Ireland 2004: notes from an outsider

We’ve been visiting Ireland for the past week and a bit, to see family, friends, and attend Siobhán and Jonathan’s wedding. My visits back here amount to annual impressionistic snapshots of how the country has changed.

I am infinitely grateful for the government’s workplace smoking ban. It is now possible to go to a pub for the night and not have to burn your clothes before you go to bed to avoid polluting your entire house. Oh, and there’s the small graces of my asthma and eyes not being driven towards breaking point.

The country has become incredibly expensive to live in. It used to be that, compared to San Francisco, cars and gas (that’s right, I no longer call it petrol by default) were pricy, but everything else was cheap. Now everything is costly here, even by my inflated Bay Area standards. I’m frankly baffled as to where people are finding the money–or even the credit–to afford these prices, because they’re surely not earning Silicon Valley salaries.

Broadband over 802.11g! I can finally get 512Kb/sec from my bedroom, over my Dad’s wireless link to a water tower a mile away. The useless sots at Eircom, the phone monopoly, are so busy talking about DSL instead of rolling it out that the locals have taken matters into their own hands. This is insanely cool. The local monopoly not cutting it for you? Screw it, work around ’em!

The kids who were throwing rocks through windows and being generally worse than useless when I was growing up have had children. Their kids are throwing rocks through windows and being generally worse than useless. On the flip side, I had more entertaining conversations with highly educated and opinionated people than I can remember from any prior visit back.

I’ve gone soft. I’m now used to San Francisco winters, and the first few perpetually chilled days back in Ireland just about undid me. At least I can still adjust, and I haven’t come down with my usual round of cold-climate-shock pneumonia.

Someone suggested that I go to a new pub on a new suburban road through a field I used to play in when I was a kid. I could have been in Sacramento or Milton Keynes for all the character the place had. On the bright side, I encountered there my first ever ethnic Han Chinese guy with a thick Waterford accent. Dat was grate, sure it was.

We’re off to London tomorrow, and thence to San Francisco on Tuesday. Every waking moment of the flight from LHR to SFO, I’ll be thankful that Virgin Atlantic has video on demand, I’m sure, but I’ll still be loading up the laptop with Thomas the Tank Engine for the wee fella. Just in case.

It’s good to be back. But I’m looking forward to going home.

Posted in slice-o-life

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