Sunday 18 August 2019

IT’S A PRIVILEGE TO LOVE YOUR WORK!




In a voice that sounds like old china looks, the government minister blathers about Brexit on the radio.

If I wasn’t driving I’d take advantage of his washed-out lifeless tone to send me off to Snoozeville.

Instead I talk out loud to him, like you do when nobody’s looking.

Well actually, I don’t talk at all. I shout and swear, verbally attacking and demeaning him with venom that can only exist - and only be exposed - when you’re alone in the car.

He’s explaining how it’s vital that businesses in the Republic prepare for a No Deal Brexit.

We’ve got to make sure we’re aligned with our suppliers and customers. Are we ready for currency fluctuations, international tax differences and good God and all his mighty tiny creatures, would you ever shut up man?

He’s touched a nerve. A nerve that’s been going into spasm recently.

If I was the owner of a manufacturing business, the minister’s advice might be relevant. Yet as a self-employed entity, the last thing I need is to hear more of the horrors of No Deal.

I’m far too aware of it, and fear the repercussions for deep-felt personal and professional reasons.

Before the financial crash of 2008 I was making a fairly healthy living from freelance writing.

Along with this colyoom, I had a monthly column in the Farming Supplement (yes, you did read that right!) of the Irish Examiner and regularly sold features to the Irish Times, Irish Post and Irish Examiner.

I’ve never considered myself a journalist. That’s a skill set I don’t possess. I’ve never written a news story or covered an event.

Instead, as a writer, I’ve somehow managed to get away with selling whatever I feel like writing.

Before I took up writing professionally I worked in a plethora of corporate jobs which sapped my soul and destroyed my spirit.

Fortunately I never felt like that when working for non-profits. When training a teenage football team, caring for a professor with Alzheimer’s, or teaching an autistic boy, I knew my efforts were not wasted. At worst I’d done no harm.

Loving what you do for a living is one of life’s greatest gifts.

I know how my industry works. After the crash, newspapers cut their freelance budgets as swiftly as their advertisers cut their ads. Columns and features disappeared overnight.

My friend and teacher, the Israeli writer Iris Leal told me decades ago that the first duty of a creative person is to apply their creativity to designing their life, so that they can be creative.

Faced with my own financial disaster, I took her advice and that of a sensei friend: be like a bamboo. Stand strong and tall, but be able to bend and flex when fierce winds blow

I devised and started to teach my own Craft of Writing Course, which I’m delighted to say has turned into a successful enterprise for all concerned.

Being a vocational writer helps a great deal, as I’m able to invest in my teaching the same passion that I feel while writing.

My course deals with the skills of the craft, so it’s more practical than pretentious. All writers can improve our use and understanding of the craft.

Back in my car I’m giving out loud and large to the minister, who’s not going to be offering me any help.

After being flexible and creative in 2008, the likelihood is that both of my income strands will frizzle and die after a No Deal Brexit.

Newspapers still see freelance as a luxury, and my students sign up with what’s left of their disposable income, after paying the bills and feeding the kids.

At least, I hope they do.
Don’t want any fish fingerless children out there on my account.

Watching Johnson’s predictable strategy unfold is unbearably painful. Living out his Churchillian fantasy, he’s amassed his War Cabinet and revels in the idea of a nation in crisis relying on his leadership.

Clearly he never intended to negotiate with the EU. Nobody in the UK can see past what Johnson’s team laughably call the ‘undemocratic backstop.’

We’ve all been backstopped up to our backsides, but let’s get one thing straight: it’s a UK border backstop, not an Irish one.

Nobody’s screaming that had they accepted the Withdrawal Agreement, the UK would have 2 years to negotiate a trade deal, negating the need for the backstop.

Instead for Johnson it’s all about No Deal and winning an election, by combining his adoring Tory supporters with Brexit Party deserters and Labour’s lost Leavers.

If that means the people will suffer, well, that’s never stopped a Tory heartbeat before.

My pain is personal because I love both countries, and dread the hatred being stirred up by Dominic Cummings’ execrable anti-Irish propaganda, cascading from Downing Street onto Red Top and tabloid TV headlines.

Already we hear every day trash talk of the intransigent EU, and insulting lies about the Irish.

No Deal will damage relations between my native country and adopted home for decades, challenging a fragile peace process, causing ructions in my heart and craters in my bank account.

Good reason to make the most of these remaining months of relative peace. If you fancy learning new skills, why not sign up for my course? I’ve only one place left, so the first deposit/payment I receive will be at the table. 


If you're interested please contact me now at: charlieadley1@gmail.com

Charlie Adley’s Craft of Writing Course
Thursdays, 7:15 - 9:00 pm,
8 weeks: September 5th - October 24th.
€120/110.
Westside Resource Centre, Galway City.






©Charlie Adley
18.08.2019

Sunday 11 August 2019

NORTHERN IRELAND MESSES ME UP!



Over the bridge I go. The meadowsweet and cow parsley at the side of the road stay the same, yet the lines on the road turn white, the signs turn black and white and kilometres turn to miles per hour.

Back in the UK again.
 

Back where I came from, but am I, or (if you’ll excuse a little Plastic Paddyism from this Englishman) amn’t I?

Already I feel inexplicably ill at ease, just as I always do when I’m in Northern Ireland.

The other side of the invisible border, I stop in Belcoo for a bite to eat, and manage to make an arse of myself.

Before I’ve had the chance to spend a minute contemplating the history of these 6 counties, or dwell for a moment on my confused personal gumbo, that feels some of me comes from here, some from down there, there comes the quandary of language.

I’m fairly tuned in to the Republic’s accents. I can tell a Cork from a Kerry, which can prove exceptionally helpful if you’ve no private medical insurance, and I know my Dub and Donegal.

The Northern Irish accent is the default Irish accent in England. There was yer man in Corrie, and more often than not when I was a kid, if someone was Irish they were from Ulster.

Well, that’s what the English say, but even that’s not right. Their Ulster is just six of the nine counties of Ireland’s northern province.

After growing up amongst Ulster accents, you might think I’d have a pretty good grasp of it, but apparently not. I’ve only been across the border for 30 minutes, yet already failed quite handsomely.

My first accent-induced blooper came before I’d even left the house. 


I was on the phone, setting up the time and place to meet the man in Enniskillen. I was just about to say goodbye when he suddenly proclaimed the name of a Middle-Eastern terrorist:

“Al Tuckshya!”

“Sorry?”

“Al Tuckshya!”

Should I respond in kind? Should I ‘Al Tuckshya’ him back, sort of like “As-Salaam-Alaikum - Wa-Alaikum-Salaam” or “Shalom aleichem - aleichem Shalom” as we say it?

But this bloke was neither Muslim nor Jew, so what was he on about?

Then my brain showed tiny signs of life.
I understood.

“Oh good god man! I’m so sorry! My accent, your accent, dunno, sorry. Yes, thanks, text me if anything comes up. Cheers!”

With that encounter fresh in my memory, you’d be forgiven for hoping I might’ve been a little bit prepared to deal with the razor sharp consonants and italicised vowels of County Fermanagh.

After a BLT and a coke, I head to the counter to pay, patting myself on the back that I’ve remembered to bring Sterling.

Turns out it didn't matter: all the prices are in both currencies.

“That’ll be eighteen, thanks.” says the young lass behind the bar.

I take a step back.

“Sorry? How much?”

“Eighteen, thanks!” she repeats politely.

“Eighteen quid for a toasted sarny and a coke?”

“No! Eight ten!”

“Oh sorry about that. I can be really thick sometimes.”

So far so not very good at all. Haven’t even made it to my destination and I already screwed up twice.

Climbing into Joey SX I drive off, remembering how, on my first visit to Northern Ireland in 1993, I encountered The Troubles before I’d even arrived in Belfast.

I’d stopped at some traffic lights outside the city, when a blue saloon screeched to a halt, level with my van.

If Frank Gallagher from Shameless had a brother, it’d be this fella.
 

Winding down his window, he leant half his body out of his car, yelling and screaming at me, with some highly unattractive adjectives, to go back to where I fuckin’ came from.

Despite being a stickler for language, I managed to resist a strong temptation to wind down my window and, using my plummiest Public School accent, explain:

“Look here old chap. As it happens you couldn’t have made many more erroneous assumptions if you’d tried. You see, I’m an Englishman, proudly born and bred, and although my fine transit van is indeed adorned with the registration plates of the Irish Republic, it was purchased in London, from British Telecom, who I think you’ll find are quite British. Now, if I correctly caught your drift, you’re advising me to go back to where I came from. Well, I’m here already. Now be a good sort and drop the abusive accusations, old salt. I’m one of you, dear heart.”

Instead, ever eager to avoid unnecessary confrontation, I sat staring straight ahead, gripping the steering wheel, paralysed by fear.

That was before peace came, and later in Enniskillen I wander out for a gently nostalgic whiskey ramble.

Seems only proper order to drink a Bushmills up here, and it’s delicious, as is the next one.

Then I switch to Scotch and sip a Famous Grouse for my Dad, and then another, because I miss him.

Paying homage to my adopted home country, I finish off with a Redbreast 12.

Bloody lovely.

Wandering the late evening Enniskillen streets, I see that Arlene Foster’s imposing constituency office is next door to a psychic healer.

A bit of DUP and then you need some Reiki.

If only more people had voted Conservative in the last General Election (yes, I did actually write those words!) there’d be no need to heed the DUP.

The EU border could have run down the Irish Sea, and we’d all be No Deal free.

One day maybe I’ll feel relaxed in Northern Ireland.

Until then, lost in the mystery of where I feel from when up there, I’ll be the anti-Morrissey, with my English blood and Irish heart ... who still watches The Ashes...
 




©Charlie Adley
11.08.2019

Sunday 4 August 2019

RACE WEEK: THE TRIPLE DISTILLED SPIRIT OF IRELAND!



The horse’s name was Minesadouble.
 

I mean, come on. I had to, right?
After all, I’m a whiskey drinker.

In 1980’s London I was a whisky drinker, without the ‘e’. Before your triple distilled Jameson became my liquid home, Scotch whisky was my tipple.

That English sixth of a gill measure barely dampens the glass, so I always ordered a double.

Famous Grouse, probably because it was my Dad’s choice too.

On the morning of that bet I was strolling the Portobello Road. Go there now and even the dirty street cobbles are polished.

The area has gone up in the world, gentrified, but in those days there were two distinct areas of what others called Notting Hill.

Notting Hill Gate was yuppie cappuccino bliss, perfect for Julia Roberts to swoon on in the movie, while a few blocks away the streets of Westbourne Park and Portobello were poor and dilapidated.

Around the corner, All Saints Road served as West London’s Front Line for street drug deals, and therefore confrontation with the police.

I was hopelessly and helplessly in love, wandering the legendary market, looking for something that might put a smile on the face of the lucky winner of my obsessive attention.

Taking a breather from the packed streets, I turned up a side road, and spotted a few paces on Ladbroke’s familiar Golden Circle.

Ah go on. Why not? It’s Saturday, so all bets are off, so put one on.

You just can’t argue with that kind of logic.

The shop was absolutely tiny and crammed with punters, mostly Rastafarians. There was a symphonic buzz of secretive whispers, angry shouts and joyous laughs, the air thick with hash and grass fumes.

Taking a few deep breaths for a free secondary high, I eased my way to a wall, to stare at the Sporting Life tipsters table.

For my ‘shot to nothing’ bet I look for a race where all the tipsters have chosen the same horse, except for one.

Then I’ll check to see if it’s run the distance and deeply technical stuff, like does it have a leg at each corner?

That’ll do for me.

There it was: Minesadouble, picked by one expert, who had also napped it, which would usually offer further incentive, but that day I didn’t need it.

Minesadouble? Named for me, and 20/1?
Bloody lovely!
 

I’ll have some of that.

A fiver on the nose, which to me then felt like betting €25 to win today. A decidedly decent bet, which looked prettier when the nap proved the tipster’s inside knowledge.
 

When Minesadouble came on in the final furlong, I started pumping the air with my fist. 

Repeatedly grunting inaudible words, as men do while their horse is passing all the others, I was unaware of the attention I was receiving from everyone in the minuscule space.

They’d all turned to watch me, 30 or 40 pairs of eyes focused on me, willing my horse to win, and when Minesadouble flew past the post, the place erupted in shouts and yells and general testicular jubilation.

Instantly I became the centre of attention.

“Wha’ odds ye ‘ave, man?”

“Twenty to one!”

“Ya say wah? Bloodclaat! Ye ‘ave wha? ‘Ear that? ‘Ear that! Man here ‘ave ‘is ‘orse at twenty to one! Bloodclaat! Whass in da next race? Go on! Whass ya nex’ ‘orse?”

“ ’Ow you know? ’Ow you know? You give me a tip, yeh? C’mon, give me a tip and I give you some of me personal!”

After much handshaking, shrugging and smiling, the others realised I was just a lucky mug punter, who'd liked the name of a horse.

Pocketing my hundred and five quid, I arrived home to my beloved, laden with strawberries and cream and a bottle of champagne, which we consumed, drenched in sunshine, lying on the grass in the park.

Many years ago my mother offered me a very wise observation: “The most dangerous part of gambling is winning.”

Relax Mum! There’s been precious few winners since then. I’ve never had a single winner when at the course at Ballybrit.

I’ve often mused how, if Galway is unadulterated Ireland, and Race Week is the triple distilled spirit of Galway, then Ireland is essentially Race Week.

Every year, immediately after hosting the nation’s biggest Arts Festival, Galway slips into the largest social and sporting week in the country’s calendar.

Race Week is mad, bad and wonderful. Whoever you are, whatever you’re doing, if you’re around Galway, as sure as gee-gees love carrots, Race Week will infect you, working its way into your mind and body, like a metaphysical tapeworm.

This week should come with a health warning: “The Galway Races can empty your wallet, destroy your liver and send you stark staring cuckoo.”

I stayed away from the maelstrom, but was thinking of Galway and how Race Week affects people.

Be kind to your bar-people, servers and cooks. They’re working their backsides off for you.
 

Tip them well.

Last year I was in a Salthill bookies, jostling for space by the newspapers on the wall. 


A well-dressed elegant woman in her 60s tapped me on the shoulder.

“Sorry, now, excuse me, but do you know, how do ye spell that horse’s name? Jesus Mary Mother of fuckin’ God, can you bleedin’ believe my eyesight? Is that an ‘R’ or a feckin’ ‘A’? Good God almighty, sweet Jesus, it’s fucking unbelievable, isn’t it?”

The slang of my adopted home might be slightly different to that of the Rastas in my native London, but as Del Boy would say: 


“Plat du jour, my son, plat du jour!”


©Charlie Adley
04.08.2019

Sunday 28 July 2019

FROWNING OR FESTIVE, GALWAY MAKES ME SMILE!

© rte.ie

Emerging from the darkness of Jury’s Car Park, my face is misted with moist Atlantic air. Under grey skies I walk the morning streets of the city.

Like the tangy whiff of milk you decide has one day left, I’m a little bit off today, frowning, slightly daunted by the amount of tasks I have to cross off my list.

I chat for a while to the lass in the Spar on Mainguard Street. She’s sharp and witty and takes my brainbox up a gear or two. 


As I step out of the shop my body is instantly draped in a coat of wetness: soft day, as the locals would have it.

Taking a moment to stand still and stare, I watch and appreciate. Despite the blanket damp and melancholy ashen hue, most people on these streets of Galway are smiling.

Many seem to have time to stop and chat, in twos and threes; being human; enjoying some gentle craic; a little slagging; a dollop of gossip.

Emma O’Sullivan is dancing outside Evergreen at Johnny Massacre corner, and much as I admire her skill and artistry, I prefer to watch the tourists in her crowd, utterly thrilled to be presented with Sean-Nós dancing in the street.
 

Former All-Ireland champion, Emma is suddenly joined by a pair of 4 year-old twin girls, who run from their parents, and twirl and bump into each other, dancing as only 4 year-olds can.

I slip on that ‘local person with things to do’ expression (you know the one, I’m sure you do!), stride past the dancer and head towards Griffins.

Walking through the door I realise that my frown has been replaced by a wide-eyed smile, which is mirrored by the lass behind the counter.

We chat as I sort my weekly bread, and then I ease up towards Eyre Square, delighted to be living in Connacht.

Jobs all done, I head back down to Quay Street, where over coffee in the bar myself and Keith talk a little football with an Aston Villa fan from Milwaukee.

Then Kevin says something from behind the bar. I don’t hear it, but everyone else roars with laughter.

I know better than to ask anyone to repeat it, as the moment was then, so I say my goodbyes and step out, with the spring in my step accompanied by the sound of fading chuckles.

The rain has cleared and as is the way, in equal inverse proportion, Quay Street is mobbed.

Time for a little otherworldliness, so it’s up the wooden stairs for Sheridan's wine bar, above the legendary cheesemonger’s shop.

Over a tiny sip of something cold and dry I chat with Gerry about times past, and then dive into Buskers for an hour of solitude, privacy and peace in a big comfy chair.

A pot of tea, a scone and a newspaper, with a friend due, but not for an hour.
 

Ignoring the news I watch Cross Street TV unfold live, through the window.

People out there are still smiling.
I’m still smiling.
Galway makes us smile.

This year’s Galway International Arts Festival had energy pumping through the streets, locals excited by installations and a buzz reminiscent of older days.

There were smiles aplenty, built on a foundation that feels happy with its lot.

Life in Galway City and County can feel pretty tough, yet despite the weather, the fly tipping and the housing crisis, most of us would not choose to move.

Yes, complaining and moaning are a way of life, but I see the smiles on the street and hear the laughter on the buses.

Add to that innate happiness the broad rainbow of Galway’s artistic talent, and it’s no coincidence that such a great festival was born here.

Watching Macnas parades imprinted wonder on my soul. My first Arts Festival in 1993 had the Noah’s Ark parade, which was wholly splendiferous.

Jets of water shot out from God’s fingers. There was madness and joy, the air thick with exuberance

Years later, in 2000, I felt that same thrill all over again. Standing on a balcony opposite Jury’s, I had an incredible view of the parade as it emerged from Merchant’s Road.

It was impossible not to be infected by the happiness all around. Macnas produced an explosion of vitality and colour, led by the inimitable Little John Nee, working the crowd, getting us all giggling and excited.

Who was the guy in the marathon outfit, and the fat fella with the suitcases?

What was the story with the bride with the beard?

A gigantic cycloptic Phil Lynott drifted by, accompanied by inexplicable wobbly inflated heads.

Drums kerthrummped, brass bands broohaaahed, and children dressed in shimmering blue silk dresses danced on stilts.

Towering vacillating forty-foot people stamped immigration papers that sprayed water. 


A dancing caterpillar wiggled its ass as well as any Chinese Dragon.

I remember how deeply beautiful it all looked, just as I recall the local woman’s shout that came from behind me:

“Sure, who needs Rio de Janeiro when you have Galway City!?!”

Thoughts of months of rain and wind and damp spores on bedroom walls drifted into my mind and out the other side.

I could completely ignore the utter absurdity of her question, because I was drowning in the euphoria of the day.

Hell yeh, Galway is the perfect place for festivals, so it’s just as well we have 4,765 different ones every year.

However, to fully understand Galway, look away from the structured happiness. 


From Cleggan to Kilconnel, Knocknacarra to Doughiska, the place’s true forte is something incredibly simple, essential and good for us all: Galway makes us smile.


©Charlie Adley
28.07.2019

Sunday 21 July 2019

FAR FROM PERFECT, FREE HEALTHCARE IS FANTASTIC!



Friendly young Mr. Musculoskeletal Triage is talking me through me the X-Ray of my knee on his computer.

He highlights and enlarges different sections, telling me how those spurs are signs of wear, and that those tiny spheres, floating loose in the middle, have been there a long while, as they’re all rounded.

“I’ve seen a lot worse knees!” he declares, to which I respond: “Hurrah!”

He goes off and leaves me in his room.

I sit there and think how incredibly lucky I am to have access to this level of free care.

I’ve travelled a fair bit, and seen people in developing countries who will never have a doctor. Even in First World America, it wasn’t until I found full time employment that I had a doctor and a dentist.

That felt so weird to this European. I was working as a temp in San Francisco, paying my taxes and the rent, yet when I needed medical attention I had to go down to the City Clinic, which was at that time a crazy cocktail of a drunk tank, A&E and homeless shelter.

The staff were friendly and did a great job, but the care and time they could allocate was tiny compared to the way I’ve been treated in recent weeks.

With achingly long waiting lists, patients stuck on trolleys and cancer screening debacles, there’s much wrong with Ireland’s Health Service, but there’s a hell of a lot right about it too.

People just don’t work those hours for that pay unless they are dedicated and vocational.

As it happens, my knee is as good today as it has been for months. I figure you have to take responsibility for your own health, and even though I’ve been a walker my whole life, I’ve had to switch to cycling.

Exercising outside gives my spirit and mood a vital boost. I don’t make myself sweat every day, l find my arms resting on my belly when I sit in my armchair.

Over the winter I allowed myself alarming levels of comfort eating. I grew huge, and being an absolute prat who doesn’t practice what he preaches, I continued to ignore the crushing pain in my legs.

Sciatic symptoms down the left; inflammation of the knee in the right.

Having a high pain threshold is a pain in the backside (arf!) because if you’re an idiot like me, it becomes easy to accept a life of severe discomfort.

Ah, stuff that: agony.

Sat still or striding, my legs were hurting for months. Well-meaning friends suggested mantras to release pent up emotions, while others insisted that the doctor was the way to go.

I feel sorry for them (my legs, not my friends, although now I mention it, I wonder!) as they’ve the horrific and unenviable job of holding me up, in all my voluminous wonder.

Around April I started to take anti-inflammatories on a regular basis and then sat down and had a stern chat with myself.

Walking means impact, and the golf ball sized swelling that had taken up residence on my knee was my body’s visible protest against it.

Changing my ways felt hard. I’m not built for speed. While others ran, I walked. I walked and walked and loved it, and walked and walked some more.

No more.

Wheeling my old bike out the shed, I got busy with the WD-40, inflated the tyres and climbed on board.

Gradually I built up my morning ride until now, even though I’m home in 30 minutes, I’m sweating and gasping (oh you sexy beast!) but not hurting.

My new GP sent me off to Roscommon for an X-Ray of the knee. No appointment, just a letter from the doc and easy peasy Batman, I was in and out in 20 minutes.

Yesterday I had the appointment at Mayo General, and when Mr. Musculoskeletal said he was sending me for X-Ray, I told him I’d already had that done.

“Ah, but y’see, we can’t access the Roscommon X-rays here.”

At that point I could’ve gone off on one, asking what the hell had I driven all the way to Roscommon for, if they couldn’t send the bloomin’ things to his computer?

Instead I figured the way it probably worked was that the Roscommon X-rays went to my doctor, as she sent me there, and then she referred me to this hospital.

Even though it’s simply plain wrong that they can’t all see the same X-Rays, I shut up and went off for new X-Rays and 10 minutes later was looking at them on his computer.

I already knew that my knee wasn’t going to get better. Once you pass the age of 50, you no longer get an injury from which you’ll recover: you acquire a condition that you have to manage.

‘Keep on keepin’ on!’ seemed to be Mr. Musculoskeletal’s advice. Mix a bit of walking in with the cycling, and stay pain free.

I’d been seen by a GP, two X-Ray departments and an expert in bones. Everyone had been exceptionally kind, and I had paid nothing, save for my tax contribution.

Access to free healthcare is described as a basic human right, partly because when you experience it, you feel more human.

All those people, their expertise and equipment were available to me. I must be worth it.

Mind you, there’s two physical phenomena no medical expert will ever cure.

The sounds of this man standing up:
 

The intake of breath grunt “Grufff!”
 

The rising “Ohhhhh!”
 

The arm-stretching “Eeeeeearrrghhhh!”
 

The steady on the feet there, Adley “Phoo-woawoawoohhh!”

Then, after the day is done, and alarmingly similar to the noise my late father used to make, the sound of a middle-aged man sitting in his chair:

“Arrrrhhhhhhhhhh….”




©Charlie Adley
21.07.2019