Monday 21 July 2014

THE GALWAY ARTS FESTIVAL HAS GROWN UP AND MOVED OUT!


In the past your scribbler has been guilty of clinging to a vision of what the Galway Arts Festival used to be, rather than coming to terms with the inevitability of change.

When the Snapper became a Chelsea fan she displayed such partisan zeal it frightened me a little.

“Ah, but I’m a convert!” she explained. “You’ve been a Chelsea fan all your life. Converts are always a bit more crazy than those born into it.”

This blow-in became a convert to Galway back in 1992. Unlike the locals who see Galway city and county as the ever-changing backdrop to their lives, I realise now that I took an emotional snapshot of the place I first arrived in, burning into my brainbox an image of this place at that time.

It was gone forever before I exhaled, yet foolishly still I yearned to replicate how I felt in the anarchic atmosphere of the Saw Doctors in the Big Top, or how I wondered at the sight of a giant Noah shooting water from his fingertips at the parade spectators. 

This year the festival offers The Waterboys in the Big Top and hopefully Macnas will parade in the Autumn, so all is good with the world, yet it is those early formative moments that give birth to one's own nostalgia.

So for several years this colyoom struggled against the Galway Arts Festival changing, moaning about the price of seats, groaning about how few local artists were being included, bewailing the lack of street theatre and bellyaching about the loss of connection the city had with its major festival.

Misguided as it may have been, mine was not a lone voice crying in the wilderness. Indeed, I wonder if we would have our excellent current Fringe Festival (galwayfringe.ie) had not Project 06 made such a powerful case for the people on the streets.

Despite all my rants, I am and have always been a huge fan of the Galway International Arts Festival, (née: Galway Arts Festival). Along with countless other international blow-ins, one of the reasons I fell in love with this place was the respect it afforded the creativity that thrives here.

There are those who joke that Galway City is the graveyard of ambition. To them I say “Poppycock!” partly because it’s an apt word, but also because it feels good.

Hell, I’m going to write it again:

Poppycock!

Compared to my native city of London, where genius can live and lose a life invisible, Galway embraces artistic endeavour with open arms.

Thankfully, I am now no longer expecting the Arts Festival to connect with the city as it used to. For ages it hurt me that Galway had turned from an Arts Festival City into a city with an Arts Festival, but now, given the Arts Festival’s ongoing success, I understand that was inevitable.

The Arts Festival left home years ago and just as a person might turn to their clingy parents at the age of 36, in an effort to appear even more independent of the city, it has announced that it shall now be known as the Galway International Arts Festival.

It’s not a huge change, but it is puzzling and apparently pointless.

Of course the Galway Arts Festival is ‘international’ - it always has been! Under the artistic direction of Paul Fahy, the festival attracts all manner of exciting and talented creativity from around the globe.

Having lived in San Francisco, Melbourne and London, I know internationality when I see it, and Galway has internationality by the busload; by the rental cars and camper vans; trains and taxis and planeloads of people travelling on coaches. We’ve foreign students living here learning English and more foreign students studying at our internationally renowned universities and colleges.

A portal to both the Mediterranean and the New World, Galway’s harbour has drawn international music, wine and art to the city for centuries, yet to be truly international, a place and its people have to emanate from a strong core culture that can be shared, spread and adapted. Galway's great strength lies in the way it blends its unique character with international ingredients.

Restaurateur JP McMahon performed the entire cycle single-handedly. Acknowledging Galway’s manifold links with Spain, he introduced authentic Spanish tapas through ‘Cava’, while his Michelin starred ‘Aniar’ bought Galway international recognition, solely using ingredients from the local area, or ‘terroir’.

Entrepreneur Kevin Healy has worked tirelessly to bring top international comedy acts to Galway, while our own Druid Theatre strut the stage at the English National Theatre and Macnas export their talent worldwide.

Sometimes it’s easier for blow-ins to see the magic of a place. Locals find it hard to feel pride in their home’s intrinsic worth. The beautiful ancient heart of this city: preserved, alive, vibrant and authentic, now for some reason branded ‘The Latin Quarter’.

Why not the ‘Medieval Quarter’ or ‘Old City’?
Why look abroad?

There is much in Galway to be proud of and more for which it is internationally famous. Beyond songs about the sun setting on Galway Bay and a certain Galway Girl, loved worldwide by generations three apart, Galway is universally loved for its unique cocktail of craic, beauty, history, creativity, racing madness and mad weather.

A city truly international to its core, Galway shares its own culture while borrowing from others. When you naturally possess such fine attributes, surely you don’t need to state the obvious.

Why the need to remove our Arts Festival one step further from the city of its birth?

Why is ‘Galway’ not enough?

All praise to the festival for its success, but in the same way that an open flower will flourish so much longer if nurtured by healthy roots, it might be prudent for the Arts Festival to love the city back.

Given the weighty matters of the day, I’ll admit that the inclusion of the word ‘International’ in the Galway Arts Festival might justifiably be deemed unworthy of debate. It’s just that when you love something, feelings matter.



©Charlie Adley
10.07.14.

Sunday 13 July 2014

NOBODY EXPECTED THE SPANISH INQUISITION WORLD CUP!



Wandering around a newsagent, I lurk in the background as I listen to the 50something woman behind the counter debating the finer points of the Colombian front line with a young girl buying a box of chocolate fingers.

“Now they have that fella Rockridges and my, oh but I don’t mind telling you young lady, if I were a younger woman -”

“Rodriguez, he’s called, but they call him Ham-Ez, after James Bond.”

“Ham is? Ham is what?”

“No they call Rodriguez ‘Ham-Ez’.

“Ham is?”

“No, y’see, I think it’s how you say James in Spanish or something. Anyway, they’ve been knocked out now, so he’s gone home I expect. Can I have my box of chocolate fingers back now, please?”

I love it. This World Cup has involved us all in more ways than I could have imagined. Without Ireland and - to all intents and purposes - England involved
in any meaningful way, the competition has captured the hearts of millions of people who never watch football.

I bump into a friend on Quay Street.

“So have you been able to catch the games, mate? I know your missis isn’t much into the footie.”

“Yeh, yeh I have Charlie. It’s amazing, really amazing. All of a sudden she’s completely into it, so we’ve watched loads of games!”

“Brilliant mate!”

Indeed, amazing and brilliant are apt words to describe this World Cup. While many previous competitions have been memorable only for their lack of goals or noise from vuvuzelas, this tournament has become known in my house as the ‘Spanish Inquisition World Cup.’

I’m not referring to the 15th century bunch who hunted down so-called heretics, tortured and then burnt them. It’s just that as the Snapper and I watched the group games, we said

“Nobody expected that!”

so many times that eventually one us (me) just had to go for the full Monty Python:

“Nooooobody expectsssss ... the Spanish Inquisition!”

Nobody expected Croatia to be robbed of a deserved victory against Brazil in the emotional cauldron of the tournament's opening game.

Nobody expected Holland to thrash reigning World and European Champions Spain 5-1.

Nobody expected Costa Rica to beat Uruguay and Italy to top their group, or England to play good attacking football, as we did briefly, in our first game against Italy.

This World Cup has been a topsy turvy affair. Usually the group games are tetchy, close, fairly boring encounters, with everyone scared of losing, while expansive fluid football arrives in the knockout stage, but this time the group stage was a goal extravaganza packed with fun, skill and passion.

Oy, so much passion. I nearly cried the first time I watched the Brazil team sing roar shout the second verse of their national anthem, with neither the band nor the approval of FIFA, yet alongside their entire nation of football-lovers

Anyway, nobody should be worrying about offending FIFA, as the world’s governing football organisation is a fetid, cruel, greedy and corrupt entity, more reminiscent of an organised crime family than a non-profit body overseeing the planet's favourite sport.

Next time, instead of the players droning out FIFA’s anti-racism dogma before kickoff, they should read an affirmation promising FIFA’s commitment to humanity and legality.

Still, happily, it says something for the power of football that despite this loathsome avaricious bunch of bribe-taking, tax dodging, construction worker-killing hoods, the game has never been more popular.

During the opening ceremony, the BBC showed clips of people the world over describing football as a religion. A few days later my good friend Richard and I were discussing the merits - or lack thereof - of Glen Johnson’s inclusion in the England team to play Italy.  The Liverpool player is a regular in the England team, yet we decided he’d never earned his place.

As the Snapper rose to refill her wine glass, she offered:

“Chelsea reject!”

at which point both Richard and I instantaneously and simultaneously mumbled:

“Chelsea reject!”

In fan parlance, any player who once played for your team, yet now wears the colours of another, becomes a ‘reject’, even if you wish he’d stayed. The sentiment makes no rational sense, displaying only a blind loyalty to a central tenet of faith that brings comfort.

If that sounds reminiscent of religious behaviour, what struck me was the way we’d responded to the Snapper's comment. ‘Call and Response’ plays an important role in the ceremonies of several religions.

Football doesn’t offer any answers to the great and mysterious questions of life, death and meaning. What it does do, when at its best, is create an all-encompassing and very welcome distraction.

Oh and yes, it’s fun! We laughed as we played Military Football Bingo, where you score points each time the commentator uses any of the following words or phrases when Germany are playing (which they do, all the time!):

Aerial bombardment; minefield; onslaught; annihilated; retreat; territorial advances; marching on.

We thrilled at late goals in extra time and roared with laughter as the Snapper and I pumped out rousing choruses of the most politically incorrect of duets:

“They find fit birds in the crowd, Tra la-LA la-LAAAH! They find fit birds in the crowd, Traaa la-LA la-la-la!”

When I first moved here I was surprised at how happy the Irish fans felt about their national side going out at the group stages. Now I know how that feels and I don’t mind at all.

There’s a reason clichés exist: there is truth in them. So, at the end of the day, we’re all winners, as football proves itself once again to be greater than any team, nation or organisation. It is the planet's favourite game.

If that’s not hyperbolic enough, football can always take you further. I now yield the floor to the BBC commentator who felt it necessary to travel far beyond the bounds of reason, as he described Robin Van Persie’s beautifully headed goal against Spain:

“The delivery was perfect. The finish even more so!”


©Charlie Adley
06.07.14.
(written before the semi-finals)


Monday 7 July 2014

SUNDAY MORNING + BLUE SKY + BLUE BAG = BLISS!


Sometimes it all just becomes a little too much. My energy levels crash, my scribbling buds dry up and finally, I’m unable to organise or prioritise.

Sometimes I just can’t face another ‘ise’ but thankfully I know exactly what to do.

There is no finer medicine for your colyoomist than to pack Blue Bag and drive off in my car Bennet, early on a sunny Summer’s morning.

The sky is pure blue but I suspect that as the day heats up it will fill with towering storm clouds. It’s only 7am but the temperature’s already up to 19c, so it’s going to be a scorcher. Dew steams low-slung clouds that hang above the long grasses at the roadside.

The hay has been cut, leaving green fields of pasture lying beside acres of golden stubble: the visual signature of a warm summer.

To hasten my feelings of escape, I play a little game, trying to decide when I’m really free of the city, all the time knowing that it has to be beyond the last roundabout past Oranmore. Just as it was in my hitching days, once on the road to Clarinbridge I know I'm on a Blue Bag adventure.

Of course now there’s also ‘Dead Tiger Roundabout’ to negotiate. Built for an estate that was never started. I hope that as you drive around it, you revel both in the wondrous absurdity of a roundabout that goes nowhere, while paying heed to how it perfectly reflects the way society goes when driven by greed.

Sunday mornings are absolutely the best time to hit the road. The curtains of Ireland are drawn, hiding sore heads and mouths open and dry. It’s just me and the livestock, both awake for hours, staring at each other across the sweep of tarmac and grass

Shooting down an empty M18, I’m south of Limerick before the shops have sorted their morning papers and by Abbeyfeale I realise I must slow down. In fact, I have to stop, because I’ll arrive way too early.

Amazingly there’s a wee cafe open but I really shouldn’t have the Full Irish, as I had my regular Saturday brekkie yesterday and

“Hello? What can I get you?”
“I’ll errr I’ll have the oh pfffp, I’ll have a Full Irish thanks!”

So weak and yet so right. Perfect, in fact, snarfed down with gallons of strong sweet tea and pages of World Cup drivel from a Sunday red top.

Stuffed and blissed out, I head past Tralee. Half way to Dingle the narrow twisty road is blocked by a couple of cyclists riding 2 abreast.

Many of my friends are cyclists so I listen to long horror stories of how badly they are treated by drivers, but what am I to do? It’s a hell of a long way past Dingle to my friend Angel’s new gaff, so am I supposed to just sit behind them for the next two hours?

Am I supposed to try and overtake them, thereby endangering my own life, theirs and those of any unseen approaching traffic?

Of course they know I’m there but they make no attempt to move. As each mile slowly passes, my grump grows into a growl, until finally I drop a gear and pull out. As I pass them I wind down the window and shout

“What gives you the right to block me? We all have the same right to travel this road!”

Although I feel fairly proud to have used such calm and fair words, when much coarser and more primitive types where looking to escape my moodbox, by the time I’m past them my bliss is gone, my sorrow at the arrogance of others washing away my early morning thrill of freedom.

Thankfully this dark blip does not last long, and within a couple of hours I’m sitting on a grassy ridge, on top of a cliff with my friend Angel. The breeze is cool on our backs while the sun beats onto our faces its full Midsummer heat.

Before us the headlands and distant mountains of The Kingdom are fronted and fringed by a perfectly waveless Atlantic Ocean, bluer only than the clear sky above.

The promised storm clouds never materialised, but my head is soon spinning in cyclones of its own, as Angel expounds his latest theories:

“The sun isn’t setting in the right place. It has moved since last year.”

“Really?”

“There are portions of the Dark Side of the moon that are now visible on random days. You can see it though binoculars.”

“Wow!”

“There’s a planet 5 times the size of Jupiter that is heading for our Solar System and - ”

“Blimey!” I interrupt him. “That’ll put the cat among the astronomical pigeons, mate!”

“Too right, pal!”

“Don’t mind that, really. If there’s something out there that’s so huge and impossible to affect, then I might as well just give myself up to it. No probs.”

“Yeh, it’s like a metaphor for death, innit? Look mate, I’m burning up here. Let’s go back to mine and have a cup of tea.”

“Now you’re talking my language mate.”

Early the next morning I awake and experience that unique feeling of your first day away. Today I can do whatever I want.

Sitting in the shade on the front step, I eat a banana, staring at the sun already high in the sky.

Maybe I’ll just sit here all day long.

Instead I pootle around Slea Head. Evidently ‘Pottery Cafés’ are this year's thing. They are everywhere along this road. A slice of carrot cake and an earthenware jug, please. 

Whatever takes your fancy

Some Austrian tourists in a camper van mistake a passing place for a lay-by, setting up their picnic in a space no bigger than a Ford Fiesta.

The traffic, now blocked in both directions, clings to the steep cliffs as far as the eye can see.

I sit back and laugh. There is no rage in me any more.
 

Mission accomplished!


Charlie Adley
26.06.14.

Monday 30 June 2014

ARE TENANTS IRELAND’S UNSUNG ECONOMIC HEROES?




I turn on the radio...

“This is a story that needs to be told. People aren’t talking about this and they should be. It’s a national scandal that everyone knows about and nobody wants to talk about which could bring us all down together. So why is nobody talking about it?”

One of the more fascinating and less amusing things about living in Ireland is that upon hearing her broadcast those words, my mind floods with a torrent of possibilities to which she might be referring.

Is it GSOC? Patients on trolleys? Gerry Adams and Jean McConville? Young male suicide? The Bank Enquiry? The Tuam Babies? The discretional Medical Cards fiasco? The Justice Department Spokesperson? Church Sex Abuse (‘clerical abuse’ sounds like a number in the wrong column: these were crimes worthy of stronger description)? Phone tapping by an Garda Siochana? Quinn? Lowry? Patients on trolleys? Shatter?

I’m nowhere near running out of Irish scandals when the radio show host reveals the topic.

“So if you’ve any queries on mortgage arrears give us a call now.”

Mortgage arrears? He cannot be serious.

Yes of course it’s a national scandal, something which could bring us all down together. The situation is catastrophic, but we hear about it all the time, so what’s all this “nobody talking about it” stuff?

Don’t get me wrong, I feel for you. If your house is now worth less than you paid for it and you’re six months behind in the payments, life must be a pretty scary place. All swept up in the excitement of Ireland’s first flush of independent wealth, you bought a house during the Tiger years and then discovered the wealth wasn’t independent: it was European and American, reliant on a world situation.

Now you’ve got negative equity and I can think of little worse. So if I’m the caring compassionate human I aspire to be, why do I feel more angry than sympathetic?
Maybe it’s because I didn't buy a house back then, because I wasn’t sure I could afford it. In 2007 I was earning about three times as much as I do today, but I’d seen the same shallow explosive boom years before, in Thatcher’s Britain, where everyone's eyes glazed over with power and glory, just as they did here in Ireland.

So I stayed a renter and am still one to this day. Of course I’d love nothing better than to feel the master of my own home. Six years off sixty, I’d love to feel safe and secure in my house, knowing that I’ll never have to move again. I want to see the apple saplings I’ve planted grow to maturity, but life as a tenant can be volatile.

While the government is supporting the plight of mortgage holders, by encouraging their banks and building societies to award support, time and patience to their customers in financial difficulty, there is no such laxity in the world of the tenant.

If a tenant falls behind on the rent, they’re out, end of story.

With the housing market only starting to revive in Dublin, there’s a massive shortage of rental accommodation around Ireland right now, at the same time that many tenants are finding they no longer qualify for Rent Allowance.

Landlords are facing new household charges and property taxes that might make rent rises look very attractive. Homelessness is going through the roof, as those caught in various poverty traps end up on the streets.

We hear a lot about mortgage arrears and only very little about homelessness, but I cannot remember ever hearing a discussion about tenants. We find a rent we can realistically afford to pay and then just plug away, paying our rent every month, never entertaining the slightest notion of somehow getting away with falling behind in our payments. If we did, there’d be no support from the government, no recourse, no chance of hanging on to our home.

So here’s a great big cheer for tenants.

To be fair, I’ve been fantastically lucky with the Landlords I’ve had since moving to this country. In the finding of my last two homes an estate agent acted as intermediary, but before that, living in six different homes, I’d only ever paid one security deposit.

After years of standing in queues with other prospective tenants outside San Francisco apartments, all of us clutching our Credit Checks to prove we were financially sound, it felt fantastically civilised upon my return to sit and drink tea with my new Irish Landlady, who explained that no, there was no need for any deposit.

She hoped I’d like the place.
I did.

Two years later, in Co. Mayo, I drank tea with a farmer and his wife and shook hands again. Three years after that I had a chat with my new landlord in Salthill. He, like the previous two, was old school: if a man appeared to be sound, that was good enough for him.

I remember the day he came to tell me he was going to sell the place. He lived in the big house to which my one bedroom housheen was attached.

“Sorry, Charlie. I know this is your home and I’d offer you first refusal on it, of course I  would. Trouble is, you’d have to buy both homes and I somehow suspect you don't have a spare €460,000!”

A part of me loved him for that. Even though he was both a home owner and a landlord, he was completely aware that my home meant as much to me as his own did to him. To him the fact that he owned his home and I did not was immaterial.

If that little one bedroom in Salthill had been detached from his half million euro house, he’d have offered me first refusal and I’d have begged and borrowed to buy it.

I’d own my home at last and if I ever found myself in mortgage arrears, I might find a sympathetic ear and an extended payments plan.



©Charlie Adley
20.06.14.

Wednesday 25 June 2014

‘WILD ATLANTIC WAY’ OR WEST COAST, I’LL ALWAYS LOVE IT!


It's really hard not to feel pure joy, but somehow I manage it.

The scene in front of my eyes would put any Rom-Com montage to shame. I’m on one of my favourite Connemara beaches, under a cloudless blue sky.

Walking beside me along the pristine white sand with the Snapper is a very over-excited 3 year-old collie-lab who goes by the name of Lady, or on occasion Lady Dog.

As soon as she jumps out of the car, it is apparent that she's never seen the sea close up before.

Immediately she is fascinated by the waves. What are these watery animals that keep rolling onto the sand? Running along the beach up to her knees in ocean, Lady goes into hunting mode, learning quickly that when she takes a bite out of the Atlantic, the wave collapses, so clearly she is killing them.

Look, there’s one, got it, oh no there’s another one, got it, oh no there’s another one, got it, oh no...

What a smart doggie!

Steady there now, if anyone’s going to say my dog’s thick, it’ll be me, if you don’t mind thanks missis, sniff cof cof.

On the drive there we’d listened to radio reports of calamitous thunderstorms around the country, but here, just beyond Cleggan on the way to Claddaghduff, here the weather is perfect.

That which used to be the West Coast of Ireland is now branded the Wild Atlantic Way, which is a wonderful thing if it helps to keep the area as unspoiled and stunning as it is right now, while supporting those who work to show others the road from Cork to Donegal.

One of the great things about being a bit of an empiricist is that every happy day appears as if the like had never before. I have walked this beach a hundred times, yet each has been unique. Time moves on, taking with it emotion and energy, but one constant I give thanks for: this little beach is always empty.


The sun is beating high in the sky, the water a blinding array of turquoise shades that put the Aegean to shame. Looking at this wondrous scene, I try to imagine what the soundtrack music would be to this particular movie montage. It’s that part of the film when time passes as dogs run up beaches, husband and wife walk hand in hand and there’s scones and jam for tea.

Which there were, but that’s another story.

So my dog is having the time of her young life. As the Snapper laughs and the dog swallows yet more pints of emetic sea water, I struggle really hard not to spoil the moment.

For once I succeed. I laugh and shout:

“Good Girl! Good girl! Are you having fun out there? Good girl!”

Thankfully my fears of driving whilst drowning in rivers of dog vomit prove fruitless, as Lady leaves seven or eight Hunk-hunk-hunks on the beach. The first few are clearly sea water, but by the time she’s nothing left to give, she’s retching parcels of matter that look remarkably like Potty Putty.

Hadn’t thought of Potty Putty for years.
Dogs are amazing.


Please take me with you - I'll be good!

Anyway, thank goodness, now she’s safe to put back in the car.
Ah but no what’s this? All of a sudden she stops and raises her backside in a most unusual position (the dog not the wife: behave!) that is neither a pooh stance nor a peeper crouch. She’s holding it there and oh my god ... oh good grief ... oh yuckkety yuck yuk.

To be fair, her positioning is an accurate description of what’s just happened. Neither one nor t’other, a most unfortunate cocktail of all three states of existence.

While it’s a little late in the day to spare your blushes, patient colyoomistas, I do realise that there’s only so much I can reasonably expect others to read about the motions of my pooch.

The point to all this is neither the splendour of the day that’s in it, nor the alien vileness of whatever it is that Lady explosively expelled onto the sand.

The point is that I have a hard time letting go of my responsibilities and to me, Connemara has always been a sanctuary.

New in Ireland, working as a kitchen porter in Kinsale, I used to stare at my map for hours, my fingertip tracing the western coastline of Co. Galway. My travelling instincts itched to visit this area and have never been disappointed.

Of course Connemara has faults. Some days when I lived out here I felt I’d physically implode if I saw another raindrop on my window pane, but hey, that’s what Galway City was invented for.

A trip into town, a bit of craic and soon enough Connemara would lure me home; happy, safe and silent in my far-western refuge.

Yet today it’s different, for a reason that is so completely socially unacceptable that I’m finding it hard to confess.

Dog owners are fond of saying:
“Best thing we ever did that was, getting the dog. Changed our lives forever.”


...but but but I'm irresistible...

Well I love my dog too. Her welfare will always be my responsibility, but as I work at home, for 5 days each week she’s solely my responsibility. Evidently, eventually that for me becomes exhausting.

The experts all say that the dog must fit in with your lifestyle, which is fine if you don’t mind mopping the kitchen floor. To be fair, Lady lives up to her name, but right now, on this tiny wee holiday, a huge part of me just wants to be free of all responsibility.

Let me think of nobody but myself and the Snapper.
Let there be no early morning clock-watching.
Let me sit inside a pub.

Anyway, we’re having a lovely time and with Lady now thankfully empty at both ends, we drive back to Rosleague Manor, where there are warm scones and jam for tea.

I think I mentioned the scones, didn’t I?


©Charlie Adley
14.06.14.