Monday 14 April 2014

MY LOVELY SPRING RAMBLE BECAME A MAD DOG DASH!

 Impossible to resist, the apparently gravity-defying Lady

“Paw, Lady!”

My 3 year-old Collie-Lab obligingly lifts her paw so that I can slip on her harness. Standing with her face pressed against the back door, she’s fizzing like a dropped bottle of Coke about the prospect of the walk.

Nevertheless she knows to do the dance, the little do-si-do where I close the kitchen door, she moves backwards so that I can open the back door and then she waits. All eternity must pass before that over-eager dog’s eyes as she waits for to me to say

“Come!”

My knee is strapped tight into a velcro brace, my foot isn’t hurting too badly and as we step out, my heart bounces like a bunny. Warm sunshine, lush green grass laden with dew and I’m out for a Spring ramble with my dog.

Well, hmmm, no, not really. I’d love nothing better than to take half a day and ramble at will across bog, down bohreen and green road, but I need to manage the pain in my joints by being sensible.

Was there ever such a boring notion as ‘sensible’?

As we turn the corner of the house and face the front gate, three of Lady’s doggy friends arrive. The young collie is on heat, her bits hanging out like a raspberry milk jelly and the randy brown terrier is jumping up on her, humping her leg, her head, anything he can reach.

Considering his legs are no higher than a matchbox, he does very well. Evidently he’s been successful elsewhere, as a litter of minuscule versions of himself and what looks like a Jack Russell mum appeared the other day at the top of the bohreen. 

Nothing will stop his drive to continue his line. Last June the Snapper and I sat and watched him try to mate with a semi-deflated football in our back garden. The adorable little dog went hammer and tongs at it for hours, only stopping when I removed the ball, deciding that the universe offered more beautiful things to watch on a Summer’s afternoon than a scarlet extended canine sausage.

Lady is overjoyed to see her pals and at this stage so am I, as I know she’ll exhaust herself playing with the Collie. She’s only 3 years old and I worry my damaged legs can’t give her the exercise she needs.

Lady and the Collie tumble each other over and over, growling roaring and pretend biting. Utterly undeterred by the arrival of another beast ten times his size, the rusty randy little Terrier gets stuck into the melée too, grabbing his front paws on any Collie parts he can, while revving up to do what dogs do.

When I set off up the bohreen, the Collie and Terrier decide to come too, and so it begins. Nearly all the many dogs that live around here run loose, but Lady is on a lead. She’s a rescue dog who has a bit of record with ducks, pheasants and whatever takes her fancy. My heart breaks that she can’t run with the others, just as my joints are breaking at having to walk her on a lead, but that’s the way it goes.

So now she’s not just pulling but straining on her lead, desperate to catch up with her mates. The one thing the doctor told me I shouldn’t do is allow myself to be pulled along by a dog, as the impact on my foot and knee will cause pain. Thanks Doc. Where are you now?

The Terrier and the Collie inadvertently torment Lady as they dive in and out of the hedges and stone walls. She whimpers and stands on two legs as she watches them race across the fields. My sorrow knows no bounds. Every part of me wants to unclip her and say

“Go on girl! Enjoy!”

If I did, I’m sure she’d return to me, or home eventually, but my working day would disappear while I waited for her, and when she came back she’d be covered in half a continent of muck that would take ages to clean off.

So we persevere: Lady straining so hard she’s almost only walking on her hind legs; me trying not to stomp my feet down hard, as I use considerable arm strength to restrain her.

Not so much a Spring ramble as a mad dog dash!

Still I insist on taking a few moments of pure pleasure from simply being here. I give thanks that I live in such a beautiful place, enjoying each morning a walk that encompasses bogland, pasture, hedgerows, trees, and distant russet roofs of ancient barns.

Fortunately, Lady hasn’t the quickest eyes in the world. Both the Snapper and myself have seen the most massive rabbits leap from the hedgerows on our walks. They are enormous, yet Lady only recognises their presence by smell, when we walk across the land they leapt over.

If rabbits are not her passion then hares are as nectar to her. Last week she suddenly went completely mental on our walk, straining and jumping with a crazed urgency I’d never seen before. Then, a good 300 metres off, we both saw the hare.

Don’t know what they feed the wildlife in these parts but none of it seems stunted in growth! Even taking into account the distance, this hare appeared the size of donkey foal, bounding in a haphazard and casual fashion across the bog.

That morning, as now, I found myself with an overexcited dog on my hands. All the way up the bog road and all the way back, Lady strains and pulls to catch up with her pals. By the time we return home my knee is sloshing around like a bag of liquid, detached from my leg completely.

On the plus-side, the dog is utterly knackered. Collapsed on the kitchen floor with her tongue lolling out, she won't need attention for hours.

Lovely! Off to work, to scribble of Spring rambles...

14.04.14
©Charlie Adley

Wednesday 9 April 2014

WHILE MAKING A LIVING I FOUND OUT I HAD A LIFE!


..."those sweet streets of Galway."

I’ve just discovered that my life’s better than I thought it was! Armed with thumb tacks, Blu-Tak and knee straps, I’ve been stomping the streets of Galway, putting up posters for my Craft of Writing Course.

What’s that? You haven’t heard of it?
Okay, let’s get the commercial out of the way and rush back to the story.


The course starts on April 23rd, Wednesdays 7:30-9:00pm, for 8 weeks. €100/€90 concessions. I like small classes, so to guarantee your place, contact the Galway Arts Centre:
091-565886
For more information, visit my Facebook page.

Now, let’s return to those streets, those sweet streets of Galway; those newsagents, pubs and cafés, libraries, shops and community centres. Walking into each wearing my most charming smile, I asked if I might put up a poster. Then I respectfully scanned those already on display, searching for something out of date.

Time after time, while I was looking for a viable spot, the person working there walked over, saying something like:

“I’ll just take this one here down, Charlie, because, well, it’s been there for months.”
Stepping backwards, I felt humbled and guiltless as they removed a poster.

“Now, Charlie, you can put yours there, now!”

I suppose it’d be reasonable to think that after 22 years in a place, I’d know a few people. After my first couple of years here I knew hordes, but ever since then I’ve been increasingly reclusive.

While the Snapper knows half the town and the other half know her, I sit at home, visit friends to drink tea and chat in their living rooms and twice or thrice a year, I wander out on wet Tuesday evenings, for one of my organic Galway publy rambles.

More than any place I know, Galway repays richly what you put into her, but having invested so little in recent years, I imagined I might be invisible.

So what a delight it was to discover that I had so many friends out there. In a pub on Dominick Street, where they hung no posters, I was told I could put mine in pride of place by the front door. In a restaurant on William Street, my poster was given prime position. In a café on Shop Street the manager offered to show them exclusively on the walls of the Ladies and Gents (oh so very apt!) and then, in a community resource centre, I bumped into a colleague from way back when I was a youth worker, who was insightful and helpful.

Everyone seemed genuinely pleased to see me and by the end of a heartwarming and successful day, my legs were worn out, I’d chatted more than I had in the previous three months combined, and discovered while out trying to make a living that I have a life: a really good life that I barely knew existed.

The experience has put as smile on my face the size of an orbital motorway.

‘Making a living’ might to others imply monetary gain, but here in the West of Ireland, in a community like Galway, that’s not the way it works. Sometimes you get paid, sometimes you don’t, but either way, the rewards are great. Here we know that there’s more to life than money. Equally, sadly, many of us also know how hard life can be when there is none, but still we help each other out.

One of my favourite unpaid things to do is read at what is in effect the end-of-Cuirt Literature Festival Party, an event that proudly runs under the banner ‘Far From Literature We Were Reared.’


Produced by Tuam’s revered songsmith and poet Seamus Ruttledge, hosted and directed by the exceedingly talented Galway writer Conor ‘Monty’ Montague, these shows in the Roisin Dubh are simply excellent nights out.

This year’s ‘Far From Literature’ is on Sunday, April 13th, from 8:00 ‘til late. Come along and enjoy the performances of Galway’s finest writers, poets, comedians and singers. Chaos and mayhem are the order of the day, splattered with laughter and for me, this year, a great big dollop of emotion.

I’ll be reading ‘Billy’, the story of a dear friend of mine who died in police custody during Thatcher’s reign of terror. His tale (hopefully!) reflects his personality, in that it’s both funny and tragic, and I’ll be delighted to honour his memory by sharing his story with you.
Although Bill died in terrible circumstances, I wrote the piece many years ago, in celebration of his life. My thinking was always that way inclined, which might partly explain why Ireland became my home. It's the only country I know in which it's culturally acceptable to enjoy a good funeral!

As somebody who has seen far too many friends die over the years, I know how wrong it is to waste our living days. Thankfully I’m able to resolve much of my grief through my scribbling, using words to wail and gnash, weep and complain how we were robbed of the beautiful Alana crushingly young; that my lovely Sonja and most beloved and beautiful friend Jon left us decades too early. I was fortunate to be able to write away my tears after the ridiculously premature deaths of Galway’s beloved Mark Logan, my wryly wonderful friend Malcolm and Billy himself, confirming yet again my belief that there is neither sense to life nor death. All we must do is make the most of living.

Evidently, I had been failing to do that, because it wasn’t until I stepped out of my daily existence in order to make a living that I discovered I still had a great Galway life!

Thanks to all of you for helping me with my posters. Hopefully, I’ll either see you down the Roisin on Sunday 13th for a great evening, or at the Arts Centre on the 23rd, arriving for my course.

Did I mention my course? Well, its....


©Charlie Adley

Monday 31 March 2014

Mystery woman teaches scribbler the craft of writing!

Iris Leal (c.1985) in my rats alley flat living room.


It was the most bizarre coincidence. The acclaimed Israeli writer Iris Leal had somehow found her way into my flat. Walking into the living room, where I was hammering away at a typewriter, she asked 

“What are you doing?”
 

“I’m writing a novel!” I declared excitedly, wondering who on earth this stranger was, standing with her hands on her hips, red corkscrew curls swishing around an impatient face.
 

That was 1985, when after sofa surfing around London aeons before the term was invented, I’d finally found a home. The year before I’d left a lucrative career in marketing to travel the world on a shoestring, all the while scribbling into a notebook the first draft of my first novel.
 

Despite earning wads of green folding in marketing, I’d felt empty. Life seemed pointless; days wasted.
 

All I wanted to do was to write. 

By the time Iris entered my life, I was well into the second draft of that novel, blissfully unaware that I had no idea what I was doing. Her second question seemed reasonable enough, but it immediately exposed the screwed-up state of my book.
 

“What is it about?”
 

“Well, there’s this bloke and this girl but they’ve split up and she’s pregnant and he’s a cocaine addict and they’re in the Bahamas and she goes to Washington DC to fight for womens’ rights and he gets into drug smuggling and then there’s a sub-plot with the CIA and some incompetent Russians, but really it’s about female empowerment and she ends up in a refuge and he ends up a pop star, but it all goes wrong and at the end there’s a third bit that’s written completely differently and, well, look here...” I said, grabbing a pen and paper and frantically drawing interconnecting circles like Venn diagrams, with arrows flying all over the place, as I tried to explain the structure of my novel.
 

The memory of it is still embarrassing!
 

Since then I’ve increasingly come to appreciate what Iris did for me in the ensuing two years. As our friendship has grown, I also realise how unlikely it was that she’d take on such an ignorant and arrogant pupil.
 

At the time our relationship wasn’t pretty. She was as fiery a mentor as I was a resistant student. Each day I’d leave home clutching freshly-typed sheets, stomp along the back streets of Golders Green, stand in her kitchen and shout.
 

On some points we still disagree. She belongs in the world of high Literature, with a capital ‘L’  while my aspiration is to use language to be understood. She wanted to be Dostoevsky and I wanted to be Stephen King, or Woody Guthrie, depending on the day of the week. However, even then, I understood that as a writer I had to learn the skills and master the tools of the trade.
 

Iris demanded the highest of standards, asking enigmatic and quite possibly insane questions like “Is it the best you can write it, or is the best it can be written?” at which point I’d guffaw, throw my arms around and use words like ‘pretentious’, ‘claptrap’ and ‘bloody’ in various sequences.
 

Yet what she taught me in two painful, argumentative, friendship-cementing years saved me ten years of trying to learn the craft myself.
 

Had we approached writing from similar standpoints, my learning process would have been a lot faster. Instead she’d scream at me that if this book was not my masterpiece, she had no idea why I was writing it.
 

In response I’d yell back that while my masterpiece may be out there, this was just my first novel. I was simply discovering if I could start and finish a book, that’s all. No Catcher in The Rye yet. No Anna Karenina in the making. Just trying to write a bloody book: beginning, middle, end. Er, well, beginning, middle lost in circles and loops, an end and then another end. What was it you said again, Iris?
 

I finished that novel and three more, refusing to see their lack of publication as a setback because thanks to my marketing experience, I understand that publishers make decisions based purely on what they believe will make the most money at that moment.
 

At the risk of sounding immodest, I’m choosing to ignore the possibility that they felt I had no talent, as I’ve been fortunate enough to earn a living from my writing for over 20 years.
 

If we strive for our dreams, we’ll attain something slightly different, yet equally as fine. I couldn’t have a better job, being paid to give my opinion writing features and columns, with well in excess of a million words published in Irish and UK media. Three of my plays have been performed (one of which won a prize) and yes, I still and always will love to write.
 

Even though I’m professionally successful, I’m driven more by my vocational desire to become a better writer.
 


These days I also enjoy teaching. There is no mystery to the craft of writing. Everyone can learn it. My Craft of Writing course at the Galway Arts Centre offers a supportive and friendly environment, as far removed from Iris’ kitchen as is possible.
 

I love this course, as we all write together, teacher and students, through eight fun and creative lessons.
 

Each week I’ll show you how to use one of the tools of the writing trade, and you’ll leave the course with your confidence boosted, ready and able to write what you want, in the way you’ve always wished.
 

If you've ever fancied yourself as a writer, or want to improve your writing skills for business or pleasure, I very much hope to meet you at the Galway Arts Centre.
 

Charlie Adley’s Craft of Writing Course runs 7:30 - 9:00 pm, starting Wednesday April 23rd, for 8 weeks. €100/90 concessions.
 

Numbers are strictly limited, so to book your place, please contact:
The Galway Arts Centre:
Email: info@galwayartscentre.ie
Phone: 091-565886

 


Monday 24 March 2014

THE NIGHT AND DAY ARE ONE AGAIN - HALLELUJAH!

-->


... and so, the night and day are one again. Hallelujah! Growing up in London I was aware of the seasons but only fully experienced them for the first time 20 years ago, when living in Bunowen.


At the Spring Equinox I stood outside my little house and felt the repressed and burgeoning power of growth. All around me the boulder-laden heathery mossy fields that pass as pasture in Connemara felt as if they were about to explode.


It was vital and visceral. I could feel it in my guts.


If you grew up in the countryside you’re most likely blissfully unaware of this feeling. Yet as an errant Londoner gone walkabout, it rooted me to the earth in a way that I always suspected lay within me.


Not that I suddenly became Mr. Organic Universe 1995. I didn’t grow a beard (well, actually I did, but there was very little to do during Winter) nor was my land carpeted by rows of poly-tunnels.


Two decades later, umpteen houses down the road, it’s looking likely I’ll fail to erect my raised beds for the second year running. Time, money, energy, where does it all fit in? 


Yes, exactly, the usual excuses.


The Snapper also sometimes gets down on herself because she’s failed to move the hawthorn saplings to the new hedge, or split her primroses, so to make sure we enjoy our garden we wander around it, or on wet winter evenings look at photos of our contribution to nature’s handiwork.


 planted last year...

Now the sight of my blackcurrant bush pumping bulbous buds delivers a stab of hope. Shoots bursting out of rosebushes deliver energy to my storm-beaten body.

Ireland’s native plants act out an annual battle between yellow and purple. Early Spring, the yellow wins hands down with primrose, daffodil, narcissus, celandine and gorse.

When we moved here two years ago, I went mental with the strimmer and cleared the overgrown rear third of the garden.


We put down mypex sheets on one half of that area and planted three native apple saplings and an oak, grown in a pot, on the other side. We threw a net over the heating tank and grew sweet peas up its ugly breeze blocks and black plastic sides, camouflaging it with colour and scent.


Where the lawn rises to meet the old hedge we buried narcissus and bluebells. In the lawn we planted snowdrops and in the bed, tulips.


Two years ago, I cut a hole in the lawn by the front gate and planted a calla lilly, which I hoped might flower three weeks later, on her birthday. Happily, wonderfully, romantically, it duly obliged on the very day, since growing immense in the inexcusably shoddy stone wall enclosure I built around it.

Last year, we made two cuts in the mypex sheeting, one to become a crescent herbaceous border, the other a shrubbery. In hushed whispers of apprehension and excitement, we carefully rolled back the sheeting. How much work would we have to do? Would we lift it and see coach grass and dock, bindweed and no, no it’s pure brown earth. We cheered and jigged a silly dance, and raked and dug out a few stones.


Then I went inside to do a couple of probably very important things while the Snapper worked for another seven hours, two days in a row, but believe me, it was a breeze. 

Beautiful soil. Puh. Nothing to it.


In the bed I cast my old seeds of marigold, love-in-a-mist, cornflower and poppy, and helped by the dry intense heat of last summer, we enjoyed wildflowers as wondrous as imagination itself.

  
became...




My beetroots, planted commando among the wildflowers, looked sadly like an old fella’s plums, but the display as a whole was stunning. Unfortunately the lettuce suffered because I’d planted them on top of a massive stone, which only revealed itself when the garden flooded this winter.

Behind, on the shrubbery (aye, ‘tis impossible to write, say or I suspect read the word without a Python-esque ripple) we planted three roses: one a deep red, another a wild and rambling lilac and one white. We have three thriving fuchsia bushes and a forsythia that I’m still coming to understand. We have two purply thingies that I forget the name of which offer contrast to the Golden Brians (he’s not a bush he’s a very naughty boy) behind them. There are three cornus, offering different colours each season and a couple of hebes, ‘cos their name made me giggle.


Over in the hedge the Snapper has performed miracles. Working ceaselessly through the daylight evenings, armed only with a rather nice glass of Chardonnay, she has revealed and tended to all the native plants, so that now we have foxgloves by the zillion, flashes everywhere of primrose that’s akin to the sun landing on the lawn, anemones and Lords and Ladies.


We have no need to be down on ourselves. It’s so easy to obliterate the joy of having a garden by mutating it into a burden. As often as I can, on those rare sunny afternoons, I lie on my back, on the warm grass, just for a few minutes, appreciating the place in which I live.


Spring is obvious and glorious, yet to each of us it comes in a different way. For the Snapper, it will be Spring when she arrives home from work in daylight. For others it’s announced by the arresting sound of the dawn chorus or power tools, the bleat of lambs or the Ryanair tourist in a rental car asking the way.


As a grunty earth-dweller, Spring this year came for me in a surprisingly artificial way. I rotated the heater in my car from ‘windscreen’ to ‘face’ and turned the temperature from the red area to the blue, opening the window, feeling a blissful wave of relief run through me.


At last, my mental winter darkness lifts. I can start to enjoy the beauty of nature once again.



© Charlie Adley

13.3.14

Thursday 13 March 2014

A RARE DIAMOND: MARK LOGAN IS DEEPLY MISSED!





There was such a power to the man, it’s difficult to believe he’s gone. Mark Logan and I were not best friends. We would both describe each other as friends, but we rarely met beyond the confines of the back bar at Massimos, a Chelsea enclave known as Shed na Gaillimhe.

Our paths brushed as they do in Galway, but I was not one of his closest. Yet Mark’s cruelly premature death has affected me so gravely that it tells a lot of the man. If my sadness is such as a peripheral friend, how might those closer to him, those countless others in his labyrinthine life be feeling?

I try not to go there.

The very reason I know the exact day we met was the reason we first became friends. It was 3rd October, 1999. Truth be told, I didn’t remember the precise date, but I'll never forget the day. A quick Google for ‘Chelsea beat Manchester United 5-0 1999’ was all it took.

I was sitting at what was then the front bar of the Blue Note, staring at a tiny TV hung high up on a column. It was a beautifully sunny day and nobody else was interested in the game, except for a strange figure lurking in the shadows. When Mark emerged from his hidy-hole to come to the bar, I at first thought he was Elvis Costello, but no. Not with that chin.

What a fantastic chin.
Seriously, chin-wise, Marky Logan was Numero Uno.

So the sun was splitting the rocks and the bar was empty, save for us two. Chelsea were unstoppable that day. Gus Poyet scored after 27 seconds and we never looked back, knocking goals past a Man United side unbeaten in 29 games faster than we could drink the pints that celebrated them.

I stumbled home plastered, singing ‘Blue is the Colour’, celebrating not only a (then) rare and great victory, but also the meeting of a splendid new friend.

Whenever someone in my life dies, wistful currents run through my soul and belly, wondering at all the things I didn’t share with that person.
Happily, I did get the chance to tell Mark what I thought of him. Unable to make his 50th birthday bash at Roisin’s last month, I sent him a message on Facebook:

“Mate - sorry to miss your big night, not only 'cos it'll be a blinder, but also 'cos you're a good man, and it's a pleasure to know you, even if it's only a bit. I did that Assist course, and it was by far the best of gordknows how many I did as a youth worker. Happy Birthday, rock the house and I'll hopefully catch you soon. X”

Not one bit of me expected a reply. I was just making my apologies and taking the opportunity to tell him how much I admired his work in suicide prevention and mental health, both topics close to my heart.

However, early the next morning, he sent me a message:
 “You were missed, Adley!”

I’m no more doing myself a disservice than calling Mark Logan a liar if I suggest that I very much doubt I was, but as an illustration of the way Mark dealt with people, it’s perfect. Mark was considerate, kind and charming, an advocate of saying hello to the stranger and maybe saving a life.

Above that Olympian chin, Mark’s expression held a latent wisdom, tempered by a keen sense of the absurd: a fabulous combination of knowing and nonsense.  When Mark was looking at you, you knew it, his intense eyes somehow successfully balancing irony with absolute sincerity.

He exuded a warm and gracious charisma that pumped benignly into the world with such a vigour, such a life force, it makes it hard to believe he's gone.

The last time I saw Mark, he had no idea I was watching him. Indeed, it was a perfect Galway moment. I was having a cup of tea and a slice of carrot cake at a table upstairs in Lynch’s Cafe. As any Galwegian knows, from there you can look down below to the cobbled streets, let your mind wander a while and snarf an artery-clogging chunk of cake at your leisure.

Down on the street the people whisked by and oh look, there’s the Snapper, just about to go into McCambridge’s to buy her cheese and beetroot roll for lunch.

Oh and look, there's Marky Logan, coming up the street the other way.

I watched my friend and my wife smile and greet each other, have a hug and a peck on the cheek. After a couple of moments of ‘Howya we must oh yes let’s lovely seeya’ they were on their merry ways, but just as Mark went to walk on, he turned slightly and performed a tiny but wonderful little bow, which sent my missis into the shop with a broad smile on her face, a slight skip in her feet.

Sitting above the action, this voyeur was feeling all a bit gooey. How lovely to live in a place where people have the time to stop and hug and say hello, especially people like the Snapper and Mark Logan, wonderful spirits who return humanity its good name.

Like myself, my friend Richard is a Londoner and lifelong Chelsea fan. Being blokes filled with sadness, we were nursing mugs of tea while carefully avoiding the emotional profundities of the moment. Instead, we were wondering who now was going to lead the singing during the Chelsea games. Mark had always been choirmaster of Shed na Gaillimhe, and his goal-time rendition of “Let’s go fu**in’ mental!” was as rousing as it was ironic, for a man who worked in mental health.

After a suitable period of Man Silence, Richard turned to me and said:

“He was a diamond.”

Where I come from, you can’t get better than that.
Mark Logan was a diamond; maybe a crazy diamond, but he’ll always shine.


©Charlie Adley
06.03.14.