Pissy Could Drink

The township of Tom Price was full of interesting characters with different motivations. Some were there simply for the money, while others were trying to disappear from a former life.

Pissy was a vet from WWII who survived 90-something missions as a navigator on a Lancaster bomber. He carried plenty of scars from shrapnel suffered when taking over the rear gunner’s position on those dark nights over Germany. That was a tale in its own right, but the task also required him to remove whatever was left of the gunner before he took over the position. Not a pleasant experience. And having surviving nearly three full tours, he would have had plenty of motivation to move towards The Bottle. No wonder he had a severe drinking problem.

I met Pissy when I was an apprentice, and he was working as a sparky. Well, after lunch he worked as a sparky. Most mornings he would roll up at work, and the boss would take one look at him and send him off to sleep in the control room. I wondered why he was on the payroll until we had a transformer blow up. Then he was in his element. He would work straight through until the job was finished, though it might take 3 days.

I remember being assigned to him to install a flood light on a stacker one Monday afternoon.

“Have you got your warrie, Mad Dog?” he asked.


It was traditional to carry reading material in the back pocket, and I usually had a war comic with me. We were dropped down at the stacker and out came our reading matter. The next morning, the same process repeated, and once again after lunch. On the Wednesday morning I asked when we were going to do the job.

“Oh, I’ve already finished it,” said Pissy. “They just haven’t asked me.”

Come Friday morning the Boss finally asked how the job was going.

“Just about finished,” was Pissy’s reply.

It’s good to set an expectation you can easily meet.

On the drinking side of things, Pissy was a harmless chap. Where some blokes want to throw punches after a few beers, Pissy simply drank himself into unconsciousness. It took a fair quantity to reach that level, so he dealt with the problem by never sobering up. Not much point in starting from zero every day, so he’d grab a six-pack of Emu Export straight after work to drink while he watched Sesame Street back in his room.  That was generally followed by a trip to the Single Men’s Mess where, for his tea, he’d have a bowl of clear soup with a few slices of white bread floating in it. After tea, he was off to the pub for what he called “vodka and orange” and we called “straight vodka.” The tiny bit of orange juice he added to his vodka came from a tiny container of orange juice which lasted him seven drinks. It barely even coloured the liquid in his glass.

After a couple of hours of this, he’d wander back to the single quarters with a few more cans in tow, and lay on his bed drinking Emu and watching telly. He was a considerate chap, though. To make sure he didn’t bug the neighbours with the noise of the end of transmission tone from the TV, Pissy invented the “Piss Off.” This was a little device that sat by the bed with two timers attached and a lever to sit a beer can upon. When there was no more beer in the can, it didn’t have enough weight to depress the lever, so the device knew his can was empty. The light on the “Piss Off” would come on, letting Pissy know it was time to get a fresh can from the fridge. But if Pissy hadn’t remedied the “problem” in 20 minutes, or was simply too drunk to get up, the “Piss Off” somehow turned off his telly.

I’d hate to think what levels of alcohol he’d reached by then. We do know how high it could get when he was still able to walk, because he was put “on the bag” when he decided to drive the short distance to the pub to get his Sesame Street supplies. Those who witnessed the event thought he looked in pretty good nick and the Sergeant only decided on the breath test as an afterthought. The reading came in at a record .276, and we wondered just what it sat at on a bad night.

As a tradesman though, he was a good bloke to work with. He used to say “Never spoil the finish for a ha/peth of tar,” when adding a quality finish to a task. He was always helpful, had a million jokes and gave me an appreciation for the songs of the 20’s and 30’s. He’d often sing tunes from that era, though the lyrics were often changed to less politically-correct ones.

These days I wonder how corrupt our system is when young blokes are enthusiastically committed to various wars by glib politicians, only to be discarded when they break down as a result of their service. Whenever I see the enthusiasm for Iraq or Afghanistan, I expect the process to be the same as it ever was, with a new bunch of victims just like Pissy.  Long after the adventure is over and the bands have fallen silent, the tragedy lingers on in the bars and hospitals where the victims see out their days. They won’t see another pollie until so few of them are left, they can be celebrated cheaply and used to draw more enthusiastic youth to the process of war and a slow, sad death.

Last 5 posts by Peter McCarthy

Last 5 posts by Peter McCarthy