This is the time of year when the Leaving Cert invades our consciousness. I have little direct contact with it except to wish a few young people luck in the past few weeks. So it came as a surprise to have my sleep invaded by a Leaving Cert nightmare. When I was doing those exams we were not long past Roman numerals and the hot controversy concerned the use of calculators that did big sums.
To my surprise my nightmare was about the maths exam and that was always one of my better subjects. I am still a fan of rote learning and to this day it has left me with an ability to look at figures and sense if something does not look right. It was the maths paper that had me in a sweat a few nights ago as I stared at the numbers and may as well have been looking into a hedge, and my young life disintegrated before my eyes.
It did give me some additional sympathy for the many pupils doing their best and their parents living through it with them. The real nightmare for the parents, I suspect, is the day the exams are over or when the results are out when far too many youngsters demonstrate they have learned one important thing about Irish life. Namely that the only way to celebrate is to go on a huge binge and probably not remember a thing about it afterwards.
In my days of rote learning the celebrations were far gentler. I do remember meeting in a friend's house. There was drink but not a huge amount because we didn't have the money. So far as I can recall no one was drunk, no one had sex, no one had a fight and we all went home to our own beds - so by today's standards this was not a celebration at all. I mention money because Irish alcohol consumption trebled between 1960 and 2000 as we had more money. It slowed a little because of the recession, and increased taxation does reduce consumption.
If any parent wants to give themselves a waking nightmare I suggest a visit to the very comprehensive Alcohol Action Ireland website. If it doesn't scare the living daylights out of you then you are already over the limit. Many of us will recognise bits and pieces of ourselves in the pages, but then we know that this does not apply to me.
Our overall consumption is not a lot different from France and Australia. But I have been in those countries and not seen anything like the drunkenness of Ireland. About one fifth of us do not drink at all. But when it comes to binge drinking we give the masterclass. Far too many of us, and that includes a lot of people who would be too young to drink in the USA, drink to get drunk. Three quarters of our alcohol is consumed in binges which drinkers typically do once a week. Among 18 to 24-year-olds a quarter of them will drink their weekly 'allowance' in one sitting. One hundred and fifty thousand people in this age group are dependent on alcohol. Harmful drinking in Ireland is highest in this age group. Four out of 10 boys and girls in the 15 to 17 age group admit to having been 'really drunk' and about quarter of a million 15-year-olds are living with parents who are regular risky drinkers. By now I am feeling very sober indeed.
A huge amount of violent crime is alcohol fuelled, and according to the Garda Pulse system alcohol is a major factor in 97pc of public order offences. Then there is the social and economic cost of absenteeism and the crowds of drunks in A&E. I think we should stop and think.
Of course it is part of what we are. Our major sporting events are sponsored by alcohol companies so it is all normal. Fine role model athletes drink a skinful and are left with a lot to regret. A visiting dignitary is hardly off the plane before having a pint shoved into their hand. There is no doubt about it, we are great craic.
I would like to add one more paper for the unfortunate individuals sitting their Leaving. Read the Alcohol Ireland website and summarise the most important statistics. And take them home to your parents.