Tuesday 28 October 2014

DESPITE MY MOANING I LOVE THE WEST OF IRELAND!

Thanks to The Snapper.

“Hi Charlie! I’d like to introduce you to my friend. He writes about Galway too, but not like you: he loves it here!”
 

Ouch.
 

On their way to saddening my heart, his words met the memory of an observation made by the legendary Vinny Brown of Charlie Byrne’s bookshop:

“So Double Vision is a bit of a grumpy old man outlet, really, is it?”
 

Well, if it appears like that to such discerning readers then yes, it must have been of late.
 

If in recent weeks it has appeared to colyoomistas that I no longer love living in the West of Ireland, then I have failed to share with you the truth, the whole truth, the joyful truth.
 

Of course there are times when my 54 year-old bones ache a bit more, when my mind turns to its darker side and temporarily dwells in the Land of Grump.
 

Yet there are infinitely more moments when I declare my gratitude to the universe. On several occasions each day I simply give thanks for living here.
 

25 minutes from the friendly bustle of Quay Street, I can stand in my back garden and see no evidence of human life. Well, there are stone walls that didn’t build themselves, but also there are rare and wonderful moments when the power tools of the townland are downed, and silence reigns.
 

Silence comes in many forms, and the one I enjoy around my house comfortably includes the swish of wind though wet willow leaves, the song of birds, the buzz of a thousand flies around the flowering ivy and the occasional belch of my dog or her owner. Beyond that, blissfully, there is no distant roar of traffic, no crash of construction nearby, no human rage to interrupt my peace, nor any antagonism to fuel my angsty fires.
 

Before we adopted Lady from the fabulous folk at MADRA (madra.ie, or text Marina on 086 814 9026) I was fearful that I’d no longer be able to step outside and stand dead still, as I am prone to do, watching the clouds change shape, the journey of the sun and the starlings washing in the puddle in the bohreen.
 

Happpily it turned out that Lady has the same space cadet tendencies as myself. So we both stand by the gate and enjoy being immobile members of the scene together.
 

Well, apart from those starlings washing in the puddle. They’d send her mental.
 

Lady and I head up the bog road each morning around 8.30, and recently I have had my breath taken away by the autumnal beauty that greets us.
 

With thick mist lying low on the ground, the diffused sunlight picks out stretching fields of golden grasses, rusty ferns and perky heather, all linked by a diamonte chain mail of ten thousand spiders’ webs, piercing the gloom with shards of glistening eye-dazzling light. Every gate post and gap in stone walls is sealed with one of these graceful creations, lighting up as the low sun bursts through the mist.
 

High up above us, on the ridge of a grassy bank, the outline of a stallion emerges through the haze. 

He’s standing still, as if a statue built by Neolithic natives, but by the time we come back down the road, he is gone, along with the mist.
 

Now we walk under a blazing sun, plucking swollen bursting blackberries from the bramble bushes, stopping to fill my pockets with the hazelnuts that have been blown down by last night’s wind.
Every morning, when Lady stops at yet another bush to try and eat a frog, I look around, breathe deep and give thanks for my life here.
 

I love the West of Ireland. I love its space, its emptiness, its staggering and gentle beauty.
 

I love the compassion of its people, all those who made me feel so welcome when I first arrived and the friends that they have since become. I love the opportunities this place has offered me, to make a living doing the things that I love.
 

In my native London you have to play the tedious networking game, and put in a massive effort to earn a tiny return, yet in Galway and the rest of the west of Ireland I found that a small investment of ingenuity and energy takes you a long way. Having had innumerable jobs that meant very little to me, 

I appreciate every day the privilege of earning my living doing work that I love, be that writing, teaching or editing.
 

I love the fact that if I turn right on the main road I’ll be past Oughterrard and in the magical world of Connemara in 20 minutes.


 Scribbler spoils view...

I love the Twelve Pins: those smooth curvaceous hills that form God’s own fruitbowl.
 

I love the myriad of perfect lonely pristine beaches around Claddaghduff. I love the Inagh Valley, where the Maamturk Mountains and the Pins meet up, reflected by Lough Inagh.
 

I love to sit outside Neactain's or the Quays and see who comes up Quay Street, because sure as there’s food and drink in a pint of Guinness, somebody will.
 

I love PJ McDonagh's fish, chips and peas. A night out on the amble and tear would be
unthinkable without that wondrous ballast.
 

I love to watch the River Corrib as it crashes through Winters and meanders the rare dry
Summers; to marvel at how salmon do still leap, even in the centre of a major city.
 

I love the fact that we live at the end of the road.
 

Possibly more than anything, I love the way the West of Ireland has allowed me time. Yes, I know last week I was giving out about how exhausted I was, but as the locals here say. “Ye’ll have that!”
 

Compared to the many faster more demanding and debilitating places I have lived, I love having the time to stop; to stare at clouds and appreciate how good life is.



©Charlie Adley
16.10.14.

Monday 20 October 2014

IF YOU USE AN ALARM CLOCK TO WAKE UP, YOU NEED MORE SLEEP!



I’m so tired. So very tired.

In the middle of last week I started waking up around 4-ish in the morning. Middle age brings with it a man’s need to wander to loo in the middle of the night, but some time ago I perfected the art of drifting somnolently there and back and going straight back to sleep.

Yet for the last ten days I have been lying awake for hours, finally giving up on any hope of restorative sleep, kicking the duvet off me and going to put the kettle on for the Snapper, who takes Lady Dog out for her morning peeper.

Were it March, with the hours of daylight growing longer and earlier I might understand, as I’ve noticed how Alpha males start waking up really early around that time of year.

Stress is the other factor to consider. Nothing guarantees a bad night’s sleep like a brain spinning mental plates on imaginary rods. Thing is, back when this premature waking started, I was not stressed. Life was good and I was happy.

Now, however, I force myself through my days as if the air were treacle. Everything is such an effort and by 9:30pm I’m dozing in my armchair.
 

Captain Funtastic I am not. Stubborn, dogged, strong enough to keep going just a little beyond where I should have stopped, I usually enjoy great stamina. Yet take my kip from me and I’m as useless as Samson with a bald bonce.

To mix my Biblical and Homeric metaphors, sleep is my Achilles Heel.

Where there was no stress to justify my insomnia there now thrives plenty. A fuzzy head and turgid brain would not help anyone do their job, but as a writer/teacher/editor, mental alacrity is vital. The autumnal mist lying low on the fields outside has gone by midday, but fog now swirls all day around my brain, refusing to allow me clarity or focus.

All I want to do is crawl into bed, pretend I have no deadlines to fill, no classes to teach, no dog to take out, and sleep, but I won’t do that (see: ‘stubborn, dogged’) because I cannot allow myself to.

At first I blamed last week’s full moon, so glorious as it crept over the horizon, rising vast in glowing harvest gold. Then I remembered the wise words of my friend, the Artist Formerly Known As Snarly.

“The moon is innocent!” he declared, flashing a rare toothy smile in my direction.

Despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, I nodded in agreement, mainly because upon hearing his words, my mind filled with the chorus of the greatest song Tom Waits never wrote. As an aural hallucination, the great American singer-songwriter’s voice of gravel and treacle blasted through my mind:

“The MOOOOON is IIIn-oooo-ceeent! The MOOOOON is IIIn-oooo-ceeent!

In truth, I believe the moon affects us a great deal. It moves great oceans and dictates the habits of the animal kingdom, of which (lest we forget, in our hubristic delusions of grandeur) we are a part, so why shouldn’t it wake me up when it’s full? But that was last week. Now on the wane, the moon’s journey has not eased my wakefulness.

Before the days of electric light, people in these isles used to have two sleeps. They went to bed a couple of hours after dark, slept for a few hours and then, in the middle of the night, arose, had a warm drink, played a little with the dirt between their toes and stared at where the TV would have been, were it invented. Then, doubtless pissed off that they’d have to wait 400 years for the next episode of Homeland, they went back to bed and slept until dawn.

These days the vast majority of folk are woken up by the unnatural disaster that is the alarm clock. What a travesty! Sleep is such a blessed and precious commodity, allowing our bodies to repair and restore themselves, while images, memories and all kind of filthy salacious nonsense is shuttled back and forth between our conscious and subconscious minds.

I stopped using alarm clocks back in 1984, when I left the corporate world of marketing to try life as a writer. For years, when living on my own up in north Mayo and out in West Connemara, my sleep patterns simply followed my body’s needs and the demands of the seasons.

I went to bed when I was tired and did not rise until I felt refreshed. Such is my nature that quite often I’d be in bed for no more than 7 hours, wandering alone and blissed out along empty secluded beaches at dawn.

Oh, but in the cold months of winter, what joy I felt to lie there, head on the pillows, reading my book, as outside I saw the school bus head along the road to teenage hell. All those poor souls out there, commuting in the crammed subway systems of great cities or those sad lads, sitting on that school bus, heads down, wishing life was different.

How lucky I felt. Almost smug, but ever wary of how fragile the eggshells of our constructed lifestyles can be life, I felt gratitude more than anything. I gave thanks to the universe, for allowing me to have my sleep freed from the needs of others.

As I watch my bleary-eyed exhausted wife don her wellies to take out the dog, I wonder at this uncivilised world we have made for ourselves. Did it never occur to anyone else that if you have to be woken up by an alarm, ripped aforetime from your dreams, you haven’t had enough sleep? How many bad moods and, indeed, how many mad wars might we have avoided if alarm clocks had never been invented?

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we just let the world sleep until it woke up? All those rested people might give peace a chance.



©Charlie Adley
11.10.14.

Monday 13 October 2014

All manner of life lurks inside my clippings folder!


Yep, rip it out.

My hands twist and move with the skill of familiarity, as I tear the newspaper story out neatly.

Well, there’s a smudged Marmitey thumbprint on the top left corner but this is not a museum piece. It’s just another cutting heading for my clippings folder.

One of the security blankets of a columnist, having a mixture of tiny stories tucked away helps you sleep at night. Plundered from random newspapers, in the regions of pages 14-21, they offer either underreported horrors or perplexing and astonishing truths.

Off to the office, armed with Bernie Ni Fhlatharta’s piece from this noble rag last week about Galway’s inestimable writer Walter Macken, along with the article by Charlie Brooker in The Guardian’s G2 that I’ve just ripped out.
 

Brooker was splattering his particular own brand of disdain toward Apple software updates and U2.

“Then Apple comes along and slings them under your nose like a bowl of bum soup you didn’t order.”

Like so much in this ancient and wielding clippings folder, it’ll never be used.

Mind you, I just wrote about it, so hang on in there, you other little stories of old. There may be hope for you yet. These cuttings don’t tend to be used because with the wondrous human race, there’s no shortage of material. Yet it’s good to know all those embryos are in that file, desperate to be reborn in column inches.

Some of them are outdated, others unattributed, but each has for some reason caught my eye, raised an eyebrow -

- oh, okay, that was a mistake. Big mistake. I dared to look; to go into the folder and dig out some of those stories. That was hours ago. The day is nearly gone and my mind is spinning with madness, tragedy and hilarity.

Don’t know which paper or when, but a story by Miriam Elder reveals that Russia is going back to paper. Elder explains that the Federal Guard Service (FSO), a “...powerful body tasked with protecting Russia’s highest-ranking officials...” have decided that they can no longer trust either digital or electronic communications.

Ever since Dmitry Medvedev was ‘listened to’ while attending the G20 Summit in London, the Russians have been on their most paranoiac post-Soviet tippy-toes. Even though Edward Snowden and the Wikileaks affair did plenty to harm their enemies, the Russians’ eyes have been opened to the vulnerability of microchip culture.

Never backward in coming forward in matters of security and confidentiality (read ‘KGB intimidation’) the Russians are now distrustful of progress. The FSO, like Putin himself, now yearns for yesteryear, doubtless to a time when the Soviet Empire was a mighty beast.

Ah, those were the days.

“Sergei, order in 20 Triumph Adler typewriters. Enough of these blasted Capitalist computers! With these Triumph typewriters each key has a signature, every letter can be traced. We know these ways well.”

Yes, it’s easy to lose oneself in fancy Back to the Future fantasies, but the
typewriters have been ordered, and according to a source inside the FSO:

“...the practice of creating paper documents will expand.”
Equally weird and just as far from morally wonderful comes a story from the Daily Mirror’s David Anderson.

Have to admit a vested interest here. When I were t’lad I’d pay my £2.50 at the Stamford Bridge turnstiles and watch Chelsea play live and almost direct. The men in that team ate the same, drank the same and pretty much lived the same lives as me, save for the fact that they beat up 11 other men for 90 minutes in front of a crowd each week, and had the honour of wearing Chelsea Blue.

So it’s pretty hard for me to feel sorry for Mame Biram Diouf, who Anderson reports had to fly with his Senegal national team in “cattle class.”
 

Apparently he suffered a “gruelling journey” to Africa and his Stoke City manager, tough guy Mark ‘Sparky’ Hughes, was furious.

“He was in with the medical guys on Friday and we will make a decision on Mame in the morning.”

Alongside the fact that the last half of that sentence sounds like the opening line of a Broadway song, there is little scent of reality here. Sparky was a blood and guts player, yet now he’s whimpering because his man had to fly with other people.

I’m making the massive assumption that the Premiership footballer didn’t actually fly in a cattle truck with cows and pooh and straw. Yet somehow all those other people on that ‘gruelling’ journey walked off the plane, straight into the rest of their lives.

My god but today’s Premiership footballer is pampered. Just here on the same pile of torn sheets of newspaper is the Daily Mirror’s Simon Bird, reporting on Newcastle United’s £12 million signing, Remy Cabella.
 

He’s 24, an athlete and I’m fairly sure he’s earning a wad of green folding. Yet how does he describe his efforts?

“It has been a bit tiring to go out there and play so many minutes.”

Oy. Lordelpus.

Or rather, help me. I am drowning, sucked into the vortex of my cuttings: a piece on suicide prevention; the word omnishambles; Dubliner Tony Mangan, who ran 25,143 km across the world; why our TV heroes have become our TV anti-heroes, and does that make us decadent?

There’s too much. I have to put it away now.
But what’s that about ‘Global Swarming’? That sounds good!

Walk away from the folder, Charlie.

But here’s a piece on Mick Rock, the photographer who defined a musical generation.

And here’s the truth of the cost of the post-war Afghanistan rebuild, which will be on a par with the aftermath of World War Two.

Another snippet explains why being left-handed makes me a genius, and another delves into how supermarkets spy on us through our loyalty cards.

From mundane to mendacious, through military to Walter Macken, it’s all fascinating to me.

Walk away now Charlie.



©Charlie Adley
06.10.14.

Monday 6 October 2014

RADIO HAS BEEN A LIFELONG FRIEND!



Like a loyal ever-present friend, radio has always been there for me. Wherever I’ve lived or worked, radio was there. It makes no difference whether my life is fun and fluffy or going through a mental chicane of dark madness, I can rely on radio.

Sometimes radio is truly all you can rely on. Back in 1994, I’d been in Ireland two years and was living alone in a little house, half way between Slyne Head and Ballyconneely.

Like a prisoner escaped from Devil’s Island, I’d embraced the craic in Galway City with enthusiasm that was matched only by two things: my need to flee from the craic in Galway City, and my profound love of Connemara.

So I was in that house during the great winter storm of 1994, with the electricity gone for hours. The turf burning in the fireplace reflected golden light onto the windows that stretched into curves as it revealed how the hurricane-force winds were bending the glass inwards.

But I was far from anything else, so no low-flying shed door was going to be crashing into my little house.

I was fine.

In fact I was more than fine. A London boy out in the wilds of west Connemara, sitting in my armchair, sipping a whiskey, warm safe and dry.

Listening to the radio: a play on RTE Radio 1. No electricity, but batteries worked fine. Plenty of candles, loads of turf and several inches of Jameson left in the bottle.

It was great. Not the play itself, but having the radio there, the company of human voices offering not only a story to be involved in, but also something to turn a deaf ear to.

Radio offers comfort just by being on, even if you’re not listening. I need and love silence, but know from having lived alone for many years that too much silence is not healthy for slightly loony humans such as myself.

Radio presenters might be upset to know that a lot of us tune into your shows every day to completely ignore you. Sometimes you’re just left on to keep the dog company.

I can’t think of any period of my life in which radio wasn’t a part. As a scabby teenager, after long dusty days working in a warehouse, I raced home so that I could be lying in a steaming hot bath by 6.27 pm, drifting off happily, listening to ‘Just a Minute’ on BBC Radio 4’s comedy half hour.

Working in a garage in Melbourne, my days seem shorter as I made old cars look newer, because the radio was tuned into a dance music station. Back home after work I’d put on the radio and listen to Prime Ministers Question Time in the Australian Parliament.

Nothing reminds you you’re a hell of a long way from Westminster better than a brash Aussie MP bellowing:

“I respectfully request the Honourable Member to put a bloody cork in it!”

Radio has always played an essential role in my routines. Throughout the 1980s my strict Saturday morning ritual involved the cooking and eating of an enormous English breakfast, while listening to BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent.’

Absorbing, utterly fascinating radio. Simple short reports from the hundreds of BBC journalists scattered around the furthest outposts of the planet.

When I lived in California, I listened to the commercial-free world of National Public Radio, NPR, where Americans blend with Canadians and sanity prevails.

But my travelling days are over. I’m here to stay, for better or for worse. I wear a wedding ring on my finger, but there’s another on my soul, for the west of Ireland.

Naturally, upon first arriving here, I listened to the radio to get to know my adopted home. I found Gay Byrne painfully patronising on his morning show, so I used to listen to that nice young Pat Kenny fella, who back then seemed more sincere than this Gaybo, so beloved of the locals.

Each morning I’d learn a little more about Ireland, but my real education came in the afternoon, in the shape of Marian Finucane’s ‘Afternoon Call’.

Long before Jooooe Dufffeee, Marian answered the phone to what seemed, to this greenhorn back in the early 90s, like a succession of small-minded callers who knew precious little of life beyond the townland.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Where was the modern world?

An outraged mother was in tears on air, because her seven year-old son had been told to take a shower with the other boys after football. I’ll never forget how scared I was when she screamed down the phone line:

“I do not send my child to school so that he can have other children looking at his penis. His penis, Marian. His penis.”

‘Is this what they’re really like?’ I wondered, but it was my enormous ignorance of the Irish that was the problem. Yes, there are people in this country who still think like that, but fortunately there are so many more who are wonderful, wise and wickedly dark in the humour.

22 years later I still use the radio to entertain and inform. By tuning into Galway Bay FM and listening to Keith Finnegan’s ‘Galway Talks’ and Vinny Brown’s Arts Show I’m kept up to date with the breadth of life and wealth of talent we have here in the West.

Strangest of all changes, I now listen to Irish radio commentary of matches involving my beloved Chelsea FC. Football on the radio is a unique and evocative experience.

The commentator describes what the weather is like, the atmosphere in the stadium and which side is playing left to right. I lie back on the sofa, close my eyes, visualising the green pitch and the colours of the teams.

Then, if worthy practitioners of their art, the commentators will remove me from this physical plane to that splendid place where radio and our imaginations combine as sponge and fluid.

©Charlie Adley
28.09.14.

Monday 29 September 2014

We drove to Scotland in a Plastic Pig!

Martin and 'Kitten Kong' a.k.a. 'The Plastic Pig'

On May 1st 1707, ignoring strong opposition voiced by the Scottish people, Scottish politicians entered a union with England for pragmatic financial reasons. After 300 years of complaining about that union, the Scottish people have now voted for the same union, for pragmatic financial reasons.

The referendum was a thrilling race, which the SNP’s visionary leader Alex Salmond might have won, were it not for that ubiquitous political trope: “It’s the economy, stupid!”

The dreadfully named ‘Better Together’ team had to wheel out Gordon Brown to fill the charisma black hole left by Alisdair Darling and Ed Miliband, but who knew the old grouch would morph into such a passionate and exciting orator?
His years away from Tony Blair’s radiation fallout have served him well.

But it wasn’t Gordon who won the day. It is brutally ironic that after such a display of pure democracy, the true winners of this referendum are the Conservative Party, despite there being no collective more overtly detested by the Scottish people.

So deep is the Scottish loathing of the Conservatives that for many traditional Labour voters, independence became less important than the chance to rid themselves of the Tories forever. Feeling completely detached from Miliband’s Labour leadership they joined up with the SNP to recover some old-fashioned Socialist ideals.

Much as I admire the Scottish people’s compassion and sense of social justice, what I really love about them is this abhorrence of the political party once described by Aneurin Bevan as “Lower than vermin.”

So what a tragedy it is that now David Cameron can deliberately thrust Britain into a constitutional minefield, for which only he has the map. Suddenly he espouses English laws for English people, snatching words out of UKIP’s mouth, wrenching his recently-lost voters from the arms of Farage, while the Labour Party, which signed up to the vow for greater devolution, is now staring at its own corpse. Of the 58 MPs representing Scotland in Westminster today, 41 are Labour.

In a devolved union, Labour will lose all those seats from Westminster. It might never form a government again. So those Scots who feel they’ve lost independence can console themselves that they’ve very probably condemned the English to perpetual Conservative rule!

Great times for the Tories indeed, so let’s move away from them and celebrate Scotland instead.

It says something for Scotland that each of the three occasions I’ve visited the country were outright adventures. The fact that all three trips involved the copious consumption of alcohol says as much about me as it does about Scotland.

In August 1978, on the day my good friend the satirist Martin Rowson passed his driving test, he arrived at  my home.

“We’re driving to John O’Groats for Sunday lunch. Just backroads. I’ve asked Neil and he’s in. You coming?”
“When?”
“Now. This instant. Pack a bag pronto and we’re out of here!”
“Where we gonna sleep?”
“Who cares? In the car? In a tent? Who cares?”

Most of you are familiar with the Reliant Robin, the 3-wheeled homicidal monstrosity that Del Boy drives around on ‘Only Fools and Horses.’

Unbeknownst to many however is the Reliant Kitten, a 4-wheeled version of this abominable car. Just like it’s funky stablemate, ‘The Plastic Pig’ as we called it was a fibreglass impostor posing as a car.

So off we went, three fully-grown young men inside a space barely large enough for both a grannie and her thermos.

Two days later we crossed the border into Scotland, only to discover the petrol tank had a hole in it. Brilliant - you design a rust-proof car and then its only metal part rusts, leaking fuel onto Caledonian tarmac.

Petrol stations were few and far between in the Highlands, so in a bid to save fuel we only used the accelerator to climb hills, freewheeling downwards.

“Right! That’s it!” grumped Martin, impatient about yielding to others at passing places on the narrow roads. “I’m not giving way to any more rich bastards! The next one’ll pull over for us!”

Inevitably this game of Road Russian Roulette proved unlucky. Ten minutes later a van driver’s chin dropped as he watched myself and Martin effortlessly lifting ‘Plastic Pig’ out of a ditch.

Did these Sassenachs possess mighty strength?
No, just a fibreglass car!

That night, in a very friendly pub in Drumnadrochit I hit the whisky hard, it hit me hard and then a policeman was waking me up by shining a torch on the car window, into my bleary beetroot eyes.

“You alright in there?”
I explained that we were sleeping in the pub car park, so as not to drink and drive.
“We? Who’s we?”

The lads, both comatose in the back of the car earlier, had disappeared. The copper swung his torch around, illuminating a completely collapsed tent. Under the Turin shroud-like flysheet, two human forms were visible.

“Would that be the ‘we’, sir?”
“That would be them, er us, er we, yes, officer.”
“I’ll let you get back to sleep now, but don’t go driving until your breath smells a lot sweeter than that!”

Eventually we made Sunday lunch at the John O’Groats Hotel, where we celebrated with roast beef and fat cigars.

Three years later, during a miserable night on the ferry from Hook of Holland to Harwich, I met a beautiful lass from Dundee. She had eyes that sparkled like beacons of hope through that hot diesel-infested air and she drank me under the table, pint for pint.

A month later we enjoyed a bawdy night of beer and bacchanalia in Dundee, brief but blissful.

My last adventure in Scotland occurred just before leaving England. By way of farewell, my friends Malcolm and Liz took me off to stay at an Outer Hebridean lighthouse, off an island, off an island, off an island.

I fear this noble rag would not carry the debauched details of our lighthouse sojourn, several miles from the nearest humans.
It was extraordinary, as is Scotland.


©Charlie Adley
20.09.14.