Monday 15 September 2014

SO EVERYONE IS SAYING ‘SO’ ONLY SO THEY SOUND CLEVER!


So a while back one of the contestants on Frank Skinner’s ‘Room 101’ chose the word ‘so’ as her pet hate. She didn’t mean the word ‘so’ in every use and context, only the way that people had started to use it at the beginning of a sentence, in response to a question.

By adding ‘so’ in this fashion she reckoned they sounded incredibly patronising.

Unfortunately I can’t for the life of me remember who that contestant was but being a boring old scribbler from way back who’s just a trifle on the sad side of obsessive about words, I recall perking up like cats ears after a clatter in the kitchen when alerted to the word’s new usage.

So ever since then all I can hear is people answering questions with sentences starting with ‘so’. It’s driving me crazy. At first I tried to put it down to being simply that phenomenon when you think of something and then can’t stop spotting it.

Trouble is, I know it’s not that. This new ‘so’ is almost pandemic. Everybody on the radio and TV who believes they possess a tiny piece of knowledge that the audience might not understand, thinks that if they start their answer with ‘so’, it will for some bizarre reason make their answer clearer while preserving their image as some kind of superior being with esoteric knowledge that they are deigning to share with us.

“So it’s an airborne virus, which means it’s carried on the air.”
“So the cow eats the grass and then we milk the cow and make the cheese from the milk.”

So yes, dear Colyoomistas, it’s getting to me. It’s not the word ‘so’ that irks me but more the way it’s now being used. We all know language is an amorphous entity, with culture and technology providing new words, but it’s people like us who choose which ones we want to use or leave behind.

I love the process, as it keeps us scribblers on our toes, while offering a zeitgeist insight into the minds, styles and preferences of our society.

So the next time you hear somebody giving an explanation starting with ‘so’, remove the word in your mind and see if their sentence suffers in the slightest.

I don’t think so.

Quite possibly you’ve already decided that Adley has lost his noodle once more and you may well be right, but pay some heed. I have good form in the wordy way of things. I’m proud to say this colyoom raised a very early red flag on the word ‘iconic’:

Double Vision - March 2009:
“It’s official. The word ‘iconic’ has just become iconic. It’s an iconic word. Pure iconic.
Our 21st century culture craves ultimates as if there is no tomorrow. Hyperbole and exaggeration now reign where adjectives and a varied vocabulary used to do a fair job. It’s no longer sufficient for anything to be unique, special, vital or extraordinary.
If it’s not iconic it’s not worth a busted light bulb.”


Since that old colyoom the word ‘iconic’ has become so ubiquitous and has lost so much power it will never again carry the same gravitas, but hey, words come and go.

People these days are using the word ‘marvellous’ half as much as 20 years ago. Other words currently on the way out are ’Fortnight’, ‘Fetch’, ‘Catalogue’, ‘Drawers’ and ‘Marmalade.’

Drawers?  So what do modern people keep their socks in?
Marmalade on the way out? Not in my house!

Still, it’s not a huge surprise to discover that usage of the words ‘Facebook’ ‘Internet’ and ‘Website’ are all increasing, alongside ‘Essentially’, and everyone’s favourite, ‘Awesome’.

So once you’ve got rid of iconic and all the other poetic expressions of grandeur, ‘Awesome’ is what you’re left with.

Dread to think what the folk of the Old Testament, whose God was ‘Awful’ (as in ‘inspiring awe’) would have to say about a teenager describing their iced Mochafrappachino as ‘Awesome'. While the word once carried an almost supernatural power and beauty, now we yawn as we hear it.

Sometimes words are the James T Kirks of vocabulary, boldly going where they have never been before, exploring strange new contexts, seeking out new meaning and anti-meaning.

Not so long ago, it was sufficient to describe things that you didn’t have to pay for as ‘free’. As children we gleefully collected Free Stickers and Free Football Cards from petrol stations. ‘Buy One Get One Free’ was just the way it was back in those whacky carefree distant days of last week. So you either paid for things or they were free; nothing more nor  less was needed by way of definition.

So somebody somewhere decided that the word ‘Free‘ no longer cut the mustard, so now nothing will ever merely be ‘Free’ again. Why ‘Free’ isn’t adequate as a word to describe the concept of ‘Free’, I’ll never fully understand, but now things either cost something or they are ‘For Free.’

As wordy conversions go, this particular change hasn’t been a slow affair. Back in the 1970s, when there was neither satellite TV nor You Tube, American expressions like ‘No Way’ took years to be absorbed into European society, trickling across the Atlantic to London, thence to Galway and all parts occidental.

These days words travel much faster. ‘For Free’ happened completely overnight. There’s not a marketing department in Ireland offering anything ‘free’ anymore.

So it’s ‘For Free’ or you pay for it.
So that’s the way it is.

While I’m on a roll and have the chance for a pun, I have to ask Griffins, who still bake by far the best bread around, why they felt the marketing need to become ‘Artisan’? Everyone’s Artisan these days. Call yourselves Master Bakers or Craft Bakers. ‘Artisan’ just makes me think of ‘Artisanal’, and that puts me off my sandwich.

Oh for goodness sake Charlie, just chillax!
Chillax? Oh, don’t get me started.


©Charlie Adley
31.08.14.

Sunday 7 September 2014

THERE’S NEVER ANYTHING CASUAL ABOUT RACISM!



Many people try to camouflage their racism by prefixing it with the word ‘casual’, but some words just do not belong together. ‘Casual racism’ is as mismatched a combination as ‘accidental starvation’ or ‘inadvertent massacre.’

Trouble is, we’re all casual about racism, in different ways. There are so many strains of racism manifesting themselves at the moment, it seems natural, almost human, to want to gauge it; measure it; describe this kind of racism as different to that one. Yet there is no such thing as racism-lite.

I’d been planning to write a piece about refugees seeking asylum in Ireland. A group who arrived in 2000 were assigned to a privately-run Direct Provision centre in Salthill. They arrived here looking for freedom, safety, dignity and a chance to build a life, the same basic human rights that the Irish have sought and gained all over the world.

Upon arrival they were told that their applications would be processed in 6 months, so I very much doubt they thought they’d still be there 14 years later, having raised nearly an entire generation on €19 a week per adult. Families are forced to eat food that appears to them unhealthy and foreign, while being denied the basic human right to cook for their children.

Then something wonderful happened. Instead of having to wag my scribbling finger in an unattractive way, the plight of refugees in Ireland became news. Having woken up to the injustice being perpetrated, the Irish are marching on the streets to protest.

For too long I feared I’d have to watch a Prime Time Special at some indeterminate time in the future, wherein the shameful plight of these people would be revealed, offering Ireland another opportunity to self-flagellate on a national scale, muttering about how this could have been possible, this awful terrible tragic way of running things.

No offence, but ye lads are great at that. Yet it didn’t happen because people like me and former Supreme Court Judge Catherine McGuinness, who predicted that a future government would end up apologising for the damage done by the current system, were wrong.

Ireland’s on the case, but it took a while. Our ‘casual’ racism of turning our collective heads for years, allowing such a regime to survive, is no longer acceptable to the Irish. We all agree that private companies running holding pens for humans is not the way to go. 

Yahoo! The times they are a-chaaang-in’ and all that.
But oops - what’s this?
Oh no.

My chin drops through the floor, closely followed by my morale. Last week Declan Tierney wrote in this noble rag about Councillor Michael Fahy’s wish that when they finally build the Gort to Tuam motorway, the 500 construction jobs won’t go to ‘foreigners’.

Oh. Oh my god. So sad.
You might think it was enough for him to blast the basic tenets of the EU to smithereens, while leaving all vestige of civilised human decency dead on the floor, but Fahy wasn’t done until he used every 1970s racist cliché in the book.
He had nothing against people from northern Europe.
“The point I am making is that they should go home and try and get jobs in their own countries."
Just when I thought it could get no worse, Tierney reported that the Councillor’s arguments weren’t even based around economics. 
“It is 26 years since we won an All-Ireland hurling title and the main reason is that some of our best hurlers and workers are living abroad!” said Cllr. Michael Fahy.
“Hurling!” I shriek out loud with disbelief.
“I told you Charlie, return of the Gaels...” whispers my friend Whispering Blue in response from his armchair across the room.
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties decline to make any comment. This colyoom is however willing to speak out against such vile bilge, because I know that somewhere there’s a bloke standing up for casual racism.
“Ah sure, what would this English bollox know? Yer man, he was only talkin’ about da hurling.”
How can we pretend to be getting to grips with the ills of society when it is still acceptable for our elected representatives to sound like the redneck forces of Ferguson, Missouri?
There always has been something casually racist about US society. Although poverty itself creates ghettos of ethnic minorities, nowhere else have I seen anything like the urban social housing complexes known in America as the Projects. Almost entirely black, they are ersatz open prisons for those that US society expects to become criminals. African Americans make up nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million people in jail in the USA, six times the rate of white prisoners.
Just another statistic that we’ve all become used to; become causal about.
Casual racism thrives in England, where ex-Premier League manager Malky Mackay was about to sign a contract with Crystal Palace when the club suddenly rejected the deal. Mackay been sending racist texts. Hardly surprising, given the casually accepted status quo in the English Football League, where nearly a quarter of all its players are black, yet 98% of the managers are white.
Nothing about racism is ever casual. The only casual thing is our attitude to the plight of others. We need to be asking now why it takes so many years to process the applications of those seeking asylum here.

As a people who have suffered so greatly over the centuries I am saddened and shocked that the Irish have up to now appeared so casual about withholding basic human rights from others.

Your politicians plead with US Congress to allow an amnesty to long-term Irish illegals living and working in America, yet here in Ireland refugee families share a room for 14 years, cannot send their children to 3rd Level Education and cannot cook their own rice.

Time to stop being so causal about human rights. Time to start seeking justice for those on these shores.



©Charlie Adley
07.09.14.

Monday 1 September 2014

IF YOU WANT TO UPSET ME, JUST UPSET MY 85 YEAR-OLD MUM!

You mess with her, you mess with me...
 
Readers of a mean-spirited bent might be delighted to know that after my recent rather smug piece about the Magic Button that converted my customer service debacle into a minor victory, everything went very wrong.
 

How sad is it that our expectations are now so low, that a customer finally receiving goods that he’s bought might be described as a ‘minor victory’?
 

If contemplating that makes me feel blue, it doesn’t compare to the way I felt last week, when I was hit with a double-whammy of consumer crises.
 

After more emails and letters than I care to contemplate, the rowing machine failed to arrive as guaranteed last Friday. I didn’t even want it delivered, but thanks to anomalies on the Argos website, I had no choice.
 

The following Monday night I was in London visiting my mother, when I received an email from 
Argos saying that the rowing machine hadn’t arrived in Ireland, but would be dropped in the garage in the village on Wednesday.
 

I replied saying that Wednesday was no good. I was away, the garage wouldn’t hold it for long and the Snapper was unable to pick it up, both time-wise and physically. Could they make it next week?
 

At 08:30 the next morning my mobile rang, showing an Irish number.
 

“Hello Charlie. I’m in Galway with a box for you from Argos. Where will I find you?”
“In London! You were supposed to be delivering last Friday, and as of last night you’re not meant to deliver until tomorrow! It’s confusing. Can you make it next week?”
 

He then dropped the box at the garage in the village, precipitating a shower of costly international mobile phone calls from me to the Snapper, the garage, Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama.
 

By the time I arrived at Mum’s house around 9:00 I was fuming. Never mind all that guff about being ‘a valued customer’. It felt like I was now working for Argos. Clearly they hadn’t a clue what was going on, so I was making the best of a bad job.
 

However, as soon as I opened Mum’s front door, my rage went in an entirely different direction. She was very upset. A man at British Telecom had just been rude to her on the phone.
 

In a nano second all thoughts of my comparatively petty troubles dissolved in a wash of sympathy and a flood of protective ire.
 

Who was he? What was his number and just let me at him! How dare he? Oooh and Grrrr and honest Mum, it’ll be alright.
 

“Well you can call him if you want, but I don’t think he’ll listen. He was thoroughly objectionable and actually, now that I think of it, he sounded drunk.”
 

While completely understandable, my mother’s lack of optimism was entirely out of character. When my lovely Dad was alive he used to find her relentless positivity slightly wearing, often calling her ‘Pollyanna’ when she tried to smooth over too many problems with platitudes, but my mother’s struggles with BT have gone on for over three years, finally exhausting her faith and patience.
 

Once or twice every year Mum’s landline stops working, at which point various engineers turn up, fail to find anything and go away again. You might think that an 85 year-old woman losing the use of her landline would constitute a priority, but sadly, in today’s society, the Corporate Entity is king, with we customers mere fodder, to be crushed and pumped into the Profit Machine.
 

For the last few weeks she’s been stressed and distressed as her phone has gone again. A few days before my arrival a BT team dug two large holes in the road outside Mum’s neighbours’ houses, leaving a sign saying the job would be completed in 3 days. 

I’d already called the number on the sign, only to be rebuffed by a woman refusing to accept any responsibility whatsoever. They were not BT, she insisted. They were the engineering wing of BT and anyway, work done on Saturday was not counted as ‘a day’ so could I call back next year, when she might give a damn.
 

All my Mum wanted was to know what was going on. She was terrified of going out in case she missed the BT engineers when they came. I took the phone number of this BT man who had been rude to her and then I breathed deeply, trying to remember that I was back in London, where aggression is inevitably met with more aggression.
 

Be calm.
Be nice.
Just get a result for Mum and all will be cushty.
 

A bloke answered the phone, unintelligibly garbling something. 
“Is that Ray?” I asked.
“That’s what I said!” the voice snarled back.
 

Grrrr and more Grrrr, yet I controlled myself. My pragmatist ruled the roost. 20 minutes later he was calling me ‘Charlie mate’, but sadly I suspect only because I have testicles and unlike my Mum, don’t sound like the Queen on the phone.
 

Later, I was explaining to one of the engineers working outside that this was about an 85 year-old woman who felt like a prisoner in her own home.
 

He nodded and tutted sympathetically, until my mother appeared on her front porch, as ever beautifully turned out and immaculately dressed. She then proceeded to glide down the steps and came to talk with us.
 

After meeting this graceful grandmother with mental faculties that fly in the face of age, the engineer turned to me with a big smile.
 

“Doing pretty well, isn’t she, for a prisoner, know what I mean?”
“Just as well,” I replied, “considering the way she’s treated; considering the way we’re all treated these days.”
 

...and so this was intended to end, but incredibly, minutes after writing the above, I receive a phone call from a courier company.
 

"Is that Charlie? We've a rowing machine from Argos that we want to deliver."
 

You have a what no no you're kidding me. 
Another one?!!?
 


©Charlie Adley
24.08.14.



Sunday 24 August 2014

AUTUMN EVENINGS OFFER THE CHANCE TO LEARN NEW SKILLS!

Rose Bay Willow Herb   


Sometimes I worry that my behaviour might be straying from slightly odd to fully eccentric. On my walks with Lady Dog this Summer I have been assaulted by clouds of flies, seven or eight of the buzzy blighters constantly bombing my face, ears and eyes. 

Occasionally a superstar of the bluebottle world scores a direct hit by taking advantage of my open-mouthed breathing to fly directly down my windpipe, only then to be gagged upon, wrapped in mucus and expelled back into the outside world, doubtless much debilitated and less able to fly, which must be tough for a fly.
 

In a bid to deal with these pests I took to waving a white handkerchief around my head, in flick-flack fashion, rather like a Tongan Princess I once knew, who had a mean way with her fly swatter.
 

As a visual definition of ‘eccentric’ the sight of this bear of a scribbler flitting and flapping at the air gaily with a cotton hankie would suffice, but sadly there’s more. Regular Colyoomistas might recall that my rowing machine has been broken, so in an effort to rebuild my floppy bits and work on my breathing, I slipped into the habit of slipping out of my t-shirt on those hot Summer mornings. My logic was of the very intimate and personal kind that only really makes sense to oneself, but it had something to do with a combination of visualisation, macho nonsense and a desire to feel like a wild mammal.
 

So now’s the perfect time to apologise to my smiling gentleman neighbour whose early morning walks coincided with those of this glorious Adley, nipples alfresco, hankie and flies combining as one.
 

“Nothing I haven’t seen before!” was his generous response to my embarrassed apology the first time we encountered each other, his low warm Ulster rumble causing the dogs tail to wag happily.
 

We both talked of the flies: so many more than any year before. Flies in their thousands, signs of a fecund growing season. Loads of sunshine, high temperatures and sudden heavy downpours bringing lush plant life, providing a feast for young livestock. Where there’s animal pooh there are flies and where there are flies, there are birds. For the last month our house has been surrounded by three clutches of swallow fledglings, providing a Hitchcockian perimeter fence of 400-500 birds at any given time.


Celandine - the first flower of the year around here...

Ireland's wildflower journey from yellow to purple is now complete. From the earliest bursting yellows of celandine in late January, through the daffodils, gorse and buttercups, gradually the West becomes a bluer place. Purple loosestrife strives to stand tall but is overshadowed by the splendid rose bay willow herb, towering above precious clumps of wild purple orchids and delicate pale blue harebells.
 



Purple Loosestrife 



White has come and gone in ethereal fields of bog cotton, but still prevails in the shape of dreamy clumps of meadowsweet and cow parsley, its white saucers of lace doily hanging in the air beside the encroaching mauve marsh thistles and eye-catching Emperor purple of spear thistles.
 

Of course there is still some yellow. The dreaded ragwort remains as prevalent as ever, yet just as the sun sets in an indigo blood glow, so too our West of Ireland Summer heads to death in flowers of a purple hue, while we long for its rebirth in the explosive yellow petals of Spring.
 



 Noxious Ragwort - kills livestock if eaten after cutting

The time has come to admit Summer is gone. Looking over to my ragged, damp and windblown flower bed, I accept now that the plants look tired. There will be no more long Summer evenings spent idly dead-heading.
 

I was going to do just one more round of plucking the poppy seed pods, the mad bulbous Nigella spheres and the dusty cornflowers capsules, to encourage more flowering, to keep the colour alive: but no, the time has come to let everything go to seed; to save those seeds in envelopes for next year; to accept that the darkness is coming.
 

I do not dread it. There are some aspects of Winter that I love. There will be cosy evenings in the cave, our bodies fueled by stews and hotpots, our souls nurtured by the fabulous security humans enjoy when safe inside, beside a fire, while the world rages wind and wild sideways wetness outside.
 

We are nought but hairy mammals, so we change with the seasons too, but I’ve often marvelled how crazy we are to fight against our own nature, by trying to light up the darkness. We’ve converted a season in which we should be sleeping, waking only to eat high fat foods, fart and return to snoring, into the busiest, most stressful time of the year. 



The coming long dark evenings offer us the opportunity to learn new skills or improve those we already enjoy, so I’d be plain silly not to mention that I’m running another of my Craft of Writing Courses at the Galway Arts Centre, from October 1st.
 

I love teaching this course. We all write together in confidence-boosting lessons, enjoying ourselves while learning the serious skills of the writing craft. With over a million words published I’ll also offer advice on how to sell your work.
 

I only allow 10 around the table, so as to give all my students the maximum attention, so if you would like to improve your writing skills for business, pleasure or creative reasons, please book your place now.
 

In the meantime, slow down, smell the damp leaves and pluck a blackberry from a bramble bush - it will taste beautiful; it will taste of of Autumn.

Charlie Adley’s Craft of Writing Course.
7:30 - 9:0pm, from Wednesday 1st October for 8 weeks.
€110/100 concessions. Numbers strictly limited.
Contact The Galway Arts Centre:
Email: info@galwayartscentre.ie
Phone: 091-565886

Sunday 17 August 2014

PLEASE STOP SHOWING US WHAT WE’RE ABOUT TO WATCH!


 Given the pace of technological advance, there will come a time in each of our lives when we’ll feel left behind. For me that moment came a while back, when Netflix announced they were releasing the American adaptation of House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey.
 

A big fan of the original BBC series and its dark yet brilliant anti-hero played by Ian Richardson, I’m sure I’ll love the series when I see it.
 

Were it not for the hamster on my roof that runs to provide my internet connection, I’d already have watched it. Suddenly I felt a little left out and I didn’t like it.
 

That perception of being excluded bought back memories of the days when there were only three TV channels in England; when you dared not miss the big show that everyone else would be watching. 

There was no taping, no rewind or pause. You had to be in front of the TV to see it, so if your parents didn’t happen to like M*A*S*H, you’d be fighting with your brother for control of the tiny and ancient black and white portable upstairs.
 

It was vital you watched what everyone else in your social sphere was watching at exactly the same time, or the next day at school would be a miserable exercise in bluffing away the fact you had missed both Monty Python and M*A*S*H.
 

Those excited chats everyone used to have about last night’s tele are what they now call ‘water cooler moments’. Away from live sporting events and soap operas, they have almost entirely disappeared. Unless you’re a fan of either balls or balls-ups, watching television is no longer in any way a sharing social experience.
 

We’re all doing our TV differently. While you’re catching up on the latest Storyville documentary on BBC 4, your friend is working his way through series 3 of his Breaking Bad box set, your mum is watching the gardening programme from last Tuesday. and the kids are off on You Tube, glued to the live broadcast of a pet chipmunk performing open heart surgery on its owner.
 

With the very welcome arrival of what’s known as ‘Long Form Drama’, (West Wing, The Sopranos, The Wire, Game of Thrones, etc.) the stars of the big screen have drifted from cinema to TV, attracted by quality scripts and massive budgets. For once the viewers are winners, as technology in the form of digital TV and DVD has freed us from forced-watching of mindless dross.
 

Have to admit, I absolutely love digital TV, as apart from news and sport, I hardly ever watch live TV. My digibox is loaded with everything from Cheers to Simon Schama, so whatever my mood, there’s always something there I feel like watching.
 

No longer a slave to commercials, I’m king of the fast forward button, straight through the ad break, luvvly jubbly! 

Series link? Yes please!
 

The change of the season is heralded by the TV networks advertising their Autumn schedules. Whatever wonderful or woeful programming they offer, of one thing we can be sure: they will be treating us like idiots.
 

Since the arrival of the TV remote control (yes kids, there was a time...) our attention spans have shrunk to something comparable to a squirrel on speed, but that doesn’t mean our brains have become indistinguishable from walnuts.
 

So why do the networks feel the need to talk down to us as if we’ve all had frontal lobotomies?
 

The first 5 minutes of every programme consist of a preview of everything we’re about to see, so that in effect, we don’t actually need to watch the programme at all.
 

Indeed, if we do decide these tasters are appetising enough, we tacitly accept that by choosing to watch the show, we are condemning ourselves to seeing all those clips again, represented to us as if we’d never seen them before.
 

The other night, at the start of RTE’s Six One news, Sharon niVol o’Vent squiggled on her seat as she ran through the day’s headlines. 

We were shown a long and tedious clip of yet another crooked politician somehow found innocent, reading a statement on the courthouse steps. It was painful the first time, but one minute later we had to watch and listen to the gobshite reading the same mind-numbing nonsense all over again.
 

As far as ‘dumbing down’ goes, the BBC are no better. I recall Fiona Bruce reporting on their 6 o’clock TV news how census results showed that Scotland’s population is growing.
 

“Experts say that this is a result of more people being born than dying in Scotland, and more people coming to the county than leaving it.”
 

Thanks Fiona - if you hadn’t explained that to me I’d have lived the rest of my life thinking that new Scots were spontaneously erupting into life, or being grafted onto planet Earth by space aliens.
 

Thankfully there are still some channels which offer the mind stimulation. Ah look, there’s that nice Tony Robinson chap, about to present a Timewatch Special about Stonehenge.
 

Oh no! Please no! He’s at it too.


“Coming up - we’ll reveal faaaascinating secrets about Stonehenge that nobody has ever seen before, except you now, in this preview. In fact we’re going to show you the key points of the whole programme in 30 seconds, so here’s the interesting bit about the stones being a healing place; now we’re telling you how the blue stones came from Wales; there’s the skeleton we found of a significant archer and a man murdered by Druid security."
 

Now sit back and enjoy the fact that when you see all those juicy morsels in a wee while, they’ll already be memories rather than revelations.
 

The best show in town never changes: hitting the off button; watching the fire’s flames lick over the turf; listening to the wind howling outside and the dog snoring at your feet.


©Charlie Adley
06.08.14.