Sunday 17 September 2017

AUTUMN ISN’T AN ENDING - IT’S NATURE’S BEGINNING!



It starts with the car windows veiled in morning dampness. Then flower beds show more seed heads than petals.
 

The rains came exactly when they always do, just as festival season hit Galway, and by Race Week we were into that humid damp air that meets hot sunshine breaking through thunderclouds.
 

Before that though, we had a long dry Spring and Summer. A friend of mine grades Summer by how often he leaps into Lough Corrib, and this year there wasn’t the heat for more than four swims. 

Not good by his standards, yet I’m always amused by the Irish ability to eradicate the memory of months of good weather with two wet mornings.
 

I’m already hearing that Autumnal old chestnut:
 

“Ah sure, we never had a Summer at all!”
 

But yes we did. We had no Winter last year, which was strange and deeply disturbing, but Spring came right on time, with the sweet peas planted into containers on Paddy’s Day.
 

Despite the seemingly driven Irish desire to see bad weather in good, I know it was dry for months because I have a dog who loves walking, and from March to August I did not once don my waterproof leggings.
 

During most Summers I become obsessed with the weather forecast, trying to spot a window of dryness so that I can mow the lawn, but this year it was easy.
 

Well, until the Arts Festival. But you’ll have that.
 

It took me decades to truly understand that the seasons here are a month apart from the ones in my native London. Regular as clockwork, on August 1st my farmer landlord in North Mayo used to say:


“Well, that’s it now, Charlie. That’s it gone.”
 

At the time I’d refuse to believe him. Back in England August is seen as high Summer, but this year on August 1st, as I stood on the front lawn with Lady Dog, waiting for her to do what dogs do, I felt a turn in the wind; a different rustle to the leaves on the trees; the slightest whiff of growth oozing into decay.
 

It was arrogant of me to disbelieve a Mayo farmer. Of course the climate is different here, 500 miles further west, on the Atlantic edge of the continent.
 

I love it.
 

Yes, I know that sounds incredible. I know that when we’re feeling beaten up by Winter’s brutal endless storms, demoralised by the lashing rain of another midsummer letdown, we cheer ourselves up by reassuring each other:
 

“Ah well, we don’t live here for the weather!”
 

No, we don’t, but without our weather would we have the place we love?
 

One night years ago I was crammed into the shelter of a shop porch with a man who resembled Uncle Albert from Only Fools and Horses. 

Together we watched as blankets of sideways rain powered up Dominick Street, torrents of insistent swirls, dancing silver under the street lights.
 

We looked at each other and then out into the bleakness, both knowing well that this was not a passing shower; that we would have to brave it and deal with the consequences.
 

Turning to me he threw back his head and laughed maniacally.
 

“God’s gift to Ireland!” he screamed above the clamour of the storm. “God’s gift, the raaaaiiin!” he cheered, eager for me to ask him why.
 

Not really in the mood for theological debate, I resisted the urge to reply “Well ta very much, God!” instead settling for the more respectful:
 

“How’s that then?”
 

Delighted I’d finally bitten his apple, he launched into his spiel, which was, I must admit, enlightening.
 

“Without the rain there’d be a hotel on every clifftop. Without the rain there’d be caravans and mobile homes as far as you can see. Without the rain there’d be millions of tourists here every month of the year and the farmers would go broke and sell up to build more hotels and the land would be gone and the space would be filled. Without the rain everything you love about Ireland would be gone.”
 

Silence fell between us.
 

Somehow this stranger could not have summed up better what I love about the West of Ireland. Almost beyond the compassion, warmth and wit of the people, I adore the pace and space of the West.

Wildflower meadows pop up in vacant lots in the middle of village streets. You can walk for hours without the sound of distant traffic. I can lie in my bed in the morning and listen to donkeys braying, pheasants squawking and the endearing rasp of a gently snoring Snapper.
 

Our mountain sides are empty. 

Our clifftops are grassy. 

The weather is terrible and as Autumn sets in now, it will only get worse, but consider this: wherever you live in Connacht, you’re never more than 20 minutes drive from somewhere stunningly beautiful.
 

If you step out of your bus or car and stand in the middle of nowhere for 15 minutes, you’ll be giving thanks, feeling privileged to live in this extraordinary part of the world.
 

At night we can see the Milky Way in all its glory. During the day we can walk among wildlife, dreaming for a moment we are the sole representatives of the human race.
 

Autumn is nature’s planting season, when tilting grasses and falling fruit sew seeds; when billions of bacteria are born in rotting growth, returning life and energy to tired soil.
 

Next Wednesday is Rosh Hashanah, Jewish New Year (5,778, since you ask!)
 

Jewish people see Autumn not as an end but a beginning. We will dip apples into honey, to give thanks for the harvest and ask for a sweet year ahead.
 

Be grateful for the gifts nature bestows on us here, and before you curse the rain, consider the alternative.


©Charlie Adley
04.09.2017

Sunday 10 September 2017

I DON’T NEED TO SEE HIM TO KNOW HE VOTED ‘LEAVE’!

Thanks to my mate, The Guardian's Martin Rowson for the cartoon


I’ve only driven a few miles towards my mum’s from Heathrow Airport when a white van cuts up on the inside of my rental car, driving in a lane that doesn’t exist.
 

As he squeezes past me at speed I swerve to the right and toot my horn, scared he might scratch Hertz’s shiny new motor, allowing them to charge me a wad.
 

In a split second, as if awaiting the chance to show what an angry man he is, his bare arm comes shooting out of the driver’s window, performing a trio of high speed, evidently well-practiced hand gestures.
 

We start off with the classic English V-sign, followed by a shaking fist, while the Grand Finale is that sarcastic classic, the up and down ringed-wrist motion.
 

He voted Leave.
 

I don’t even need to see him to know that, but the traffic lights 100 yards away turn red so we end up level. The same age as me, with less hair and stomach, he’s avoiding eye contact now, but I know him.
 

Not his name, nor anything personal about him, but I know that both he and I were born at the birth of Brexit.
 

There’s much that I love and admire about England and the English, yet I choose to live in the West of Ireland, partly because 

I’m besotted with it, but also because here I’m free from an awful feeling that used to pervade my life.
 

I was born a mere 12 years after the sun finally set on the British Empire. As a young boy, my atlas at school showed a third of the world as Ours, making it hard not perceive us English as something special; something better.
 

I grew up with people suffering a national resentment: they'd missed out on being Great; things used to be better; they’d been born too late.
 

Out of this sense of loss evolved a loathsome latent violence, an aggression lurking just below the surface, whereby one ill-advised word starts an argument, two drinks a fight.
 

It was this feeling of being robbed of glory that spawned Brexit. 

The Leave voters who believe they are better off alone come from the same seam of English thought that made me leave England 25 years ago.
 

When the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier last week referred to English attitudes as “a sort of nostalgia…” he had no idea how accurate his assessment had been.
 

He was referring to the UK’s Disney desire to be out of the EU while in the single market, but accidentally chose the perfect word to describe the malaise that feeds the English delusion.
 

Feeling swindled of greatness, Brexiteers will now turn their wrath towards the EU negotiators, as if somehow this pig’s dinner is the EU’s fault.
 

As I said, I love the English and truly believe that if instead of Boris and his bunch of bumbling liars, they were presented with simple truths, the majority would have voted Remain.
 

They were told that Europe represents 40% of UK trade, while the real figure is 60%, thanks to free trade deals that the UK enjoys, negotiated by the EU.
 

Of what’s left, half is trade with the USA, not presently a reliable partner, leaving a minuscule 20% that the UK trades with the rest of the world. To make up their losses, these Brexiteers will have to cut unprecedented - and frankly impossible - trade deals.
 

How would the English have voted if they knew that without an EU workforce the NHS, agriculture and construction industries would crumble? That without migrants from Europe, others must come from further afield to support economic growth? That you can’t negotiate separate trade deals if you’re in the customs union? That there can be no freedom from the European Court of Justice while you trade with the EU?
 

On occasion, as a proud Englishman, I have squirmed with embarrassment as this debacle unfolds. The arrogance of Tory attitudes is matched only by their ignorance of the EU and the way it works.
 

When negotiating with 27 other nations it might be an idea to first find out what works for them, and then match their aims to your ambitions.
 

Blinded by delusions of grandeur, both Conservative and Labour politicians conveniently forget that they started this messy affair; that naturally the EU see Brexit as a major threat, and must prove to other nations that leaving absolutely means losing all benefits.
 

Instead they offer mere pontifications on whether it’s best to be inside, beside or out of the single market; how everything in Ireland will turn out right, merely because all sides appear to want roughly the same thing, while not one single workable suggestion has appeared.
 

In many countries, plebiscites involving fundamental national change require a two-thirds majority, yet UK politicians on all sides insist that the British have spoken, and we must listen to their voice.
 

Yes, please do just that.
Don’t ignore the 48.
 

Nigel Farage told the Daily Mirror in May 2016: 
“In a 52-48 referendum this would be unfinished business by a long way.”
 

The British did not speak with one voice. 52% of a misinformed and propagandised electorate whispered:
 

“We are confused and fearful, but we want to believe we can be great again.”
 

4% is a margin of error, not a mandate.
 

For me Brexit means a lengthy citizenship application, as after half a lifetime in Ireland, I fear turning around to find I’ve no security.
 

I wish the English had learned one thing from the EU. Here in Ireland we know only too well that when we vote the wrong way in a referendum, the EU insists we vote again, until we get it right.

Saturday 2 September 2017

Dribbling, sloshing and hurling in Connemara!


One of my beloved London Posse is over on a visit, so we avoid the high season crowds at Roundstone, turning right at Clifden and head for the Aughris Peninsula.
 

By lunchtime we’re sitting in Oliver’s in Cleggan, enjoying Guinness, oysters, the view out of the window and each others’ company.
 

Cleggan was my base when I first discovered the area, and I fell in love with the secluded little beaches that scatter the shoreline all the way to Claddaghduff. Most tourists seem to see the place as merely a ferry in-and-out job, but they are missing a lot, and I’m grateful they're over there, on different beaches.
 

Standing on white sand, alone or with a lifetime friend, looking out to Bofin and distant headlands across a turquoise Atlantic aspiring to appear Caribbean, I feel a sense of belonging, calm, hope: works for me every time.
 

On the day that's in it, the sky is grey, so my friend doesn’t see the full splendour of blue and black, green and gold, but Connemara never lets you down.
 

The lads in Oliver's are talking about the hurling, and just for a minute my mind drifts back to this bar decades ago, when I used to stay in the hostel at the old Master’s House. 

Then, after a year in Galway, I developed grandiose notions of belonging to the B&B set.
 

That didn’t work out well at all.
 

A stubborn and foolish man driven by the idea of a cooked breakfast, I’d forced myself out of bed after a long afternoon and longer night before.
 

Kings, Newman's, The Pier, Oliver’s, back to Newman’s.
You’re familiar with the way it works. 
 

My messed-up morning brain was perfectly mirrored by the low cloud drizzle swamping and subduing Cleggan Bay. Heading into the dazzling lights of the Dining Room, I was blissfully unaware that my T-shirt was on inside out and back to front.
 

The other residents sat at their tables, all clinky china and hushed tones, trying their best to ignore me.
 

Far from matters of mere sartorial elegance, I was having a great deal of trouble simply eating. Trying far too carefully to secure a piece of toast and fried egg onto my fork, I oops and steady now … there it goes.
 

At the precise moment I managed to fumble that eggy bready parcel into my mouth, an immaculately turned-out French couple glided into the Dining Room. 

A second’s glance deduced that these slickers had not been in the pub until early that morning. They’d invested in 8 hours kip and doubtless awoke refreshed, only to spritz their cheeks with atomized Evian water.
 

As if in an art gallery - or maybe a zoo! - they both stopped in their tracks to watch a piece of fried egg slowly slip from my mouth, ooze its way down my chin and drop back onto my plate.
 

Rather convenient, I thought to myself, no scraping of table cloth necessary, but the French were utterly horrified. They turned and walked out of the room, for some reason having lost their appetite.
 

Now everyone turned to look at me, in that straight-laced shirt collar out of the V-neck sweater kind of way.
 

Did I care?
Not while there was food to be eaten.
 

The rain continued to come down. All healthy intentions to climb hills and break a natural sweat were banished.
 

Back to Oliver’s, where the big screen was up. Galway were taking on Tipp in the All Ireland semi-final. Back then the Gaelic was all new to me, but you didn’t have to know the finer points of hurling to recognise one of the best sports on the planet.
 

Excitement expanded to explosive levels in the packed pub, as Galway confounded the tipsters. Every time a point was scored the place erupted, and when Galway scored a goal small riots broke out in various corners of the pub.
 

The place fell silent as Tipperary took the ball and ran towards the Galway goal, save for a tiny yet defiant female voice, rising from the middle of the crammed-in masses.
 

“Come on Tipp!”
 

Everyone laughed raucously. So different to my native England, nobody here booed or maligned her beyond gentle craic.
 

As a teenager in the 70s I’d never wear my Chelsea shirt in North or East London, so I was both delighted and shocked when I first saw Mayo kids going to school wearing Dublin jerseys.
 

In England that’d be cruising for a bruising, but here everybody stands together - although I suspect you’d be unlikely to find a Dublin shirt on a child in Kerry.
 

Galway won by two points on that August day in 1993, and I dutifully resigned myself to the ensuing celebrations.
 

We went on to lose the final to Kilkenny, but as I slosh down molluscs and black stuff with my mate, I’m absorbing the positive mood in the fresh Cleggan air.
 

Galway knocked out Tipp and the dreaded Cats are long gone.
 

Can’t wait for tomorrow! Come on Galway!

©Charlie Adley
02.09.2017

Saturday 26 August 2017

I've all the time in the world for my lovely nieces!




My nieces hold a very special place in my heart. To be honest, they’ve been a constant source of joy ever since they were born, and now, as Hayley turns 40, my brainbox is full of images of our shared past: bus rides to Hamley’s toy shop to choose presents; endless photos in which the pair of them look incredibly beautiful; an evolving sibling bond, so steely strong and full of love it leaves me jaw-dropped in awe.
 

Mooching around Galway to find the right present to send Hayley for her birthday, my mind drifts back to her sister Michelle’s 21st.
 

Looking for a link between her life in London and mine here that might last a lifetime, I found a Galway Crystal mantle clock, which I asked to be fixed to a wooden base with a gold strip attached, engraved: 

Happy 21st Birthday Michelle
 
When I went to pick up the finished article I immediately saw that the engraved strip was askew, while the right end was much wider than the left.
 

The whole thing looked ridiculous. Were they really serious about selling it to me like that?
 

“Erm, am I imagining it, or is there a slant to that?”
 

The older woman behind the counter sniffed and flared her nostrils.
“Hmmff. I think you’re imagining it, but I’ll see what I can do!”
 

That really bugged to me. Either I was imagining it, in which case there was nothing she could do, or she’d offered me a shoddy product.
 

“Now! Here you are so! Will I wrap it?”
 

“Please! Oh, actually, can I just have a quick look at it first?”
As she handed me the clock, her cold blue eyes drilled contempt 

into my brow.
 

“Yes, yes it’s fine!”
 

By then I’d have said it was fine even if it wasn’t, because I wanted to rid my universe of her arcane disapproving ways. I wanted out of her torpid nasty shop.
 

 

As I watched her wrap the clock in tissue paper, I realised that it was telling the wrong time.
 

I’d certainly feel a lot happier if the clock looked like it worked when Michi unwrapped it, in front of the whole family at her birthday dinner in London.
 

“Sorry, could you set it to the right time, please?”
 

Simple enough request, you’d think, but she stared at me with eyes that would make diamonds wilt, a withering hateful glower capable of forcing rivers to flow upstream.
 

Exhaling slowly and noisily, she waited until she was breathless before choosing to speak again.
 

Finally she started to talk, adopting the deep guttural grunting tone popular among teenage girls possessed by the devil. With a customer service attitude that left much to be desired, this woman (working in a clock shop) then asked what many might consider a most unlikely question.
 

“Huuummmpphhhh. Oh now. So now. Well then, do you happen to know what the right time might be?”
 

To her evident pleasure, I explained that I don’t wear a watch. Nodding slowly, she implied that she knew I’d be useless like that.
 

How did she make a living? Why run a shop, if all you want to do is make your customers feel like a piece of runny pooh on the carpet?
 

To my left: row upon row of clock faces.
To my right: clocks. 


Above, below, behind, in front: nothing but clocks and watches.
43,000 clock faces and she’s asking me the time?
 

Somewhat fearful and tremulous of voice, I asked: 

“Do any of these tell the right time?”
 

“Well, now, it’d be a fine tirrible job to keep all of these telling the right time now, wouldn’t it?
 

“Yes, it would, but just one that did tell the right time might be an idea! Gordhelpus, just one!”
 

That was it. 

I’d overstepped the mark. 

She wrapped the clock, stuffed it into a small tatty box, and told me that seeing as how it was so important to me to have the right time, why didn’t I adjust the time myself, back at my home, where I probably had the time perfectly set on my own clock.
 

“Okay I will. So it’s all working, is it? Nothing else I need?”
 

 As I watched, a shiver of nervous hesitation ran up her spine, causing her body to shift and bend just an inch.
 

A strip of Sellotape hanging from the fingers of her left hand, she closed and sealed the parcel before finally answering my question.
 

“Well, now, do you not have a battery?”
 

 

No madam I do not have a battery as I am human and not android. Do you have a battery? More pertinent right now, does that clock that you just sold me, wrapped up and bleedin’ sealed into that box, not have a battery? And if not why not and even more so, why did you not tell me that the clock was actually, in its present state, nothing more than a non-functioning lump of crystal glass and metal?
 

As it happened it would’ve been handy to have a battery then, in the form of a pacemaker, as my heart, which had worked fine until I met her, had since gone into palpitational free form.
 

“No, I do not have a battery. Of course I don’t have a battery! Why would I have a battery? Does it need one? Why on earth did you wrap up that clock with no battery?”
 

“Well then,” she sighed, “I suppose you’ll be needing a battery as well.”
 

What a delight it is to know that begrudging human moraine like herself can no longer compete in our modern retail marketplace, where smiling, helpful and concerned staff have finally won over the old order.
 

Today’s Galway represents the finest city to find a personal meaningful gift for a loved one.
 

Happy Birthday lovely Hayley! 
Hope you like the pressie. 
It truly was a pleasure to buy it, honest! 
X


©Charlie Adley

23.08.2017.

Sunday 20 August 2017

Hello and welcome to the Grumbling Forecast!



“That was the news. Now over to Charlie for today’s grumbling forecast.” 

Lyrical violins play during footage of long grasses swaying at ground level. Focus switches to reveal two men standing by a gate. One is waving his hands around excitedly, the other leaning away, looking slightly scared.
 

Voiceover: 
“Avonmore Angry milk. Just a glass a day will put Grr into your Grumble.”
 

Hello and you’re very welcome to today’s grumbling forecast. Over the last while we’ve enjoyed a relatively settled spell of generally steady grumbling all over the country, but in the coming days that’s all set to change.
 

Taking a look at the overall situation at the moment, as you can see there’s a large bad mood system heading into the West from the Atlantic, which will bring variable amounts of whingeing and nitpicking, and there’s even the chance of the odd snivel in some places, especially over North Connacht and Ulster.
 

Now the way it looks at the moment that system might well collide with this large area of bellyaching coming up from the continent. 

We’re not exactly sure when this might happen, but we’ll keep you updated. As things stand we’ve released a yellow level Emotional Alert, and we advise you to follow this developing situation at grumble.ie, on Facebook and Twitter. 

As you know, when bad moods and bellyaching collide at this time of year, there can be severe consequences, with mood meltdowns likely.
 

In contrast, over Leinster and north east Ulster, things should remain relatively calm, with only mild outbreaks of criticism and disapproval.
 

Now to look at the situation over the next few days in more detail, and we’ll start with the West and get most of it wrong, because, I know I really shouldn’t say this, but we don’t care. 

Sure, we love it for the stags and hens and cliffs and fields and all that, but if you live there, well, grumbling’s the least of your worries.
 

When we say national forecast, what we really mean is the counties of Dublin, Wicklow, Meath and Kildare, because that’s where we all live.
 

Anyway, over the next few days the West will be hit hard by that bad mood system we saw earlier. We can expect strong arguments from yer man who's still bloody going on about Galway’s County Final performance against Roscommon, and why that shower weren’t fit to wear the shirt, with depression deepening as he moves on to the Kerry game.
 

Further north in Mayo there’ll be outbreaks of fear and doubt at the thought of Enda prowling free and unleashed in the county, along with widespread whispered whimpers of “Croker…”
 

By afternoon that bad mood system will start clearing to the east, leaving behind local showers of dissent and protest around Armagh and Fermanagh. 

We can expect objections popping up all over counties Donegal and Derry, focusing on soft borders and hard borders, invisible borders and even herbaceous borders, although teenage boarders look to be in the clear.
 

As is normal at this time of year, emotional storms carrying heavy bands of grouch will be developing all over Antrim, leaving rural areas vulnerable to quite severe local carping about what’s being done with that DUP money, while dazzling smugness can be expected from anyone who sucked the fruit of May’s Magic Money Tree. 

Criticism of all and arguments with everyone will prevail in Ulster for the foreseeable future.
 

Existentially confused border pirates will be prone to spontaneous outbursts of unintelligible squawking about whiskey, tobacco and pink diesel, while occasional fuss and hoo-hah about numberplate recognition systems can be expected
 

Counties Louth, Cavan and Monaghan, along with the Midlands counties of Longford, the other one and, oh you know, will see long periods of moaning and groaning, as nobody ever spares them a thought, and sure now there’s motorways, so nobody even drives through the town.
 

As that bad mood system moves eastwards, a general lifting of mood in the west will give way to jollity of spirit and the breaking out of spontaneous smiles, at the thought of the Dubs getting it for a change.
 

In the capital there will be heavy and continuous moping about rental costs, storms of griping about the housing ladder and prolonged groaning about that shower in the Dáil.
 

That large area of bellyaching I mentioned earlier is due to arrive in the Sunny South-East around the same time as the bad mood system arrives from the West. 

Caution is advised around Waterford and especially Tramore, where holidaymakers will be giving out about the size of the chip portions and what the hell do you do with the kids on day five?
 

Meanwhile in Cork that powerful front of continental angst will create lengthy storms from locals moaning about wasn’t it just typical of Keano even thinking of managing Israel, what with all that y'know, followed by whirlwinds of to be fair but isn’t he a pure born rebel, and isn’t that what we call our county, and don't anyone go mentioning that the original Cork rebel was relly just some stuck-up Brit called Perkin Warbeck, who reckoned he was King Richard IV of England.
 

Moving around to Kerry and Clare, there’ll be localised pockets of grousing about Job Path and griping about pot holes and can they not come up with something better than the pitch, the jug and the lads in the truck.
 

As the general mood clears up around the country, somewhere in County Galway a Londoner will be kvetching at his keyboard.
©Charlie Adley