The summers of 1978 and 1979 were spent working at a plant nursery that was run on Dickensian lines. The working day began at 7.45 (not so long before, it had begun at 6.45) and went through to 5.00. This was an eight hour day – all breaks came out of workers’ time. The facilities were grim. The yard had a Victorian toilet; a rainwater butte sufficed for a washbasin. The company supplied old newspapers for drying one’s hands after washing them before lunch. it was little surprise that the place closed a few years later; it had hardly got out of the 19th Century, let alone reached the late 20th.
The summers brought various lessons: hoeing between plants in a fourteen acre field hardens the hands; boredom is good for stimulating the imagination; and that different people have different sets of priorities.
The differing priorities remain the clearest memory. One of the stone buildings had a tool room in one corner. The tools were mostly old and worn out; relics of the former glories of the establishment. On the back of the tool room door, various cutting from newspapers had been pasted. From the long past, these had faded to a yellowish brown, but were still legible.
One was a report of a question in the House of Commons about the transport of flowers. The report was from 1942 or thereabouts. A Member of Parliament was seeking assurances from a Government minister that the transport of flowers had been safeguarded. An opposition MP had stood up to object that when the nation was fighting for its survival, the transport of flowers should not be taking up parliamentary time, but his words had been cut through by whoever had clipped the piece from the newspaper.
Maybe flowers were important; as part of keeping ordinary life going and keeping up the morale of the people; but they were hardly of such priority that parliamentary questions were necessary. (In long retrospect, when the whole nation was being urged to dig for victory and where every available patch of ground was being cultivated to try and feed the population, it seems strange the flowers were being grown at all).
Different people had different priorities then, and, so it seems, they do now.
The Irish Government has committed colossal sums of money to the support of the banking industry. It has become so cash-strapped that it must now introduce severe cuts in important programmes like health and education.
Yet sitting with a group of young people last night, it seemed from the rugby shirt one of them wore that that one of the most badly affected banks could still afford sports sponsorship. Then, turning on the radio, there was and advertisement for a classical music concert series sponsored by the weakest of the banks.
Sport and classical music are excellent past times, but, when the Government has no money for essential programmes, should the banks being supported with taxpayers’ money still be spending money in such a way?