Beyond the neon runes

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To the place where I belong

The pints are flowing, the craic is mighty, and there’s a quare wan over in the corner giving you the eye. It may only be your local watering-hole, it may only be a Thursday night, but you can’t remember when you enjoyed yourself this much.

Then one of the lads announces he’s going home. The vibe you’d worked so hard to create is in danger of disappearing. You try and convince him to stay, order him a brandy, try and force it down his throat, but he’s not for turning.

Before he departs, he foolishly asks if you’d like a lift home. “Home? I am home,” you declare, to the general merriment of your fellow drinkers.

A couple of hours later, as you’re ushered out of the establishment by your long-suffering publican, you think back to your friend’s departure, to that offer of a lift, and wonder if you’d been a little hasty in your decision-making. Because now you’ve got an altogether different decision to make. With no taxis, and certainly no buses, you’re left with two options; a long walk home, or the shorter, but decidedly more illegal, drive home.

Most of you would choose the first option, you’d ruefully stick your car keys back in your pocket and begin the trek through the long and winding country roads, stumbling in the front door at an ungodly hour, tired and sober, but alive and intact. But even the most law-abiding among you, the most virtuous, saintly souls in your ranks would, at the very least be tempted by option two, by the thought of carefully negotiating those same country roads in your car, concentrating, convincing yourself that you’re doing no-one any harm, and then clambering into bed, just minutes later, mission accomplished.

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to make these kinds of decisions.

Pubs would be open 24/7, taxis would be waiting for us when we decided to fall out the door, and buying drink in an off-license would still be something only the underage and desperate did. But this is far from an ideal world, far from an ideal country. Instead of the drinker’s utopia, we have an altogether ailing pub culture, one that prices out all but the thirstiest, or, as is often the case, the loneliest.

Because while bars in city centres and towns struggle to stay afloat, those in the hinterlands continue to thrive, their patrons lured back as much for the ambience as the overpriced Guinness.

In rural Ireland, pub culture is still very much alive. Those who live on the very margins of society rely upon their local for so much more than just alcohol. Without those “few pints of an evening” some of these people might go days without speaking to another soul. The pub plays an integral part in their lives. Going there gets them out of the house, keeps them in the loop, ensures they don’t go cracked staring at the same four walls every night. And sure, if they drive home with a few pints on board, what harm?

Well, actually, there’s plenty of harm.

Despite what those lunatics down in Kerry would have you believe, no-one should ever take the wheel after more than a couple of pints, even if the road they’re driving on is as deserted as a city centre bar on a Monday night. Despite opposition from prominent TDs, the new drink-driving Bill championed by Transport Minister Shane Ross will most likely come into law once the Dáil reconvenes this autumn.

It will, at a stroke, ensure that anyone caught over the limit will receive an automatic three-month driving ban.

Further efforts to “name and shame” drink-drivers are a tad excessive, especially in an environment where sex-offenders and paedophiles can retain their anonymity, but this new Bill will act as a further deterrent for those who can’t face the prospect of a long walk home down those shadowy country roads.

But while the Healy-Raes have proven themselves to be the court jesters of Irish politics by comparing those same few pints to a heavy dinner, and claiming that they’d happily board a plane if the pilot had a few Guinnesses on board, their concerns about the impact this Bill will have on the rural community are valid.

Growing up in a village where the nightlife consisted of a few cans in a field, followed by misguided attempts at cow-tipping, I can empathise with those who have to drive a couple of miles for a bit of action. My action was to be found in a nearby town, a couple of miles out the road. And, being a divil for the drink, every cab-driver in that town had long since switched off his phone by the time I was ready to go home. Mercifully, I didn’t have a car of my own to fall into, but a lot of my friends did, and, ever the altruists, they were only too happy to ferry me home.

That they were way over the limit was no concern of mine. I was just grateful I didn’t have to walk for an hour in the stinking cold. Because I did that many times too, cursing myself for ordering five pints at closing instead of my usual four as I meandered my way back to the sticks. So, yeah, I feel the pain of those who just want to have their few drinks and return home without having to complete a mini-marathon in the process. However, by the same token, alcohol and driving simply don’t mix, to any degree.

But then, just when you think we’ve reached an impasse, that neither the immovable object nor the impenetrable force can be budged, a politician, an Irish one, comes up with a good idea.

I know, I know, it sounds crazy, but it’s true.

Step forward the veritable Brendan Griffin, Minister for State and Kerry TD. He can see the bigger picture, can understand that certain laws must be brought in for the betterment of our society, but he can also empathise with the plight of the rural drinker and, for good measure, that of the rural publican.

So, in an effort to kill two birds with one stone, Deputy Griffin has suggested that the Government offer incentives to publicans who can guarantee the safe passage home of their customers. Among his ideas are tax breaks on the vehicles of publicans to make up for the cost of driving home their merry band of boozers and additional tax incentives to pay for fuel, and/or cleaning products when Jamesie from the bog brings up his spuds and onions.

According to Mr Griffin, the only sticking point in this plan are the insurance companies and the Vinters Federation which represents the four thousand publicans currently plying their trade in Ireland.

Once he gets those on board it’ll be all systems go, with only the Department of Transport left to provide their support. We can only hope that Minister Ross does the decent thing and softens the blow he has struck with his new Alcohol Bill.

 

A marked man

Time was when having a tattoo meant you were one of two things; an ex-convict or a biker. These crude, bluey-green designs were about as trendy as the beards and leather jackets that accompanied them and a sure sign of a proper wrong ‘un.

But times change, and now everyone, from your gran to your most strait-laced friend, have ink adorning some part of their body.

But even the most obsessive tattoo-wearers understand that there’s a limit, that despite changing perceptions, there are certain parts of one’s body which should remain as God created. Arms, legs, nether-regions, yes fine, work away; but face, no I’m sorry, that’s the mark of a psychopath. Unless you’re a platinum selling hip-hop artist or Mike Tyson, then getting a tattoo on your face is simply not okay.

Try telling that to 19-year-old New Zealander, Mark Cropp.

Wholly unconcerned with societal norms, the Aucklander chose to cover half his face with a tattoo which reads ‘devast8’. It’s quite a striking look I’m sure you’ll agree, one which I hasten to add, would have me crossing the road if I saw it coming in my direction.

And yet, poor old Mark can’t understand what all the fuss is about, can’t understand why he keeps getting turned down at job interviews, and why some interviewers have laughed him out of the office before he’s even sat down.

He’s taken to social media to highlight his cause, claiming that he’s “just a normal human being” and is being unfairly treated. And, predictably, employers have come out in their droves, offering him jobs, internships the lot.

So, if any of you are struggling to find work, head to your local tattoo parlour and get your face done. You’ll be back on the career ladder in no time.