Monday 30 November 2015


... a line of golden light lit up along the length of the cloud’s upper edge, a shimmering rim of brilliance running across the entire opening of Galway Bay.

I had a bit of a moment the other day. With an hour to kill before a meeting in town I drove to Salthill, walked across the car park to the Prom and stood on a rock on the sea wall.

The early evening air was cool and clear. There was not a breath of wind. Under the fading light of a clear blue sky the water in the bay lay perfectly still, a silvery sheen pockmarked by bobbing bunches of seaweed.

Climbing down the rocks I walked along the beach, until I was beyond Palmer’s Rock. The sun was sinking behind a massive wall of dark cloud, towering high into the west, rising from the horizon until it occupied a third of the sky.

As the sun disappeared behind this great grey barrier, a line of golden light lit up along the length of the cloud’s upper edge, a shimmering rim of brilliance running across the entire opening of Galway Bay.

In contrast to this dazzling line of light, the wall of cloud below turned black. Had you just arrived as a stranger in the place I stood, you might well believe that this water vapour was in fact stone; that Galway Bay was a lake, edged by mountains high and mighty, from Black Head to Bearna.

Even though I know a cloud when I see one, something primal deep inside me double checked to make sure that this black monolith was not a tidal wave, rushing to consume us all.

No. Nothing as dramatic as that. So calm, in fact, that the ocean’s edge became indistinguishable from the beach. As the tide edged out it left a glistening shine on the sand, while dusk’s light bounced off the motionless ocean, appearing as a blend of mercury and mirrors.

Despite the roar of traffic in the background and the hordes walking along the Prom, I still managed to find my own space and peace down there.

Staring at a tiny lump of sand, watching as the water lapped over it and receded, waiting, watching, waiting, watching, wondering when will come that moment when the tide might turn.

That’s what I do. I watch the tide and drift into peace. Neither Mindfulness nor Meditation, and yet equally both, I have no desire to put a label on it.

It’s what I do; what I did that evening and have done everywhere I’ve lived in the West of Ireland. I stared for hours at the sunken rocks of Bunowen Bay and the dunes of Doonloughan when I lived in west Connemara. For many years in north Mayo I watched the tide turn along Ross beach, and lost myself many a time in the utter splendour and endless beauty of Kilcummin back strand.

Yet all these natural wonders and altered mental states were only the precursor to my moment. Quite possibly my mind worked then as it has done today, taking my long-overdue return to tide staring as a trigger to my past.

Whatever caused it, I encountered a tsunami that evening. Adrift within the calmest moment the Atlantic seaboard could ever offer, I suddenly felt lost at sea, washed overboard by a freak wave of emotion.

Replacing my physical vision with a reel of memories, my mind ran a major film event in front of my eyes, showing me reruns of many of the varied events in the last 23 years of my life that have played out on Salthill Prom.

The night in August 1992, when I sat there on the rocks with my new-found friend, as we decided to stay, to try and find a home and make a life here in Galway.

Seven years later, having failed in and fled from America, the day I once again stumbled along the Prom, searching for stability, soaking up familiarity.

The night in 1993 when I fell out of Vagabonds and sat on the sea wall with my beautiful date, stole a kiss, sipped whiskey from a naggin, felt thrilled at the opportunities the night ahead offered, and then dropped my house keys into the dark void between the rocks.  

The day I walked to Gentian Hill believing I would never again take a step without back pain, and the day when I realised it was gone. 

The out-loud talks I’ve had with myself, like the crazy guy you don’t want to sit next to on the bus. Open dialogues that escape my mind, transforming into voice, in your space and face, as I walk alone along the Prom.

A few days after my decision to stay in Galway, the weather changed and my jaw dropped. Fog and low cloud had been obscuring the Burren, so great was my joy to see for the first time the sensual purple hills of County Clare.

Thousands of walks along the Prom, which was for as long as I lived in Salthill my lifeline, my mental health, my physical saviour.

The Prom lifted my spirits, cleared my head of the detritus of everyday life. Along its length I spilled my emotional angst, vitriol and bile, so that by time I returned home my mind was free, my spirit cleansed, my body alive and tingling.

Meteorological marvels have sometimes allowed me to make out smoke rising from a chimney far across the bay in Ballyvaughan. A beam of sunlight will pick out a field of rich deep green above Bell Harbour, and when the light shimmers and glows in just right way, all three Aran islands can float into view, vibrating as melting mirages in the distance.

I was silly to be surprised by my moment. I had not been to the Prom for many months and was foolish to underestimate my love for it and Galway Bay.

My heart was almost washed away by the flood of memories. My soul lifted like a kite in the wind, tears swelled in my eyes.

Having paid my respects to the Prom and my past I gave thanks, turned around and walked on.

©Charlie Adley

Friday 20 November 2015


There's something intensely human and tragic about watching a proud man proven wrong. As his confidence crumbles, his mind falters and the veil of charisma that once so entranced starts to thin, becomes transparent and finally disappears.

Despite all the silverware he’s placed in Chelsea’s trophy cabinet, my feelings towards Jose Mourinho have always been mixed, because life isn’t about winning.

It’s about how you win and how you deal with defeat.

At the core of Mourinho’s dilemma lurks a bizarre paradox. Regardless of whether you despise the man and his methods or not, there’s no denying that during the period of a game of football, he’s a tactical genius. Yet now it appears that he had no Plan B.

The manager who prepares his teams for each game like no other, who makes brave and incredibly effective substitutions that turn matches around has no other way of doing things than the one he’s already employed in Portugal, England, Italy and Spain.

Most managers are happy to have leaders on the pitch, or leaders in the dressing room, but not Mourinho. He doesn’t want leaders: he wants disciples. Mourinho needs his players to believe in him and the power of what he calls The Group. 

There’s a distinctly military whiff to this style, and indeed sometimes he stands on the touchline, his left hand pressed onto the right side of his chest, looking half Napoleon and half Dr. Strangelove.

When everything is good it’s because the Group made it so. Everything bad that happens is down to all other bodies: physical, corporate and official.

His teams are set out in a similar style to many others. In front of five or six defenders a couple of flair players run between the lines, supplying a target striker. 

Nothing particularly remarkable, until you watch it working well. Then you realise that every single player out there knows exactly what they are meant to be doing and why. 

More, when an effective Mourinho team loses the ball, they swarm like ants over the opposition in possession until
they have the ball in their control again.

For this to succeed every member of The Group must fit into Mourinho’s template. It matters not if you’ve the prodigious talent of Kevin de Bruyne (now starring for Manchester City after becoming a superstar in Germany) or the energetic pace, cut and thrust of André Schürrle.

If you don’t defend well enough, you’re sold.

As a Chelsea fan, the intransigence of this policy has driven me to the brink. Twice Juan Mata was voted Club Player of the Year. A quintessentially Chelsea player, Mata is loaded with flair and magic, but he didn't fit the template, so Mourinho sold him to Manchester United.

This combination of player templating, tactical preparation and managerial adoration might have worked wonders at Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid, but at each club it succeeded only for a short time, because it sows the seeds of its own failure.

A Mourinho Cocktail consists of three parts: ‘I Am Great’, ‘You Are The Best Players In The World’ and ‘The Bastards Are Out To Get Us.’

For a couple of years Mourinho manages to maintain a healthy balance between these three components, but inevitably the negativity which fires up the delusional tendencies of the last ingredient starts to filter through, leaving the whole club under a cloud of melancholic paranoia.

This was written during the International Break, a notorious period when clubs tend to fire their managers. I’ve no idea whether today Mourinho is still at Chelsea. He might have been committed to an insane asylum.

Last week as I watched him laugh, jeer and mockingly applaud the referee from the sidelines, I clipped him from the screen and placed his image onto a street. If I saw someone behaving like that in public, I’d be convinced they’d forgotten to take their medication.

For Mourinho it’s all gone horribly wrong, but not, as some say, all of a sudden. Chelsea won the Premiership last season by playing well in the final four months of 2014. Ever since last Christmas the team has been either poor or worse.

Having seen their manager’s vulnerability, these players are no longer disciples. Along with the rest of the football world, the players are infected by and weary of Mourinho’s incessant complaints about officials and decisions. Physically worn out, mentally drained and disillusioned, the Chelsea squad no longer buy into the deal. There is no Group.

Worse, Mourinho is dashing back and forth to Portugal where his father has suffered two strokes after brain surgery. Having been through a decade of similar trauma with my own father, I know that Mourinho’s heart must be ripped asunder. His feet cannot be on the ground.

Far from his dying patriarch he faces a losing side that he cannot cure.

To Mourinho this is all unexplored territory and he seems to have no answers. Flailing like an octopus hanging from a hook, he fires the club’s popular doctor in very questionable circumstances and talks to the media about his players in a way that he never did. He brings on Nemanja Matic as a substitute and then substitutes him: a slight guaranteed to utterly destroy a player’s confidence.

The cocktail glass has shattered. The players no longer see their manager as worthy of adoration, nor themselves as the best in world. All that’s left is the blaming, the vitriol, the toxic outpourings.

Considering he’s such a masterful tactician, prepared for every eventuality in a game of football, it’s hard to believe that there was no ‘Plan B’ in Mourinho’s brain.

Did he really believe he’d never fail? If so, such arrogance guaranteed he was doomed from the start.

Despite the efforts of others to mock, it feels comfortably familiar watching Chelsea tumble down the league. We were always an inconsistent club that might dazzle or bore. All that ‘grinding out’ Mourinho wins was difficult to endure. This feels like a real Chelsea team.

©Charlie Adley

Sunday 15 November 2015

No education can be complete without studying world religions.

How many was it...?

While I can understand the difficulty of trying to find space for the new Education about Religion, Beliefs and Ethics (ERBE) class in a busy school curriculum, not one cell of me fears for the faiths of faith-based schools.
What are they frightened of? The entire environment and ethos of faith-based schools is single-mindedly monotheistic, and given Primary School childrens’ ability to absorb the entire universe around them, I’m sure that each boy and girl will soak up a heap of religion, which here in the Republic of Ireland means that 90% will start life as Catholics.
Some complain that world religions are too complex for the childrens’ tiny minds, to which I suggest that if they are old enough to understand Christianity, they’ll equally be able to grasp the basic tenets of other religions.
Later, being sentient human beings, they will decide for themselves which kind of adult they want to become. Well, maybe, if they succeed in breaking out of whichever prison of indoctrination they’ve lived in since birth.
If any religion is worth its salt, it should not feel threatened by education. If your faith, whichever it might be, is the true faith, then it has nothing to fear from knowledge of other faiths, or understanding other less fortunate souls, who live the wrong way according to your laws.
I find it astonishing that there might be any outcry whatsoever about the teaching of world religions. To me it seems beyond belief that anyone might deem it possible to create a curriculum in which world religion as a subject does not exist. How on earth will the next generation pretend to understand this planet and the people on it, without an appreciation of their beliefs?
I recently heard someone on the radio being asked for a definition of culture.
“Culture is the distance we put between ourselves and our faeces.” he replied.
Quite a brilliant answer. There’s buckets of pooh written about culture every day. In some newspapers it has its own section, which always makes me smile, as I wonder how we dare to isolate culture as an end in itself, rather than the product of everything we do.
Take a war, any war. An army marches on its stomach, so the soldiers’ food will be in some way familiar, to remind them of the homeland for which they are fighting. 
They will have faith that God is on their side. If it’s a religious war their God will be the reason they are fighting.
Before the war there will be propaganda, cartoons of the enemy, and if their culture allows, other cartoons attacking the war itself. 
After the battles, movies will be made, books written, frescos drawn on walls, friezes carved on ancient temples.
The losers displaced, carry their faiths along with their furniture. They will eat, drink and pray as they did before, but in new countries. Their religion is as intrinsic to their culture as their food, their homeland, their history and their human geography.
Trying to offer an education without teaching world religion is akin to teaching anatomy without mentioning the heart. You’ve nearly all the pieces but there’s a gaping hole and nothing is as connected as it might be.
Faith-based schools cannot and should not try to fill that hole entirely with their own religion. They must have faith that their own religion is strong enough to allow their believers to learn about the world.
Even though I do not have one, I’m well able to understand that a belief in God is a wondrous and joyous thing, yet all I see from religious bodies is fear-based behaviours, attempting to crush imagined oppositions.
Some do-gooders are making the spurious argument that as Ireland now has a new immigrant population, it’s important that we learn about their religions too.
Well yes, of course we have to honour and acknowledge their presence and their faiths, but we need not patronise them.
What we need to offer those immigrant children is the same we need to offer indigenous children: a comprehensive education that carries as little bias as possible.
Although I often criticise my English Public School education for its anachronistic and unregulated regime, I can find no fault with the way we were taught about religion.
With an impressive dimple at the end of his ski-jump nose, our RE teacher Rev. Hall was a softly-spoken perma-tanned man, who fascinated and inspired me as a boy by proudly wearing his dog collar while criticising his own religion.
In a gentle, very English and rather magnificent way, he explained how much had been lost in translation over the centuries. We were not to take the Bible at face value. 
Adam and Eve was a story written by the Pharisees, who were trying to stop Solomon sleeping around so much, by showing him how women had supposedly led men astray since the Creation. 
‘Forty days and Forty nights’ was just a Hebrew way of saying ‘A long time.’
We laughed when he said that Jesus only had two buttocks, so he could not have ridden into Jerusalem on both an ass and a donkey. The repetition was just the Hebrew way of using emphasis, as we might use italics: A donkey!
Rev. Hall challenged our minds to enquire; to question and consider. He asked us to consult our Bibles and tell him how many loaves and fishes there were at the feeding of the five thousand. 
Turns out, it rather depends on which gospel you’re reading. 5 and 2 or 7 and 3, or… the details are unimportant.
The way he encouraged us to think for ourselves, to understand and respect religion while retaining our independence of thought was admirable. He did not fear that by learning too much we might turn our backs on his religion. He knew well that encouraging critical thinking didn’t preclude faith.
I hope that the Church in Ireland grows to see education in the same way.

©Charlie Adley

Sunday 8 November 2015


You go in for a driving licence and the next thing you know...

Living in the West of Ireland, I find myself wearing a smile on the most unlikely of occasions.

Recently I dealt with bureaucracy, in the shape of both the National Driver Licence Service and the car insurance industry. Chuckling after each encounter, I felt very aware that this is the only country 
 I’ve lived in where you end up happy, even when things go wrong.

Needing a new driver’s licence I went online and booked an appointment for 10:30 on a Friday morning, at the NDLS office in Ballybane.

‘Aha!’ I thought to myself smugly. ‘I’ve booked it late enough to be on the safe side of the traffic, but I’ve lived here long enough now to know how it works. Galway doesn’t like early mornings, so I’ll go down there at 9:30 and it’ll be empty.’

But no, this Englishman got it wrong again. When asked, I describe myself as a Jewish Atheist-Pantheist mutant, yet I was raised and socialised in the predominantly Protestant society of 60s and 70s England.

When we English gather in Ireland we have been known to joke about Irish punctuality and efficiency, yet still we choose to live here, because your way is better for the soul.

Arriving at the NDLS at 9:30 I climb the stairs to find a surprising amount of people already sitting in the waiting room. There are two types: walk-ins and those who have made online bookings. 

The walk-ins are moving through fast, while online bookers have to wait until the appointed time.

Dammit! Dammit! Dammit!

Got it wrong again. There I was thinking I’d been all thinking like a local type of thing, when in fact I’d been completely entrenched in my English upbringing. Mister Free’n’Easy thought he was pretty bloomin’ Irish arriving earlier than his online booking, taking a chance like, ‘cos that’s what they do, isn’t it, like?

No. What Galwegians do is drop in and get seen an hour before this über-efficient maker of online bookings.

An hour to kill is not the worst challenge in life. Right on time I’m called to a booth and spend a delightful ten minutes sitting the other side of thick glass to friendly woman who has to deal one-to-one with the public all day, every day.

Somehow she manages to chat easily, smiles and when I ask if I still have my bike license she teases me:

“Yes, up to 125cc.”

After much spluttering and grumbling from my side of the glass (I felt a little like Billy Hayes in Midnight Express), she laughs again:

“No, it’s a full bike licence, so you can go and buy yourself a Harley Davidson, and while you’re at it, use your spare change to buy me a red Hog for myself.”

Walking out of the office I realised I was feeling happy. There had been not an ounce of flirtation in our communication; simply good old-fashioned gentle craic.

In another land not far away that person might well have been exhausted, sarcastic and haggard as they tried to meet unrealistic targets.

Here we’re still human, more often than not.

While still in the warm fallout of this realisation, I also needed to insure a car for a couple of weeks. It never occurred to me that might present a problem. I was just going through a rare and financially inconvenient time, as I’d bought a new (well, second hand) car before I’d managed to sell my old one.

After calling Aviva to transfer my insurance to the new car, I explained my situation and asked for a quote for the other car, for 2 weeks, just Fire and Theft, as I didn’t need to drive it.

“We don’t do short term insurance. Sorry.”

Really? Oh, well okay, I’ll just Google it and get sorted.

20 minutes later, I’m at a loss. No big insurance brands offer an option for anything less than a year. One company actually claims to specialise in short term car insurance in Ireland, so off I go to its website and yes, hooray, everything I’m looking for.

Well, no, Not quite. All the words say the right thing, but to get a quote the site tells me to click on the button on the right of the page.

There is no button upon which to click.

Sod this for a game of soldiers. I’ve got to trust these people, but if their website’s dodgy, I’m not going to hand over any of my hard-earned green folding.

Pressing on regardless, I call a firm of insurance brokers I’ve dealt with for years. If anyone can find two week’s cover for my motor, it’ll be that crew.

Five minutes later, I’m listening to Gerry explain how no such product exists.

“Come on Gerry. I’m not the first person to be in this situation. There must be countless people out there who haven’t sold their cars before they’ve bought another, but you’re telling me all those people have to leave their cars outside, uninsured. It’s madness!”

“There’s no logic in insurance, Charlie!” offers Gerry, at which point I laugh out loud at the irony of it all.

Laughing himself, he then offers: “You can quote me on that!”

to which I immediately caution: “Oh I don’t think so! I’m a newspaper columnist.”

“Ah sure, you don’t know my last name!”

“But really Gerry, I can’t believe I have to leave this car uninsured until I sell it.”

“Is it parked off the road, Charlie?”

“Yeh, it’s inside the fence. I know nothing’s going to happen to it, but if it did get nicked or burst into flames, I’d feel pretty stupid. I’m just trying to be sensible here.”

“Ah well, stop trying to be sensible!” advises the man who works for an insurance broker. 

“Is that it Gerry? Am I just being too sensible?” 

“You are Charlie!” he agreed, and we both roar with laughter.

It’s absurd, confounding and hilarious: that’s why I love life here.

©Charlie Adley

Tuesday 3 November 2015


With the news last week that TalkTalk had suffered a cyber attack, there appeared on our TVs the usual crop of experts instructing us to use different passwords for each website, changing them all regularly.

Can’t help but think it’s all gone skewy. Wasn’t technology meant to make life easier for consumers? Those of us born before the arrival of the mobile phone have brains trained to remember phone numbers, but I fear for the generation that grew up with the microchip.

How are they supposed to remember which password goes with which site? Does this one require a capital letter at the beginning?

Why is the onus of security on us anyway? Don’t companies have a duty of care to their customers?

After screwing up in spectacularly different ways, both Volkswagen and Ulster Bank pledged that none of their customers would end up out of pocket.

Your company isn’t going to rob me? Could you make a more a vacuous assurance? It’s tantamount to the Fire Services promising not to burn down my house.

Corporate culture is exceptionally efficient when it comes to exploiting your personal details. Each time you log onto a website, hordes of cookies and bots are unleashed, recording your history and habits, which they then sell to the highest bidders.

If I were to write online about a 1957 Mustang Convertible, mere minutes later there’d appear at the side of my blog an advert for USA Vintage Car magazine.

When it comes to making a profit, global corporations spare no expense at finding the most efficient technologies. Shame they don’t apply the same effort to protecting us.

If you’re becoming paranoid about passwords and terrified of trolls, get a grip. Before the internet existed, anyone could find your name, address and phone number simply by picking up a telephone directory. 

You’d hand over your bank account details and signature each time you wrote a cheque, and leave a copy of your signature and credit card number on the slidy zip-zap machine whenever you purchased something.

I refuse to believe that people have become less trustworthy since then, any more than companies feel concerned for their customers’ welfare.

If somebody really wants to rob me, they‘ll most probably succeed. While I’ll make try to make their job as difficult as possible, I fear no more now than I ever used to.

However, in true Halloween style, I recently managed to spook myself out, by accidentally creating my own cyber shadow.

A few years back I went through a right old hooh-haah with Hertz. After finally fixing the problem, they made me a Gold Club member, by way of compensation.

So now, while sitting in the Departure Lounge of Shannon Airport, 
I receive an email from Hertz telling me the make, colour and reg of my car and which bay it’s parked in at Heathrow. Upon arrival, my car has the keys in it and I drive away. No paperwork, no queues: bloomin’ lovely.

However I somehow became hooked into a stupid Möbius Strip behaviour loop, whereby after booking a rental car I’d tell myself that next time, I must sign up for the Reward Points scheme, because having made the booking it was too late.

Eventually I remembered, filled out pages of online forms and ended up with what I thought was merely a loyalty program membership.

How wrong I was. The trouble started when the booking confirmation told me to go to the Standard very un-Gold Counter to activate my membership. Due to arrive in London on a Friday at 19:00, the last thing I wanted was to join a massive queue.

There then ensued a lengthy round of phone calls to Ken and Mary in different Hertz UK departments. Considering the fault turned out to be mine, Hertz performed incredibly well. Apparently I’d been hooked into their loyalty scheme ever since they made me a Gold member, and already have enough points for a weekend rental. 

Lovely jubbly.

What I’d done was somehow create myself a brand new Gold member profile, with a different number. Ken and/or Mary cancelled the initial booking, re-booked me another car that turned out to be cheaper than the first, and sent an email to Hertz Ireland, where Penny promptly emailed me to say that the payment for the first booking had been refunded to my credit card. The car was ready and waiting as normal.

Well done Hertz and silly old me. So what’s the point of the story?

Has this colyoom at last become the haven of happy days, hugs and hoorays?

Not exactly. In cyberspace we can join social networks as avatars under pseudonyms and invite people to parties on far-off supernovae that might prove tricky to attend.

All I had done was create a new member of Hertz Gold Club, using exactly the same name, address and personal details that appear on my existent account, but it made me wonder about cyber crime’s first cousin: identity theft.

A rare enough phenomenon in the West of Ireland, in the United States identity theft regularly destroys lives, as overnight somebody else has control of your bank account and credit cards. Domestic paper shredders are big business in America.

Meanwhile back in my tiny sphere of existential angst, I’m not sure who I might be. Had they not cancelled the new membership I’d accidentally created, I could have walked up to a Hertz desk and been either one of two people.

Who was going to drive that car?

Or me?

It’s spooky enough having my own cyber shadow, without worrying about how easy it was to create another me.

If this cyber-idiot can do it, then what’s going to stop somebody else?

Well, hopefully there’s something of a financial firewall protecting me.

If I was going to the trouble of trying to steal another’s identity, I’m pretty sure I’d aim for somebody with enough dosh in their account to make the risk worthwhile!

©Charlie Adley