couldn’t sleep on the bus in the end. But I had time to stretch in Dublin airport, drink a coffee to keep me awake until boarding and get my devices recharged. (The new terminal seems at first to be a building somehow designed without power points, but they do have them in the cafe upstairs in departures.)
I suppose I got about an hour’s sleep on the flight. Slightly befuddled then, I managed to get lost inside Helsinki airport. I think due to a shortage of gates they let us out into the departures lounge; I should have realised this when the woman serving me coffee wished me a good flight. There was a lack of signage to the exit – people usually depart Departures in planes of course. I ended up in the international transfers sector, which had a door that only opens to you from the outside, presumably an anti-immigrant feature. I was trapped! The only logical escape was to take the next plane leaving the EU.
Fortunately, I wasn’t quiet tired enough to be that logical. I waited. Some Chinese people entered, I snuck through and was free.
Not a lot to report after that. I met my friend, we played on the beach with her six-year-old daughter and her daughter’s friend. We came home and I managed to stay politely awake through dinner, collapsing into bed around ten in the evening even though the sun was still shining.
It was still shining when I awoke. Well OK, I presume I missed a brief episode of darkness. Helsinki is not above the Arctic Circle. But it was now even hotter. We went to another beach, warmer and more sheltered, where Finnish families from the neighbourhood go to build sandcastles and paddle. This may be a colder country on average, but they have real seasons here. The summer they’re complaining about is a hell of a lot better than the one we’re complaining about.
I went swimming! In the Baltic. The water is lovely. Being almost enclosed it’s a lot less salty than the ocean, so it was more like swimming in a lake. Except it was salty enough to allow me to float with no effort at all. Best of both worlds really.
And I arrived back to find that the world had changed. Though this was America’s day officially (Greetings to the Home Of The Brave, from the Land Of The Tree) it was all going on in Europe. The EU Parliament has thankfully rejected ACTA, yet another attempt by Big Entertainment to curtail the Internet. They wanted us to choose between freedom and their profitability. We did.
But then at CERN they found the first solid evidence to confirm the existence of the Higgs boson. It’s important? Well, it proves that the scientific theory we call the “Standard Model” doesn’t have a huge flaw, that humans do have some idea of how it all works. It’s a major step towards a complete understanding of how the universe works, and how it began.
Freedom, wisdom, and floating in a warm sea. Some days are OK.
Dammit, I can’t sleep. The hot sun won’t stop streaming in through the window. What sort of lake-strewn, tree-befuzzed hell have I arrived in?
But wait, let’s start at the beginning. Or at least, where I finished. Yesterday, in Café Wa, in Galway…
The best part of a journey is not to travel hopefully or to arrive, but the moment that comes just a little after you set out. I mean the one when it hits you that it’s too late now to worry if you have all the right underwear and cables, there’s no point in once again checking your ticket and passport. That ship has, perhaps literally, sailed. Finally you sigh and stretch and let the vehicle carry you.
The worst part conversely is the one before departure, when searching through pockets to confirm the presence of items you know are there is still a live option. And that’s the stage I’ve reached. Essentially I’m writing this to keep my hands busy.
I would have been on a bus to Dublin now but for a last-minute change of plan. My flight leaves at the unthinkable hour of 7:40 a.m., meaning they expect me to check in at 5:40 – about the time I’m usually going to bed. If that sounds convenient to you, consider that I’m the sort of person who can’t sleep until they’re too tired to stay awake. This means that I have to do the hardest part – actually making sure I get on the plane – when I’m at my least conscious.
My idea was to go to Dublin this evening, stay awake till about 5, get up an hour before that and head to the airport. There was a flaw to this plan. At the bus station though I found that they run all night. New plan then: instead of trying and probably failing to sleep in Dublin – our much worse, falling to wake up – I would leave here at about 2 a.m. on a bus straight to the airport, arriving refreshed and in good time!
Only one possible drawback to this brilliant scheme – It leaves me with hours before my bus, and absolutely nothing left to do.
We spent a lot on roads in this country. Probably more, with hindsight, than we really ought to have. So I can’t help feeling ungrateful when I don’t use them. Motorways – highways, autobahns, what you will – are convenient, sure. You can cruise along at 120k (75mph), faster than on ordinary roads. You can steer like you’re on rails. You can sleep.
No wait, not sleep. That’s the one you’re not supposed to do. But honestly, if they wanted you to drift off at the wheel this is exactly how they’d design roads. They’re so safe they’re dangerous.
I spent last night at a friend’s near Dundalk, close to the M1 that runs Dublin–Belfast. The M4 and M6 take you from Dublin to Galway, so I could have gone home entirely by motorway. The route makes a perfect right angle, but nevertheless it’s what the satnav recommends.
I took the hypotenuse, the direct route across country via N-roads (national routes). At least, it would be direct if it didn’t wind like a bastard. These roads live from bend to bend, forcing you not only to concentrate on steering, but to change your speed and even gear constantly. Though it must be said that these have also been the object of serious investment in recent years, with accurate lines and chevron markers on every bend. Driving them is hard, but not particularly dangerous.
This is the only way to see the country – insofar as there is anything to see in the midlands. Not counting a (very necessary) break then, it took me four hours to get from the Irish Sea to the Atlantic coast. I could’ve done it in an hour less by motorway, but dammit, it would’ve felt longer.
Hold on to your hats! If you live in Dublin, Limerick or Galway, ‘A Tale of Three Cities’ is coming soon to your City. Following an incredible impromptu ‘improv jam’ session at Electric Picnic in 2010, some of Ireland’s top improvisers decided that there was too much fun to be had to leave it it that.
Plans were hatched, and they decided a three city comedy improv tour was in order. Members of No Drama (Dublin), Choke Comedy (Limerick) and The Spontaneous Theatre People (Galway) have joined forces and become the Improv ‘Supergroup’ known as The Make-Up Artists!
Improv Comedy is an incredibly exciting form of theatre. It is energizing for the audience and performers alike, and no two performances are ever alike.
The Make-Up Artists‘ show promises to be a great night of weird and wonderful comedy antics. All the scenes and games are unscripted, and many are based on the audience suggestions. It will have you on the edge of your seats wondering what could possibly come next, and delighted when you find out what does!
Dublin – Thursday 8th December, Doyle’s Pub, College St Show starts at 8.30pm, admission €10
Limerick – Saturday 10th December, The Belltable, O’Connell St Show starts at 8pm, admission €10
Galway – Sunday 11th December, Upstairs @ The Townhouse Bar, Spanish Parade. Doors at 8pm, admission €7/5
Any additional enquiries, email spontaneoustheatre (at) gmail (dot) com
So house prices in Dublin have reached half what they were at the height of the boom. That’s a good sign. If they halve once more they’ll be back to what they were pre-bubble. Look at the graph (ganked from the very interesting ronanlyons.com) if you don’t believe me. Converted to 2011 money, an average house cost about €100,000 for decades. At the height of the boom it peaked at nearly four times that. Well over a third of a million, for an ordinary home.
Just one question springs to mind. What the hell were we thinking? Houses costing the price of a house, plus three other houses? Cars didn’t quadruple in price in just a few years. Food didn’t, even drink and cigarettes didn’t. During boom times, market prices are supposed to fall behind rising incomes. Otherwise they wouldn’t be called boom times, they’d be called mysterious outbreaks of rampant inflation. But during ours the cost of housing left incomes for dead. Clearly, the housing market is a deeply flawed one – almost an object model in fact of how capitalism goes wrong.
In theory the price of something is set by supply and demand, which is both efficient and ethical. Well let’s pretend it is for now, it works well enough for most things. Why does it go wrong here? Because the supply and demand of housing is almost irrelevant to the housing market.
What does a house cost? It’s an interesting question. A house in an appropriate location can be a very important asset, so in general people will spend the absolute maximum on a house they think they can afford. That’s clearly unlike wine or cars or dinners or phones. So in short, the answer to the question “How much does a house cost?” is “Whadya got?”
Or more precisely, what can you raise? If easier money is available therefore, people will borrow more. They’ll pretty much have to, as prices will rise to meet the available credit. Of course they have the option of only borrowing as much as they would have before prices went strange, but if they do they’ll get a much worse house than they could previously have afforded, while those willing to avail of the softer terms will get the shorter commutes, the better school catchment areas, the safer neighbourhoods. Competing for their and their children’s futures, it is hard to blame them for taking all that the banks and other financial institutions offered.
Speculation happens in such runaway markets of course. People will buy houses in the hope of selling them at a profit, just as if they were buying shares or gold or currency. Capitalism teaches that there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. The vast, vast majority however are buying houses because they need a house. And while some postponed purchasing in the hope that prices would come down, far more rushed into buying out of fear that they would not.
There are other factors, but we shouldn’t overemphasise them. People had become better off, yes. But did your income double? Mine sure as **** didn’t. The euro facilitated the boom because such an influx of credit would otherwise have exploded the currency, but it didn’t cause it. Houses were said to be “historically underpriced”, but even if you can bring yourself to believe a thing could be consistently underpriced for decades without anyone noticing, could it seriously be by a factor of two, even four?
And there was net immigration, that could have been expected to fuel the market. After all prices go up when demand outstrips supply. Only… Supply vastly outstripped demand. People were building houses up the sides of cliffs.
There are no two ways about it. We had a housing price bubble because we had an oversupply of credit. The blame rests squarely with the financial institutions that offered these loans. That is, all of them. Major banks should have known better and could have resisted. Had just a couple of lesser institutions been left to their excessive lending the larger banks would have lost custom, yes. But they would have survived. And minor institutions could not by themselves have super-inflated house prices.
But these lending practices were adopted by the whole industry, and quite literally they forced people to pay too much – far, far too much – for houses. There is a clear case for debt forgiveness therefore. There is also a case for punishment – though of the lenders who made the irresponsible loans rather than the borrowers who had little choice except to take them. And by punishment, I seriously mean prison sentences. There must surely be some law against business practices so reckless that they ruin individuals, families, even a whole country.
I’m having a reindeer sandwich. This is not some bizarre sexual practice. It’s a sandwich with reindeer in it. Makes a change. It was all I could do not to hum Christmas songs as I buttered the bread.
I’ve wanted to try reindeer since I was in Finland over a year ago, but didn’t know enough Finnish to chance it. Their supermarkets are great, but they stock such a vast range of meat products that you feel they can’t all be the parts of animals we think of as edible. Yesterday though I was in Ikea, where reindeer is helpfully sold in English.
Ikea is weird, isn’t it? A vast warehouse full of what comedian John-Luke Roberts might describe as perfectly adequate furniture. Absolutely nothing was actually ugly, but I hardly saw a single thing I positively liked either. Some of the ceramic sinks were satisfactorily solid. The mattresses seemed excellent value. But I was expecting more somehow. And the Swedish names were nothing like as amusing as people make out.
OK… Except for a set of storage containers labelled Slubb. I enjoyed saying Slubb.
The deli section was rather a letdown too. There just wasn’t that much variety, and I was expecting, well, a smorgasbord. I did get some pickled herring of course, and some fish roe paste in a tube which I dubbed ‘The Antitoothpaste’. And then the reindeer. Smoked reindeer slices, which look rather like brown ham and, disappointingly, taste rather like brown ham.
So much for reindeer then – or ‘pigs with antlers’, as they may or may not be called in Finnish.
Today yet another report on clerical abuse revealed yet more rape of children. The government says that child neglect is a thing of the past, but that the terms of the EU-IMF bailout deal require it to end the jobs of 200 Special Needs Assistants. That deal is supposed to get us back into the bond markets, yet following it has made these markets declare our bonds worthless. And the Euro is on the verge of collapse anyway, so it’s actually all meaningless.
However the hottest news item of the day was a personal remark about someone’s appearance made in parliament. Sometimes you just want to give up.
So I gave up. Unable to say anything meaningful about so much insanity, I went outside in the sun and painted the gateposts to match the wall.
I’ve decided that the colour is really 50% Grey – the shade exactly half way between black and white. I can like 50% Grey. (It’s probably more like 53% really, but I choose to ignore this.) It reminds me of Photoshop, and it’s a good mount card colour for black and white images. Anyway, it all looks nicer now that the walls and gateposts match. That at least was productive.
So here, instead of a proper post, are five things I learned today while drifting listlessly about the Internet:
1) There’s a company in England that sells a handmade sports car called the “5EXi”. Presumably this is a vehicle designed and built specifically for the needs of twats.
2) A disease called “nodding syndrome” is spreading in Africa. The symptoms include stunted growth, and a lack of neck muscle tone causing the characteristic nodding. No one yet knows what causes it.
3) Teapoy is a word of Indian origin meaning a three-legged table. By erroneous association with the word “tea”, it is also used to describe a table with a container for tea. So if you were stuck on today’s Irish Times simplex crossword, now you know.
4) There are now at least three people on Google+ posing as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Well I guess that should be “at least two”. One of them could be real.
5) There’s a fashion currently for women’s pants with the crotch hanging down at the knees. A friend in the States was prevented from boarding a bus because the driver considered them unsuitable attire. They call them harem pants, I think because women in harems wore them when they wanted their Sultan to leave them the hell alone.