Rural Eire

Buddy. He's Tommy's guard dog who didn't get the memo. Though he's a mature big Japanese Akita who barks if needs must—a 'beware the dog' sign warns all comers to expect far worse—the locals know different. Pet Buddy between the ears. He'll happily show you around the grounds. He might even help you carry away some loot. Friend for life. A few days ago we saw Tommy. Like most our neighbors, he's in construction and farming. While Trevor one house over from us is a plumber, Patrick three down a roofer and retiree Malone across the street grows his own potatoes, Tommy's specialty is commandeering a monstrous digger with the precision of a surgeon's scalpel. He's in great demand all over the county and beyond. We first met him when he distributed a few layers of colored gravel around our present digs. We'd made that gravel conditional upon signing a 5-year lease. When it rains which it does frequently, you don't want to drive then walk through sticky mud. Our landlord had hired Tommy who worked a long day, refused lunch and did a truly ace job. Now we wanted to hire him for a small job in the backyard. Our landlord had signed off already. We just had to book a session with the neighborhood's premiere much in-demand concrete expert.

One ear folded over as is his wont, Buddy greeted us affectionately. Once inside Tommy's house, we saw drape cloth on the floor, a demolished wall and other in-flagranti signs of a contractor's existence. Tommy was building a new kitchen. The next gig already lined up would modernize the thatched-roof cottage in which he was born. So were his grandparents who lived in it all their lives. That cottage too is on his rambling property. Why move around when you're born to land? For now his wife wanted that new kitchen. When you're married to a contractor, that's part of the perks. So should be living in never-ending projects whilst paying customers gets theirs done, possibly even on time.

Whilst explaining to Tommy what we wanted him for, we looked his place over. The entry held Buddy's enormous sleeping pad and little else. Big dog, big bed. High up on the wall in the lounge hung an equally enormous flat screen like you'd see in any sports bar the world over. Separate speakers and a home-theater pre/pro were MIA like a conscientious objector at a recruitment center. Tommy's lifestyle wouldn't know where to put them. He's perfectly happy with what's built into his giant telly, streaming flicks off his fast fiber-optic feed. Which is the punch line of today's joke. Who needs a hifi?

When you own your house, drive a digger for a living, farm and are handy at everything a general contractor does to consider remodels your hobby, who cares about premium sound? Tommy has the car stereo in his VW Tuareg which he drives to work. His 70"-or-whatever telly does the rest. Buddy would knock over free-standing speakers with his happy tail. His paws are the size of my hand. The overstuffed leather furniture so popular in Ireland leaves little lounge room for a hifi. It's why the telly had to hightail it up the wall like a spider retreating from a hammer fist.

There are, I'm told, a few high-end hifi shops on the Irish East coast. But in the farming hinterlands we call home, there's no audience to cater to them. We see how the local mentality is shaped by recurring hardships. Own a small plot of land with a cottage even if you can't afford to put any furniture in it. That's a core Irish ambition. It's drilled into the young by parents and grandparents alike. There might be droughts again, famines, debilitating storms or another deep recession. It'll send those without proper roots to emigrate once more as so many Irish have before. But own a small home with some land and do a little farming. You'll weather economic downturns and stick it out on home soil. That earthiness doesn't really seem to go hand in hand with a desire for upscale hifi. I can't fail to think that the same holds true in many other places and cultures. It drives home how much of an acquired taste and manufactured luxury this hobby is. The lifestyles of many actually don't have time for it. Woof, woof?

Buddy, you fool us no more. Come here and eat your biscuit while we scratch your massive skull…