What you are looking at here is a picture of a cat and a 3-year-old girl, taken from above. The cat is sitting in a wooden chair, and the girl is looking up, caught in the act of cat-worrying.
What’s this all about? Well, I was tired of feeling like a complete alien here in Norway and the time came for me to take a family of Norwegians west, to show them Ireland, the land of my origins.
It is interesting to be a tourist in one’s own land. With the presence of foreigners I could see anew Ireland’s famed hospitality, its warmth and emotion. I am well aware that often what makes something good is the same thing that makes something bad, and in Ireland’s case gregariousness and bothersomeness are two sides of the same coin, but on this occasion I only experienced the positive aspect, and I enjoyed it.
The locals may call it “rip-off Ireland” but the price of beer is considerably less oppressive than in Norway, and the off licenses were treasure troves. We also saw the inside of some of Dublin’s renowned licensed premises, where the Norwegians could discover the reality of “the black stuff” – Guinness and Beamish (we ordered Murphy’s in the Stag’s Head but were told it was “broken” or something, so we couldn’t get any). Norway is far too lager-dependent, and it’s a pity that stout outside Ireland tastes like mud that a leper has shat his entire arse into. But back in the emerald isle, they’ve been tricking around with recipes too. Guinness are currently selling a different brew called “Toucan Brew”, which I thought tasted reasonably nice but our friend Justin visiting from Wales was unimpressed, declaring it to be no more than Guinness with a dash of HP sauce, and therefore a bit pointless.
But what did the Norwegians think of the unchanging “charm” of Grogan’s public house? Bjarne told me something about it being a successful blend of old men and artistic types. I told him the Grogan’s joke. Two men are sitting at the bar in Grogan’s. One says to the other, “I’ve started writing a novel.” His friend says, “Is that so?” and lifting his pint up to his lips adds, “Neither have I.”
Our journey did not just take us as far West as Dublin. No, we ventured further, to “the Wesht” itself: to the County Clare. In my sister’s house Vilja (the 3-year-old) could indulge in cat-worrying to her heart’s content. On the gravel driveway she also showed a great interest in stein (stones), so was overjoyed when we took her to the karst landscape of the Burren.
It is in the countryside that the contrast between Norway and Ireland is most acute. The Irish countryside, at least in West Clare, with its neighbourliness and pub culture, is one of the most social environments on Earth – it’s even quite cosmopolitan – and there is none of the boredom or insularity that rural Norway is said to have. In fact, the HQ of blather.net is now there, at the edge of the Atlantic, and I met the Chief and can report that he seems quite content out there, with his log fire and his broadband access.
I’m back in Oslo now, back on the corner, back in Mu, back trying to finish interminable creative projects in my spare time. All Norwegians survived the trip, and seem very happy with it, but I didn’t have time to plug them for a full cultural analysis of the contrasts between Norway and Ireland, as I had to get this written for today, but I know that most of my readers are reading this for facts about Norway, and have probably read enough about Ireland for now.
PS Note to Dublin friends: I didn’t have time to call very many of you, sorry!
Next week: something Oslo-centric.