May 31, 2007

How breakfast roll man won the election

Posted in Celtic Tiger · 3 comments ·
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The sun is just coming up. It is a damp Friday morning. The traffic is as always, endless. The head is a bit sore. The few pints last night didn’t help. He shouldn’t have gone to Diva nightclub in the Red Cow Complex with the lads but one of the chippies was leaving so he had to turn up. Anyway, it was Diva Party Night and all the drinks were €2 until midnight.

She looked like something out of Girls Aloud and because of the sunken dance-floor, he could check her out all night without having to commit early. This place was designed for pulling. Her hair was razor straight, a bit too much fake tan around the ankles, but he didn’t see that until later and by then, he wasn’t complaining. She was good in bed too, not bad for an eighteen year old, a bit young for a Hollywood but. She said she was doing a secretarial but he figured she was still in school. He’s twenty eight – “that’s almost statutory mate” he chuckled to himself.

He had to scarper early, not only to be on site by eight, but he didn’t want to meet her Ma. Asking her sister who shared the room to sleep downstairs at half-two, was bad enough. She said her Ma wouldn’t mind, but there are still some rules. He took her number but she said she wouldn’t have credit ’til later. He might call her, see how the day goes.

Breakfast Roll Man needed food, a bottle of Lucozade and a few solpos and he’d be fine. Jesus where was he? She must have lived miles away and he shouldn’t have driven. The first drag of his squashed Johnny Blue which he had just spent ages straightening out, made him shiver a bit, but now he is where he has wanted to be for the past twenty excruciating minutes, at the hot food counter of EuroSpar. Chicken drumsticks, chicken wings, hot Panini sandwiches, a pizza or Danish. Will he try something else? It was no time for culinary adventure at ten past seven on a Friday morning with a raging hangover, three hours’ kip and a clinging wan who wanted to introduce you to her nuclear family. Anyway the usual was only €3.39.

A full Breakfast roll please love

What’d want?

Sausage, rasher, hash brown, black pudding, tomato, egg and mushroom

He was dazed, staring at the side of the hot food counter supplied by Martin Food Equipment, Dundalk watching the condensation dribble onto the congealed oven plate of scrambled egg. Cuisine de France ads are everywhere. He bets the French baguette and smelly cheese merchants never expected black and white pudding smothered in brown sauce dripping over their poncey baguettes.

That the lot?

No. The Star, 20 Blue, two bottles of Lucozade, a six pack of Actimel and a Twix, please.

His mobile goes. He knew that ring-tone was cat. Oasis covers – what was he thinking? Two lads smirk in the queue behind him. Switch it off.

Thanks

He climbs back into his jeep. Life is sweet. Sweeter had United not thrown away the FA cup final, but the league was good enough. That was seven Championships since he’d made the switch. Breakfast Roll Man was Liverpool through and through as a kid until they got so poor he slipped allegiances to United disguising it as a love of Roy. His brother never forgave him and his Dad brought it up during family rows, saying it pointed to a deep weakness of character, a profound and enduring absence of loyalty. And look where loyalty got him. Twenty years at Dunlops getting paid piss, followed by a decade on the rock n’ roll.

The same Chinese girl with the Helen name tag, who was smiling at seven last night is still there, hair tied up in a net, under a Spar visor, perfectly pressed uniform, the same inscrutable eyes and that Chinese way of covering her mouth when she giggled.

From the standard but ubiquitous CCTV camera, unbeknownst to himself, Breakfast Roll Man is being watched closely. His every move is being noted by the trend-spotters who realise that his buying behaviour is the key to their profits. He is part of the Spar generation – a shopper with no loyalty who wants convenience, wants it now, close at hand and wants it in the car. Why do you think Irish garages have gone from being petrol seller, to being newsagents to Mandarin speaking 24 hour restaurants with names like Night and Day? This is the new face of suburban Ireland and Breakfast Roll man is its chief architect, head financier, town planner and designer.

He and his generation are single-handedly driving the enormous profits in Ireland’s fastest growing retail sector – the convenience store market. If An Taisce wants to know what the Irish suburban landscape is going to look like they should talk to the carpenters, sparks and plumbers of the country rather than academics, environmental correspondents, local politicians and tasteful tree surgeons. Napoleon once said that an army marches on its stomach, well the Irish BabyBelt – where the suburbs stretch out for miles and where the population is exploding – marches on the hung-over Ned Kellys of its tradesmen, craving instant hot-food, Lucozade and Twixes. These lads will have a bigger impact on the landscape and streetscape of Ireland than any government taskforce, EU environmental directive or regional plan.

They also won the election for Bertie. The reason is very clear. Breakfast Roll Man does not do ideology. He does pragmatism. He votes for whoever he believes will keep the show on the road and Bertie is this man at the moment. Just as he is fickle in his footballing allegiances, he is agnostic politically. He will drop Fianna Fail as soon as the fall in the price of houses becomes more apparent.

And here is the rub. Under Bertie Ahern a new social contract has evolved between the State and the citizen and it is entirely based on the continuing rise in the price of houses. In the past, people voted for the party they believed could deliver on whatever it was those individuals wanted, whether it was health, education or taxes. Now that social contract has been discarded and Breakfast Roll Man votes for the party he believes will make him wealthy.

Ireland now is a country that lives in the future. An entire generation believes in the New Irish Dream which is based on the chimera that tomorrow will always be better than today. The financial engine fuelling the dream is housing wealth. As long as house prices are rising, Breakfast Roll Man, even if he is married with kids will tolerate traffic, expensive child care and over-crowded schools. He will tolerate immigrants bidding down wages on site, in fact because he is a subcontractor now, he’s quite happy for the immigrants to be elbowing out Irish labourers.

So the new social contract works like a conveyor belt. Once you are on, you have a vested interested that it keeps moving. Bertie guarantees, through restrictive zoning, that houses prices keep rising, so Breakfast Roll Man feels that he is getting richer and as a result, believes in the power of tomorrow. This allows him to ignore the realities of today. Bertie is the custodian of the future. He is the dream keeper.

It helps that Bertie embodies upward social mobility. Rather than the “ordinary bloke” image that many commentators patronizingly argue is Bertie’s strong point, his real ace is that he is a success. He is in fact, extraordinary. Breakfast Roll Man has no time for the ordinary blokes down the pub who are going nowhere, he respects people who are making a fist of their lives, who are aspiring and who, like him, are moving upwards, always on the make, always dreaming of the bigger car, house, kitchen or plasma screen. He rightly admires the man who is sending his children to a better school than the one he went to. We live in an aspirational society and Bertie embodies what can be achieved. If he can do it, so too can Breakfast Roll Man.

The sting in the tail for Bertie is that the housing market is fragile. He has managed to paper over the cracks in this election. In the coming years, the market is only going one way and that is down. This is his Achilles heel because when it falls, the dream will shatter and Breakfast Roll Man will realise for the first time in a generation that the future is not so bright. Once this becomes apparent, all bets are off and Breakfast Roll Man will switch. For the moment though, Bertie remains the full Irish.


  1. That prophecy now comes to pass..at this moment in time.As for dropping Fianna Fail though- where else can he realistically go for succour.?

  2. [...] Content: So what did Cowen do as the storms grew and we looked to him for courage? He bottled it How breakfast roll man won the election var addthis_pub = ‘rbquirke’; Rate: (No Ratings Yet)  Loading [...]

  3. [...] Dublin commuter, who is imbued with some sort of mystic economic import. As McWilliams wrote in 2007: [Breakfast Roll Man] is part of the Spar generation — a shopper with no loyalty who [...]

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