Sunday, December 21, 2008

Irish rain

Visitors to Ireland are frequently struck by its greenness. The locals will tell them it's because of incessant rain.

In Melbourne, it's either raining or not raining, generally the latter in the recent years of persistent drought. In Ireland, the distinction is not quite so clear. Certainly there are times when it is indisputably raining, but there are many states between that condition and the one in which it is undeniably not raining.

Mist is the most pleasant. It feels entirely beneficent, like walking through lightly moistened air, and indeed a local term for this type of weather, "soft", is an apt description.

However, this has the ability to degenerate into drizzle, which may appear innocuous but can soon soak you to the skin. Going out for a walk in mist can see you coming home through driving rain.

I noted the weather forecast from "the Met" (Met √Čireann is the national meteorological service) over a few days, and it probably serves as a succinct description of what you might expect:
  • "Misty at first, with rain at times."
  • "Mainly dry."
  • "Occasional rain later in the day."
  • "Well scattered showers."
  • "Some showers. "
  • "Rain and drizzle."
Meteorologists probably feel safer ensuring that some sort of rain is included in the forecast.

Ireland is a small country (around twice the size of Tasmania, not very much bigger than Texas) - and its weather reflects the influence of the surrounding seas.

The prevailing winds are from the South West, from the Atlantic Ocean, and the changing skies are beautiful to watch, although they can be depressing if you are planning an activity requiring a degree of dryness.

I was surprised to read that climate change is likely to bring drought conditions to south-eastern Ireland.

Travelling by train across Ireland in mid-winter would tend to convince you that there is an abundance of water.

In fact, there is no charge to households for their water usage. Average usage, according to Wikipedia, is 160 litres per person per day. In Melbourne, the aim is 155 litres per person per day - although this presumably includes watering of gardens, an activity not frequently required in Ireland.

Average hourly rainfall in Ireland is quite low, but that means that to reach the average annual rainfall of between 750 in the East or 2000mm in mountainous areas, it has to rain quite often.

Melbourne's average rainfall is around 650mm a year - not all that different to Dublin.

Gina was always amused at my parent's constant attention to the weather. They would look out the kitchen window in the morning, over the fields and trees behind the house, and say "It looks like rain". Gina used to say, "Why are they so surprised? It always looks like rain, because it's always raining or about to rain!"

Sunday, December 14, 2008


My natural inclination is to stay at home. Travel is supposed to broaden the mind, but it's also been said that "an ass who travels will not return a horse".
Travelling for work frequently has little to do with broadening or enlightenment. I've been guilty of going to Stratford-on-Avon and entirely failing to see, hear, eat, think or do anything connected with Shakespeare.
I'm sometimes embarrassed to admit - especially to those who say that they love the challenge of travel - that I find it an effort to take the first steps out of my hotel and into the street outside. This is particularly true if I can't speak the local language.
People brought up with English as their first language often envy those whose lack of a sufficiently influential local language required them to learn at least one more as a matter of course. Perhaps in previous times the English speaker could feel complacent in the superiority of their native tongue, but in this more politically aware era it seems rather backward to fail to switch smoothly from language to language.
I stopped over in Rome, and the receptionist in the downmarket hotel switched smoothly between English, Italian and French during the few minutes I was there, and the ease with which she did so made me think that she could probably have managed German, Spanish and a few others with equal facility.
I studied Latin for a few years, and that makes Italian both relatively easy and deceptively easy. Because the words are largely familiar, I can read street signs, and get some sense out of menus. Vino is wine, pizza is pizza...
But it's also a trap. On the way to an exhibition in Turin, I asked for directions. I was quite pleased with my almost fluent question in Italian, and it was only when I started to receive my reply that I was reminded of my complete inability to understand what I was being told.
An ass who travels will not return an Italian speaker.