Saturday 19 July 2008

Am I on Candid Camera, or just living in Ireland?

Sometimes ye lads completely confuse and flummox me.
After 16 years, there are moments when a long-term blow-in such as myself, who loves Ireland and the Irish, can feel very definitely a part of it all. Then there are times when none of it makes sense at all, and I couldn't feel more foreign if I tried.
A couple of weeks ago I sat watching RTE TV news, my jaw dropping in disbelief at the attitudes of the general public, industrialists and politicians as they added to the kerfuffle and general national disgruntification over the change in the Provisional Driving Licence law.
Did somebody slip a tab of Acid into my tea? They must have, because all these so-called responsible law-abiding people were protesting in the strongest terms about how it was downright criminal that people who had not yet passed their Driving Tests would no longer be allowed to drive alone on Irish roads.
Paranoia, my old friend, crept into my brain. This was all so nuts that maybe it really was all nuts. Perchance I was an Adley-type Truman in a secret Reality Show, and the Director was cranking up the boundaries of perceived reality, to see how much bizarre behaviour I could swallow.
Maybe I was on Candid Camera, and they were just about to knock on my front door and tell me it had all been part of a big jovial wind-up, aha aha.
No, I just live in Ireland.
This is not a complex issue. It is simple and cold-bloodedly correct.
No matter how many exhausted and beleaguered mothers of ten from the sink estates of Cork you get on the tele news giving out about 'how isn't this change in the law going to 'make her life impossible, like, and sure isn't it brutal, like, and terrible, like, and cruel, terrible and cruel'.
Er, duh. Like like like I think you'll find that in the majority of other nations, the sole and singularly most vital reason to pass your Driving Test is that you are then able, for the first time, to drive alone.
Point is, it's all very well for me to come on all Mister High and Mighty about stuff like this, but it serves no useful purpose. If I wanted everything the same here as in other places, I wouldn't choose to live in Ireland.
The effect of all my bluster would be no greater than that of a fart in a colander. What might seem blindingly and even bleeding obvious to me clearly does not appear that way to you: the collective psyche of my adopted country; and, to be honest, that makes me rather happy.
You see, despite Colyoomistic appearances to the contrary, I'm not a fan of pompous outrage. Over the last 3 decades I've found that it's not smart to move to a place and then stick out your finger and shout:
"But look you eedjits, can't you see how stupid and wrong you are!"
If I wasn't Jewish, I might well call my indignation and shock a Protestant feeling; but we'll settle for English, which I most certainly am. England is a country where the letter of the law is sacrosanct, and the laws themselves are all pervading and ever more intrusive
The looser, generally more humane and user-friendly attitude the Irish have to the letter of the law suits me well.
Indeed, it was one of the very first discoveries I made when, 16 years ago next week, I walked off the boat from Roscoff and into Cork City.
Arriving in Ireland was my long journey's end. I had been around the world twice but never visited the country next door, and I somehow knew that it would be perfect.
It was a wet Saturday morning, and I dived into a big shop called Dunnes, and purchased a set of cheap waterproofs, all the time brazenly looking into the faces of the women in my new home, curious to see if they might be a bevy of beauties.
Next, I made for the pub, and sitting at a bar with my first pint of Irish Guinness, I immediately became engaged in conversation with the giant of a man on the barstool next to me. He shook my hand, with fingers the size of redwood trees gripping me like a boa constrictor, and announced his name was Con.
Having neither met nor ever heard of anybody called Con, I wondered whether the man might be taking the piss, but no. He was genuinely concerned I find a Bed & Breakfast that night, and while buying me another pint, he instructed the bar maid to make phone calls.
By the time our second pints were drained, the barmaid told me I had a room in a nice wee place up by the station.
"Now, you can relax, and have another drink!" smiled Con, as I started to think I might like Ireland.
Several hours later I dragged my drunken shabby arse over the river and up a long steep hill to the B &B, where sweaty and dishevelled I flopped onto the bed, and shook out a Marlboro Light from the packet in my pocket.
But hang on, was I allowed to smoke in here?
Oh man, not now. I really needed to chill and just have a quiet fag.
And then I noticed it, on the shelf by the bed. A great bit chunky glass ashtray.
Hoorah. Yippetty dippetty zip zip.
As I sat up to reach the ashtray, I noticed that behind it there was a sign stuck onto the wall.
'No Smoking' it declared, in bold white letters on a red background.
Ashtray. Sign.
Sign. Ashtray.
And then in my first display of what I now know might reasonably be considered Irish behaviour and thought, I spluttered aloud:
"Ahhsurefuckit.!" and lit up.
If I tried to reason rationally whether the sign negated the ashtray or the ashtray negated the sign, my brain might have blown up, like a confused Star Trek computer, shooting sparks into the room out of my eye sockets.
But the simpler reaction, the Irish one, was just to relax, do what suited me, and appreciate the ashtray.
Refusing the tyranny of stupid laws whilst obeying at least the spirit of others is admirable, and I have grown to love the Irish attitude. But passing your Driving Test is a pretty damn good idea too.

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