The unseasonal cold. How seasonal



Earlier this week I struggled along the seafront in howling flurries of stinging snow. I was amazed when I got home to find I didn’t have a beard, and a Sherpa, and a sleigh, and a degree in penguin, and a mother in the Cotswolds to whom I return in spring to write up my adventures with the huskies. Bloody insane, the weather in this country.

The day before, I’d attempted to go for a walk along the harbour. “I’ve not seen it like this for 50 years,” said a pleasant, if somewhat alarmed and windblown gentleman to me as great sheets of water blew over the pier wall, creating a little Niagara Falls. The sea was a like a drunken teenager trying to make the last bus home, staggering in all directions at once, frothing at the mouth and belching scum over the parked cars.

Still, at least I look like I’ve been on holiday; my skin is burnt, albeit scoured by ice. And now the sun is out again, dancing on the water like a giddy debutante; ducks are thinking about quacking.

I’m not convinced; that fickle orb looks like it’s covering for its colleague, the howling, raging, icy wind, who’s having a smoke around the back and will be along in a minute to tempest itself all over the landscape.

The unseasonal cold is, of course, entirely seasonal. It’s the run up to Paddy’s Day, innit? It’s that time of year when our efforts to create a fiesta on the streets of our towns and cities are dashed against a shivering float of goose pimples and blue knees and lost gloves and hats. Oh, look, dear, it’s spring; time to break out the bedsocks and the thermal vests.

This year, apparently, Tourism Ireland has initiated a “greening season”, which involves iconic buildings and landmarks being bleached green for the weekend of festivities.

Of course, as a nation we are no strangers to seeing our fellow countrymen bleached green during St Patrick’s weekend, often while staggering into street furniture and urinating on lamp-posts. Now, though, Sydney Opera House is bleaching itself St Patrick’s Day green, a nice gesture for the great swathes of our children who are now resident down under, and Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro will also have a green wash, which is probably not in recognition of our national penchant for the Brazilian.

I feel like a recalcitrant old bag when it comes to Paddy’s Day. I see the evidence before my eyes of how a monochrome, solemn, windswept parade of old soldiers and new tractors and lovely girls in bawneen suspender belts and chain-mail knickers has been transformed, but for those of us who shivered on the sidelines in the 1970s during the parade’s slow progress up a damp O’Connell Street, culminating in a flask of potato soup and general absolution at the gates of St Stephen’s Green, the change is hard to believe in.

It’s going to take more than spectacle, more than miles of bejewelled dragonry and samba bands and fire-eaters and whirling dervishes to wash the grit of 20th-century Irish pageantry from my smiling eyes.

Somehow, when it comes to the Paddy’s Day parade, I am suspended in a kind of de Valeran aspic; no matter how high-kicking the platform boot, I’m still expecting wrath, I’m still expecting some geezer with a crozier and a basket of asps to stamp the whole thing out.

Still, it wasn’t all grim back in the day, was it? We had the Americans to look at, with their tooting flutes and pompoms and solid thighs in 15-denier nylons and prancing patent-leather boots. God, you would have killed a badger with your bare hands or swept the moss off the Skellig needles to have been an American in those hungry days.

Those pompommed girls from Annapolis and Illinois, with their big shiny teeth and elastic gum-chewing jaws, were like another species to my childhood eyes. They were like big oxygen-breathing Crolly dolls.

I met one of them when I was on a train with my mother; we were on our way to visit my grand-aunt in Killarney. “Are you going on vacation?” the American asked me. She had a polo-neck and cheekbones and tassels on her shoulder bag; I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I’d never heard the word. “No,” I replied. “We’re going on holidays.”

Anyway, enjoy, as our Stateside cousins will no doubt implore. Have a nice day and pack an extra pair of socks and a bikini; in this weather, you can’t afford to put all your asps in one basket.