IT’S almost Christmas.
It’s easy to tell how close Christmas is if you live in Dublin.
There are more vomit stains on the street.
There are more drunks and they appear earlier and earlier each day as Christmas Day gets closer.
Nobody will let you out into the ever worsening traffic jams.
Clampers are in overdrive.
Virtually every shopper in every shop is rude, behaving in a way they wouldn’t dream of at other times of the year.
You can’t get into pubs.
There is more violence, both on the street and domestically. It is almost inevitable at Christmas time, that some unfortunate woman will stab her husband, invariably fatally, after he arrives home drunk and penniless without money for food or presents for the children.
More people drink and drive.
Everybody is short of patience.
And children are greedier than ever before.
It’s likely that each of us are at least a little bit guilty (I know, I know, it’s like being a little bit pregnant) of at least some of the behaviour outlined above.
And I know that when someone my age talks about it being worse now than ever, other, younger, people put it down to my being a grumpy old man.
They’re half right.
I AM a grumpy old man.
But I am a grumpy old man because it IS worse than ever.
I wonder how much of Ireland’s new found wealth ended up, literally, going down the toilet?
Poverty, you see, has a disciplining effect. I you haven’t got the money to drink, you can’t drink.
If you haven’t got the money to splash out on ridiculously expensive and utterly unnecessary luxuries to hand out as presents, you can’t buy them.
If you can’t afford cocaine - or the new favourite in Dublin, Champagne, vodka, red Bull with a spoonful of cocaine stirred into it - you can’t buy it.
Nobody wants to go back to the bad old days. Well, not all the way back.
But it would be nice if we lived in a country run by people who were less concerned with their own salaries and more concerned with the fact that they expect pensioners to live on one-twentieth of what they pay themselves.
It would be brilliant to live in a wealthy country that had sufficient schools for its children.
It would be marvellous to live in a country which had a health service rather than a health system.
Ireland is now the kind of country where three young people died from cocaine overdoses in one week.
It is the kind of country where suicide is epidemic.
It is the kind of country where we wonder not if there will be another gangland murder soon, but only when and where it will be.
And it is the kind of country, where Christmas is seen as an opportunity to get drunker more often than normal, where cocaine supplies have been bulked up for the festive season, where prices go through the roof, where selfishness abounds and where, it seems, there is more concern about what’s on television or what is going to be the Christmas Number One, than there is about people and more especially, the people who are concerned about where they will get shelter on Christmas Day, where they will get something to eat and who they will have, if anyone, to talk with.
The Christmas message is all but lost.
Children, I would bet, wouldn’t mention the birth of Jesus in their top five Christmassy things.
And that is profoundly sad.
Because while celebrations, gifts, giving and receiving and traditional fare all have their part to play at this time of year, so too do decency, charity, prayer and reflection.
Last year, I had what was, I suppose, a slightly selfish ambition for Christmas.
It was to be able to stand on the altar in Mount Argus with all the other mums and dads and children, during the children’s Christmas Day Mass, with my daughter Charlotte, as they sang the Our Father. It is a tremendously moving moment every Sunday, but especially on Christmas Day.
I achieved that ambition.
And this year, it is exactly the same.