PUBLISHED IN THE HERALD MARCH 2018
Another day, another weather warning. In what seems the thousandth meteorological emergency of this so-far brief year – but is probably only the hundredth – Ireland is braced for a double-whammy.
Storm Emma is rushing at us from Portugal. Arriving at a statelier pace, the so-called Beast from the East: a gigantic cold front originating in Siberia. And to misquote the opening voiceover of Hart to Hart, “when they meet – it’s gonna be moidah.”
We can, according to Met Éireann, expect several days of frost, ice, blizzards, high winds and bitter cold. We can also, according to past experience, expect the whole country to react as if it’s the End of Days.
Ireland in shutdown! Stock up on survival provisions! We’ve never seen it as bad! It’s Snowmageddon!
Were we always like this? In my memory – admittedly not the best, now or indeed at any time – we used to be much more stoical about the climate.
Fair enough, this Emma-Beast mash-up looks as if it’s going to be pretty gnarly. But aside from these rare climatic events, it seems that hardly a week now goes by without some class of colour-coded warning being issued to the populace.
Status Yellow. Status Red. Status Disaster. Status Say Your Final Prayers. Status The End is Nigh.
It’s all “alert” this and “warning” that and “emergency planning” the other. Back in the day, though, this was all known simply as “the weather”.
I mean, we live in North-West Europe: a miserable climate is not exactly rare. This is a windswept, rain-lashed rock, right on the edge of the wildest ocean on the planet. What do you expect, sunshine and gentle breezes tickling your neck as you sip lattes outdoors?
In its default setting, Irish weather resembles the more overwrought passages of Wuthering Heights: lashing rain, Herculean winds, noise and chaos, petrified people scurrying for cover from the elements’ assault. The average day runs the gamut from raging storm to miserable drizzle and back to the storm.
When I was a kid, we’d spend entire days, if not weeks, huddled indoors like burrowing animals who didn’t have the wit to just sleep through the whole thing. Bored out of our tree, gazing forlornly at the pounding monsoon outside and hoping to God that the Columbo episode about to start on telly wasn’t one we’d seen already.
And you know what? We never stopped complaining.
But at least there was an acceptance – a grouchy, resentful acceptance – that this was how it was in Ireland. More importantly, we didn’t act as if it was some big catastrophe waiting to happen. It was just…the weather.
Nowadays it’s all Status Reds and national emergency programmes and Met Éireann experts live-streaming 24 hours a day from a secure bunker somewhere under Government buildings.
Years ago, though, something like The Beast from the East would merely be described as “a cold snap”. You might out on a pair of gloves when you went outside, maybe wincing a bit when the air hit you and saying things such as “Nippy enough today, hah?” or, if it was super-freezing outside, “Jaysus ’tis bitter”.
Torrential rain? Wear a coat. Flooding? Wear wellies. Fog? Brill, it’s like being in a Sherlock Holmes story. Snow? Snowball fight! Gale-force winds? Do that thing where you pretend your unzipped jacket is a parachute and you’re a marine dropping into Nazi Germany under cover of darkness.
What happened us, Ireland? We used to be bad-ass, meteorologically speaking. We used to be rock ‘n’ roll. We used to be tough, insouciant, devil-may-care. We used to be – no pun intended – cool.
These constant weather warnings are only compounding the problem, making us even less rock ‘n’ roll than we already are. They get people all worked up and tense and worried, like the climate equivalent of endless shock-horror headlines and spirit-sapping conversations about Trump or Brexit.
And am I the only person in Ireland who finds the weather – well – kind of boring? I pay the barest attention to what’s going on.
I literally didn’t know about Storm Ophelia until that morning, when I noticed the trampoline attempting to leave the back garden by means of aerial propulsion. In fact, I didn’t even realise there was a Storm Emma on the way this week, as well as The Beast, until half-an-hour ago when I did some prep for this article.
I hadn’t heard about these things because I was doing something more stimulating and fun than reading about the weather. Which is pretty much everything else in the world, e.g. watching an episode of Columbo that you’ve already seen.
As with the other dismal obsessions of modern life – rugby, property prices, abortion, jogging, social media, prestige TV, “the banks” – you feel almost obliged to have an interest, and know all about it. But I just can’t; it’s too boring. Sorry, my fellow citizens, to rain on your parade.