It’s a little after midday when Gavin leaves his bedroom to inspect an oddly quiet house. Shuffling downstairs in shorts and a hoodie, he pokes his head into the living room on his way along the hall towards the kitchen. Both rooms, and the house in general, are unoccupied except for Gavin. His parents must be out. “Some change,” Gavin thinks, noting the tiny thrill he feels to be home alone. In his teens, Gavin couldn’t spend enough of his day out of this house, even if it was only to loiter about with his mates in another part of town. But now, nearing his thirties and unemployed, his family home is a rare source of comfort, a calm and familiar environment in which to get his plans back on track. And if Gavin gets the house to himself every once in a while, so much the better.
Returning to the living room with a piping-hot cup of black coffee, Gavin ignores the temptation of his dad’s unoccupied armchair and sits to one side of the couch, perfectly aligned with the television. Gavin lights a cigarette as the lunchtime news appears on the screen. Resisting the typical urge to switch away, Gavin decides against channel-hopping in order to fully appreciate his coffee and cigarette without distraction. “It’ll do as background noise,” he says, granting himself puppet-like nods of approval from his coffee cup and cigarette in turn. The news items are of little interest to him, anyway. Talk of an incident in a rural area, moving on to a bit about escalating international tensions, some bombings here, some scandals elsewhere – all variations on what tend to be standard daily news items.
Gavin remains disinterested until the broadcast arrives on a news item of significance to him. Even then, he only catches a bit about “tough new measures to combat welfare fraud” before the segment begins. A reporter appears in conversation with a rather stern-looking politician. It’s made clear that this is no ordinary politician, however – this is a Minister. The reporter re-iterates that the Minister is introducing “tough new measures to combat welfare fraud”, which appears to be a cue for the Minister to lay on his sound bytes:
“It’s time for real change.”
“Some people are taking advantage of the system.”
“It’s a crime and criminals should be prosecuted.”
While the reporter closes by stressing that this campaign will focus on a small percentage of welfare recipients, Gavin sits dumbstruck on the couch. He tries and tries and still cannot understand the Minister’s motivation for this campaign. Is the cost of welfare so much more than any other expense on the state? Isn’t welfare a necessary thing for the majority who claim elderly pensions or disability payments? Something like this places everyone claiming welfare under the same umbrella regardless, as far as Gavin can see. He cannot understand it, no matter how he tries to see it from the Minister’s point of view. How do you have to see the world to think that unemployed people are actively committed to ripping off the state? Gavin shakes his head. “It’s completely backwards…. Wait, no!” he realises, a sudden epiphany, “it’s upside-down! It’s actually upside-down.”
Gavin puts out his cigarette, rests his cup on the table and rises from his seat. This is his new challenge for the day, to see the world the way the Minister sees the world. It’s so simple that Gavin is surprised he never thought of it before. People on welfare are always criticised by those who know better for “sitting on their arses” while simply trying to stand on their own two feet. So what’s the alternative? Gavin has figured it out and it’s just the change he needs. He walks out to the hallway and, using the walls on either side for a bit of support, he turns upside-down into a head-stand. After a bit of time adjusting to this position (issues of blood flow, pins and needles, and so on), Gavin finds that his perspective is well and truly changed.
“This is how the Minister sees the world, I get it now,” Gavin thinks. Everything is upside-down but maybe that’s the right way up. It’s not rich people avoiding tax that drains society, it’s poor people claiming welfare. Hospitals and a functioning health system aren’t a necessity, they’re a luxury. People don’t need actual democracy, they should be told how to live, again and again. Every problem or issue in the country becomes so much easier to deal with when you turn it upside-down. With a little more time and confidence, Gavin begins to move throughout the house on his hands, resting on his head. It’s not long before his fortunes begin to improve. In the kitchen alone, Gavin discovers nearly 92 cents in loose change from underneath cupboards, various furniture, and a particularly profitable exploration underneath the fridge that also yields an unopened Kit Kat. Really, the only downside Gavin experiences is occasionally kicking things with his legs. He narrowly avoids taking a saucepan to the head through a lucky deflection off the stove.
Gavin is satisfied that turning himself upside-down has truly allowed him to empathise with the Minister’s perspective. In fact, Gavin is certain that, instead of finding an opponent to his campaign, the Minister could now point to Gavin as an aspirational figure for Ireland’s unemployed. In spite of being unemployed and “taking the weight off his feet”, turning upside-down shows that Gavin uses his head and puts his hands to good use, all in the name of no longer sitting on his rear-end.
“And when I’m upside-down,” Gavin says, with an upside-down frown, “it’s true that I look up to the government… even if I’m sort of looking down my nose at them…”