Dublin is a strange city. The city centre, with its Georgian townhouses and the landscaped beauty of St Stephen's Green, seems fairly affluent, albeit not in an overly ostentatious way. But the bus ride into the city from the airport takes you through suburbs as run down as any I've seen in western Europe. I suppose that all the EU money that the Republic of Ireland has pulled in over the past decade or so only stretches so far.
Mrs Wife and I were in Dublin this weekend to attend a party celebrating the marriage of a good friend of mine from my university days. Having decided to wed on a beach in Thailand, they then invited their family and friends to a low-key soiree in Dublin.
It was the third time I'd visited the Irish capital - the first was with the friend whose wedding party we were attending, way back in the days before I knew Mrs Wife and he knew his new bride. Six of us spent a week touring Ireland, a tour which involved spending more time in licensed premises than in tourist attractions.
My second visit was in 2003, when I took the then Miss Girlfriend to Dublin to see Justin Timberlake touring his debut album. At some point in the future, I may write about that trip, but for now, I will concentrate on this weekend.
Although I'd visited Dublin twice previously, this was the first time I'd flown into its airport, having arrived by train from Belfast on my previous trips. This trip was also different in that we knew that our sight-seeing time was to be limited, as we were partying on both the Saturday night and the Sunday night, the main event taking place on the Sunday.
When we were first invited to the party, I tried to book a hotel as close to the venue as possible. Mrs Wife and I have decided that, on reflection, selecting a hotel that "boasts" a nightclub which remains open until 3am was probably not a great idea. It would seem that the hotel in question makes most of its money from the nigthclub. Our room was easily the worst we have stayed in whilst travelling in Europe, and was worse than most of those we endured during three months in South East Asia.
Two enjoyable nights on the town aside, and discounting the grottiness of our room, the defining factor of our trip was my wardrobe. Deciding to exude a little Scottish class, I took my kilt across the Irish Sea. As I was awaiting our bags at the carousel in Dublin airport, it suddenly dawned on me that I had neglected to pack a shirt to go with the kilt. Whilst an inconvenience, this wasn't an insurmountable problem - I would simply buy a plain white shirt, which would be a passable replacement for the real thing.
Having found a suitable stand-in shirt, I was hanging up my outfit in the hotel and checking that I had all of the other constituent parts of the kilt. Sporran - check. Shoes - check. Bow tie - check. Socks. Socks. Socks? SOCKS?
Damn. I'd forgotten the socks. This may not sound like a big deal - socks are socks. Except when the outfit in question is a kilt. Because the kilt extends to knee length, and the shoes lace up around the calf and shin, the socks are vital to the overall look.
Mrs Wife was, of course, suitably impressed with this revelation. As Dublin's shops had closed for the evening, it meant that Sunday, the day of the party, was spent roaming the city's streets in search of socks for an outfit from a foreign country.
We tried many different outlets, including one chain that rents kilts out, but in vain - Dublin is not the best place in the world to buy kilt socks. Finally, with our hangovers reaching the "fatally dehydrated" stage, our patience wearing thin and our feet aching, we were directed to a store called House of Ireland.
They didn't stock kilt socks. But they did have thick, knee-length, woollen socks, which would stand as passable replacements for one evening. I almost baulked at the pricetag - ELEVEN POUNDS for a pair of socks (I am a man who normally buys underwear in packs of three and always for less than five pounds - eleven pounds for a pair of socks is a bit steep).
And the moral of the tale? Listen to your mother's advice - ALWAYS pack clean underwear.
(As a post script to this strangely lengthy tale of socks, most of the other guests at the party were wearing jeans and casual shirts. But hey, a man in a kilt in a roomful of Irish people wearing jeans is ALWAYS going to stand out.)