Sunday 19 November 2017

I'm not drunk - it was the compost!

The inestimable Harriet Leander...

As I head into the city I wonder if tonight’s the right night for my Organic Galway Ramble No. 3,256. I call them Organic not because my nights out are righteous or wholesome in any New Age way, but solely because I have no plans; made no arrangements.

I’m going to let Galway lead me.
That’s the way this city likes it.

PJ McDonagh’s represents so much more than my traditional starting point: it’s an essential component of any Galway ramble. 

However weak or pathetic you feel as you enter, you’ll be raring to go after the light crispy batter, piping hot flaky fresh white fish and incredible chips.

Dammit, even the vinegar tastes special as I eat staring at Biddy Ward’s pocket and poem once again.

Now that's better. 
All of a sudden your scribbler has a thirst.

Over two Jamies enjoyed outside the Quays, conversation with a pair of local characters leaps seamlessly from the Atlas Mountains to the moons of Jupiter. 

From there it’s a happy road of reminiscence to Apollo 8, to Borman, Lovell and Anders, the first men to see the dark side of the moon, whose mission filled my 8 year-old mind with inspiration and wonder.

Don't tend to like tigh Neactain at night, but I open the door to take a look and am presented by a sea of backs, a wave of noise and body heat. 

No thanks. 
Not got the energy for that. 
Tonight I want a gentle ramble, not a social scrum down

Now I wander down to the docks, to stare at the millpond that is the Atlantic on this rare calm November evening. Each step I take sends a shooting pain down my left leg. 

Sciatica on the way methinks, as I am an idiot who has yet again proved correct Einstein's definition of stupidity: do the same thing and expect a different result. 

This time last year I put my back out sorting the garden compost, and today I did it again.

As I said: idiot.

Standing right at the end of the docks, I’m caught between the artificial and natural worlds. To my right, under blinding electric spotlights, a pair of tyrannosauric JCBs are loading vast heaps of gravel onto a ship.


On my left, down in the darkness afforded by the sea wall, a heron stands in the middle of the stream. I watch him watching the water, waiting for his dinner to rise out of the inky shallows. Giant dumper trucks shovelling stone and muck and wild animals trying to hunt.

Just another night in Galway City.

Looking over to Nimmos pier I recall standing right at the end of it, dressed in my finery like a latterday French Lieutenant’s Woman, experiencing the Millennium New Year’s Eve celebrations. 

Fresh back from failure in America, I needed to be apart from it all and a part of it too. I heard the cheers from Eyre Square, and saw fireworks showering the skies above County Clare across the bay.


Dock One Seafood Bar has been several pubs, but for years has been drifting towards becoming a restaurant. It was Padraig's for dodgy dawns after mad bad craziness in Taylor's bar and losing the will to live in Le Graal. Then it was Sheridan’s, with fine dining upstairs, and as I take a look at the current menu outside, I mumble 

“B’god, that's fancy!”

Whilst in this neck of the waterside it’s impossible not to give thanks to Harriet Leander. Her tenure at Nimmos helped drag Galway’s gastronomy out of the Dark Ages of tinned sweetcorn and white pan, into the modern world of classic cuisine: fresh food, locally sourced, served with simple brilliance.  

The ingredients of Harriet’s Nimmos were a bar, two restaurants, 78 great characters, 43 eccentrics and a sprinkling of weirdos. Pure Galway in its transience, the place shone brightly for a few years, became a way of life to me, and then it was gone.

Thankfully that was after I'd been served a glass of red by a brunette, who then joined me on the other side of the bar. I cooked her dinner and later, Reader, I married her.

Walking into Dock One I’m greeted by the barman’s warm handshake and powerful smile. Aha! So this is where himself of the Quays disappeared to. A second ago I was wondering why, in a city crammed with great pubs, I'm going to a restaurant for a drink. 

Now I'm glad to be here, but the cool November air has hit my manparts, so I head to the Gents.

Unfortunately my gammy leg is forcing me to walk with that studied concentration usually associated with very pissed people trying to look sober. 

Unable to move in a straight line, I zig-zaggy stumble past a table of three ladies eating dinner, appearing to go out of my way to bang my hip against a stray barstool.

They laugh and mutter about it being early to be “that bad!”

I resist the temptation to explain I’m not that drunk, it’s the compost you see, deciding that would sound so obscure it might just confirm their suspicions.

Secretly I wish I was that drunk, as that'd make me a really cheap date.

Time to head off west now, where I feel less of a visitor. Even after a quarter century I'm still thrilled by the sight and feel of the River Corrib rushing under Wolfe Tone bridge, vibrating the walkway as it hastens Connemara's rain into the Atlantic.

Thank you universe, for providing such a calm and benign evening for me to hop and limp around my dry windless city.

Monroe's and the Crane bar beckon…
©Charlie Adley

Sunday 12 November 2017


As I grow older my finger drifts further and further from the cultural pulse. As a teenager in London I needed to know what was hot and happening, and thanks to my much-missed mate Jon Lewin, I usually did.

Jon had a way of anticipating each big musical trend. In May 1976 he took me and my mate Martin to the Hope and Anchor, to see a band called The Jam. 

This was six months before the Sex Pistols released Anarchy in the UK, and we were hesitant as we’d heard mention of swastikas and goose steps connected to the nascent punk phenomenon.

Inside the pub there were only a few people milling around and we watched the three piece outfit deliver a tight set, but left unconvinced, wary of the Union Jack displayed behind the drum kit: it smacked of nationalism at a time and an age when we didn’t want to belong to anything, except each other.

A seminal moment in a young life, to be there, at punk’s beginning, and over the next few years I used to cut out the adverts in the NME for the Marquee Club on Wardour Street, because with them, from Monday to Thursday, you could get in for free. I saw The Clash; The Damned; The everybody starting with The.

Inbetween acts, two young lads called John Cooper Clarke and Lynton Kwesi Johnson walked on stage, armed with their biting poetry, recited to a backing track playing on a little Philips tape recorder.

We knew we had our fingers on the pulse, because those gigs were part of the pulse, and this we did, after school, as often as we could.

Tremendous gigs involving The Specials, Madness and The Selecter cemented my burgeoning love affair with reggae, so Jon Lewin took me to Dub Vendor Record Shack on Ladbroke Grove. 

On the way there he explained to me the new concept of dub, and how it was going to change music forever.

I had my doubts but should have known better.

During my late 20s I danced my ageing arse off to Madchester music, still went to Ramones gigs (unequivocally the best live act ever) but by the time I arrived in Galway in the early 1990s I was happily out of touch, which was just as well.

No disrespect to the local clubs and DJs. They played great tunes and we all danced like pure eedjits and had a right larf, but having been raised on the cutting edge of modern culture, the Atlantic edge of the Continental plate offered something … different.

Here at last I accepted that my finger had drifted far from the source, and ever since I have listened to what can only be described as ‘old’ music.

By way of replacement, I lived by the use of and attuned my ears to the language, taking a rather sad and pathetic joy in sharing with my colyoomistas what I anticipated would be the next trendy word in the local vernacular.

Way back in 2009 this colyoom sent out a warning flare, alerting you to the overuse of  ‘iconic.’ Sure enough, what was once a word that carried weight and power has been endlessly devoured and regurgitated by the 21st Century’s endless hunger for hyperbole. 

Now a spent force, ‘iconic’ is used to describe crisp flavours.

Three years ago Double Vision raised an alarm about certain experts’ overuse of the word ‘so’ at the opening of a sentence. 

Everybody does it now, as if it was as natural as taking a breath.

It is a rare sentence that needs to start with ‘so', so (!) I stand back, pretending to be all cool and down with the kids, accepting that like wow man, language is like an evolving life-force, like water flowing downstream man, ever-changing, all the while privately and silently, nerdily and slightly guiltily, removing the word ‘so’ from the sentence just spoken, telling myself that it works very well without it.

Then I smile and continue my day, aware with each passing week that I am less and less in touch with everything.

Even though I’d consider myself fairly well politically informed, I couldn’t tell you the difference between a Neocon and a Neoliberal. 

What’s more, middle aged and treading water midstream, I feel no inclination to find out.

I will recoil from anything that is not a stone which describes itself as ‘Bijou’. Same goes for ‘Boutique' as in

“Oh it’s an amazing hotel with an organic herb garden and a rooftop infinity pool. It’s boooteeeek!”

To me that means it’ll be a minuscule lavishly furnished massively overpriced room above a very noisy street in a city centre.

No thanks, and while you’re at it, you can keep your Artisan and your Gourmet, your Craft and your Legend.

Ah, legend. What a tragic shame. If it’s now acceptable to describe Olly Murs as a legend, what space have we left for real heroes to emerge?

These days the only finger on my pulse is checking for a heartbeat. 

Less cutting edge, more Grandpa Simpson, I sit in my armchair and cry out:

“What did he say?”

“Oh! Is she the one from you know, you know, that thing with the cake?”


“Sorry, I just drifted off. Can we rewind it a few minutes!”

Beside me the Snapper answers patiently, doubtless wondering what her future holds.

Thankfully she has never told me to chillax, because she understands that chill and relax are words that individually do their job admirably, while their combination adds zilch to their impact.

Utterly removed from the latest teenage trends in music and modern idiom, which these days evolve on Snapchat, Spotify and Instagram, I’ve no idea what’s going on.

Have to say, I really don’t mind.

©Charlie Adley

Sunday 5 November 2017


I’m pumped up with goodness and positive energy and yes, now is the time to make those phone calls.

You know the ones. They start with recorded messages before you even get to the press-button menus and holding tunes.

Don’t go there, Adley. 
Don’t spoil it now. 

I’ve checked that my happiness tank is full and my fortitude levels are way up my mental dipstick. It'd be stupid to wreck the mission by blowing a gasket now, leaking anger into my brainbox at the thought of what lies ahead.

Whatever it is you’re calling a company or institution about, it’s never the fault of the person on the other end of the line. They didn’t make the rules. They’re not responsible for your predicament.

You’re way more likely to get a result if you've a full tank of patience and a purring engine supplying a smile to your voice. Act a bit human. Call them by name. Get into all that empathy hoojamaflip.

Anyway the first call isn’t to a bank or internet service provider, so it won’t be too bad.

She says hello, University College Hospital, and I ask to be put through to Mental Health Services.

It rings. It rings and rings and I do not mind. I am ready, prepared, and I’d rather listen to a ring than an ear-shattering rendition of Total Eclipse Of The Heart played on a blade of grass.

This is fine.

It rings and rings, so I sit back, breathe out and relax, thinking of all the people rushing around that hospital, trying to make the best of scandalously ill-funded jobs.

Oh, I’m back to reception.

“Sorry about that, I’ll try another number for you now.”
I’m surprised and gratified that she even knew I was still hanging on.


It rings and rings. Rings and rings and rings and then I’m back to herself again, who apologises again and puts me into another number which, yes, rings.

Holding the phone a little away from my ear, I think of how busy Mental Health Services must be right now, with everyone upset about the Tracker Mortgage scandal.

More homes lost and lives ruined by banks, but really, what do you expect?

Until the guilty bankers and politicians of this republic are sent to serve proper time in real jails, they will continue to operate with impunity from inside the cartel they constructed decades ago.

If you don’t arrest and imprison people when they steal money, they will do it again.

My own mental health is more challenged by the way the Irish focus their ire upon the banks - companies that openly exist to serve their own purposes - rather than the €13 billion of tax revenue refused from Apple. At present the Irish government are pursuing an expensive legal case against the EU: fighting not to take it.

Every time I think about the immorality of this stance, bile rises from my gut, tasting dark and visceral on my tongue

It utterly enrages me, yet nobody protests.

We should be taking patients on trolleys out of A&E and wheeling them into Dáil Éireann, demanding our billions. We should be taking homeless people to the doorsteps of rich cabinet ministers’ homes, demanding they give up their bedrooms until we are given our billions.

How can you not be outraged by this? You were upset for a short while, but now you shout at the banks, and -

“Hello? Can I help you?”

Through at last, but now I’ve been diverted to the outskirts of the system, and although she’s thoroughly helpful, she’s unable to find out what I need to know.

Ah well. We’ll leave that then.  
Time to move on to the ESB.

Here comes the first pre-recorded preamble of the morning and by god it goes on. Yes many are still tragically without power after Ophelia, but having told me straightaway the number to ring about outages and fallen cables, the recorded voice then goes on and on, listing websites to visit to find updates, while I’m wondering how the hell you find websites if your power is down and -

Ah! Here comes the pushbutton number menu, 
beep yeh, 
beep yeh, come on, 
beep and hooray! 

I’m through almost instantly to a woman who explains she’s sorry, but she can’t help me. Then I crank up my sob story a level or two and she reacts with intelligence and compassion, suddenly having an idea, trying it out and yes, there you go Mr. Adley, that is now done!

“Thank you so much! You have been great! Goodbye, and thanks again!”

Well this is going positively all lardeedaaar lovely. The universe is working my way today, so maybe now’s the time to make the Eir call.

Cue ‘Dum Dum Dum’ noises, thunder rolls and voiceover from a man with glass shards in his throat:

It’s time … to make … the Eir call!

Except it isn’t. Three times I go through the whole cycle of pre-recorded preamble and press-button bollocks, and three times I sit listening to the same tune, because each time I speak to an Eir person, they say they’ll put me through to Loyalty.

At first this news makes my heart leap with hope, but each of the three times they put me through I sit, increasingly angry, listening to the same pop song over and over again, until someone picks up their phone and puts it down again.

That was Eir’s Loyalty department.
Three times they hung up on me.

Given that Eir had gone to the trouble of actually naming a department after the concept, I so wanted to believe that Loyalty meant something to them.

Tank now empty.
I know my limits. 

Make a mug of Builder’s tea.
Eir are just too strong for me. 

Sunday 29 October 2017


Thanks to the wonderful Allan Cavanagh - good luck with the Cartoon Festival! Go to:

Soon after I first dated the Snapper, I was cringing in my car as she carefully, systematically and very crinkly-crunkly-noisily folded up her crisp packet, tucking in the final corner so that the empty plastic bag held its own triangulated shape.

Aware that I’d found it irritating, she turned to me and asserted calmly:

“It’s my thing. It’s what I do so get used to it.”

Since then I’ve grown immune to her triangulating compulsion, amazed only at the way size presents no object. Be it the tiniest sweet wrapper or a huge plastic Dunnes carrier bag, everything gets triangulated.

It’s what she does.
It’s who she is.

We all have our very own ‘things’. They are the foibles that define us, the quirks that can sometimes drive the uninitiated around the bend. They are the twitches and habits that you either fall in love with or move way from.

Essential to individuality, our eccentricities matter beyond apparently deeper differences. They are the driving force of our uniqueness.

Doubtless shocking to any who knows me, I confess to having one or two minor ones myself.

You don’t look at three quarters of a painting, nor just the top of a sculpture, so when watching a film I want to see the whole piece, intact, from beginning to end. No talking, no interruptions of any kind. 

Admittedly, if it’s Vampire Zombies v Predator III, such rules might not apply, but out of respect to the masses who’ve worked on the movie, I’ll give it my full attention.

Last week I was watching ‘The Place Beyond The Pines.’  I was completely absorbed by fine storytelling, yet seemingly without conscious thought, my left hand picked up my smartphone.

Is this who I am now?
If so, who the hell is that?

Alone in my living room on a wet Saturday afternoon, the fire is blazing and Chelsea are live on the TV. I’m as happy as I might ever be. 

If I made a 30 mile round trip to the city I could watch the game with friends, but although the camaraderie is fun, there’s also the chance that someone might sit next to me and blah blah blah in my ear all through the game, which drives me bananas.

So I convince myself the price of Sky Sports is cheaper than petrol and beer, so that I can sit in peace, able to focus on every aspect of the match.

Except - oh bloody hell! - I missed a Chelsea goal because I was reading about someone’s night out on Facebook.

After working days here in front of my computer, I eschew YouTube links people tell me to to watch, plumping instead for the mental stimulation of TV’s BBC 4, except Lucy Worsley has barely begun her explanation of the Reformation before I’ve picked up my smartphone to check Twitter and Facebook.

I don’t know who I am any more, while after years of resisting a smartphone, the Snapper now sits beside me, chucking gently to memes of doggy ears and messages from faraway friends.

Although we make sure to watch certain series together, and on occasion even talk to each other, we are now part of a vast tribe lost to their phones.

I used to sit outside Tigh Neachtain and look to the rooftops, enjoying the contrast between the grey slate, blue sky and green moss.

Now I’m head down double-chinned, trying to filter sunlight from my screen.

In the past I was contemptuous of those unable to appreciate being here and now, driven to record their time in Connemara through the filter of their phones.

Now I grab my phone on a walk, to photograph a spider’s web glistening in the early morning light.

Seeing it used to be enough.

Now I need to show it to the world.

Web designers and engineers Justin Rosenstein and Tristan Harris explained to Paul Lewis of The Guardian that they left their jobs at Google and Facebook to co-found an advocacy group called ‘Time Well Spent’, which implores tech companies to design less addictive software.

One of the team that created the all-powerful ‘Like’ button, Rosenstein noticed a few years ago that his ability to concentrate on the very things he wanted to focus on was being inhibited by technology.

“It was that kind of individual, existential realisation: what’s going on? Isn’t technology supposed to be doing the complete opposite of this? Everyone is distracted all of the time.”

Loren Brichter helped to design the swipe down/refresh software that pulls in punters on many social media. However she is not proud of her success.

“I have two kids and I regret every minute that I’m not paying attention because my smartphone has sucked me in.”

Our brains are being adapted by technology. 

Each time you’re attracted to that red dot on Facebook’s icon, or just want to get rid of it, you’re responding to a reward-based behaviour that activates the brain’s dopamine pathways, the neurological routes designed to offer comfort, heat and all life’s good stuff, which also create gambling and drug addictions.

Now that 87% percent of people wake up and go to sleep with their smartphones, and people tap or swipe their smartphones on average 2,617 times a day (ouch!) it’s more important than ever to hang on to your differences.

Concentrate on being your fantastically wonderful self: alphabetical spice racks; picking your teeth with your toenails; hiding a hazelnut under a pillow; triangulated crisp packets and all.

Otherwise, in exchange for slavery to software, you’ll lose everything that makes you an individual.

©Charlie Adley

Sunday 22 October 2017



By god it feels good to be working on something. Not just anything but something that requires creativity; something that I can describe as ‘my work.’

Nothing gives a writer more sense of identity, more self-confidence and self-doubt, more elation and dread than writing freely.

You have to make a living in this world and while I truly appreciate being able to earn money doing what I love, I also yearn to write unleashed.

Over the last few years I’ve started many stories. Enlarging scribbled almost indecipherable notes into sketches, I then tried filling out those sketches into substantial pieces of work, but each time I failed.

They didn’t grab me at all.

A writer never wants to throw anything away. Even when that note or half-written story feels empty of purpose, void of strength or simply offers no reason to exist, you keep it.

On my desktop there’s a folder called In Progress and inside that there’s another folder called Where Does This All Go?

Inside there I dump the detritus of years of failed attempts at whatever it was I was trying to do. Not once did I get down on myself. 

Instead I walked away from each piece knowing that I’d given it my best at that time, and might use some part of it in the future, or maybe not: either way, there had been no harm in its creation.

At least I tried.
At least I had a go.

I’d kicked my imagination up its backside and made sure it was still alive.

Then in March I was over in Tel Aviv for my lovely niece’s wedding, so I was able to spend some time with my friend and teacher, the Israeli writer Iris Leal. Although she’ll always be my teacher, these days we meet on level ground.

Nobody has had such an influence on my writing. Back in 1986 I was living in a manky old flat, two floors above the shops on London’s Golders Green Road. Two years previously I’d quit a lucrative marketing job to travel around the world, all the way scribbling frantically the first draft of a first novel into a red hardback copybook.

Returning to London homeless, I sofa surfed for 6 months, until lifetime friendships were sorely tested. Eventually I found that flat in NW11, and there I sat, wrapped up entirely in the image of being a writer.

When Iris wandered unannounced and uninvited into my living room, she found me sitting at a desk, banging away at a typewriter, with the requisite number of screwed-up pieces of paper strategically strewn around the floor, an ashtray overflowing with still-smoking fags and a bottle of whisky (no ‘e’ as it was Scotch in those days) within a hand’s reach.

Artless, craftless and wonderfully ignorant, I was chucking the story out of me, so when Iris looked at my work she could feel my raw passion, and thankfully believed I had sufficient talent to adopt me, to take me on as her unofficial pupil and try to drum some craft into me.

Over two excruciatingly painful years she taught me ten years of craft...

Over the course of two excruciatingly painful years she taught me ten years of craft. Back then, more than ever since, we occupied polar opposites of literary ambition. 

Iris would take all day to write three sentences, with, as she rather melodramatically put it: “The ghosts of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Thomas Mann at my shoulder as I write!” while I was knocking out 2,000 words a day, concerned only that anyone able to read might appreciate my work.

Happily now we both understand that we are different writers, on completely disparate missions. She wants the recognition of her literary peers, grand prizes and eternal glory, while I am wary, fearful of fame and the ensuing loss of privacy, happy to improve, hopefully one day coming up with worthy work that is uniquely my own.

Chatting over coffee in Tel Aviv, Iris asked me to describe in precise detail every minute of my working day.

“You are being lazy, Charlie. Do not be blasé about your life, Charlie!” she admonished me. “I want a short story in six weeks.” 
“You are being lazy, Charlie. Do not be blasé about your life!"

Sometimes that’s all you need: someone you respect who takes your writing seriously. Two weeks later a story fell out of me in a second person voice and it felt right.

Second person is not a voice I’d ever recommend to any writer, and certainly not a voice that you force out - you never want to force any of your writing - but for that story the voice felt absolutely perfect.

Buzzed up and inspired, I tried the same voice on those old sketches and unfinished stories languishing in the Where Does This All Go? folder. Thankfully once again it fell out of me.

It had to, if it was going to work.

As before, the second person proved perfect, somehow distancing my narrative and unleashing the stories’ potential.

Iris told me aeons ago that a writer is like a pressure cooker; that each time you talk about your work it loses some steam, some pent-up power.

So why am I writing about this work in progress in this very public newspaper?

 Image result for charlie adley writing cartoon

Well, starting a book is a terrifying process. After so many fallen flares of optimism, I wait until a body of work starts to build, gradually trusting that the process is this time truly up and running; that a book is being written.

Here I am, breaking Iris’ rule, forcing this book to be real by sharing its existence with you.

Feels so good to be writing unchained once more. If it proves good enough, you might see it one day.

Wish me luck.

©Charlie Adley