Monday, 4 March 2013

An Englishman rambling on an Irish ramble!

This morning I walked on melting frost in late winter chill, under early spring blue skies. The higher sun pours scorn on these late season freezes, while pregnant buds struggle to survive.

But they will. They'll survive, as will we all, emerging from the darkness into the light, breathing collective sighs of relief that we made it through.

Even though this cold dry air grips me by the gonads, I’ll take it every time over endless wind and rain. Winter in the West of Ireland offers fantastic colours, moments of perfect silence and festive mayhem, but as the months go by we feel more and more beaten up by the weather.

Hunkered down into our coats, we dip our chins toward the ground, denying ourselves the chance of human contact. We walk hunched, subservient to the storms, like a defeated army in a war with weather.

Having lived in much warmer climes, I’m always surprised how much I love the climate in Connacht. Yes, the rain can bring me down, but then I call it ‘good writing weather’ and it serves me well. Yes, my heart sinks when I see RTE TV’s weather forecaster telling me in July that

“Tomorrow it might even go as high as 20˚C!”
As high as 20? What am I doing living here?

But I know. I know why I’m here. I’m here because I love it. Warmer climes are all very well, but here there are no forest fires. The ground doesn’t suddenly quake under my feet. There might be the odd mudslide and a fair bit of flooding but there aren’t the country-wide catastrophes that exist elsewhere.

For 300 days a year we live with sunshine and showers and temperatures that dwell between 10 and 20˚C. It’s all very moderate, temperate as meteorological types would have it, and that’s fine. When I lived in Northern California not a dribble of rain fell on my village from May to November, and when those first drops finally fell, this mad Englishman was to be seen dancing loopy in the street with joy.

There's truth in what the auld fella on Dominick Street told me many years ago. We were sheltering in a shopfront, watching Galway's notorious sideways rain fly past us up the road, and he turned to me and said

“God’s gift to Ireland, the rain! Without the rain there’d be hotels on every cliff top and not an empty beach to walk.”

A man after my own heart.

Yes I love it here, and today the sun kisses my cheeks with the promise of warmth to come. Turning onto the bog road, my mind drifts naturally to politics. For me, observing Irish politics is like watching a repeat of the English version from 20 years ago. It was painful to live through another construction-driven boom and bust, because I’d seen that deadly cocktail of greed and house prices in Thatcher’s Britain in the 1980s.

Frustration rose in me recently as I watched those late night Dail sessions, because I was witnessing a political act that created a cultural change which will serve this country ill.

In the past you used to hide your money under the mattress so that your English overlords could not rob your childrens’ inheritance. Now you’ve swept your debts under the carpet to hide it from your European overlords, forcing your children to live their adult lives in debt.

Sorry, I’m making the grave error of equating the people with their politicians. I am not Margaret Thatcher any more than you are Albert Reynolds. I will not hold you responsible for the wrong-doings of your elected representatives, but I will point my finger at you and accuse you of being predictable.

The only thing I was immediately and absolutely sure of when the death of Fianna Fail was announced after the last general election was that they would most certainly win the next. Just as Thatcher claimed her Conservatives to be, Fianna Fail is surely the natural party of government in this country.

They’ll be back, because you’ll vote for them. Yes you will, because this shower might be just a little bit straighter and slightly less corrupt, but they’re so damned dull. When you Irish are down the pub you don’t want to hang with the guys with their shirt collars tucked inside their v-neck sweaters, sitting quietly at a table, having a mild chuckle, their sensible Japanese hatchbacks insured and washed and parked between the lines outside.

No, the Irish are drawn towards the other lads, having a rare auld time at the bar. The chancers with their big German cars illegally parked on the street, their wads of cash and smart italian suits. They look like they’re really living the life, so they do.

You’ll vote for them next time. I know you will.

Labour? Who?

So you’re not responsible for what your politicians do, only for voting them in. You’re not responsible for the weather, either, but you are collectively responsible for making me a better person.

After my walk I pop into the shop to buy my newspaper. Yer man behind the counter is vociferously grateful.

“How’re ye? Great day great day great day! Now there you are! Good man! Thanks a million, thanks a million, good man!”

At this point, were I still in England, I might well be expected to ask
“ ‘Ere mate, are you taking the piss? I’m only buying a bloody newspaper.”

But instead I say nothing, and he goes on.

“Mighty mighty! Thanks a million! Great day out there now! Fair play to you, fair play! Thanks now, thanks a million!”

To which, at risk of sounding like a plastic Paddy, this Englishman replies

“Fair play to you too. Cheers now!” 
and have it on my legs.

I’d so much rather be this person than that other Englishman, forever hovering on the edge of aggression. So thanks for that, for introducing me to the world of ‘Mighty mighty not a bother on me!’

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