The area I live in, Mayfield in Cork, is a curious mix of the very good and the very bad. On balance, the good wins hands down, but the bad is really bad.
This was highlighted by the Irish Examiner last year when Mayfield topped the national league in youth suicides. I wrote here about those eighteen wasted young lives at the time. Well, it was back in the news again recently, when yet another young lad hung himself in this area.
While having a smoke outside my local last weekend, I was joined by another young lad I had never met before, and thus began a fascinating and insightful conversation that I thought I would share with you. Make of it what you like.
The lad, let's call him Brian, was sharp enough but his limited vocabulary made it difficult for him to put his thoughts into words. When the topic came up, I asked him directly what drove his immediate peer group ("Your mates like") to commit suicide. His answer was "Hope". Neither he nor any of his friends felt they had any hope in our society, and living was a pointless exercise in personal humiliation.
In this context, he was able to explain his drink and drugs habits. "When you have no hope of a job, and no hope of ever having decent money and you know your future will be like your Dad's life, then whenever you can get drunk or high it's a short term escape from a horrible reality. Suicide, therefore, is the permanent escape.”
That opinion from the coalface of reality is in stark contrast to the Public Health Officials gathered in Dublin yesterday, to hear the Irish Cancer Society declaring war on the girls from the lower social orders …for their own good of course. In the midst of their hopelessness, the Puritans are going to get them for daring to smoke tobacco.
The disconnect could not be any wider. A pompous oncologist, doubling as a Senator, with all of the privilege and entitlement he demands, expects to be listened to and obeyed by the youth of Mayfield.
It is simply not going to happen.
Senator Oncologist and his buddies have no conception of hopelessness. Their lives are enriched with comforts and guaranteed futures, and they want for nothing and need nothing. Brian and his buddies have nothing and have no prospect of ever having anything.
Senator Oncologist and his friends believe the problem lies with availability and price of tobacco. Brian informed me that when he needs money, he steals it. There was no moral difficulty in that for him - he saw nothing wrong with it at all. Gardai were at best, a nuisance and laws irrelevant. The prospect of jail held no fear for him. It was a natural progression in his life.
His drug problem was in check day-to-day and the whole purpose of alcohol was to get drunk as quick as possible. As we were outside to smoke, I asked his opinion on that. It was not even a consideration. How did he feel about the smoking ban - "Couldn't give a fuck". What about the price? He nicked them or got them from a bloke for €4.00. Why did he smoke? He liked it and it annoyed people he didn't like.
Well, Senator Crowne, Prof. Clancy and Minister Reilly, that is your target audience. While you may be held in reverence in your immediate circles, these are the people you say you need to reach out to. But, you have been talking down to them for so long, seeing them as nothing more than lab-rats in your observations, and your chances of getting their attention now are slim.
Their problems do not lie in colourful packaging, or in tobacco products visible in the shops. You're smoking ban does not intrude on them, because for the most part, they are not welcome in the pub anyway and their finances dictate that a slab of beer in an unsupervised field is more fun anyway.
Incidentally, Brian is not a regular in my local. He drinks in the other pub down the road and was due to meet some guys there, before "going out". That other pub intruded in my life last night when, at 2.30am, we were awoken by the Gardai at our front door, ordering us to "evacuate immediately”. There was apparently, a "viable device" left under the car of the owner of the other pub. That is the world Brian lives in and the possibility that smoking might or might not kill him over forty years down the road, is of no concern to him whatsoever.
Try educating that with your rhetoric!
PS: Last nights drama made into the news
They claim that residents were allowed to return to their homes at 4.30am. I was just in time for the 6.00am news when they allowed us back.
On a lighter note, I got chatting to a "happy" Garda outside our house and asked him what drove people to do such things. With a sweeping wave of his arm, he called my attention to the full moon. Eighteen years in the force confirmed to him that the nuttiness came out at full moons and he told me that that night two jumpers had been pulled from the river. What really tickled though was he description that "the estates were hopping all over the city last night".
Now there's a guy with perspective.