Sunday, 20 January 2019


Early Saturday morning and I’m sitting in the pub. Everyone needs a treat once in a while, and I make sure to enjoy my weekly cooked breakfast without guilt, much to the annoyance of my arteries.

Yet today, as I survey the plethora of plates laid around the table, I’m twitching and perplexed.

What’s with all these serviettes?

Don’t get me wrong. I can be a right clumsy oaf, well capable of knocking over cups, spilling bottles and sliding my elbow through food on plates you didn’t even know were there, so I’m delighted that there’s a serviette under my cutlery.

I can even understand the serviette sitting between the teapot and its saucer, because those little metal teapots can present a heck of a challenge when pouring.

If you just lift them willy-nilly and thoughtlessly try pouring tea straight into the cup, the tea will run out of the pot’s spout and then, as if the pot emitted the gravitational force of a small planet, the liquid will cling to the pot and flow in a small tidy line down to the bottom of the pot and onto the table.

Serviette time.

Ah but your scribbler is ahead of the game. I raise the teapot up to eye level, grip the handle firmly between two fingers and holding the little blighter high over the centre of my tea cup, I pour a slow steady stream directly and accurately straight into the cup below.

Tea is important. It’s the rarest of things, fundamental to the essence of culture in both my native England and adopted Ireland.
Anyway, the tea is well-behaved and in my cup where it belongs. No spillages, no serviettes necessary.

There’s a serviette under the saucer upon which sit the little bottles of jam, marmalade and butter. There’s a serviette between the china bowl of saucy ketchup and mayonnaise sachets and the saucer underneath. There’s a serviette under the salt and pepper jars, which also sit on a saucer.

None of this offends me in the slightest, although it makes me wonder about resources and waste, and ponder about extra work for serving staff.

Then there’s the yuk, the really yuckkety poopers, which is the serviette underneath my hot toast, which is now disintegrating, and in the process rather unpleasantly proving itself to be less paper napkin and more some kind of evil plastic/paper hybrid, that is presently both crumbling onto the plate below, while kind of melting into my toast.

What with all the serious suffering going on around us, there’s no way I’m going to sit here and give out about how the serviette screwed up my slices of brown pan, because I don’t live in a world where that matters very much.

No, I’m much more concerned about where this mass serviette behaviour comes from and what mentality it represents.

This place is far from the only establishment currently guilty of serviette excess. Everyone’s at it. I wouldn’t be surprised if next week the checkout bloke in the garage passes me the credit card zapper with a serviette underneath it.

At this point you’re probably wondering what the hell the problem is with serviettes. Who cares about the bloody serviettes?

I don’t, but the statement behind their overuse is significant. We live in the West of Ireland, where historically life has been tough. These counties endured a holocaust during the great famine, and as a result there’s a strong ethic here of waste not want not.

If you’re a guest in a house in Connacht you’re expected to clear your dinner plate, even if there’s potato cooked five different ways and half a ton of swede.

When the Irish economy booms we in the West enjoy only a few drops of the sweat flipped off the foreheads of dancing Dubs. A boom in the West is when there’s no mass poverty here; when most of us can afford to live without financial fear.

That’s as good as it gets here, for most of us. That’s what constitutes good times west of the Shannon.

Well, financially. What makes the West the best is that we don’t need money to have a good time.

Yet now, there are serviettes everywhere.

Not all are cheap and noxious. Some are high class triple-ply numbers in rich burgundy hues, so posh that you’d think twice before wiping the melted cheese off your mouth onto one.

Whatever they’re made of, this blanket use of serviettes is an ostentatious display, representing a delusional attitude to our economic situation.

After the last crash there were many voices, from townlands to cities, complaining that we’d lost the run of ourselves; that for some reason we’d overdone the good times.

Not me. I believe we all deserve to live large if we want to, but right now we are not in a boom. Kabillions in debt has been swept under the carpet for your grandchildren to pay off, and while house prices and rents are through the roof, nobody (save for the usual suspects) is getting rich.

Yet for some reason the ether feels that good times have come again.

Aren't we one of the fastest growing economies in the EU?
Let’s cover the place in serviettes to show we can afford to splurge that bit extra now.
Sure, isn’t it mighty that things are great again!

Sorry to be a downer, but reality bites. Whatever form it takes, Brexit will devastate our economy. Like a ghost flying unwelcome through the door, it’ll instantly reduce Boom to “Boo!”

Then we’ll see how many serviettes there are to waste.

©Charlie Adley

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