The Private Pennings of Fiona Ferret: Political Correspondent

Life Up-date

Have decided to scrap a daily diary as have no time. In contrast to my dismal summer, I now feel I’m traveling in the fast lane. Vera (my counselor) keeps talking about my having turned a corner, whatever that means. Anyway am happy to say I didn’t go on the Prozac. Actually the upturn started at the Electric Picnic when we all conked out on the last night with the rain dripping outside the tent, feasting on mouldy cheese, Cabernet Sauvignon and cold curried lentils. Bridie (Moale, my best friend) and Phil (her now fiancé) and myself were all tucked into a damp sleeping bag listening to Amy Winehouse and chilling out (literally) when one of Phil’s friends, Ronan joined us. At first I wasn’t sure about him. The homemade trousers, bandana and dreadlocks, the tattoo of a squirrel on his left bicep and the tongue stud I felt were a bit passé and although I’m into saving the planet I don’t hug trees, talk to leaves or organize protest marches which Ronan does in his spare time. That’s when he’s not working as a landscape gardener. Tattoo and tongue stud aside, he is really nice and to cut a long story short I now have a boyfriend. My parents have not yet met him and to be honest I’m not ready for that – not really sure why. My dad was a bit of a hippy himself about forty years ago and my mum has regressed to being a teenager and therefore unreliable, so I suppose I don’t want to add any more stress into the mix. Nor do I want any talk of weddings and babies. Anyway Vera says I need to live my own life. Am wondering if she may also have turned a corner. She’s finally exchanged the black wooly socks for fishnet stockings and the Birkenstocks for a high-heeled sexy shoe.  Not sure what that’s about.

Where to start? Bridie and Phil have decided to get married in April and they have chosen Glendalough as the spot. The wedding will be on shores of the upper lake and Ronan and I will be witnesses. Bridie wants a pagan ceremony with Ronan and I dressed like druids. I just hope it’s not raining and that we won’t all freeze to death. Glendalough, although cold, is a safer bet than Dubai. Bridie texts me all the time about the wedding and it’s beginning to drive me nuts. Where can we find acorns? Should her bratty teenage sister Aoife be a Celtic Maid of Honour all that sort of thing? (Aoife is an annoying airhead who only lives for face book, her weekly fake tan and shopping sprees and according to Bridie spoilt rotten by her parents.) I’m glad I’m an only child. Coping with parents is bad enough.

It’s great having a boyfriend like Ronan who is really positive as well as being laid back. On insecure days I wonder what he sees in me. We are SO different. Phil says it’s the attraction of opposites. Vera just smiles and says nothing, which is SO annoying. Ronan doesn’t email and only uses his mobile phone to organize his business and protests, and he takes me to alternative restaurants such as The Allotment and Skip where we can eat the root vegetable special for four euros. Ronan and Phil are vegetarians and met at a gardening meeting and they also go running in the Wicklow mountains on weekends. Bridie doesn’t like the idea of perspiring and won’t go near a gym. She’s says they’re full of sweat and germs. I’m all for a brisk walk but I don’t do running. I’ve given up the junk food and take aways and getting better with the vegetables as long as they are not boiled into oblivion, which is what Aunty Kitty used to do with cabbage and potatoes. Ronan thinks I should rent out my shoebox apartment and come and live with him in a caravan in the countryside and become self sufficient, raise goats and say good-bye to consumer Ireland but I’m going to take this slowly. Vera also thinks this is a wise move. Have a feeling that saying goodbye to consumer Ireland may come sooner than we think and will have huge implications and changes; like no jobs and serious cuts on shopping sprees. Vera also thinks I still have a need for city life and the buzz of journalism, especially right now. Not to mention a salary even though all wages are now frozen until further notice. Adrenalin is certainly flowing at work. The Concerned Citizen (my newspaper) is outselling the Irish Times and Audrey who does the agony aunt column has had to recruit another writer and guess what, Phil got the job. He’s thrilled because as well as being a bit preachy he is also a drama queen and loves reading all the letters and playing the role of the wise counselor. Willy (my editor) has lost interest in Gruffalo (his new name for Biffo after all the recent outbursts) – and his wardrobe – you can lead a man to a tailor but you can’t make him change his suit – and EVERYTHING now revolves around the economy.

The day of the CRASH the sky was dark with gloom and thunderclouds of turkeys crashing to earth to roost. Willy put me back reporting on finance even though I beseeched him not to as I still feel numerically challenged and not up to the job, but he said I couldn’t do a worse job than the banks and that improved my morale.  I had to do a credit crunch crash course to get my head around the money jargon. A sub-prime is not a rib roast. A hedge fund is not an allotment allocation. For two weeks I went to bed with my head spinning with terminology: private equity, meltdown, pay freeze, global recession, stakeholders, shareholders, tracker mortgages, fixed mortgages, recapitalization and so on. Ronan just laughs and says all this jargon is just capitalist money speak to intimidate us and fool us into thinking that high finance is something terribly brainy when in fact it is a fictitious creation which produces nothing – a giant casino in the sky where people play roulette with other people’s money. He thinks all the top bankers should be sacked and sent to work on the land getting their hands dirty shoveling earth and doing something productive like growing vegetables. You’ve probably guessed Ronan’s a socialist as well as an environmentalist.

The official spin that followed the crash was that there was a global recession caused by a few irresponsible people (mostly in the States) who were selling sub-prime mortgages to people who couldn’t afford them. The bubble burst and the US who was borrowing from China (the only people producing anything these days) was effectively broke. Not our fault we were told but we would suffer the fallout and belts would have to be tightened. The grass roots weren’t having it. It was very quickly exposed that planet finance, which had plenty of players in this country, had effectively gambled away people’s pensions, homes, and jobs. Our economists warned of it, our illustrious bankers (supposedly the brains of the business world), continued to award themselves enormous bonuses for bums on boards and giving advice, and the politicians, in the pockets of the developers, were only too happy to play the game and refused to put in place any form of regulation. The country owes trillions. So we are now in a mess and there is worse to come. I know this because Bridie (not called Moale for nothing) works in the Department of Finance and was party to an emergency meeting with the bankers on the long night of the cheques where she had to take minutes.

A couple of weeks ago Bridie, Phil, Ronan and myself were in the Skip eating macaroni cheese and baked potatoes (our way of tightening our belts) discussing the meltdown and who was responsible. The conversation was sounding like the dinner party sketch out of Bremner, Bird and Fortune. With the country rapidly going down the tubes we were even feeing guilty eating baked potatoes. Bridie started the ball rolling by saying that trillions had gone, floating in cyberspace and how that needed to be exposed. (Fiona don’t let Willy deflect you into just writing about the public sector and perks and blow-dries in business class when the bankers are still sitting pretty). Ronan, who can’t understand why Bridie still stays in the D of F, predictably (being a socialist) pointed out that the public was rightly furious at the thousands of taxpayer’s money being squandered on entitlements by the top echelons of the public sector and that everything including a haircut should be accounted for. I noticed his dreadlocks trailing in the macaroni cheese and felt a twinge of begrudgery. Secretly, I would love to have thousands to spend on a round the world trip and beauty treatments and be totally indulged, even for a day, and I’d love to have the down payment for a house. Bridie got aggressive and said socialists were hypocrites because so many of them played the poor mouth whilst sitting on state boards with their snouts in the trough. Phil, who always tries to calm Bridie down said he had a hard time thinking of millions at all, never mind them being handed out weekly to certain areas of the public sector. And he was fed up with politicians sucking up to China. But Bridie wasn’t letting go and kept coming back to the trillions. Phil said he couldn’t get his head around a trillion – it was like infinity, impossible to imagine. This started us fantasizing about what we would do with a mere million. I was surprised when even Ronan admitted to buying the occasional lotto ticket so he could buy a new wheelbarrow and pay off his Gran’s mortgage. Having bought dream homes, been on wonderful trips, solved all the world’s problems and put the country to rights we then ordered more wine and celebrated the one bright highlight to-date, the election of Obama in the States and the excitement on the night and how inspirational he is. Bridie and I ordered more wine to toast the return of Hillary to the global stage where she belongs. But what an awful mess Obi Wan (Phil’s name for Obama – he’s a Star Wars freak) has inherited. Gloom and depression were surfacing again so we tried to stay hopeful and positive by stuffing ourselves with chocolate cake (made with Fair Trade chocolate of course) and downing heart-pounding cups of espresso coffee. Later than evening I went to bed thinking that if four of us mere mortals could sit round a small wooden table in a restaurant and put the world to rights why couldn’t these exorbitantly paid executives do the same thing in the boardroom? Why weren’t they sitting over macaroni cheese coming up with ideas and making decisions? Do you have to sit in first class to ponder the national interest? In what other field of work does someone get a bonus for screwing things up?

There is something about recessions that brings out extremes in people. Some people stop doing everything; shopping, eating out, socializing and even texting. Others go mad; spending, traveling and generally binging like there was no tomorrow. This is what has happened to my parents. My dad (Jimmy) has been forced to accept a redundancy package and he has gone into a hole like a bad-tempered badger ranting against the government, the banks, the semi-states, the HSE and his local council. (Mark my words Fiona. Corruption always starts with the little things, the turning of a blind eye, the nudge and the wink. We’re going the way of the Roman Empire.) He phones radio stations constantly and so far, thank goodness, has been given no airtime. SO embarrassing. Poor old badger, I do feel sorry for him. He has worked hard all his life and he feels let down and betrayed. Betty (my mum), who as you know is completely menopausal and unpredictable, has chucked in her good job as a nurse and decided life is too short and she is going to get dole money and do all the things she never had time to do. She says she can’t cope with the badger’s negativity and has joined a dubious group of women (the coven we call them), who espouse only positive energy and have dancing weekends often with no clothes on in fields and by lakes, even in the winter – she calls it getting in touch with her inner self and nature – I call it the Mamma Mia syndrome – and she is spending money like there is no tomorrow.

The biggest surprise was my Gran, Eileen who is 90 and still drives around the back lanes of Cork like a bat out of hell. During the medical card debacle she hopped on a train to Dublin and marched with the over seventies, their supporters and the students. She got applauded for attacking a politician with her walking stick when he tried to make a speech – luckily he didn’t press charges because of her age. My Dad totally got the wrong end of the stick  and was really worried when he got the phone call from the gardai station. He thought Gran had collapsed with a heart attack and raced up to Dublin to collect her and was sent packing for his troubles. Gran was wined and dined and had the time of her life (Fiona if your grandfather could see me now, God love him, not only would he be turning in his grave, but he’d be marching up here beside me – t’would be like the good old days). She spent four hours in the Shelburne with a group of grey power militants and students protesting third level cuts who thought she was ‘amazing’. Ronan is dying to meet my family. He thinks Gran and Mum sounds really cool – actually Gran is pretty cool as well as mad but Mum is just trying to be young and trendy instead of being her age. Suppose, just suppose I was to get pregnant and have a child, then she would be a Gran and what kind of example would that be! SO embarrassing. As for Aunty Kitty, well I’ve warned Ronan about her. She keeps on calling Obama, Osama because she’s convinced he’s a Muslim fundamentalist spy who will bring the Catholic Church to its knees. She also blamed McCain’s loss on that hussy, Sarah Palin who should have stayed up there in Alaska, and God knows what she’d label Ronan – probably a terrorist. Thankfully she’s away at the moment as she’s involved with some right wing, born-again revivalist religious group who hold regular meetings in London.

Ronan says I take life too seriously and have to lighten up and he’s probably right. It’s the only way to survive in our animal farm society. Today legislation went through making begging on the streets a criminal offence! Meanwhile thousand, billions go unaccounted for and no arrests! Tonight Ronan and I did lighten up and watched re-runs of Father Ted and drank copious amounts of wine. We then switched over to Strictly Come Dancing and Ronan confessed he had a secret passion for the tango. I’m totally inept in the expressive department but thanks to the wine and Ronan’s encouragement we managed the tango with great difficulty in the shoebox apartment. Breathless and fairly drunk we collapsed on the sofa and watched the audience rise to their feet to applaud John Sargent do a Paso Doble, which the judges panned and the audience loved. Was just getting up to switch off the tele when  to my horror, as the cameras scanned the crowds I recognized a familiar face in the row behind judge, Len Goodman. Smug and implacable as ever, sitting bolt upright, with tight lip and jaw, hair in place and buttoned up blouse was Aunty Kitty holding a placard saying GO ON JS – JC LOVES YOU.  Oh My God! I have a mad family. It’s a mad world. Am I genetically unsound? I turned to Ronan for support but he had collapsed on the sofa in a stupor snoring his head off. Frantically reached for the phone to call my Dad, only to find the line was engaged for what seemed like eternity. Ronan was out of it, my mother was off with the fairies in a field somewhere and the badger must have taken the phone off the hook. It was too late to call Bridie or Phil. Vera flashed momentarily to mind. My world is falling apart and nobody is around when I need them. I felt a wobbly coming on. Ronan didn’t look so hot snoring on the sofa. His hair was horribly matted, the home made trousers needed washing and the squirrel’s beady eye stared out at me from under his armpit. Suddenly had second thoughts about this relationship. Eventually collapsed into bed and after some disturbing images of Aunty Kitty doing the Samba with John Sargent and me being attacked by a rabid squirrel I fell asleep with a line ringing in my head, which sounded like something out of an old movie….something about tomorrow being another day….