Because there is so much else happening that is causing concern for so many people, it sometimes seems as if the scourge of drug abuse is being pushed into the shadows of public consciousness. Unfortunately, the situation is getting worse by the day and it does appear as if the brave and dedicated people who are trying to push back the avalanche of horror are losing the battle if not the actual war.

Statistics indicate that there are now 16,000 heroin users in the country and there has been a 400 per cent increase in the use of the drug outside Dublin in recent years. And that’s saying nothing about the use of cannabis, cocaine and other illegal substances.

Portlaoise with its population of 14,500 people is a relatively small town not too far away from Waterford in this age of easy transport. Last week, its inhabitants were shocked and dismayed to learn that it has probably the highest rate of heroin use than urban area of comparable size. According to health professionals, heroin users have been ‘coming out of the woodwork’ since a needle-exchange programme was set up recently and some informed people are now estimating that there as many as 600 undetected heroin users in the town.

It is highly unlikely that Portlaoise is some sort of stand-alone drug outpost and the idea that their situation is echoed nationwide is absolutely shocking and terrifying. Somebody, somewhere, must have an answer to the problem and that somebody needs to be identified immediately. 

Queuing for school

Every year, here in Waterford, we hear stories about parents trying desperately to get their children into the primary schools of their choice and, I’m told, these days nothing can be taken for granted when it comes to secondary schools either.

But I fervently hope that we never see the sort of sad carry-on that occurred last week in Tralee where a large group of tired and weary parents queued up for five freezing days and nights in an effort to get their children into a secondary school.

The much sought after place of learning is the Mercy Mounthawk School which has the largest number of pupils in Kerry. Apparently, the Mercy Mounthawk has a policy of giving priority to students from two particular national schools and to the siblings of existing pupils.

The end result is that very few places are available to families outside that circle and that is why over sixty sets of parents queued in an effort to secure places for their children. However, despite all their efforts, the waiting is not over yet as it will be November before families are informed whether or not their children have been accepted.

I guess it’s not the school’s fault that there are not enough places but did we ever think it would come to that in this country?

New stuff from the great Hank Williams

Country music fans will be delighted to hear that, believe it or not, a whole bunch of unheard of recordings by Hank Williams has come to light.

In the early 1950s, Hank was the biggest country music star in the United States and had written a batch of wonderful songs that are still recorded and performed by today’s top performers. At that time, the makers of ‘Mother’s Best Bread’ had a sponsored radio programme that went out every morning and Hank was hired to sing and play for the American nation as they ate their breakfasts, no doubt with plenty of ‘Mother’s Best’ bread on their plates.

Of course, because of his touring schedule, there was no way the singer/songwriter could be live behind the microphone every morning so his programmes were recorded in advance on huge, 16-inch, acetate discs. Incredible as it sounds, when Hank collapsed and died at just 30 years of age, the recordings were discarded and forgotten about.

Now, almost 60 years later, they have been discovered. Many of his famous songs are there and there are also some songs that were never heard before so, as one would expect, there is great excitement. Fans can hear the tapes (some are quite hissy) on ‘Hank Williams – The Unreleased Recordings’ issued by TimeLife.

Eat, drink and be merry?

A well-known Waterford couple were both 85 years old and had been married for sixty years. He was known to be under the thumb of his bossy wife who had her own reputation of never spending a euro if a cent would do. She controlled the purse-strings and, if he was lucky, her poor doormat of a husband was permitted to visit the pub once a week but only when the pensioners’ pint price was in operation.

They were both in very good health, largely due to the wife’s insistence that they only eat healthy food and took plenty of exercise. The poor devil’s tongue was often hanging out for a taste of a crubeen and he used to dream regularly about a snack-box with loads of salt and vinegar. His wife refused to relent and he had to go without.

Unfortunately, both were involved in a serious accident that cost them their lives and they ended up together outside the gates of heaven.

Saint Peter made them welcome and personally escorted them on a tour of their new home. He first took them to a beautiful mansion, furnished in gold and fine silks, with a fabulous bathroom that had its own sauna. A maid could be seen hanging their favourite clothes in the walk-in wardrobes and they gasped in astonishment when Saint Peter said: “Welcome to heaven. This will be your home from now on.” The wife asked Saint Peter how much it was all going to cost only to be told that everything in heaven was free.

The old man looked out the window and saw a championship golf-course, finer and more beautiful than any he had ever seen on earth. Seeing his interest, Saint Peter told him that there were no green fees or membership payments and that he could play everyday if he wished.

Next, Saint Peter took the open-mouthed couple to a giant dining room where a lavish buffet was laid out with every type of food and drink one could think of. “People in heaven are too busy to spend time in kitchens so we all eat in here and, of course, it costs nothing”, he said, anticipating the wife’s next question.

“That’s all very well but where are all the diet and low-fat foods”, said the woman with a sniff.

“That’s the best part”, grinned Saint Peter, “you can eat and drink as much as you like up here and you will never get fat, sick or hung-over.”

The old man emitted a horrible moan and fell to his knees before letting loose the most terrifying shriek of anguish ever heard in heaven. Saint Peter turned white with worry and the man’s wife knelt down beside him, concern written all over her face as she had never before seen such a display of emotion from her husband.

Finally, he was able to catch his breath and turning to his wife, he said: “God blast you and your fecking bran-flakes. If it wasn’t for you I could have been up here years ago.”