It's alarming to reflect on the fact that the veneer of urbane sophistication is frequently tissue-thin to the point of transparency. Had a phone call from a friend who probably knew me better than anyone else in the world with an offer to visit southwest Ireland over the summer, which caused a metaphorically gleeful clapping of the hands. In my precarious condition, such offers are not just rare but their serendipitous value is priceless.
Mark Twain once wrote: 'I have seen all the foreign countries I want to except heaven and hell and I have only a vague curiosity about one of those.'
Ireland clearly wasn't on his list. The sheer joie de vivre of its citizenry, together with some of the greatest authors and poets this part of the planet has ever seen, also the strong possibility of myself having Irish antecedents, have persuaded me to overlook an unwholesomely damp climate. I imagine my ancestors, gritty Celts all, bestriding the hills with the braggadocio of a proud, unconquered race. Well, not since 1690, at any rate. This homespun image of a Bantry village dwelling gives little indication that the Atlantic water lapping its borders is probably freezing. Never mind. I must take care not to fall in.