Titanic exhibition, Belfast

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Titanic exhibition by Paulie Hyland
Titanic exhibition, a photo by Paulie Hyland on Flickr.
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2043

Thirty years doesn’t seem that long ago. We thought we had problems then. Bailouts and bankers made our blood boil. Our hearts were broken but our eyes were still sheltered.

Most people still hadn’t seen a body. Not in the flesh anyway. TV and the Internet offered glimpses, but it never seemed real. It was never… us.

One health token – for life. Tony used it for a broken leg. Now he’s got pains in his stomach that won’t go away.

What was he supposed to do?

If you can’t walk, you’re as good as dead anyway. Districts are too spaced out and I haven’t seen a vehicle that’s moved in months now, not a civilian one anyway.

That fucking word. We used it in the military. We were soldiers. The rest were ‘civvies’.

That was the beginning.

We were all citizens, we knew that. It was a linguistic shortcut – an easy way to differentiate between them and us.

Then the government starting using it. We all became ‘citizens’.

At nighttime things look more normal. I always loved the sky at night. It gave me something. Looking up at the sky on a clear night, my insignificance was reassuring.

Me not mattering made me feel better about myself. So what if I wasn’t achieving everything I had wanted to. I was a dot. A speck that didn’t matter.

The skyline has changed, however. It flickers – the fires a more erratic light-bulb than the skyline from old, or should that be young?

When you’re beyond the reach of the smell, the only way to tell the ones that have the bodies on them is by how high the flames reach into the sky before dropping again. A barbaric fuel for a once modern age.

It’s still a beautiful sight. I never want those fires to go out. The light still means something, even if it is fuelled by our own destruction.

But the tokens. You probably have no idea when I’m talking about. There’s so much that has changed. So much that we never saw coming.

You don’t expect society to regress, technologies to break for no apparent reason, unable to be fixed by the world’s greatest minds.

Radios, batteries, lights, transport, TVs – gone.

Electricity GONE.

Health had to be preserved. We had no idea what was happening, but our ideals were still intact.

They said they were.

Medical cards were the first to go. Since everyone was now affected, everyone was priority one. It made sense at the time.

They made sense at the time.

Their ‘sense’ marked the beginning of what still seems like the end.

Making everyone the same meant fewer got seen, and even fewer of those that were seen were the ones in most need.

Making us all the same, in that split second, made none of us matter. Really matter.

You can’t prioritise everyone. It’s a misnomer. A clever word to describe a travesty. We were prioritised alright – more dead than the famine, and counting.

The fires now burn in the daytime as well…

The year the plan expired

Life is full of moments. This is one now and that was one then. If you walked into that Dublin hotel you could, as a non-privy spectator, have mistaken it for a wedding reception, such was the crowd. The same crowd that could confuse would also, on closer inspection, give the game away. The colours were all wrong.

Dark shades and black ties had won out. Hands were busy, holding either hot drinks or each other, offering a consoling hand on the shoulder or a hug to those who needed something more. Caffeine trumped alcohol as we talked with family and friends, reminiscing about my father, whose funeral had been that morning.

2007 had an awful lot to answer for.

With a breaking heart and a muddled brain my phone rang, and I answered it. I excused myself and confirmed it. As planned, the phone line would be connected tomorrow. No ifs or buts. And no father. He had visited the busy construction site before and we pointed out the place we believed to be ours. I hope he saw the one we meant. I know he felt our excitement.

The year could not, would not, end this way.

We finally had our keys and, after two years, couldn’t wait a minute longer to move in. Our relationship was going from strength to strength. Our subsequent desire to make a ‘grown-up’ decision was to put us in the company of thousands of others – not of developers, or investors, but of couples in love who wanted nothing more than the opportunity to turn a house into a home, our home.

In the five years that passed, it never became that to me. I couldn’t bring myself to let it.

The property crash, and the gradual realisation that we were to become a statistic in the mess and little more, led to a deep inward resentment. It goes without saying that I, like many many others, did not see the crash coming. There are plenty who will say that they did, but had they been of a certain age, means and motive, would have done similar. They now have hindsight, without the bittersweet aftertaste, and can rewrite their own personal history as they see fit.

The truth be told, we did our best to be pragmatic, making sure to stick below the €317,500 in order to avoid paying stamp duty. That additional outlay is now but a small percentage of what we owe, which will never be recouped by what we own.

Watching things pan out in a way you never expected, with each twist and turn making it painfully clear how little control we have over this situation has proven to be gut wrenching and too often, gut wrenching on a daily basis. The five-year plans of many homeowners have by this stage fallen by the wayside.

2012 was our expiration date.

Wearing the now tattered and ill-fitting clothing that is negative equity does little to compliment the outfit that is our life in 2013, and what it has become. The term ‘long-term’ has for too long held only negative connotations for me. My imagination, vivid as it is, would struggle to visualise a different property in our future, the property that would become our real house, the one that would allow for pet ownership, better amenities and a shorter commute.

Thankfully, the starting of a family, whenever that will happen and however it’ll be funded, is considered a compromise too far by both of us. There will come a point, however, when space, or the lack of it where we are, may come to play a part in that as well.

By virtue of the things this real house would allow for, it couldn’t but become a home.

Couldn’t it?

As a journalist I spend a great deal of each day being objective. My own inner newsreel does not benefit from any such objectivity, however, when thoughts of signing on the dotted line 2005 are replayed. No balance. Just bias. And let’s not forget the misplaced self-criticism at not being able to foresee what the future would hold.

In the years that have passed, life has gone on in this house. Ten birthdays and six Christmases have been celebrated here. Having never missed a mortgage payment and with two incomes (for now), we remain the lucky ones. There are those who can no longer afford their mortgage repayments, those whose homes have been effected by pyrite, and those from Priory Hall who remain in limbo.

I can only write about my reality, however, and the reality is that holding onto that five-year plan and watching it count down to zero was a waste of time and energy. When everything had changed but the self-imposed deadline which justified the purchase, simple math rendered our best intentions redundant.

It’s time for a new plan.

What is common to us all, regardless of our financial burdens – past, present, or future – is that each of us remain in possession of something that has never dropped in value, and never will.

If you’re still struggling with your New Year’s resolution for 2013 and, more importantly, if you find yourself struggling in general, adopt the one that I should have adopted in 2009 – the one that I am adopting now.

Be a better friend to yourself.

Feel the fear, do it anyway, but accept yourself – always and without condition. Be your own best friend and safeguard the only thing you will ever own that is truly priceless.

It’s time I made this house my home.