Sunday 9 December 2018

ENJOY INDEPENDENT SHOPS AND STALLS WHILE WE HAVE THEM!


I forgot who I am and the family I come from. Beguiled by the supposed ease of gift shopping online, I ordered three DVDs from Amazon.

After receiving the usual order confirmation and tracking number, I was slightly concerned when I started to get spammy emails from a company that claimed to be delivering for Amazon.

We’re constantly told what not to do online. Don’t divulge personal information. Never click on a link in an email. Even if a message looks completely kosher, scan it for any sign of error.

These days the scammers have it down to a fine art, so it can take a while to spot the strange spelling mistake, the odd spacing, the dodgy-sounding address, or unusual grammar and language.

That’s why my hackles went up when I started to be bombarded by emails from Rupa, Mehnaz, Mrudula, Abhishek, Rupa again and Mounika.

Their emails couldn’t have looked more suspicious. Each demanded that if I wanted my delivery, I had to send them my mobile number, eircode and address. 


They used a beige font, crazy spacing, quoting order numbers and tracking numbers that failed to correspond to anything.

Also the language they used was plain weird:

 

“Hi, Good day you! This is Mounika reaching out to you…”

I mean, would you trust that?

Surely, if they’re delivering for Amazon, they’d have my details anyway?

Bizarrely, it turned out they were actually genuine, but can you blame me for thinking they’d hacked into my order?

I explained that if they sent me a phone number, or called me, I’d share my information, but not online.

In return I received more spammy requests.

Weary from the hassle, I signed into Amazon, to be greeted by a banner announcing:
 
“Earth's Most Customer-Centric Company.”

Well hoorah and yippee! Clearly I’d have no problem sorting out my little problem. I’ll just take a peek on the My Orders page and, oh hang on, wait a bloomin’ minute! They say my DVDs were delivered weeks ago.

Cheeky little bastards.

Right. Enough. Time to speak to a human.

Try that ‘Problem’ dropdown menu.
No.

Where’s the Contact Us?
No phone number anywhere.

Maybe if you’re the Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company, you don’t need to speak to your punters, because they’re all permanently ecstatic.
 

On an internet board I found out that if I went to Help on Amazon’s banner, then ignored all the help offered and found the More Help button, lurking down the bottom, I’d enter a portal where it’s actually possible to contact the Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company.

Aha! 

A phone number! 
Oh, hang on, they say the phone’s not recommended.

I believed them. 

Didn’t fancy 30 hours waiting on hold.

Instead I did what Amazon suggested, and went on live chat with, well, I don’t know.

A robot?
A human?

I’ve no idea.

Engaged in written online conversation with someone/thing called something like Tbilisi, I gave her/him/it my order and tracking number.

No such order existed, they claimed.

Quickly checking Amazon’s website again, my jaw dropped. The order I’d seen minutes before, supposedly delivered weeks ago?

It had completely disappeared.

Dodgy biscuits, Batman! I started to lose it, explaining that they’d taken money from me delivered nothing, and in the world I live in that’s called theft.

I stuck to the ‘theft’ word for several minutes until a supervisor arrived to say my order was with Amazon.com, not Amazon.co.uk, repeatedly insisting I needed to contact them.

I assured her several times in calm, powerful and assertive language that I did not have to do anything. She had to contact whoever she had to contact.

Next morning I received an apology from Amazon, followed by an email from an Irish courier company, asking for my address and eircode.

I told them to - yeh, you know! - send me a phone number or call me.

When they too started bombing me with more emails l went plain berserk, using language far less calm and considered than before.

Hey presto. It worked. An audibly impatient woman from the courier company telephoned me, and I gave her my details. Before she hung up I asked why they’d refused to email me a phone number.

She said they don’t have a phone number for dealing with the public.
 

How incredibly customer-centric of you.

Then I remembered who I am: a man raised by a father who ran record shops, and a mother who had clothes shops. My sister has run her own shop all her life and I’ve had many retail jobs.

Unlike most of the modern world, here in the west of Ireland we are blessed with high streets crammed with family-owned shops. We have wonderful markets, indoors and outside.

If we do our Christmas shopping with independent neighbour traders we can be sure of two things: we’ll be able to give unique presents that our loved ones could not find in a chain store, and we’re investing directly in our own economy.

Instead of throwing money at global concerns, concerned only with removing messy humans from their process, we put food on the plates of Connacht, while saving our streets from becoming bland brand mausoleums.

This Christmas put away your computers and phones. Shop in Galway’s towns and city, where creative humans who truly care about their products are waiting to smile at you.

Enjoy the magic of physically shopping for individual gifts, while keeping our vibrant enterprising local traders successful.



©Charlie Adley
09.12.2018

Sunday 2 December 2018

Silent spontaneous shop ballet shows why I love living here!



Sometimes it pays to be foreign. If you were born here you might forget why you love Galway and the West of Ireland.

Living as a blow-in for 26 years, there still come moments when I’m reminded what it is about this place that makes me feel so comfortable and at home.

You’d want your house to be a comfortable home, so why wouldn’t you expect the same of the area you live in?

To feel comfortable outside I need to feel welcome. I need to feel that there’s very little chance of being involved in a fight or being called a Yid.

If it sounds like I’m setting my bar of expectation low, that’s because I’m cut 50/50 between cynic and idealist. I treasure my dreams while staying aware of how likely they are to come to fruition.

Dreams are so important. With hundreds of patients on trolleys, obscene sexism in rape trials and the impending crushing of Ireland’s economy by a No Deal Brexit, it can be difficult to look away from what’s wrong and appreciate the good on offer here in the West of Ireland.

That’s when the universe delivers a magical moment, reigniting our inner fires, which in Connacht are fuelled by compassion and humanity.

After a suitable period of isolation, I headed into the city to see my mates. When I haven't spoken to anyone face to face for three days I temporarily lose quite a few social skills.

Stopping for bits and pieces at a city neighbourhood shop, I realised I was struggling to acclimatise to this busy noisy real world, crammed with people and bright lights.

However pathetic it sounds, I was actually finding the narrow aisles difficult to navigate.

Sorry.

Oops.

Excuse me. Sorry.

Clutching a sandwich, a newspaper and a tub of coleslaw I joined the checkout queue, eager to get out of this crowded claustrophobic little place.

Then, as my eyes wandered to pass the time, I saw - oh Hell on Earth and the planets beyond! - another queue over there, back behind the other aisle, with just as many people in it, running at right angles to my queue.

My inner child cried No!!!!! as it stamped an impatient foot. Why did it all have to be so difficult and oh pooh and grizzle, wail, and finally, losing patience with myself, shut up Adley, this is a minuscule First World problem!

Get over yourself.

Meanwhile everybody else had been assessing the situation, looking over at each other in opposing queues, mulling over the situation.

Clearly this wasn't going to work. The status quo was heading towards conflict of one kind or another. Immobile, with my brain stuck firmly up my jacksy, my imagination played around with how this situation might be resolved in different cultures around the world.

In my native England it could be dealt with by anything from reasoned debate to aggression, sarcasm and shouting.

In parts of the Middle East the problem could never happen, as the very notion of a queue is alien.

Why stand in line when a scrum will do? I remember watching the Python-esque spectacle of European backpackers being beaten back from boarding a bus by Arab grannies in Abaya robes, wielding their wooden walking canes from the bus steps with gleeful abandon.

Such displays of exuberant emotion are not the way here in the West of Ireland.

Instead, right there in front of me, there played out a moment of pure magic, in the shape of a beautiful silent ballet.

Danced by peaceful people looking for minimal stress, this ballet was designed, directed and performed without a word being spoken.

I saw no finger raised to point an order, no non-verbal expressions of intent or instructional exchange taking place.

Yet spontaneously, all the people in the queue on the left suddenly and smoothly floated towards our queue.

Also silently, gently and welcoming, we all stepped aside, opening like an 18th century lady’s fan, creating room to allow our parallel queuers to slot into their rightful new places in the order of things.

Forgive me if it seems mundane, but at the time I found this common choreography profoundly comforting. It was bought about because here, albeit for tragic historical reasons, your default position is a passive smile.

On another day things might have turned nasty. Life is not perfect here, far from it, but I love it because what happened in that shop could only happen here, in this place I choose to call home.

Here we say hello to strangers on the street. We call howya to hundreds we know not beyond the howya, and when there’s a problem with a queue, we resist the urge to bicker.

We don’t concern ourselves with being wholly accurate about who goes where, because we know we will all be served, and more importantly, we are all better people for not making a fuss or causing a fight.

Nobody said anything because everyone knew what had to be done.

There was need for neither winners nor losers: just compassionate people, whose culture is borne out of queueing for food to save lives.

Surviving that shameful past, the people of the West of Ireland have evolved a unique understanding of priority and perspective. 


In Connacht we enjoy a strong sense of social justice, eschewing the most damaging excesses of capitalism for a more benevolent way of being.

Life here can be tough, but I feel welcome and give thanks for the beauty of this part of the world. 


Another tiny yet significant magical moment might come my way on any given day.

©Charlie Adley
02.12. 2018.

Sunday 25 November 2018

Don't believe a word of your child's diary!



There’s a debate raging on the radio. The mother of an 8 year-old boy texted in to say she’s worried because her son has recently been spending a lot of time alone in his room, and now she’s found his secret diary.

Should she read it?

The expert in the studio is very clear with her advice:

“Absolutely not. That would be a massive betrayal of trust. Even if you pretend that you haven’t read the diary, the truth will very quickly become apparent to your son, in the way you respond to what he says.”

The texts flood in. Several say screw the expert and her opinions, this is that mother’s child and if there’s something strange going on, she needs to know about it.

Others agree with the expert, who replies to the dissenters by suggesting that if they want to know what’s troubling their children, why don’t they ask them?

Angry texts arrive in response, venting fury with this so-called expert. Has she ever tried to get information out of a child? If there’s any way of looking inside their childrens’ heads they’d do it: they’d read the diary and then at least they’d have the comfort of knowing what’s going on.

The expert fights back, rather sarcastically pointing out that the clue is in the name. It’s a secret diary.

I drive along with a big smile on my face as I listen to this absolutely pointless squabble.

Of course I understand how these fearful frustrated parents feel, and equally the expert’s suggestions are sound and sensible, but everyone on both sides of the argument appears blindly ignorant of one massive factor.

It’s not that the child in question is writing a diary at the tender age of 8, which in itself is quite wonderful and remarkable.

The vital insight the expert and parents all ignore is the very distinct possibility that what their children write in their diaries might not represent the absolute truth.

Quite apart from the fact that they’d have to decode the inner monologue of a pre-pubescent, it would be foolish in the extreme to decide that these private words, written on a hidden page, express anything that might resemble reality.

Any child of 8 taking pen to paper has my undying respect. This boy has discovered very early what solace can be found in scribbling.

My diaries started unofficially around 12 or 13, in no way coincidentally arriving the same time as puberty.

As my bits changed size and shape and hormones started racing around my system, I started slapping down atrocious poems, pure wails of angst and confusion, lacking only rhythm and rhyme, originality and substance.

By the time I was fifteen a torrent of testosterone and several other hormones had turned me into a walking sulking bag of boiling blood, powered by a cocktail of primal urges, ignorance and complete inexperience.

January 1st 1975 was the date I officially started my diary. Every single night before sleep for the next six years I wrote and filled a full day’s segment.

Somewhere along my peripatetic life’s journey 1976 has gone missing, but I still have all the others, including the half-filled final effort.

By that time I was 21 and no longer needed that kind of diary. If I wanted to purge my confusion and express my desires I could write fiction.

There was no point in blending fiction into my journal, but try telling that to me as a teenager. Massive insecurities and an overactive imagination filled five volumes, which I have now here in front of me, opened at this week in 1975, 77, 78, 79 and 80.

A glance over these pages confirms my worst suspicions. If that 8 year-old boy is anything like I was, his parents would be well advised to stay far away from their son’s diary.

There are some truths scattered sparingly over the years, but also there are glaring and often quite ridiculous lies.

Well, let’s not call them lies. This was written by me for me. I wasn’t trying to fool anyone, not even my sad and dejected teenage self, because even then I knew better.

Didn’t stop me though. Any woman I met in passing got a mention, regardless of whether she was an optician fitting my glasses, a girl I had a single dance with at a disco or the stranger I sat next to on the bus back from school.

All encounters were reinterpreted as either flirtations, potential relationships or major sexual encounters that absolutely never happened.

If my parents had read and believed my diaries, they’d have thought I was an adolescent sex god.

More importantly, I can see entries here which would deeply upset and trouble any parent or child psychologist.

Thing is though, I was a teenager, so if you look at Tuesday I want to kill myself, what’s the point, I hate life and everybody else. Nobody understands me, so why not finish it all off?

Then on Saturday I’m partying with people I describe as the best friends anybody could ever wish for.

If you’re concerned, ask your children questions. If they don’t answer, leave it a few days and ask them again, saying that you're simply concerned, that’s all, and if they ever want to talk about anything, you’re always available.

Afford your children the same level of respect you expect from them. As parents you set the rules and the standards of trust. If you’ve already breached those borders, do me a favour.

Don’t believe a word you read.


©Charlie Adley
14.11.2018.

Sunday 18 November 2018

BEWARE OF THE POOH THAT LURKS BENEATH!

 Andrew steps out to escape the stink...

There is no finer way to start a day than to wake laughing, which this morning I did for the first time in many years.

A prolific dreamer, I enjoy or endure three every night. For the last few months my dreams have been tamed by the medication I’m on, which emphatically delivers me into deep sleep.

I think those pills have been keeping my nightmares at bay, and last night I dreamed about something that actually happened, which I’ve never done before.

The reason I woke up smiling was because, while I was asleep, I’d spent some time with my friend Andrew, who I haven’t seen for years.

We first met decades ago, in the early morning queue outside the Mad Dog In The Fog, an Irish/English pub in San Francisco’s Lower Haight. 


England were playing Holland in Euro 96, and although Andrew is of Scottish descent, he’s a lover of the Beautiful Game and allergic to neither the craic nor (back in those days) the odd pint or five.

Tall and thin with bright white hair, piercing blue eyes, strong cheekbones and a chin to match, Andrew is a warm charismatic man. Raised in Clapham, he has a cockney accent that makes Del Boy sound like an imposter, and better yet, he’s an old school Chelsea fan.

Must confess that when I first heard his hardcore accent, I imagined Andrew to be working class through and through, so when after the match we went back to his gaff, I was shocked to find myself in a mansion in the city’s fashionable Marina district.

“Blimey! So what do you do for a living then, mate?”

“I’m the Senior Vice President of a marine insurance company, Charlie.”

Oh god, what a prejudiced fool I can be!

Let’s blame the English class system and move on to several years later, when I was living near the wonderful village of Killala, Co. Mayo.

Andrew called to say he was flying from California to Dublin for his friend Deirdre’s wedding.

I’d met her over there, and was delighted to be invited too. Then Andrew told me he’d booked us both into the Shelbourne Hotel the night before the nuptials, his treat. 


We’d have a friends’ reunion, a lad’s night out and from where I was standing, in my wellies, in a muddy puddle in a farmyard, it all sounded very exciting; very grand and posh altogether.

Yahoo!

Right - time to get cracking. I needed to turn myself and my car into respectable beasts. Living alone in the countryside I let my standards slip quite considerably. 


My house will be clean, but my clothes might not. I mean really, what’s the point of putting on a clean sweatshirt when you know that nobody is coming to your house?

Last night’s dream started with me packing my suitcase for a five star hotel and wedding. The all-purpose grey suit was still in its dry cleaning cellophane, so that’d be fine for the wedding, and a pair of chinos and an ironed shirt for the Shelbourne bar.

Perfect, but before I set off I needed to clean my car, Betsy the Blue Bubble.

Opposite my house was the Cooperative’s creamery, outside which lay a massive hose, with a girth of several inches. I drove over there and let Betsy have it, blasting her paintwork with a high pressure flood.

Then I chamois leathered her dry and she was sparkling, ready to escort us from our grand hotel to the wedding. 





Setting off I felt thrilled at the prospect of seeing my mate and having a couple of days craic in a completely different world to my solitary rural existence.

As I passed Longford I started to smell something. They must be spreading slurry, I thought to myself, but the smell gradually became a noxious overwhelming reek, even as I entered the urban Dublin area.

Winding down the windows I gasped lungfulls of fresh air, as I realised with horror that this inescapable unmistakeable stink of animal shit was coming not from far away, but right underneath my feet.

Evidently, as I’d pootled the backroads of north Mayo, Betsy had picked up a carpet of dung on her underside. The power shower I’d delivered earlier served only to dampen it, and now it was delivering its revenge,

I tried my best to deter the valet parker outside the Shelbourne. Honestly mate, I’ll park her myself, you just show me where, but no, he insisted.

I turned away rather than see his face grimace in shock.

Poor sod. Seriously, it was hard to breathe in Betsy without gagging.

I said nothing to Andrew about Betsy’s aroma, hoping that the wretched stench might dissipate overnight.

Sadly no. Standing outside the hotel in our wedding finery the next morning, I saw the valet parker was holding his breath and screwing up his face as he returned my car.

Time to come clean about the pooh. Andrew was unimpressed, justifiably worried that he’d stink like the backside of a friendly Friesian all day, but we did manage a laugh.

Well, you have to, so we did, uproariously, and that’s why I awoke with a chuckle on my breath: I’d relived that whole episode, enjoyed Andrew’s company all over again and started the day in the best possible way.

(Then I received an email that left that smile on my face all day. Each year at this time a loving and lovely daughter informs me of her mother’s birthday. A loyal colyoomista for many years, the very wonderful Catherine Wade recently celebrated her 95th birthday. It is my absolute pleasure to wish her many more, and thank her for all the years she has read my blather.)


©Charlie Adley
08.11.2018.

Sunday 11 November 2018

ONLY VICTIMS DECIDE WHETHER YOU’RE RACIST!



It’s taken me a few weeks to calm down, but I need to write this.

One of the reasons I love living in the West of Ireland is that here I feel far from the madding modern world; distant from wars and Trump’s ragings.

Now that feeling is gone.
Now we are vulnerable.

Despite all the discrimination the Irish have suffered, this country has no Hate Crime legislation. Growing up in England, I saw a generation of racists being arrested and jailed.

Recently this newspaper’s Dara Bradley quoted a senior Galway garda saying: “…racism and racially motivated incidents are not a major problem in Galway.”

Sorry, but that’s not for you to say.

Believe me, when you’re the victim of racial abuse, be it physical, psychological or political, it feels like a major problem.

Today young African footballers are being abused by visiting players and staff on Galway pitches. The Agency for Fundamental Rights ranks Ireland third worst out of 12 EU states for harassment of people of African background.

The reason that Garda have to say what they do is because they have no legal need to collect data about racist incidents.

The fact that reports of racist incidents appear low does not reflect a lack of racist incidents. There’s no incentive for victims to report Hate Crime.

Victims don’t go to the cops if they know there’s nothing the cops can do.

Instead they end up feeling even more powerless and unwelcome in this country.

Around the world, from Turkey to Brazil, the Philippines to the USA and all over Europe people are voting for right-wing extremists.

Surely we’re safe here though? If populism came to Ireland, what form could it take?

No fan of conspiracy theories, I have to accept that the online forces of alt-right have successfully influenced many recent elections around the world.

As we saw during the abortion referendum, they have for some time been slavering for a wound through which they might access Irish politics. Time after time they failed to permeate the arcane crust around Ireland’s unfathomable party political system.

Then an attention-seeking businessman slashed a gash into our decency, enabling the forces of alt-right to flood in.

Irish politics changed forever.

Pouncing on the dragon’s venomous tongue, alt-right finally breached these shores. Users of online forum 4chain left a barrage of anonymous comments praising Casey for attacking Travellers and saying that Jewish people “basically live in the White House”.

Fake twitter accounts were created to promote Casey, whose image was then mocked up as the quintessential alt-right symbol, Pepe the Frog.

Casey doesn’t care that his online supporters are dangerous people. When asked during the Virgin Media debate if he’d run a divisive campaign, his glib response was:

“I’ve been shooting up the polls all week!”

Take a look at his language:

“…people from Africa, people from India, people from all different continents, they are different ethnic status. The people in the Travelling community are not. They are as Irish as you and me.”

If ‘they’ are exactly the same as ‘us’ then why refer to them as ‘they’?

Casey’s racist rhetoric simply makes no sense.

Travellers are different. They are no more ‘us’ than you are Jewish like me, yet all of us - Travellers, Africans, Asians, even Jewish Englishmen - are equally Irish.

Last year I picked up my citizenship certificate and applied for my first Irish passport. Nobody asked about my ethnicity.

I’m no less Irish than you.

Of course Casey’s remarks won votes. We laughed when Brendan Gleeson’s character in The Guard declared: “I’m Irish, sure, racism’s part of my culture!” because it’s true.

This country has a massive way to go to alter its attitudes, as proved by Casey’s rapidly swollen voter base

When Galway Bay FM’s Keith Finnegan debated Casey’s remarks on his show, he said he’d never seen such a vast amount of texts of support for a man simply expressing a point of view.

Overreacting because of my ethnicity, I sent a text suggesting that there were also a lot of people showing support at the Nuremberg Rallies, where Hitler was just a man expressing his point of view.

They call it populist because it’s popular. If the public had their way we’d have public lynchings. That’s why we make laws: to control the angry mob, attain justice and protect the vulnerable.

Casey retreated to “I’m not a racist” but he doesn’t decide that. Along with many other Irish people, he clearly struggles to understand that only your victim decides if you are a racist.

If you abuse people using different words to the ones with which you abuse your friends or family, or display aggressive attitudes and behaviours towards a group you identify as different, then you are a racist.

If those people or groups feel they’ve been abused for being what they are, then they are victims of racism.

Irish people need to stop judging themselves innocent of racism. This country needs Hate Crime legislation, defined by abuse of race, religion, sexuality or disability, so that victims are protected by law.

In the meantime we need to acknowledge that racism is a problem here.
 

If you’re a victim or referred to as ‘them’ you already know.


©Charlie Adley
11.11.2018.