Northern Ireland is grand, so it is.

20 May
Having never been to Ireland in any way, and not knowing any of my Reps there yet, I jumped at the chance to represent the office at the Latin Link Ireland conference on Saturday. And what a grand bunch they are, so they are.
Basically my main preconception about Northern Ireland, having met several people from there at uni, was that it had a population of about ten and they all live in the same house – they all seemed to know each other, and/or be distantly related. I thought this would probably be disproved by a trip there, but no, this notion was proven very much correct – seriously, everyone does know everyone. "Oh aye, I know his mother". "Och yes, I used to teach his brother!" and so forth. Ballymena, Ballymoney, the whole bally lot of them.
But what a beautiful place… a holiday there is definitely in order in the summer. It was something of a cross-cultural experience really. I’ve never before been to a Presbyterian church, which must have seemed very weird to them. And the hospitality culture is alive and well there and really lovely to experience. I was put up, fed and watered, and driven around by several different families and people who had only just met me. The old ladies greeted me with genuine enthusiasm and wanted to know all about my life. I guess these are things that I have almost come to take for granted when I go to visit Christians anywhere – there’s always a bed, and friendly face, and more food than you can eat, wherever you are in the world.. But I don’t know, people all seemed somehow more genuine and a lot less cynical over there, especially in church.

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In fact, the Irish were so hospitable that I missed my flight home due to enforced apple pie.
My flight was booked for 3:10pm on Sunday, thinking this would give me time to visit a church and then skedaddle. First surprise was that over there, out in the sticks, services start at 12 to give the farmers time to have a lie in, milk their cows, and then walk a hundred miles to church. My Northern Irish colleague Elma said, "all right, but we’ll have to go to church and then go straight to the airport while the others have lunch. That’ll be all right."
"It won’t be all right," the minister replied, "because you won’t have any lunch. You won’t go home without any lunch. You just won’t," he declared, as if heading home slightly peckish would be a mortal sin. "We’ll head back early and make you a quick bite you can eat and then run to the airport."
We reluctantly agreed to this. Arriving at the Manse and expecting a swift sandwich, we were both somewhat horrified to be faced with full table settings and a the unmistakable signs of a full three course dinner. Uh-oh….
"We’ve really to be going now, so we have," said Elma as we wolfed our roast dinner.
Then out came the apple pie.
As we slowly drove back to Elma’s family house, having just missed my flight, she ruefully reflected, "we both knew. But we still ate the pie."
After the initial shock, I was mainly rather amused that my plans had been scuppered by the determined hospitality of Irish Christians. "No! You’ll not go without lunch!" But I got rather less amused as, after having got on the next (much later) flight, I paced around Birmingham airport all night from 11pm til 6am, trying to pass the time with crosswords, trying to lie down comfortably on a steel bench, and counting down the hours before I could get a fried breakfast at 4am. You see, for some reason, Birmingham airport doesn’t run trains to anywhere between about 10pm and 6am. Presumably if you arrive on a plane in the middle of the night you are just expected to undergo four hours pacing around its air-conditioned foyers.
Anyway, hopped on the first train home and got to Bulan at 8am, just as my housemates were leaving – the sheer look of confusion on their faces as I came in from somewhere was rather amusing.
"Don’t ask. I’m going to sleep." And so I did, until 3pm. Actually, after about 14 hours sleep in 21, I felt significantly more sprightly than I normally do on a Tuesday morning…. so I did.

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