Eoin Butler: writer, journalist and Mayoman of the Year

Tripping Along The Ledge


Published: Mongrel, December 2006


is there a Plan B?

moving in with your parents
It’s official. The Irish property market is on the brink of collapse. All that you have ever worked for is about be lost in the abyss of a new economic Dark Age, made more sinister and protracted by the twisted lights of perverted lending practices. The time to panic has come and gone. Your dream home is worthless now. Forget about it, it’s gone. If you can find someone to swap you a Lost Series One DVD box set for it, then grab that lifeline and grab it fast.

There may, however, be a silver lining in all of this. Look at it this way. You’ve tried the path of prudence. You’ve scrimped and saved and prostituted your talent to a faceless corporation. You’ve poured your heart and soul into an inanimate lump of concrete because that’s what society told you to do. And where did it get you? Sat on the kerb with a Lost DVD box set and nowhere to watch it.

What sensible person could therefore object if, for your next move, you let yourself be guided, not by the strait jacket of conventional wisdom, but by some whimsical impulse of your deranged imagination? I bet you’ve never given any serious consideration to any of these five exciting living scenarios. If not, why not?1. Join a monastery.

Jacking it all in and joining a monastery on the back of one series of David McWilliams ‘The Pope’s Children’ might seem a tad melodramatic. But desperate times call for desperate measures. And when the shit hits the fan the Good Lord will provide. He’s got the power. He’s got the wisdom. But most of all, he’s got the real estate. Just look at what we’re talking here. Rent-free accommodation. Free meals in perpetuity. And we’re pretty sure the outfits are on the house (although they may deduct that from your wages at a later date).

So how feasible an option is this? Father John Byrne, an Augustinian friar based in Ballinteer, Co. Dublin, has agreed to give us the lowdown on monastic life. “A monastery is like a normal house with a TV, central heating and usually internet access nowadays” he tells us. So what do you do all day? “The work involved could be anything or everything. I’m working in a retreat house conference centre. I deal with administration and with groups that come in. But there’s a whole variety of work that Augustinians are involved in.”

Sounds pretty cushy, to be honest. “Well I wouldn’t say that. There are aspects of it that are comfortable and there are aspects of it that can be tedious and boring. The celibacy dimension comes into it as well of course.” In fact, the ‘celibacy dimension’ is not the only snag here. “Faith would have to be really the primary motivation behind it, yes. Faith and a willingness to serve others. If the faith element wasn’t there life would become very empty after a while.” So there’s no way that a duplicitous person could, say, fake the whole being religious thing just for the dinner and the digs? “No. I hope not. I really hope not.” Food for thought…

2. Move back in with your parents.

“There’s no way that moving in with your parents is a sign that your life is right on track. There’s no way that you could fake this even. “Yeah, things are going great. I’ve got a terrific girl, making a lot of money and if everything goes according to plan… I’m gonna be moving back in with my parents pretty soon.”

– Jerry Seinfeld

It’s one of the toughest and most humiliating manoeuvres in the business. But if your pride can take the hit, there are some perks to moving back home. Kirsty, 22, studied English and History in Dublin before moving home to Blackpool after graduation. She doesn’t pay any rent and enjoys free daily meals. A clearly pathetic character, she for some reason draws the line at having her washing done for her. “Oh, I do my own washing” he confirms. “I’m not one of those Irish mammy’s boys or mammy’s girls who gets their washing done for them.” Yeah, cos that would be embarrassing…

So how on earth does she cope with the humiliation of telling people that she’s living at home? “I’d been at uni for four years and felt like I’d been progressing with my life. So I suppose there is a feeling of embarrassment in telling people that I’ve moved back and I’m working in Marks and Spencers.” Luckily, friends are fairly thin on the ground these days anyway. “Most of my friends went off to university and have stayed on where they are. They’ve made other friends now. My cousin lives around here though so I see her a fair bit. It’s really sad though, I’m like one of those people who’s got no friends.”

Bottom line then. What are the pluses and minuses of living at home? “It gives you a bit of time away, but at the same time it’s like going back to being a child again. My parents are quite easy going. But I do get told all those little things, like I go to bed too late. Or being told when I come in from a night out that I haven’t locked the doors or I’ve left a mess. It’s kind of annoying when you’re used to living on your own terms.”

3. Get a job on a fishing trawler.

Another option that’s not as drastic as you might at first assume. “Most of the modern boats are very comfortable” says Michael Gallagher of the Irish Sea Fisheries Board. “Because of the Celtic Tiger there are more employment options for people nowadays. So if it was real hardship out there they just wouldn’t go out.” How comfortable is very comfortable? Are there pool tables, Jacuzzis… what? “Well, you would have your own room. You would have a TV and shower, things like that.” Television? “Oh yeah, absolutely. Satellite TV. But that would be on the bigger boats. On the smaller boats, the ones that are only out for two or three days at a time, you’d have ordinary TVs.”

Satellite television is all very well. But working on a fishing trawler still sounds like fucking hard work. “It isn’t that physically demanding. It’s skilled work. But most of the systems on reasonably sized boats are mechanised now. Even a lot of the sorting and handling of fish on board is quite mechanised. So in actual fact there are long periods of inactivity. You have the nets out for a few hours and between hauls there are times that you’d just be watching TV or whatever.” Kinda reminds me of the time I got a job in a 24-hour petrol station and… “Absolutely not. Cannabis would not be permitted on board. Every skipper would have a very strict policy on that because you just couldn’t have that mix.” Bah!

4. Become an eco-warrior.

The decision to live in a field is not one a person should commit to lightly. The great outdoors is cold and inhospitable, and environmentalists tend not to make for the most fun loving of companions. Still, the dress code is-casual, the hours are flexible and the property apocalypse is upon us. So why the fuck now? Anne is a 23-year-old archaeologist who resigned from her job a year ago to commit fulltime to the Shell To Sea campaign in North Mayo. Speaking to Mongrel, she was keen to stress that living in a field, as she does, was not a lifestyle choice.

“When we decided to use the Rossport Solidarity Camp, it was as a tactic in the campaign. It wasn’t because we like to live outside. We thought it was the best way that we could support the community struggle down here. We want to make it as habitable as possible, so that people will come down here and learn about the campaign.” The volunteers in Glengad sleep in benders, which are made of bent-over hazel rods, covered in tarps and polythene and insulated with blankets. “It sounds a bit funny” laughs Anne. “But they’re actually really cosy and warm.”

The press sometimes portray eco-warriors as scroungers and layabouts – our kind of people, in other words. Sadly, this stereotype seems to be wide of the mark. “There’s always a lot of general maintenance work to be done” says Anne of living on the camp. “If there’s been a storm you might have to tighten down some of the tarps on the benders. We’ve also got a rota for going up to the pickets. Then we’ve got an office in a house about ten miles away which we cycle over to for ringing people, sending out press releases and putting up articles and photographs on Indymedia.”

All of which sounds like a total pain in the hole, quite frankly. “The compost is a minging job, yeah.” Why? “Just because its compost. Its decomposing excrement.” Come again? “We have compost toilets. You piss into a bucket with straw and that gets mixed in the food waste. Then there’s the shit compost. You shit into a bucket, you put sawdust into it and that then goes into a box. That’s probably the worst task – emptying out the human waste.” Holy fuck… Next!

5. Become a kept man / woman

“I have my own company” says Simon, 27. “The aim is to make it profitable in the next year or two. I’ve had it now for eighteen months, but because it’s a start-up we still haven’t earned anything. My girlfriend is American and illegal, actually. She came over here, we started living together and I helped her set up her company. Her company is making money. It’s mostly scarves, woman’s accessories. So she pays her office rent, my office rent, our apartment, my car and keeps me fed and pissed.”

Any sane person has got to hate this guy. “Ah jaysus, I appreciate what she’s doing. She’s very good. But a company needs two directors and I’m her co-director. I put in the slog with her starting up her company. I’m just not needed anymore, so I can concentrate fully on my own thing. When my company works out – and it will work out – we’ll have two successful businesses and we’ll be laughing.”

For the moment though, how does this arrangement work out at home? “I do the cooking. I don’t do the cleaning. We’re completely 50/50; it’s really never an issue.” I decide to try a different line of inquiry. Say some night they’re in bed and he’s got a headache… “Man, I’ve never have a headache!” He roars laughing at the notion. “It’d have to some bloody headache for me to knock back the ride. I’d have to be bleeding through my eyes!”

Well, it beats shovelling shit I suppose…

October 20th, 2009.

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