When I went to the library at the end of June, my first visit after lockdown, it was not my typical library experience. Instead of spending time browsing the shelves, I had to order my books online and then wait for the library to phone to set up an appointment to collect them. After weeks of being at home with no plans all day, it felt strange to have to be somewhere at a specific time. The library looked closed when I arrived and I had to wait outside. The librarian opened the door, took my name and then hurried back inside, found my book on a table just inside the door and passed it out to me. That was it. I went to the library and didn’t even get to go inside the library.
All year we’ve been told that the current climate emergency means that we need to say goodbye to business as usual, that we cannot keep living as we currently do if we want the planet to still be habitable beyond the next 10-15 years. In a lot of ways, Christmas is the exact opposite of sustainable living. Christmas is about eating too much, giving presents, sparkly things, buying stuff, spending too much money and general rampant consumerism. It’s also about tradition. It’s a festival dedicated to doing things because that’s how we’ve always done them. This can mean everything from hanging the 20-year old Christmas decorations that your parents bought the first Christmas they were married to boiling up a big pot of Brussel sprouts even though nobody will eat them. Obviously some traditions are more ecologically sound than others. But this Christmas, for the sake of the planet, let’s embrace change and do things differently.
In May I saw Tana French being interviewed by Anna Carey in Smock Alley. The event was part of the International Festival of Literature. I am a huge admirer of her writing but I’d never heard her speak about it before so I was really looking forward to the event. She didn’t disappoint.
I’m a little late with this but I believe in celebrating the full Twelve Days of Christmas, and this is a Christmassy activity so I feel it’s ok to do it up until Jan 6th. (And yes, maybe I’m just making excuses. My next piece is about new year’s resolutions and I probably won’t get that one online until February. And then I’ll tell you that January doesn’t really count and all sensible people start their new year’s resolutions a month late.)
This is not a year in review post, or an attempt at a Best of. It’s a personal look back at the last year and the art, events and moments that I enjoyed.
Based on nothing more than a hunch, I think there’s another recession coming. A hunch, and the fact that stock markets are plummeting, the US is becoming increasingly unstable and if the UK succeed in crashing out of the EU, they are going to take us down with them. At home, the soaring rents and house prices aren’t sustainable – can’t be sustainable – and in the boom and bust cycle which we seem cursed to repeat, that means a recession is on it’s way.
After seeing this terrifying headline early this month, I started thinking about what I could do to prepare for this inevitable recession. I always feel better when I have a plan.
My plan does make some big assumptions. It buys into the narrative that there’s more money sloshing around right now than there was 5-10 years ago. I know this isn’t true for everyone. There are over 10,000 homeless people in Ireland. There are children growing up in hotel rooms. Over 15% of the population is living under the poverty line and the income gap is growing all the time. People are working good jobs and still broke because their salary is being eaten up by rent.
This silly listicle will not be relevant to a lot of people and I’m sorry about that. A better way to prepare for a recession would be for the government to take the Apple tax (and the Google tax, and the Facebook tax) and invest it in social housing and other public services. I can’t make that happen so here are some things to do instead.
1. Get out of debt.
Obvious one first. Pay off your loans, clear your credit card, get out of your overdraft. If you find yourself penniless and out of work, you don’t want to owe the bank anything. You’ll miss repayments and the interest will just keep clocking up. Clearing debt is a very boring use of money but if you are lucky enough to have a bit of extra cash now, invest it in becoming debt-free as soon as possible.
This also means that if you have a future financial emergency, those lines of credit will be available to you and might help you ride out the recession.
Another boring, practical piece of advice – start saving. Preferably with a credit union because it’s easier to borrow from them. Set up a savings account and a weekly (or monthly) direct debit into it. Even if it’s only for a small amount, some savings are better than none and being a regular saver looks good when you go looking for a loan. I also like the credit union because it’s hard to get at the money. There’s no cards or electronic transfers, you have to physically go into the building. That helps my savings grow!
3. Learn to cook
The cheapest way to eat well is to cook for yourself. It doesn’t have to be fancy just learn how to make the thing you like. The BBC Good Food website has lots of easy recipes with clear instructions. (Personally I really like this two-step recipe for chicken, sweet potato and coconut curry.) Cooking well isn’t hard but it takes a bit of practice. Better to make your mistakes when you can afford to, so if the meal is completely inedible there’s a pizza in the freezer you can have instead.
Inviting friends over for dinner is also a good way to enhance your social life during a recession when nobody can afford to go out. Finally, as well as being able to feed yourself and others, being able to spend time preparing good grub is a great when you have too much time on your hands, because of unemployment or under-employment.
4. Invest in clothes that last, especially shoes/boots/coats.
If you can afford it, spend money on good quality shoes and coats that will see you through a few winters. This is good advice from a budgetary and environmental point of view but also because you find yourself walking more in a recession and it’s good to have things that keep you warm and dry.
5. Join the library! All those books!
Libraries are great. Not only are they full of books that you can take away for free, they are also warm places you can go and use the internet without spending any money. You’ll also be grateful for their weird collection of DVDs when you have to cancel your Netflix subscription and can’t afford to go to the cinema. You could argue that you don’t need to join a library now, but having lots of members help libraries stay open and (I imagine) help them argue for budget increases, so by joining today you can help make sure they’re still there when you need them. Also did I mention the free books?
6. Vote for anti-capitalists.
I don’t know if the general election is going to happen before or after the recession hits but when it does, you should vote with the recession in mind. We need a government who doesn’t always take the side of the property developers or the landlords or the banks. We need more tenants and less landlords in the Dáil. We need more socialists who will increase investment in public services. We need people who will put an end to the boom and bust cycles.
Leo Varankar described himself as “the CEO of the organisation” on the Late Late Show recently. CEOs tend to be selfish, power-mad psychopaths and we shouldn’t let them be in charge anymore. We need a leader who is less like a CEO and more like a caretaker. Someone who looks after the country and has it’s best interests at heart, someone who identifies where cuts can be made and also where we need to invest. Someone who understands that they don’t own the country, they’re just looking after the place for bit. Please vote for someone like that, when the time comes!
7. Look on the bright side…
…a recession might be the only thing that will bring down our carbon emissions. The last recession really helped with that but they started climbing again as soon as the economy started to recover. Yes, this is clutching at straws and it is a fairly bleak bright side but we were identified as the worst offender in the EU for carbon emission last week, which is another super bleak and depressing headline, so I’ll take any bright side I can find. We need a few more politicians who give a shit about global warming in the next Dáil as well.
Since the sad news of his death came last Friday, I have read some lovely tributes to Terry Prachett, and often had a little weep. (I really like these two on the Standard Issue website – AT LAST, SIR TERRY, WE MUST WALK TOGETHER and DON’T THINK OF IT AS DYING. JUST THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH, and this one by Frank Cottrell Boyce in the Guardian.) I started reading Prachett’s Discworld books the summer I did my Leaving Cert and fell in love with them immediately. They were recommended by a friend – we’d bonded over a shared love of Red Dwarf and then I sent her off to read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and she sent me off to read the Discworld novels. I am very grateful to her for that – what a gift! All those wonderful stories, all those jokes, all those terrific characters. And now, there’s no more. No more Sam Vimes fighting everyone in sight so he can get home to read his son a bedtime story. No more stories about Tiffiany Aching and the Nac Mac Feegleys (after the final one). The news of his death was very sad, even if it was not unexpected. (That’s a lie – I didn’t expect it, I was hoping for a miracle cure. Surely it was a one in a million chance.) As well as reading other peoples tributes to him, it makes me want to watch The Hogfather and wonder what’s happening with The Watch tv series. But I also feel lucky to have those books in my life, and lucky that despite being a fan for 15 years, I still haven’t read everything he’s written. And even those I have read, I know I will read and enjoy again. They are so crammed full of jokes and clever parodies and wonderful minor characters, along side the great plots, that I know they are worth reading again.
Celebrating all the great books he gave us feels more useful than being sad about his passing. And in the spirit of celebration, I started thinking about other writers that are still with us and still writing wonderful books that make me glad I’m alive to read them!
1. Jilly Cooper is still writing and is working on a new horsey book! I love this article about how Riders is 30 years old and the best erotic fiction of all time! I started Riders the morning after my granny died. I was 15 and instantly hooked on Jilly Cooper. For a long time, her books were my literary drug of choice – the ones I went for when I needed to escape from my own boring life. I’ve probably read Riders, Rivals and Polo at least 5 times. And yes, her books are not as saucy as they used to be, either because I’m not 15 any more or because she’s almost 80, but I am still looking forward to her next one.
2. Caitlin Moran has to included on a celebratory list because she is just a pusher of joy. She’s an enthusiast and somehow manages to be infectiously enthusiastic about the simplest things like fluffy towels. She makes the world brighter and more bearable. I don’t know know if she’s working on a new book but I am looking forward to watching Raised by Wolves over the next few weeks and liked this profile in the Guardian at the weekend.
3. Marian Keyes. I’ve been reading Marian’s books longer than I’ve been reading Terry Pratchett’s and I still look forward to every single one. I read her most recent book – The Woman Who Stole My Life – just before Christmas and really loved it. I bought it a gift but had to read it first! She’s also an absolute tonic on twitter, another person who is just out to find the joy in things. I really think the people who decry twitter as a rage-filled cesspool are just following the wrong people.
4. Tana French is an Irish crime writer that I heard about from an American classmate a couple of years ago. For some reason she is much better known in the States than in Ireland, though all her books are set in Dublin. And they are wonderful. I don’t read a lot of crime novels but I really really enjoy these. I love getting hold of a new Tana French novel, looking forward diving into that world and knowing that I’m going to be completely obsessed with it for the next few days.
5. Louise O’Neill, another Irish woman, who published her first novel the very creepy Only Ever Yours last year. It’s set in a future world where girls are trained and rated for the sole-purpose of male pleasure. It’s terrifying and heart-breaking, and one that stays with you for days. Her next novel is about rape culture and I’m really interested to see how she dissects that messy minefield.
I’ve also heard great things about The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins and The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan. And Kate Atkinson has a new book out this year, and so does Judy Blume and Ali Smith and Harper Lee! So many great books that I can’t wait to get my hands on. Not to mention all the writers that I haven’t yet become acquainted with. Yes, I’ve listed loads of women writers, mainly because these are the books I’ve excited about right now. I’ve never had trouble #ReadingWomen but I do read male authors too. I read Funny Girl by Nick Hornby earlier this year and absolutely loved it, I’m looking forward to David Nichols’ Us and I’ve just started This is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz.
These are the people I’m looking forward to reading, the books that make me happy.. Any gems that I’ve missed?