The fella, Paul, starts off with some stories about working on the railroad in Melbourne, where every time you see a train, you have to face it and raise your right hand, as a sign that you're not trying to kill yourself. Apparently it's a popular form of suicide, to the point that over the average career of a train driver, you'll probably kill 8 people. So, if you don't raise your hand, the driver reports you immediately, and if it happens twice, you don't work on the rails any more.
Paul now works with my brother-in-law, they're both prison officers, and apparently one of Paul's jobs is to search him on the way into work. I was saying it's presumably not for anything to do with suicide, it's not likely he'd do it in the prison, if anything! And they were saying that generally prison officers don't die of suicide, as such. Less so these days, but certainly 10-15 years ago, they all died of the same thing: the fact that they were to a man alcoholics. They still have a lot of them, but it's more the case that they can now point them out by name or nickname (one of them is called "the sponge"!) than back then when there wouldn't be any point.
I told them my two Irish Drinking Stories*, and they had more stories than that, like the fella who you don't have to ask if he's standing in the lift with you in the morning, because you'll hear the sound of a can opening, and the fella who takes his 40-minute breakfast break, and has a knock that the people down at the local pub know, so that they'll open for him and let him have two or three pints then, and the fella who you'll see in the pub coming in after work with the suit and tie, and the tie comes off and is tied around the wrist and goes around the back of the neck, and after a couple of pints, the crude pulley is removed and become a tie again, the fella who'd go through a naggin of vodka in the day and then on to a few pints of cider with double vodka, and...
And a tragicomic story about a sorting office down the country (Paul worked for the post office before) where basically the entire staff were alcoholics, and they got a new manager who didn't like this fact. So he sent them down to the parish priest (who was also fond of a drink or two), and the priest says "I know what we'll do, you'll all have to take the pledge! And we'll set up an AA meeting". So they set one up, at 3:00PM every Wednesday in the sorting office (their working day finishing at 2:30), and the first few weeks were fine, they stood up and they talked and they were strong for each other. And then someone brought along a pack of cards, and it became talking and playing cards. And then playing cards and drinking, every Wednesday, after work. This ends the comedy section of the story, since it was also the AA meeting, so when someone got to the point where they said "I think I have a problem and I think I need to do something about it", which obviously isn't that easy at the best of times in Ireland, they'd go to the priest, and the priest would say "I understand that the local AA meeting is at 3:00PM every Wednesday in the sorting office"...
And so on, and so on. There's a fair amount of specialist language as well, of course. The most lyrical is probably 'Ah sure the head was blown on him' for someone who's past the point of, strictly speaking, functioning at their post. I think though that the worst is the simplest, just the designation "He's a drinker" for the twenty-pint men.
Drinking of course is a part of the international image of the Irish. Also in places (such as the US) fighting, though I've never understood that - any given bunch of drunken Irish are far more likely to sing at you. I'm not really sure how well this stands up: I think any British binge drinker than more than hold their own on any given evening. But it seems to be set up as a vocation in Ireland: if you want to drink yourself to death, the Emerald Isle has a support system that's second to none*. Particularly striking to me are the bar staff who will be the most aware of what's happening and who still seem to bend over backwards to accommodate it.
I don't really know what I'm expecting as response - I've turned anonymous comments on if you want, but be kind to each other.
*I'll not include them here, as they run on a bit, particularly when I'm telling them. One is funny, the other really not so. Ask me in person! Or not.
** Except everyone I've told it to has said "No, Scotland's the same".