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Teens who hang out with the dead

There can't be many funeral directors driving around with a Baby On Board sticker in their rear window, but then, 18-year-old Laura isn't your typical funeral undertaker.

She's blonde, she's bubbly, she's cute, and she's also a finalist in this year's Miss Norfolk. She also loves getting the deceased looking their best for that final farewell journey.

It's a subject that's been covered before, both as documentary (such as 2007's The Undertaking) and as fiction (Six Feet Under being the most obvious recent example), but with Teen Undertaker (Channel 4, 7.30pm), filmmaker Simon Alveranga wanted to see just what sort of teen actually enjoys hanging out with the dead all day.

Surely he'd find Wednesday and Pugsley Addams, covered in Marilyn Manson tattoos and pierced to within an inch of their lives?

In the case of Laura, her choice of career is still a surprise to those nearest and dearest to her, and the reaction of strangers might just be part of the appeal for the always-smiling young undertaker.

In contrast, last night's other subject, 19-year old Paul, was far more likely material for such a job. A loner as a kid, with a weight problem, and a morbid streak (dead birds always given the once-over), Paul is happy to admit that giving a corpse a short back and sides (well, just sides, because, as Laura points out to a fellow beauty pageant contestant, no-one can see the back) has made him "quite a people's person".

And meeting fellow teen funeral home employee Sonya at, yep, a funeral, has finally brought out the teen in him. After less than a month of dating, the duo got engaged. They, more than most, are aware of the fact that life is short.

There were some poignant moments (Paul talking to his ailing gran about mortality, and her funeral arrangements) and some lighthearted ones (tough old birds demanding the cheapest coffin going for their big day), but the subjects' youthful naivety seemed to help them keep an emotional distance.

The last in the current series, The Way We Worked (RTE1, 8.30pm) took a look at the shift from our agricultural economy to an industrialised society and, in particular, the rise and fall of shipbuilding in the Republic.

And it was all down to one dockyard, in deepest, darkest Cobh -- a town with a rich maritime history, the Titanic making its last docking there.

It was here that Dutch entrepreneur Cornelius Verholme bought the Cork Dockyard Company in 1958 for £145,000, and proceeded to take it from a seven-acre money-losing operation to a 70-acre world contender over the following 14 years.



wonder

The story of this boom-to-bust affair (the dock finally closing on November 30, 1984) was told by four of the men who had worked at the Verholme Cork Dockyard -- Paddy O'Keeffe, Danny Byrne, John Brennan and Donal Dilworth, the latter the relative baby of the bunch, joining as a teenager in 1970.

Each had wonder in their eyes, as the first ship to be built in the Republic was launched with just about everyone who was anyone in the country there for the bottle smash.

And if there weren't any tears about the dockyard's slow, painful death, there was plenty of sadness at the idea that Cobh will never see an industry like it again. No ship has been built in the Republic since.

This was as much about the four men's stories as it was about the dockyard itself, the people left behind in the great big industrial pyre being the only living memories of that time.


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