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September 2011

The empty threat from Irene

Luckily, Irene turned out to be an empty threat in the end.

Mind you, I’m talking about the woman. Not the hurricane turned tropical storm which caused very real damage along its path. Even though its impact could have been much worse I agree that «nothing is ‘not that bad’, when lives are lost».

I feel for all those who lost loved ones or saw their property wrecked.

But I must admit that while I was watching the coverage of Irene, the hurricane, hit New York today - despite being worried for friends and family - another Irene also played on my mind.

You see, if Irene the woman had been more than empty threat I probably wouldn’t have been here today.

My late grandfather, a war sailor, met Irene at some British harbor, and was quite decided on leaving his young family for her. Had he done so when that thought took hold of him, chances are my mother might not have been born.

As chance would have it, he hesitated right up until my mother was conceived.

Her arrival made him change his mind and stay, a fact he recounted to me on more than one occasion, although he did have the audacity to give his new daughter Irene as a middle name (a name my mother later removed).  

From this story you may rightly conclude that my grandfather was a rather colourful character, but all the same, despite all his flaws and quirks, he played an important role in my life and I loved him dearly.

Incidentally, he was the one who bought me Tajo, the dog who later saved my life.

Tajo was his gift to me.

All very lucky coincidences without which I wouldn’t have been here today.

That’s the thing about all the horrors this summer has brought with it:

It really makes you count your blessings and wonder at, and feel grateful for, those big and small decisions, which may once have seemed trivial, but turn out to be so crucial when seen from a distance.

Or, as Grethen Rubin just blogged (updated 29/8-11 23:01 CET):  "It's a sad foible of human nature that it often takes loss, or the threat of loss, to make us appreciate what we already enjoy."

Can we have the silly season back, please?

Shocked out of holiday mode, and a general cutural innocence, by the worst terror attack in the country's modern history, it is perhaps not surprising that some Norwegians find themselves missing the summer's traditional silly season.

"I miss headlines about dangerous tics, murder snails and vegetable prices," said one influential commentator I ran into on my way into work the other morning.

"I want the headline news on the six o'clock news to be about a farmer's ruined cabbage field... I want the talk of town on warm summerdays in Oslo to be the  price of prawns...I want the men I'm struggling to get a grip on to be ordinary men, not psychotic killers," one blogger wrote on Monday.

Other bloggers have voiced similar sentiments.

It's not only the terror attacks on 22/7, though they have dominated the news ever since that day.

Norway's seen two fatal boating accidents in July too, and it's such a small country that even those affected lots and lots of people.

Not to speak of how such accidents always feel so meaningless and unnecessary.

But I'd never thought I'd see the day when people actually are begging for a return to the much derided silly season, though a part of me can undertand the sentiment.

Having said that, even thought headlines about fruit and vegetable prices was a sign of cultural decay when I grew up, I've since come to understand that these price fluctuations tell us a lot both about hyperlocal and international affarirs. 

"As above, so below," the mystics used to say.

I myself am no mystic but this summer has reminded me that even the focus and absence of a country's silly season can tell us a lot about a country and the state it's in: the small things in life - or the absence of them - often mirror the bigger ones.