25 January 2008

When God made Time . . .

The weather around Ireland and the British Isles is once again atrocious. Over the past 24 hours a new low front closed in on us, and as I write this, storms of force 10 are blowing in most sea areas. There are even some hurricanes (force 12) reported, but fortunately not in our areas. They are raging further up North, around the Shetland Islands, towards the Faeroes, and all the way to Norway. Tonight my special thoughts go out again to the skippers and sailors who have to master these conditions in order to keep us all supplied with the things we need.

Here on dry land the weather was actually surprisingly pleasant today. We still got some rain and wind, but not a lot. And for a few hours it felt quite mild. Now, that the wind has picked up speed again, it feels more colder and I have lit the fire to keep the house warm. This afternoon the farmer who sells us fire wood called again, so I am well stocked up.
It is never really certain if he comes on Thursdays or Fridays, and sometimes he even appears on a Saturday, after we have been already wondering if something has happened to him. But somehow he always comes, at his own time and pace, and this is so typical for the traditional way of life in Ireland.
When God made time, he made a lot of it - an old saying here - shows the generous attitude the average Irishman has to time in general and appointments in particular. Never expect people to be on time in Ireland, and if they are, they are most likely foreigners or were educated abroad.

It is not unusual that certain people forget appointments altogether, and sometimes a meeting that was set for a particular day and time is moved, postponed and moved again until a really suitable and agreeable time has been found. Or until the matter that was to be discussed is no longer of any relevance.

Subsequently the Irish have a reputation of being lazy, and - in all fairness - there is some real substance for seeing us that way. But the rather liberal attitude Irish people have towards time has several reasons. One is our Celtic heritage. Celts lived close to Nature, in small communities, connected with the traditional way of the seasons, of sowing and planting, growth and harvest, celebration and rest. In those days there were no clocks and watches, and the only "maker" of time was Nature, or God.

Another reason for the Irish reluctance to hurry is the time of occupation and colonialism forced upon the Celtic clans of Ireland. While the initially hostile encounters with the Vikings led soon to a fair co-existence between the two on the Emerald Isle, the Norman conquest in the late 12th century created a two-tier society which has been with us ever since.
Little is there in common between the haves and have-nots, the masters and their servants. So the only way of showing opposition - short of violence and rebellion - was to slow things down in all areas. In their arrogance the Normans and English thought not much about it, as they saw us as inferior beings anyway.

A third reason for the slow pace of life here was - and still is - the strong influence of the Church. Organised Christianity, and especially the Catholic variety of it, puts much emphasis on the "next world", the "life after death" when everything will be much better and we all will be rewarded for our suffering and shortfalls in this life. For the Church this is an easy promise, but it gives many people also the excuse to take this life not so serious.

In modern Ireland there is also an ever-present fourth reason for being late. The ever-growing number of cars on our roads - most of which were designed in the 19th century for a society of less mobile people who used horses, donkeys, carts and coaches - causes massive traffic jams in Ireland every day. It is bad enough on normal days, but let there be foul weather, heavy rain or storm, and things get much worse. This morning thousands of commuters around Dublin spent hours in their cars, waiting for the participant vehicles of a traffic accident to be removed from the M 50 motorway. One of the reasons for taking so long was that the tow-trucks, on their way to the accident, were themselves caught in another traffic jam (until they got a motorcycle escort form the Garda Siochana, our national police).

In all fairness, there are improvements on the way, and especially around Dublin a massive and futuristic looking network of roads and highways is constructed. But some of this construction work leads - inevitably - to more congestion and traffic jams. That Dublin's workers arrived in the city at all this morning is due to the wit and quick reaction of a Superintendent in the Garda Traffic Corps. When he heard of the problems, he literally got on his (motor)bike, went to the scene of the accident and personally organised the removal of the damaged cars from the lanes of the motorway. A couple of patrol cars came to his assistance, and eventually all was well again: the sheer endless motorised columns rolled into the city. However, such unbureaucratic personal initiative by an individual civil servant is rare. So rare in fact, that it landed the Superintendent on "Today with Pat Kenny", the nation's favourite late-morning radio programme.

From the safety of my little house, warmed by the crackling fire in the hearth, I salute the Superintendent for his spirit and initiative, and Pat Kenny for letting us know about it. More of the same is needed, and every good example inspires others. And to those still on the roads and highways of Ireland now I say a gentle Slan abhaile (Safe way home).

The Emerald Islander

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