Belfast Telegraph

Nuala McKeever: Reality bites... even for those who once led a nation

One of Brian Cowen’s last acts as Taoiseach was to send rescue planes to Tripoli. Given the election result for Fianna Fail, he may well have considered getting on one of the planes himself and not coming back.

At a do in Derry at the weekend I was talking to a friend of BIFFO. He told me the ex-Taoiseach was wondering what he would do with himself next.

Made me wonder. Most ex-leaders reap huge financial benefits from having been in high office. The Ex-Factor is very lucrative with its memoir writing, company directorships and speaking engagements.

But who’s going to want to hear from a man who oversaw such a disaster? With what would he regale audiences at £300-a-plate dinners in exotic cities abroad? His fine financial nous? His glory days running to the IMF for a crippling bail out? His abstemious, self-disciplined physical attributes? Fairly sure there’d be a big X from all the judges for that sort of performance.

In a world where comparison wasn’t the main yardstick of success, Brian Cowen might well be able to enjoy the simple fact that he has got out alive and doesn’t have to solve everyone’s problems any more. Problems resulting from failures that, in the main, weren’t of his making.

But because we are a competitive kind of species, the man will be obliged to feel himself a failure if he doesn’t match up to the Ex successes of his fellow retirees.

Career paths are meant to keep careering upwards. As we get older we’re supposed to do better, earn more, buy bigger, upgrade, expand, invest, save and eventually sit back in a much bigger lap of luxury than the one we were born into.

So there’s a quare number of people, like Mr Cowen, who are waking up these mornings to the sinking feeling that all is not turning out as it was supposed to. Top professionals are being laid off. Multi-millionaire businessmen and women are losing it all in a stroke. Smart, hard-working individuals watch their hours lengthen for smaller financial reward.

And yet, to look at advertising — you’d think we were all still high-flying in a gas-guzzling, devil-may-care, eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow there’ll be more where that came from, kind of a way.

Oh sure, lots of restaurants and hotels are offering money-off deals to entice the not-so-swanky-but-still-a-bit-swanky set. But in general, big cars, cruises, state- of-the-art technology and top of the range fashion are still being thrust at us.

Are we really still buying into yesterday’s mindset when it’s obvious from the news programmes that interrupt the adverts that the world has changed utterly for so many of us?

Why aren’t the Mad Men of today’s advertising agencies jumping on the less-is-more angle? Why is successful still being portrayed as everything that’s bigger, smarter, newer?

Surely the smart money now is on super fuel-efficient cars for two people max? Not dootsy looking Smart cars, but cool looking smart cars. The iPhones of motoring.

Just as smart people no longer smoke, really clever people now no longer drive Chelsea tractors.

It used to be that those who’d made it, showed it by having more. That ostentation now seems not only vulgar but dumb. Excess has eaten itself. The greed creed is dead.

We’re successful. We have a lot. We can stop acting like teenagers left home alone for the weekend and start valuing balance as a real measure of success.

Belfast Telegraph

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