Oh, Ireland. Where are we now, after a full year of the big Lurgi lockdown? Nowhere further along to freedom being restored, it seems. Oh, sure, we had brief glimpses over the wall, but that was just to tease us, wasn’t it? A big joke on us; a prank to make us think that if we played along, our jailers would set us free sooner. Still, we learned to love our servitude, didn’t we? Kissed the jailor’s hand, and even begged to be beaten down some more.
Well, folks, I hope those of you that played along are happy now. What’s that you say? It’s people like me that are holding the rest of you back from getting your freedom? Suuuure. You keep on believing that, then, if that gets you any further along, towards freedom. I think you’ll find it doesn’t, but far be it from me to try to persuade you differently. I know well how people like to cling to beliefs that make them feel better. Bit sick of it now, are you? He he. Aren’t we all? I discuss a couple of aspects about the Lurgi lockdown, one personal, one political, that have cropped up for me recently, because of the events of the last year, in this livestream.
Never mind their psyOps. Maybe turn the narratives off for a while, completely, and dance to your own tunes, when you need a break from their madness? Freedom happens mostly in your own mind, anyway, some say. Just don’t tune out the truth, completely, through fear or blind trust, and expect it all to turn out grand in the end.
Whenever I’ve been unfortunate enough to have to do business with the dole office, to try to access payments I’m legally entitled to, I’ve had a bit of bother, as Frank Spencer would say. He wasn’t as good in the skills department as me, I imagine, and his CV wouldn’t have extended to one page, let alone the two and a half that the dour-faced and depressing-to-look-at pen pusher behind the interview desk frowned on, as being far too much longer than the one page she thought a tech job CV should be. She shared her top tip, keep it to under one page, when casting a look that could turn clients to stone, first at me, then my CV, which she handled as though COVID-19 was already here, last time I was called for a “Job Activation” interview. Never mind that I had taught CV preparation myself, as part of my work, before, or had done a top-up module in CV skills, on a digital media journalism Diploma course. No. She knew best, Ms. dole office, or at least hoped I thought she did, as she struck me as a lot more grim-faced after she’d seen my CV, which I imagine had a lot more qualifications listed than hers would have (not that she would need to be producing hers for some sour wagon at a pointless dole interview, since she already had her pen-pushing gig) . It didn’t get me a job of course. In my mid fifties, in a job market dominated by imported workers from EU agencies, and a gap in my CV showing I was unemployed, I wasn’t terribly surprised. I’d even applied for jobs overseas, ‘though I baulked at the few that were advertised that I had some chance of getting, teaching jobs in Saudi Arabia and China. Nah. I thought. I’d just shake some guy’s hand the first week, and it’d be downhill quite quickly from there. Even three hots and a cot wouldn’t be guaranteed, either, I’m thinking, in those sorts of regimes.
Mind you, our regime isn’t much better, if they insist you hike it out to attend a going nowhere that results in a job session, in the middle of a COVID-19 lockdown. I had already been getting letters every couple of weeks from them, to attend meetings cited over 50kms away, with no public transport route to get me there. I don’t drive, of course. I’m unemployed, and was a zero-contract dispos-a-worker type, when I was getting the crumbs of work left over from what the foreign agency workers hadn’t time for. I was the first to go, and last to be respected, as many Irish employers seem to prefer agency workers, who provide the quick turnover needed, to Irish employees, who, let’s face it, answer back, ‘cos they speak English. They might also have a super CV, which could put you to shame if you hired them, and make you look like the complete thicko that you are, just there because you slept with the boss, and know where the tax money is hidden, or maybe your actual daddy’s the boss. Small companies like to keep things in the family, while larger ones like to keep things as impersonal as possible, preferably by not having anyone Irish working there at all. Hence the bewilderment of visitors to Irish shores who wonder why there are no Irish staff in hotels or restaurants. They’re probably busy completing a series of Job Activation interviews, for jobs they have no hope of getting, in which they are berated by being told they are just not trying hard enough to get one of those jobs there are so many of, according to the massaged figures, which count the various work schemes the state runs as employment.
I’ve been shoved onto those as well, and if I don’t get a job, can be expected to bounce about from one type of work scheme to another, until I am an old age pensioner, as although each type has a maximum timelimit, it’s easy to get around that by having lots of differently named ones. Usually, they involve picking up litter, sweeping roads, or freezing your behind off in the rain in a range of ways that seem designed to destroy the individuals dignity, and health, but keep an army of supervisors on a good wage, while the person on the scheme gets none of the training in skills suitable to their existing skills, which the schemes promise in the small print, nor the training grant that they are entitled too either. I know. I’ve asked, as I figured learning to drive might increase my ability to get work, but my question was brushed under the carpet, as I almost was too, when they put me on a scheme which said it was an office job, and turned out to be a janitor’s job. I had to go home that first day, to change out of smart office clothes into my oldest jeans, as no work wear was provided. I refused to go up on a roof to clean a gutter on that job, and kicked up a stink, arguing that I had never worked in the janitorial arena, so had no existing skills there I wished to build on. My teaching and digital media qualifications, as well as my rather super, if I don’t mind saying so myself, communications skills, persuaded them to get me off the roof, and into an office, to teach web design. I learned nothing, and had few students, but it’s about keeping the little gulag going, as this cheap labour helps provide services for councils, and keep the unemployment figures looking healthier than they really are.
I find I have to remind dole office workers, and the companies they liase with, of Irish law, regularly, as they have broken their own department’s rules several times already with me, e.g. insisting I work on a scheme while already having a real job . Now it seems, they’d like to again push the boat out, by ignoring Leo Varadkar, who’s going hoarse telling everyone to just stay at home, to observe the COVID-19 restrictions. The foreign contract workers must think we Irish are stupid, for paying them €350 for 12 weeks, to sit at home during the crisis, so the company they worked for will hire them back whenever the crisis is over, while the people like me, who were made unemployed before the virus sent the country into lockdown, get the old rate of jobseeker’s benefit, and told to risk infecting people by traveling to even-more-pointless-than-usual job activation interviews, for what, exactly? To work on a CV again (oooo, maybe we could shorten it even more, and leave out those three qualifications), and be asked why I think I haven’t gotten any replies this week from employers, I suppose. Em, because we’re on a feckin’ lockdown, you complete idiot.
Update: I discovered I shouldn’t have been asked to do JobPath at all, since I haven’t been unemployed for 12 months yet. They started insisting I go to JobPath interviews, however, as soon as I signed on as full-time unemployed. They’ve tried illegal things on me before, like insisting I do a community employment scheme when I was employed; those schemes are also only for those unemployed, for over 12 months. One finds oneself having to do battle with these dishonest people, just to get one’s legal rights upheld, as they will insist black is white, even as you show them their own rules, off goverment websites. Perhaps the fact that there is a lot of money involved in the schemes is a factor in their stubborn hostility towards unemployed people, but it’s certainly made difficult for unemployed people to access the payments they are entitled to, without having to put up quite a fight for them.
This is a podcast from Irish Radio 1’s 2nd May programme, featuring Sean O’Rourke’s Guest Dr. Harry Barry, on the importance of developing emotional resilience in childhood. Click on the book cover image to hear the 13 minute interview. The author makes a compelling argument that kids need to develop social skills by playing, socialising, and doing things with their hands. He points out something which is starting to be a conversation which the whole of Ireland is currently having about the future of their children.
When we were kids, it was still possible to play in the streets without getting creamed by a passing car or lorry. When it was raining fun was still had, with card or board games in the house.
Felt pens and drawing pictures and cutting out things to put in scrap books, or hobbies like bird-watching or reading passed the free time. At the weekend the family, if they were lucky enough to have a car, could head out into the countryside and the parents could admire nature while the kids walked about hitting things with sticks (if you were a boy, or catching butterflies to look at or collecting flowers to press (if you were a girl). At school there were sports and activities. I learned Irish dancing and gymnastics when I was at primary school; sports and exercise are now avoided almost entirely in schools because of insurance costs being prohibitive, and sport coming last on the school spending list as a result. Now, by the time children reach secondary school, sports are discouraged in deference to the perception that passing exams should be the main focus of all a child’s energies.
Ireland was still, even in the 1960s, a largely rural and agricultural society, which set great store on being able to do things with your hands, as being handy was a necessary skill whether you wanted to tie a knot which would hold properly in something in the farmyard, or just wanted to recycle your own shoelace for the umpteenth time.
There was still a lot of poverty around in the cities, although the grinding poverty experienced by the lower classes in Victorian Dublin had been largely eradicated, and persisted largely in the inner city.
Consumer goods were expensive, and many mothers chose to make as much clothing for the family as was practical because it was cheaper than buying off the rack, and meals were made from scratch, as fast food wasn’t even a thing back then. Interestingly, nowadays, some problems are resurfacing that had been fixed, we thought, many years ago in Irish society, such as, it is being discovered, malnourishment, which is again a health issue for kids, though this time around, it is accompanied by obesity. The fast food so widely available and popular with mums for its time-saving qualities, and beloved by kids because of advertising and cheap plastic toysthat come with the cheap plastic meal, is having huge health consequences for children that will last throughout their lives. They might live longer than earlier generations, but they will have more chronic conditions, many directly connected to modern lifestyles, which they will have to take more drugs for, and spend more time going in and out of hospitals than earlier generations.
As for illegal drug use, that seems to be growing in popularity as a pastime as children progress to adulthood, and there is a huge epidemic of drugs in Irish cities, with drug deaths estimated at three times the rate of the rest of Europe. The clip shown above is a short documentary from 2013, and gives some background. The situation is much worse than that by now, and a walk down Dublin’s main street, O’Connell Street, is like walking through a take of a zombie movie.
Desperate measures are being taken by some to address some of the issues, before the next generation goes down the tubes in the way the earlier one has; the signs are already bad, but where there are signs of problems, there may also lie the seeds of the answers. One school in Traleehas made national headlines by getting together with parents to ban smartphones for their primary school age (5-12 year old) children. The campaign is picking up speed, as there has in recent months been a national debate raging about the malevolent influences of social media platforms on the mental health of Irish children.
As for development of inter-personal skills, as most of us know on an intellectual level, but perhaps don’t really get on an emotional level, online and offline are quite a different kettle of fish. One involves the tactile and sensory (perhaps the distinction will be blurred radically when virtual reality technology goes more mainstream), and the other is mainly about virtual hugs, or hate.
Our sense of self-worth is vital to our development as a human being, and to our happiness as individuals, and contributors to a harmonious society. Self-worth, as Dr. Harry Barry points out, can be taught, and there are a range of skills, some of which we discussed here, which are vital to pass on to subsequent generations, if we are to give them the tools to live well, and not just live like rats in a cage. Or at least, we might be crowded together like rats, but we can still care.