Ten good reasons, please, to relish winter in Ireland
To light the fire, or not light the fire, that was the question.
Our companionable weekend meal enjoyed and eaten, we moved from table to hearth fondling the last of the evening's wine in our glasses, a box of mints open on the coffee table. The room was certainly not cold but the unlit logs somehow begged for the striking of a match, if only to provide a comfortable glowing focal point for our after-dinner chatter. In the end, without the matter being put to a formal vote, all present decided that to light up would be a glum signal that summer is conclusively, comprehensively and completely over.
We were in denial of the imminence of winter, Hermione convinced that the grass on our lawn is still growing as briskly as it did mid-August. And surely the final flush of tomatoes blushing red in the greenhouse also indicates lingering summer warmth?
On our way here to visit friends Molly and Mike, I swear I saw some swallows chasing insects on the wing with undiminished vigour, with no thought just yet of exchanging the cool of Ireland for the heat of Africa. But in truth it was hard to be absolutely sure that they really were swallows as the nights seem to be drawing in damnedly fast and visibility is tricky by the dodgy light of dusk.
There are practical limits to the human capacity for self-delusion. Our hosts struck the correct note when they served a hearty casserole from the oven rather than the steak barbecued on glowing charcoal in the open air we might have expected a few weeks back. No frivolous summertime rosé was on offer this time either, but rather ample supplies of solemn rich red.
So, dinner dispatched, we were nibbling our mints contentedly when the windows suddenly rattled in their frames and rain could be heard drumming on the panes in the pitch darkness outside. Molly cocked her ear to the passing squall and visibly shuddered.
'I have decided that in future, I shall spend my winters by the Mediterranean,' she said quietly. The serious tone of her unheralded announcement suggested that this was no idle joke, no wishful thinking, no passing vagary.
Our hostess explained how she had been reading about seasonally affected disorder and affirmed her stern intention to take all steps required to avoid falling prey to this depressing condition. No other logical course of action presented itself - she simply must adjourn to the Cote d'Azur or thereabouts for those downbeat months when daylight is in short supply across Northern Europe.
Molly waxed weary of grey, grey, grey and damp, damp, damp, not to mention cold, cold, cold: 'And we don't even do cold properly here - no chestnuts roasting on open fires. No cute white Christmases.'
I rushed blindly to make a case in favour of the Irish winter, declaring that there must be at least ten good reasons for remaining at home.
'Ten good reasons?' huffed Molly. 'I bet you can't come up with two.'
The gauntlet had been thrown down and, though I had not mugged up on the subject in advance, it was time to rally to the national cause.
'There's the Gaiety panto,' I suggested desperately, real top of the head stuff.
'When did you last go to the Gaiety for the panto?' was the scornful response. 'I'll bet Jimmy O'Dea was still the star attraction. Well, while you are at the Gaiety, I shall be attending the opera in Verona or maybe Milan. I haven't quite made up my mind yet.'
Mike - no doubt worried as to how a lengthy sojourn in Sorrento or Sitges might be financed - lumbered in on the side of the defence: 'There's the Irish pub,' he offered gamely. 'The Guinness just isn't right in those foreign places.'
'Guinness is not and never has been on my agenda,' came the reply. 'Champagne for me from now on please, served from a silver plated ice bucket with a view out over the marina…'
After coffee brought proceedings to a close, Mike ushered his guests out on their way into the black night while Molly remained by the hearth, her lap-top logged on to a web-site from Provence.