Smoke and mirrors

This article first appeared in the Donegal Democrat

On a quick holiday trip abroad a few weeks ago, I stopped into a shop to buy a few nick-nacks. The assistant reached down to hand me a plastic bag, and almost by reflex I said “It’s ok, I don’t need it”, before I even had time to think.

Funny how little time it takes to get used to things. The 15c tax on plastic bags is barely than a year old, and already plastic bags seem like a waste unless absolutely necessary.

We get used to things remarkably quickly sometimes. Even the euro didn’t take that long to pick up. For all the fretting over conversion rates, the change seems to have gone easy enough. There are very few things you’d even bother to convert back to pounds now.

So my guess is, we may all surprise ourselves in getting used to a few major changes fairly quickly in the next few years.

Smoke-free pubs might be a heresy to some, but they’re not all that hard to get used to after a while. For the majority of people who don’t smoke, they’ll be a much-welcomed relief. Coming home after a night out with some friends and not stinking of stale smoke will be a pleasant change, and bar the few grumblers, we’ll all be wondering why we ever put up with it in the first place.

ID checks won’t affect quite so many of us, since the proposal being put about by the government is only that those under 25 will have to carry the card before being served, but I think the ID cards might form the makings of some very clever marketing campaigns.

Just think of the repeat business and customer loyalty a canny businessman could attract by asking the obviously over 25s to prove their age. Sure, we might complain and gripe about it, but lets face it, deep down we’re a vain species. There’s a reason human beings are the only species that can recognise their reflection in a mirror.


All of which brings me to a favourite pub memory.

My first American St Patrick’s Day was in Chicago. For the occasion, a few friends flew into town from Boston. Naturally we headed for the nearest pub, along with the girlfriend, who was American.

What happened at the pub seemed completely natural to us, yet alien to the girlfriend. She was convinced afterwards we all have a secret Paddy Code among ourselves.

The Pub had a mixed crowd, about three quarters American, one quarter Irish. (The Irish were the one’s not wearing green.)

The night went by, and drinks were consumed. Eventually closing time rolled around (2am in Chicago, they’re making up for time lost during Prohibition.) The landlord began clearing the place noisily, shouting the cops were coming, he’d lose his licence, the usual stuff. The Americans dutifully finished their drinks, wished him well, and left.

The girlfriend tugged on my arm and said we’d better go. I still had a half pint in front of me, so I told her not to panic. Then, as the last of the emerald-clad Americans was ushered out the door, the Landlord snapped the bolt, turned to face us, and announced Drinks On The House.

At that moment, the girlfriend realized that not one Irish person had left the bar, she was the only American in the room, and that none of us were the least surprised to be offered free drinks by a complete stranger.

“How did you know?” she demanded. But even if I knew how I knew, I don’t think I could have explained it to her.