Christmas in Ireland was full of epiphanies, one of which was the rapid turnover of Irish weather. We drove across the country in a hired Opel Vestra, starting in Dublin in bright sunshine, barrelling through Westmeath in a surly fog, stopping in Moate under dishcloth clouds before heading off into the mystic West. As we hit Galway, tracer bullets of sleet attacked the windscreen; by Ballinasloe they'd become huge white salvoes, swooping out of the dark sky like the Star Ride in 2001: A Space Odyssey. When we stopped to consult the map, I suddenly saw that the snow wasn't behaving like a hostile army after all; it was falling from heaven in a steady, dreamlike cascade, falling through the lamplight that reflected in the huge brown eyes of Max, aged four, as he sat transfixed with amazement.

There followed a week of toys and relations and Guinness and horses and people singing "The Fields of Athenry". But the week's best revelation was the Nineties Homo hibernus. On Tuesday this week, John O'Mahoney was explaining in these pages how the image of the "stage Irishman" has changed over the years. Well now I've met the modern version.

He was the night manager of a fashionable hotel where the Galway Blazers, a crew of hard-riding Anglo-Irish desperadoes, were holding their riotous annual Hunt Ball. Fighting our way through the whirling mass of hunting jackets and decolletages, we sought our minicab. It was not there. The driver, they told me at reception, had looked for us in the hotel bar and left. Another cab was called. At the prearranged time I looked in reception for the driver and, finding no sign, checked the car park. Meanwhile the driver (I later learnt) was strolling around reception shouting my name before leaving a second time. I remonstrated with the manager. "My dear good man," he said, "Do not be giving out to me. One must expect these logistical impasses when there is drink taken."

I was, I confess, taken aback by this approach. One does not expect backchat about "logistical impasses" at 3am. "Why," I asked crossly, "could you not tell the cab driver to..." He cut me short. "Conversation along these lines will prove futile," he said. "You must employ the arts of patience."

Did he think he was in a Joe Orton play? Was somebody writing his script? No, he was just an Irishman carrying on an Irish tradition - of subverting the uppity British by using their language better than they can themselves.

In every bar, the talk was of last month's divorce referendum, when the population voted to legalise divorce in Ireland - but only by the slenderest of majorities. All the post-mortems were concerned with how it could have happened.

You'd think - wouldn't you? - that it was a battle between the progressive young of modern, Eurocentric Ireland and the ageing religious fuddy-duddies who want to keep the family unit safe for Catholicism. But you'd be wrong. From what I gleaned, it's the other way round. The middle-aged Irish, who have seen their contemporaries stuck in terrible marriages, were entranced at the prospect of changing the law and confounding the Bishops. It's the younger Irish who talk about how divorce would "destabilise" the country and produce a generation of homeless infants.

There is an additional twist. Many Irish teenagers and twentysomethings, even those in Dublin, live with their parents until they marry or emigrate. They get full board and lodging, gratis, for years longer than their English counterparts. They do not want to throw away this domesticated welfare state because of their parents' bust-up, so they voted against disharmony. In other words, the divorce debate was almost lost because of the Hot Dinner Syndrome.

Home again, surrounded by newspapers, one marvels at the weirdos and fatcats, the chat-show hosts, tyre salesmen and invisible governors who are running for the American presidency. I'm especially struck by Steve Forbes, who is standing on a single-issue ticket (17 per cent income tax for all), has not a goldfish in a sauna's chance of winning, but is paying the $25m campaign fee out of his own pocket. Since he's the son of Malcolm Forbes and is worth at least $400m, this is not a problem. But he must be wishing people would take him more seriously. When the Philadelphia Inquirer magazine interviewed him, one of the few things they asked the tycoon was his tips on playing Monopoly. "I like the purple ones, the blues, because they're cheap and people inevitably land on them," the aspirant Prez obligingly replied.

One sympathises with Madonna, the chanteuse and transmedial vamp, who has fallen victim to an unwelcome fan. He has been stalking her for weeks and has reportedly tried to break into her Los Angeles apartment on three occasions. How piquant to discover that the villain's name is Robert Hoskins. That clears up the mystery of what the great Cockney actor has been doing lately, when not taking part in those enraging BT adverts. I wonder - when he was trying to gain access to the former virgin's flat, did Hoskins think of saying, "Dahn' worry. It's good to stalk ..."

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