Sunday 27 November 2011

The Winter of Burning Cars.


With all this talk of collapsing currencies and impending apocalyptic chaos, I thought it was time to revisit 'The Winter of Burning Cars', a nice little post-apocalyptic piece I wrote for this colyoom back in September 2002, when the supposed threat came from Saddam rather than the Euro.

As that Autumn of 2002 came around, we had no idea what lay ahead.
No idea that the war would be over without a shot fired. No idea that we would lose.
September came and went in a blaze of sunshine. The October gales plucked leaves from the trees, scattering them over the earth.
Talk of war seemed almost safe, remote. Everything was going to be alright, I told myself. We’d heard it all before. Same old macho politicians posturing and pratting around the planet, desperate to try out some strategic nuclear weapons in the field of battle. Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleeza Rice droned on and on, just like Daddy Bush back in ‘92.
“Blah blah U.N. resolutions, blah blah weapons inspectors, blah blah Saddam must go.”
Same-old same-old.
With the coming of a cold November, the first coal fire of the season was built  More talk on the news about the protection of freedoms, limited strikes, and somehow, there’d been so many far-off wars I’d grown immune. Of course it was a terrible thing and all that, but rain was still going to fall on Ireland’s fields.
Still does.
Now I know how complacent I was.
This is the Winter of Burning Cars.
It happened so quickly. That was what shocked everyone. We all felt so deep-down secure in our western civilisation. Whatever atrocities were visited upon distant villagers in crumbling stone desert huts, it wouldn’t really stop us living our day-to-day lives.
How could it?
One interview, that was what did it in the end.
The US and UK forces were building up on the Iraqi borders, trying their best to provoke Saddam into attacking first. They desperately wanted war, but all they got was entrenched defiance, and then Condoleeza Rice gave ‘that’ interview to CNN.
“So Condie, can I call you Condie? So, Condie, how is this war on Iraq going to help the USA’s war on terrorism?”
“Well, I see this chapter as part of a greater book. George Bush is a great man, a good man, and his policies will make the world a safer place. After the Taliban and Saddam’s regime have been replaced by democracies, the US can turn its attention to Iran, and then Saudi Arabia.”
“But the Saudis are our allies. Does this mean a shift in policy toward the Saudis?”
“Well, it has to be said that it’s not a very attractive society.”
“So is it now US policy to gradually replace all Middle-Eastern societies with the American-Israeli democratic model?”
“If you put it like that, yes, that’s a dream I hold dear. What’s so bad about a world where elections give everyone the leaders they want?”
“But what if they elect leaders who are anti-American?”
I missed Condie’s answer. My spuds had to come to the boil.
As I ate my dinner, reports were coming in about the beginning of the end. Condoleeza’s interview had provoked an immediate and massive response from a belt of countries from Libya to Pakistan. There was, for the first time, a consensus of outrage and direction.
No more oil. That’s what they decided. Rather than sit and watch their own civilisations fall foul of the infidel predator, the western war machine was going to be starved of oil.
Middle-Eastern populations were already living with the threat of a costly deadly war with the US, which would leave their countries destroyed, the survivors condemned to slow deaths from depleted uranium.
The prospect of abject poverty was not too hard a sacrifice.
The US had stockpiled their Texan oil, and started to intercept (pirate) any tankers that sailed the Atlantic from the Venezuelan oil-fields. The Russians managed to secure supplies from Azerbaijan, but for Western Europe, the brakes came on unbelievably quickly.
By the time European governments realised what was going on, it was too late.
The Americans had shut up shop, becoming instantly uncooperative. They were plain doolally terrified that their combustion-engined world was going to dry up, and when your back’s up against the wall, you don’t look out for your mates.
Well, they didn’t, anyway.
Petrol stations and civil liberties were, naturally, the first to go. All Ireland’s manufacturing industries were shut down in the first two weeks, but it didn’t matter. People couldn’t get to work even if their jobs still existed, because their cars couldn’t run.
They turned our electricity off at 22:00 each night, while the military convoys escorted road tankers from the docks to oil depots.
Riots swarmed over Europe’s old capitals as mould on a loaf.
After a month, income as we knew it was a thing of the past. We cycled, walked, begged, borrowed and stole to get through that fierce cold winter.
And finally, as an expression of our pain, we people pushed our cars out into the city streets. We built huge towers of our wrecked, impotent, pointless cars. All those angry, now orphaned Celtic Tiger Cubs who loved all their thousands of brand new ‘99’ and ‘00’ reg cars, shiny proud memberships to the club of new-found affluence and a high-flying economy, now nothing more than pathetic lumps of metal, as cheap as the world on which they were built.
We piled them high, and they burned beautifully, massive bonfires all over the land.
Drifting into the freedom of anarchy, the people of Europe finally grasp our chance to stand as one. We stand together as we watch the flames of our burning cars.

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Losing your home doesn’t hurt any less just because you don’t own it!

What about us renters? We’re being punished for not being massively in debt to the banks, but when we lose our home it hurts just as much!

We’re always hearing about the mortgage holders.
How can we help the mortgage holders?
Should we offer mortgage holders some kind of debt protection, so that they don’t lose their homes?

I’ve never owned a home and I’ve never missed a rent payment, but I know the pain I felt years ago, when my landlord told me he was going to sell the house I was living in. I was going to lose my home, and there was nothing I could do about it. Didn’t matter that I’d kept it immaculately, paid all the bills. Counted not a jot that I had personally painted the whole place and paid all my rent on time.

You’re out. Good luck.

I haven’t suddenly become a heartless bastard who thinks my situation is more important than anyone else’s. If you’ve paid your mortgage and then lose your job, you shouldn’t have to live in fear of being homeless. Ideally nobody should ever live with that fear.

Yet all the media talk is of the mortgage holders. How can we protect the mortgage holders?
But renters matter too. Renters on the poverty line in Ireland are about to have their rent allowance benefits cut asunder in the upcoming budget, and nobody seems too upset about it.

I do. In fact I need to say it again: poverty-line renters are losing their benefits and as a consequence being kicked out of their homes, while debt relief for mortgage holders is still a possibility.

Personally, I’d be delighted to protect those who took out mortgages from slavering bankers who aggressively sold economically insane mortgages. It’s too easy to call the punters greedy. We all want to live in lovely homes, and if we’re told by lenders that we can afford it, we want to believe them. ‘Sub Prime’ could not exist as a concept were that not true.

But what about the renters? There’s no protection for us because we haven’t played the game. We’re not hundreds of thousands of euro in debt to the banks. We are people who are trying to pay our way, simply and honestly. Many renters have debts of course, because they’ve bought into the credit card culture and they have children to feed. But because they are not ridiculously in debt, for some reason their homes are not deemed worthy of financial protection.

When a renter is served notice, nobody notices. It doesn’t make the 6 o’clock news. But losing your home doesn’t hurt any less just because you don’t own it, especially when you’ve paid your way, looked after the house, and loved the home it became.