London — If you think home prices are high where you live, spare a thought for Britain -- and for Ireland. Here in London, the kind of four-room home a suburbanite in New York or Boston, Washington or Chicago, Los Angeles or San Francisco might take for granted can cost a quarter of a million dollars.
Even then it would come without a basement, and with considerably less land than an American would be accustomed to.
In Ireland, the situation is just as bad (or good, depending on whether you are buying or selling).
When I was in Dublin recently, it seemed the whole city was talking about an item on page four of that morning's Irish Times, the newspaper edited by Douglas Gageby in sober, encyclopedic style (but with a sense of humor).
The article reported that a 20-year-old, three-room bungalow in the Donnybrook area of Dublin had just been sold for L136,000. That's about $231, 200 -- and yes, that's for three bedrooms and no upstairs, in Dublin, Ireland.
The house stands on a half acre of ground on Nutley Road. Part of the explanation lies behind it (the residence of the Soviet ambassador to Dublin) and opposite (the residence of the West German ambassador).
It is very much a diplomatic preserve. The recently opened Chinese Embassy has just bought three houses in the same area for its ambassador and staff.
With a fine disregard for diplomats and protocol, one local resident told the Irish Times:
"We don't want to live in an embassy ghetto, with the roads blocked by cars every time they have party. Diplomats are very poor neighbors, you know."
Dubliners are among the few urban residents of the Western world who pay no local taxes. Local taxes were abolished by the current government as part of its campaign pledges. Costs are met from general revenue.
So when the Nutley Road house was sold, the same resident at once commented, "This will put up the value of other houses, and if rates [local taxes] are reintroduced, we'll all be in the soup."
"A terrible price to pay for a bungalow, isn't it?" asked a Donnybrook man. "After all, you can only sleep in the one bed."
Like Britain, the Republic of Ireland is in economic trouble. But the world's bankers and investors still see it as a good security risk -- a stable corner of Europe.
A rating by the publication Institutional Investor in March 1981 showed Ireland in 20th place on a list of 100 countries to invest in. The US was first , Switzerland second, West Germany third, Japan fourth, and Canada fifth.
Ireland was behind Australia, Finland, Hongkong, and Italy, but ahead of Denmark, Mexico, China, and Kuwait.
When Irish bankers and other establishment figures get together these days, they hope that the long search for oil off the west coast of Ireland will be successful this year in an area called the Porcupine Bench.
"We don't need very much," said a banker. "We are a small country. One small field would do us nicely."
Said an export official: "They call the Norwegians the blue-eyed sheikhs of the north because of Norway's fields in the North Sea.
"How we in Ireland would love to be known as the red-haired sheikhs of the West."
A natural gas field on the border with Northern Ireland is reported to be as big as the south's only operational gas field at Kinsale. It could supply all of Belfast, experts say.
Here in London, people are talking about how striking passport offices, customs men, immigration officials, defense workers, coast guardsmen, social security workers, and other civil servants have been complicating daily life.
Bank staffs threaten to stop the computers that sort out bills of a major credit card.
There is some faint hope that the worst recession for 50 years may be ending at long last (though the Confederations of British Industry thinks recent strength in industrial output is only temporary).
On the plus side, the ravens at the Tower of London are still being fed, despite civil service strikes. The legend is that if they leave the tow er, London will fall.