This article appeared unexpectedly in today’s The Malta Independent on Sunday.
Wouldn’t It be Nice
You know that feeling when you buy that Euromillions lottery ticket? The feeling that this surely must be it – the day you move to the dream house, quit your job and will only be seen forever sipping the Pina Coladas on a Californian Beach taking advantage of the weak dollar? It’s a lovely feeling of dreams built on dreams – that the chance that is required in order to fulfil these dreams will befall you and no other. The chances of winning such a lottery are as low as wanting to call someone in Germany and getting through by dialling a ramdom number (no cheating). Yet we love that hope – we love the feeling of believing that it can be done and that we too can get a taste of the luxurious life.
That same feeling resurfaces when the lottery results are announced and nobody has won the coveted prize. On the one hand you are disappointed that the sure bet you had going this time turned out to be another wasted bunch of euros but on the other hand the rollover and increase in the mirage-like jackpot relights the glowing ashes of the timbers of hope and off we go again to think…
Wouldn’t it be nice…
God Only Knows
Fragments of hope and little aspirations are what makes our societies tick. We may be an affluent society, one that risks to shift to the materialistic one time too often but on the other hand we cannot be blamed. It is those little things in life that keep us from sitting down on a chair in an empty room and contemplating for too long the question of why we are here… and going slightly mad. Instead of imagining that our heads suddenly feel like a banana tree we get lost in the hubbub of daily life and whether it is working a hard day’s night in order to get to the well deserved break at the end of the week or the month or whether we find reward in ameliorations and betterment of the things that surround us the ticking and tocking that justifies our existence and the pleasure we get out of it proceeds at a leisurely pace.
True, some may find consolation in the god of their choice and the dogmatic set of beliefs he or she has handed out to a sufficiently willing voyant, sun-scorched field-worker or desert dweller or anyone who unwittingly stocked on psychoptropic plants when lost in the desert. They too have their consolations in the daily routine of life and barring the ascetic unmaterialistic gurus who gradually cut themselves off from all things material (and start whispering to birds and bees) they too depend on the little joys and whims and fancies of social interaction in order to lead a pleasant existence on the face of this earth.
Point is.. point is… a credit crunch is a royal screw up for all and sundry. From the barefoot ascetic to the most affluent of chavs they shall feel it in droves. They shall afflue (I know, I just invented that one) less and spend less. They shall not notice it all at once. They shall query their prophets and savants in the financial realm and question whether they should hang on to their fine assets, whether their loans are about to be called in and above all whether they should really stick their neck out and buy that new 4×4 gas guzzler and splash out on the latest Manolo Blanihk’s or iPhone 3Gs. They have been reared and raised that way. They shall never query where all the loans and credit will lead. They shall never ask whether an interminable string of loans does not spell F-I-S-H-Y. No.
For theirs was the kingdom of the spendtrifth. Theirs was the kingdom of consumerism. They started in the early eighties (ok for some the socialist hiccup meant it would kick off a bit later and that for some time Cadbury Milk Bars would be equivalent to a local Gold Standard) and were born with the blockbuster movie, with the first commercial olympics, with the gradual breakdown of communism and the rise and rise of the retail economy. The gerbils had been encouraged to buy buy and buy. They were even conned into thinking that they could be the new small time economists.
They went online and believed that they were traders because they could sell their old Marvel Comics on ebay. They sidestepped the travel agent. They played bank against bank, insurer against insurer and service provider against service provider provoking a race to the bottom of prices by the prostitutes of the retail industry. Borrow money with NO INTEREST. Then switch bank the day interest rates click in. Some traders exploited the dependence on gadgetry – buy your printer at a cheap cheap price – hell we’ll give it to you for free – then get a heart attack the first time you need to buy a new cartridge. We’ll GIVE you the mobile but you are tied to us for two years with a direct debit payment and our special rates.
The gerbils did not refuse. It felt good. You’d buy your house and worry later. Feel good is what it was all about. Living la vida. Not one but two or three tv’s in the house. A computer in every household. A chest freezer to go with the fridge and within which to stuff the cheaper and cheaper meat products bought in the huge supermarkets that would throw in a chicken or two if you buy a whole lamb. Luxury. Cable and satellite brought choice into their houses. More and more temptation, more and more spending.
It was hilarious. Side-splitting even. Nobody stopped to smell the ill wind that was blowing. The few that tried to warn with the cliches like “Nobody gives nothing for nothing” or “All this Credit is Dangerous” were locked up in little rooms and fed fried chicken and potato wedges while being forced to watch repeat productions of Big Brother, Who Wants to be a Millionaire and some fobbed off talent show. They would walk out later craving money and spending more than ever before.
It was forbidden to complain about these good vibrations. Everybody was busy riding the wave. When your neighbour rolled out his new Mercedes SLK nobody dared ask how a civil service clerk can afford that craziness. When the local street cleaner zoomed into Blue Lagoon on board a sixty foot yacht no one blinked an eyelid. Yet you could feel it. That nervous tense guilt. A sense of collective complicity showing that everybody could understand that the good vibrations were built on loose pedaments but it was definitely taboo to talk about.
You think Malta is a small place where everybody knows everybody? Well think again. It’s not just us. The whole system, the whole interlinked machinery is falling apart because systems of trust and diligence were eroded by excessive confidence and lack of professional distances. Networks engender more networks and before you know it a bad loan is being polished and sold off as an Investment Vehicle. Money is built on fake money and the very basis on which this spendthrift society ran is falling apart.
Wouldn’t we all love to press CTRL-ALT-DEL? A quick restart of the system should do it right? That and pumping in a few billion billions of the currency of choice in the hope that banks will get back to being real banks and consumers can get back down to consuming. It is going to be a bit harder than that it seems. You got the hope at the beginning of the week that the markets were rallying, that the system would recover and before you knew it you would be queueing up at the bank of choice for that latest loan and goldest credit card.
Wrong you would be. As Yoda would say. Property prices are still shaking – international plans for rescue are not exactly concerted and clear (to put it mildly) and financial and economical forecasters sound as confident as the weather man on the evening news.
Help Me, Rhonda
For all it’s worth life goes on. The little pleasures still hang there expectantly and your hand still reaches out to your wallet for a quick purchase – this time with the added ominous feeling that it will be your last one. The news around you still sounds vaguely familiar. There’s sad (very sad) news of a politician losing his scrap with life (condolences from J’accuse) and there’s news of the squabbles that will inevitably go on – credit crisis or no credit crisis.
I have been visiting the island quickly quickly. The youngest of the family turned thirty and I thought this event merited a quick stopover tour of the island. It’s still lovely. It’s still home. You cannot help but wonder about little things that probably irk tourists as much as they irk me. Is it just me or is the concept of “service with a smile” suspended once the summer period is over? More dramatically… what kind of waiter is it that cannot tell a Pina Colada from a Cosmopolitan? Am I being materialistic? Of course I am. For heaven’s sake. I am just baffled how much we can complain about an island that has such pleasant days in October. I left a windy, rainy and cold Luxembourg only to be swimming on the beach in Golden Bay a few hours later.
Unfortunately my visit has been cut even shorter than expected – through great fault of my own and my inability to be organised and to prioritise – but that is another story. Or maybe it is not. It could be the same issues – the affluenza, the need to move on, the need to catch up and more – that turn us into automatons of society that risk to become giant input-output processors of the GIGO type.
There’s less of Muscat, of Gonzi, of Obama or of McCain in this week’s J’accuse. It’s not their fault if I lack inspiration. It’s mine and my having succumbed to a particularly harsh streak of emotional affluence. You sort of lose your bite at times like this and even the dearth of activity in the blogging pages of J’accuse will provide ample proof of that. For some entertainment to keep you going during J’accuse’s temporary slide into affluent catatonia try http://stejjer.wordpress.com where you will meet a certain Dr Sigmund Bonello. He claims to be flavour-of-the-month blogger but that label might have been well past it’s Best Before date. In any case the Doctor keeps inspiring fellow bloggers with witty satire mixed with a perfect dose of wankellectualism (copyright j’accuse).
One last thing. Some time ago Daphne complained that people in Malta seem to have a limited vocabulary when it comes to social interaction. Somebody had addressed Daffers with an “hawn hi” or “x’jismek” one time too many. I too share the distaste of the excessive use of “hi” but I must say that in the two days I have been in Malta my experience has been slightly different. So thanks goes out to the Bonello Store (Paceville) guy who still calls me “King” after all these years and thanks also go out to the car park attendant at Golden Bay who chose to refer to your not so humble correspondent as “l-Imghallem” (the wise one?).
I don’t know why all this preferential treatment Daphne but then again it could be the beard, I suggest you try one (fake of course).
J’accuse has been absolutely useless on his site (https://jaccuse.wordpress.com) this week. It is hoped that in the future better planning will give readers good reason to leave their comments.