Saturday 23 July 2016

"Culture is the distance that we put between ourselves and our fæces."

Dear Jon

I missed you last Friday night. You’d have really enjoyed that gig, if you hadn’t gone and bloody died 16 years ago.

Saved from the lashing rain by the mountainous blue canopy of the Arts Festival Big Top, we saw stonking sets from The Undertones and Elvis Costello. 

You were already on my mind because that afternoon I’d watched an excellent documentary on The Jam with Whispering Blue. 

Even though you never met him, my friend is well aware of you and smiled as I reminisced about how you’d taken me to see The Jam playing in an empty pub.

Your love of music allowed you to sense what type of music was about to happen, which band was about to break the big time before the masses had heard of them.

I was slightly distracted during the first half of The Undertones’ set as I was trying to find the Snapper, who’d made her way separately. 

As I suspected given the bands playing, mine was the average age of the crowd, so I kept bumping into familiar faces, standing in the sideways rain having an old chat with yer one who you haven’t seen for yonks.

True Galway style.

Talking of which, last Friday, right bang in the middle of the Arts Festival, we found out that Galway’s going to be European Capital of Culture 2020 (along with Rijeka in Croatia), so just when the place doesn’t need much extra input of excitement, everyone goes mental because we won.

I’m excited and delighted and proud of my adopted home and the crew who worked so hard to secure the kudos of the nomination, but I have to say I’m also a bit nervous.

See mate, we’ve got a bit of form over here for big numbers and events. Galwegians are always being told about what’s the next biggest thing to come along that will bring millions to the local economy. 

We buy the idea and support the hell out of the event and then, after all the corporates have left, there’s local suppliers and performers out of pocket all over the place; people feeling ripped off and let down until someone yells

“Hey, forget about that, here’s the next big thing and it’s way way bigger than the last big thing so this time it’ll work for everyone. Promise!”

Something in me believes that this time it truly is different. They’re planning to spend €45.7 million on projects during the year and claiming that there’ll be €175 million in extra revenue. 

I know to a Londoner like you that’s barely worth the raising of an eyebrow, but out here at the end of the European road, that’s big kahunas baby.

Mind you, the numbers aren’t wholly convincing. Once you take one from t’other there’s €129.3 million left, and that’s before costs, expenses, people getting paid, expenses, people getting drunk, expenses and people you never heard of up in Dublin getting brand new extensions to the backs of their second homes in Roundstone.

No, not going to spoil this letter to you getting bogged down in badness, madness, corruption and fear, but we have to admit here in Ireland, they are part of our culture. 

Thankfully I don’t have to, as our wonderful Galway poet Rita Ann Higgins said so much about the 2020 bid in her poem Our Killer City. Here's a small excerpt:

“…This is pity city, shitty city.
Sewage in your nostrils city.
This is Galway city of expert panels.
City of slickers and slackers who name-call Travellers knackers….”


The night before the gig and Capital of Culture result, the bid team were asking us to tweet as many Galway 2020 hashtags as we could, and it got me thinking about what they mean by culture. 

The best definition I’ve ever heard was by a man on the radio who declared with a slow authoritative voice:

“Culture is the distance that we put between ourselves and our fæces.”

Blooming brilliant. If there is room in our lives after we have survived, eaten, poohed and tried to reproduce, then culture evolves. 

The opposite of exclusive and esoteric, culture is the representation of the essence of a place and its people. 

Collections of contemporary dance pieces and exhibitions of installation art are expressions of culture, but so was that ecstatic massive crowd that greeted the Volvo Ocean Race yachts into Galway Docks at 3am.

So when it came to that tweet, all I could come up with was:
'Win or lose, we’ll celebrate because we are Galway.’

That is wholly truthful. Of course we’re filled with glee and anticipation about being awarded special recognition, but we don’t need to be told that we’re a fantastically cultured city and county.

Despite the tribulations of living on the western edge, we embrace life with a smile on our faces, a creative thought or three tumbling around our brainboxes.

So there I was, standing in the buzzed-out Big Top crowd, my eyes and ears drawn and assaulted by the sight and sounds of one of my heroes on stage, and then he goes and plays Shipbuilding and -

I think of my friend and brother Angel in his mobile home on that County Kerry clifftop, who sailed to the Falklands to fight Thatcher’s war; who has, ever since, dedicated his life to recovery.

I think of your father with his unique experience, knowledge and insight, explaining to us how that tragic conflict was eminently preventable.

I think of you and feel once again the tragedy of your death.

As Elvis contorts the tune and wails his words up there on stage, I think of injustice and madness and the tears slide down my cheeks untouched.

You’d have loved Galway mate.

I miss you.


©Charlie Adley

Sunday 17 July 2016

Don't feel guilty for not keeping up with Galway!

Hooh mumma. Galway’s revving up, the city’s rear tyres spinning on the axle as we head into the middle of this mad July.

This year we’re squeezing the Film Fleadh, the Arts Festival and Race Week into the one month, so there’s no time to lose: you have to decide now.

Are you going to abandon yourself to the craic or will you hide away until all the crazy people have gone?

Will you seek out, pontificate upon and absorb  - osmose, dwaaaarling - the wondrous and diverse cocktail of culture that arrives in our small city during these short weeks or prefer to pack a bag and head for the hills?

Maybe, like myself and other Galwegians, you'll try to find a balance, intend to visit several exhibitions, sample some street theatre, see a play at the Town Hall Theatre and catch a band at the Big Top. 

Then the festival’s over and you’re saying that you can’t believe you did it again; another year without seeing anything, what a slack git you are, next year it’ll be different but also I mean look at those prices, really, they seem to have shot up or is it just me?

Then you’ll say something about really wanting to get to the track this year, to make up for the lack of effort during the Arts Festival, and yeh, maybe Family Day, is that on the Sunday, or you know what, never mind Race Week. 

You know what I like, you say, I like the September and October meetings, when there’s less of the crowds and more of the craic. Great racing too, mind, and you talk yourself out of going to the Galway Races as part of your excuse speech for not partaking in the Arts Festival.

Life gets so busy this time of year a scribbler can lose track of his pronouns.

So it goes. It’s hard to keep up when you live in a city that has so many magnificent festivals, performers, players, musicians and writers. Oh and shout out a great big Galway Goodonya! to the administrators, to the folk who put the chairs out and do the dishes, without whom everything would be a proper cock-up altogether.

Galway’s got the lot. We can run your party. We’ll take on your Triathlon or your World Chef Convention. We will keep you laughing at our Comedy Festival through storm force Atlantic tempests and entertain the entire country for seven days at the end of this month.

You end up feeling inadequate because you haven’t been to see enough things, or in fact anything at all, so you’ve taken to talking knowledgeably in Tigh Neachtain about what you would really have liked to have seen and done and why, hiding the hard truth that you don’t have the money to go to a tenth of these events. 

You barely have cash in your pocket for the next round of drinks and yet still you’re warbling on and on about why you could and should have gone to everything you missed.

By the end of next week there’ll be ten thousand culture vultures trying to leave town before a hundred thousand drinkers arrive in Galway, demanding the right to the curious pleasure of standing on Quay Street, as crammed as a Galway calendar, supping pints while simultaneously rubbing shoulders with Roscommon farmers, English film directors and Hungarian politicians.

Meanwhile there’s the local stray dog below sight, down in the forest of feet on the ground, who’s cocked his leg against your jeans and you don’t and won’t know until tomorrow morning when you think about putting those trousers back on.

There is another way. With the greatest disrespect to Tony Blair (and before you all rush to burn him for his war crimes in Iraq, this Englishman gently reminds you that he ousted and then defeated the Tories in three General Elections in the UK, a trick we thought exclusive to the Conservatives), there is a Third Way, yet unlike Blair’s it is honest and it is pure.

All you have to do is admit that you can’t be arsed.

No, I’m neither suggesting you give up on a cultural existence nor discouraging Galwegians and those who read this Noble Rag around the world from coming to Galway to participate in our non-stop annual bacchanalia and art-crammed cornucopia.

I’m just reassuring those Galwegians out there who have to carry on living their lives, paying their bills, keeping the kids amused and the fridge stocked that they do just that. 

Please don’t feel bad about feeling left out. It’s not your fault all this fun, frivolity and culturally-significant shenanigans happen in your home town.

Yes, the traffic will be desperate and the parking non-existent. You’ll be late round to mam’s on Thursday because it’s Ladies Day, when women all over the county will be freaking out over lip gloss and muddied high heels broken on cobbled streets.

There’ll be no choir practice on Tuesdays, you can forget about the bingo on the Saturday and life is just plain all over the place, so go down to Dunnes or Lidl, wherever tickles your fancy, and load your trolley with good bad stuff. 

Sure you could even spoil yourself just a little bit and pop into Marks and Spencer for a tiny something special to nibble at while you sit on your sofa, the curtains closed to block out the sunlight, indulging in some guilt-free quiet time, while all around your local world rages.

Between now and then you’ll make a point of saving a few bobs to make sure you have enough to go and see some shows in next year’s festival. 

Yeh, you’ll join in next year. 
Course you will.

©Charlie Adley

Sunday 10 July 2016

Nothing's as it appears through England's Looking Glass!

Legions of Sir Humphreys are delighted to know that 
two old Etonians can still create havoc in UK society.

Should have seen the signs really. There was my lifelong friend Neil waiting for me as I walked out of arrivals at Heathrow on the day of the referendum.

“Thanks mate!’ I said after the familiar manhug, “Means the world to me to be met!”

“Yeh well, just as well I did come, as you’d never’ve been able to make it to ours. The Tube’s closed.”

“The District line?”

“All of them. We’ve had a day and a half of apocalyptic rain and now they’re flooded.”

“Yeh, I s’pose the clue’s in the name: Underground.”

“You’d think, but in fact the bits that are flooded are overground. The underground parts are fine.”

“What the -?”

"Yeh, I know. C’mon, let’s go find my car.”

As we drove through the traffic-sodden streets I looked at London and felt a little disappointed. Living in the west of Ireland I look forward to visiting the city of my birth, where usually I enjoy glimpses of the modern world: slick, cutting edge technology and a train every three minutes.

Yes, the rain was truly hammering down upon London, Galway style’n’fashion, but the entire tube network wiped out? 


Should have seen the signs, but in the corridors of the English Establishment life is lived ‘Through The Looking Glass’, where signs are shadows and while you’re worried about what’s behind you the man standing in front of you does the dirty deed.

There’s an arcane air of the Victorian Music Hall about the way the Conservative Party performs its leadership business, but once you’ve learned the rules you may exploit them.

Boris has played a blinder. He knew that he wouldn’t win a leadership contest because Tory MPs see him for the vacuous charismatic snot bubble that he is. 

Boris creates a dilemma for his parliamentary colleagues. They can’t abide the man. Plainly incapable of doing the job of Prime Minister, he has the ability to win a General Election. They won’t vote for him but the country might.

Boris never wanted it now, especially with all that pesky EU negotiation stuff to come. Boris wants to win in 2020. That’s why, hours after the referendum result, his people had a word with Theresa May’s people, explaining that Boris was willing to stand down from a leadership contest, if she’d agree to stand down as Prime Minister for him in 2020.

Ms. May told Boris to go away and sit on the naughty step. Can’t he see mummy’s busy?

In many ways it actually suited Boris when Michael Gove (think less Brutus, more self-righteous bumble bee) appeared to scupper his ambitions

Boris knows the game. As Michael Heseltine discovered after instigating the demise of Margaret Thatcher, Tory MPs don’t choose the one who stirred to pot as their new leader. Boris will happily settle for a nice cabinet post, where he can practice gravitas for his 2020 leadership bid.

Many claim the British Establishment is crumbling, yet in fact the opposite is true.

Legions of Sir Humphreys are lounging in the upper echelons of the Civil Service, delighted to know that two old Etonians having a wee bundle can still create havoc in every sector of UK society.

Those men (for men they will be ) are the real powerbrokers; craven and forever smug.

Through the looking glass Cameron didn’t want a referendum. He offered it in his election manifesto to placate Tory Eurosceptics, but when he went and won an absolute majority, he had to fulfil such a visible pledge.

If each were to follow their true beliefs, Boris would prefer to stay, while Cameron would have campaigned to leave the EU, as would Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn.

Tragically, typically, nobody felt principles mattered.

Sitting in their London living rooms I felt my friends’ frustrations with Jeremy Corbyn. Mostly traditional Labour voters, they were tired of his half-arsedness. Uniformly they felt angry, upset and betrayed by the utter ineptitude of the Remain Campaign.

I was a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, but he lost my vote when he agreed to run with the Remain campaign. Other than (seemingly single-handedly) reminding voters of Europe’s vital worker and human right laws, he’s an old-fashioned socialist who shouldn’t support a capitalist entity like the EU.

Had Corbyn stated at the start he couldn’t in clear conscience campaign Remain and then resigned, I’d see him as a man of principle. Now he’s just a narcissist in a cardigan.

Hence a Full House of party leaders and campaigners who fight not for their causes but pure opportunism, egos licking and lapping around their own solipsistic orifices.

Not one major English leader (LibDem who?) believes a word they say, and promises tumble (immigration? Oh never said we’d bring down numbers) like feeble blossom (€350 million a week for the NHS? Sorry, didn’t mean it) down the nation’s rain-flushed storm drains.

In this twisted paradigm the people who say they most treasure the United Kingdom have voted to end the United Kingdom. Above that Northern border-in-waiting, two women lead their political parties as leaders might: passionate, lucid and inspiring.

Would that we could rid ourselves of the present mess of English party politics and replace Cameron and Corbyn with the strong clear voices of Ruth Davidson and Nicola Sturgeon.

They do not talk down to people because they know we are not stupid. We don’t expect politicians to deliver promises, but we do need to believe they believe themselves.

©Charlie Adley

Sunday 3 July 2016

Every Jewish family has an Uncle Harry - even if they don't!

Sipping whiskey outside the Grim’s Dyke Hotel...

As we drove along the damp lush twilit roads from Stansted Airport to the Cock Inn in the ancient English village of Sheering, the Snapper and I anticipated our hectic mini-break of kinship and craic.

The next day we were attending her sister-in-law’s 50th birthday bash. The morning after that we’d head off to the golf club, where her father was celebrating his 80th birthday. Everything went wonderfully and with smiles firmly planted on our faces, we headed south on the third day, to visit my mother.

I’d booked us in at the Grim’s Dyke Hotel, because it’s where I married the Snapper; where my parents had their Golden Wedding party on the night of 9/11; where although something will always go inexplicably wrong, you can sit outside a beautiful historical house in gorgeous grounds.

Originally we’d invited my brother and his wife to dinner to celebrate his 60th, thus doing three major family birthdays in consecutive nights, but sadly they were in Yorkshire. My sister’s birthday was near too, but she was away on holiday.

So it looked like just the three of us, which was wonderful, because at 87 my mother is as lucid and spirited as ever.

With the Snapper grabbing a shower, I walked off to spend an hour alone, sitting at a table in the hotel gardens, drinking in whiskey and my surroundings: the old wooden beams, aged bricks and towering Victorian chimneys; the roses, the lawns, the spectacular Rhododendron.

The Summer sunshine opened a heart full of memories of my dad and our wedding here, which he missed by two weeks. 

It’s the nature of families to simultaneously shrink and grow, as organic matter. Sadly I lost an aunt and uncle in the last couple of years, but I’ve gained a new lovely nephew through my niece’s marriage.

Then I anticipated the evening to come, now evolved to include my younger niece and her husband, along with my cousin, in from America, alongside my amazing mum.

Grabbing my phone I took the opportunity to transpose my emotions, memories and excitement into notes. I am a scribbler and that is what we do.

However after a few minutes I became self-conscious, I was that guy I hate, glued to his screen whilst surrounded by natural and historical splendour.

Putting the device down on the table I stretched my arms out, drawing a long breath in to greet the here and now.

In the near distance down the gravel path an old Jewish man was lumbering along. How did I know he was Jewish? For the same reasons he knew that I was too. Inexplicably, Jewdar is incredibly reliable between Jewish people.

As soon as he saw me stretch I knew two things: that this absolute stranger was now aiming for me and that he would feel very comfortable walking up and talking to me.

I was about to have an Uncle Harry encounter. Every Jewish family has an Uncle Harry, the older man who tells the best stories, usually starting with how he gets up at 5 in the morning, walks three miles, doesn’t drink doesn’t smoke.

Denis (for later I discovered his name) walked calmly up to me, our eyes locked in an embrace of kinship and familiarity. We knew who we were and, I suspect, felt aware of how incongruous our encounter felt in context; two Jewish guys in this quintessentially English setting.

Resting his hands on the back of the chair opposite me, he began.

“You don’t want to do that.”

I replied as required. 

“The stretching? Why not?”

“There comes a time when you know you’re no longer 38. I just discovered I’m not 38 and I’m 83, so that took some doing. Woke up one morning in my bed, a single bed, and did what you just did and there, in my neck, it’s gone. I yelled and yelled until my brother came, and he had to help me up out of the bed.

“He laughed but I told him to stop. I could barely breathe with the pain. One step at a time he had to help me down the stairs as I couldn’t looked to the front, locked, my neck, sideways, and then through the living room where they’re all laughing at me because they think it’s funny that I’m in pain and can’t walk forwards.

“Like a crab he takes me, leading me waltzing to the bus stop and then at the doctors they’re both laughing at me.

“So the doctor gets me face down on the table and he tells me to take a deep breath, so I take a deep breath and then his hands are on my neck and spine and for a second the world turns yellow.

“Then he’s turning to my brother and asking ‘Is he better now?’ and I’m sitting up with rage asking ‘Why are you asking him if I’m better now?’ and then they’re both laughing, nodding their heads at me, saying ‘Yes, he’s better now!’

“So don’t go stretching like that, not if you want to walk in a straight line when you’re 83.”

Shaking his hand I thanked him for his advice and we both laughed as he walked off, leaving me with a warm glow.

All these family members coming and going, past and present, but the one I never expected to see was my Uncle Harry, because I don’t have one. Meeting him was a pure pleasure.

PS: Many thanks to the biker from Uxbridge/West London who rode up to Sheering, armed with a copy of last year’s colyoom about the Cock Inn. When I saw that piece on the wall of the pub it made me smile. Thanks!

©Charlie Adley

Tuesday 28 June 2016

Happy midway between Mallorcan tourist dreams!

I’m sitting in the middle, unusual ground for your scribbler to occupy but delighted to have around me the excited gabbles, mutters and squeals of Mallorcan families.

Creperia Gelateria Es Cucurutxo is my new my favourite place. A short stroll from here will bring you to the gently posh harbour of Porto Colom on Mallorca’s east coast, where well-ironed Swiss Germans sit looking disinterested, while watching the masts of their yachts bob around in the marina as they eat extravagantly expensive restaurant food (€16 for a dessert? Who are you kidding? Equally, oy, what a dessert!)

Stroll as far the other way from Es Cucurutxo, and you’ll be greeted by the familiar sights of mass tourism, thankfully without the masses. Cala Marçal is a tiny place, built around a teardrop beach, but although the scale is small the style is high-rise all-inclusive cheap family holidays.

The Snapper and I don’t belong in either camp, so we’re thrilled to have our own gaff, with its private wee pool.

Mostly we’re just incredibly thankful to be having a holiday. 

Many years we can’t afford it but this Summer the financial issues were outweighed by the needs of your Scribbler. I had to have a break, and so we did; a most wonderful and mysterious holiday in which everything was mirrored by an opposite.

Before arriving in Mallorca we enjoyed a full-on weekend celebrating the birthdays and existence of several members of our families. Staying in 3 different hotels in 5 nights we enjoyed every manic busy second. 

More of that next week, but for now we’re here, in the calm oasis of Porto Colom, where we do nothing at all for a week in our yin-yang holiday.

The air is hot but the breeze is cool.
The side roads are massive but there are few cars.
Over in Porto Colom they pay up to €200 for dinner, while 1 km away in Cala Marçal you can eat half a chicken, chips and salad, drink two pints of John Smiths and still have change from €15.

In the mornings I nip off to Cala Marçal to pick up a paper, but sadly only the Germans in Porto Colom get a chance to read news. 

Evidently there’s no market in Cala Marçal for print journalism, so I pick up a red top tabloid and wait in the queue in the supermarket as a man with scarlet legs pleads in shouty English for a Factor 30 cream, while the local shop assistant tries patiently to explain that it’s a little late for that.
Behind me a man with a broad Yorkshire accent is repeating over and over:

“The tap. It’s broken. Broken, the tap. No water. Broken. Tap. Do ya gettit? Tap broken. No water.”

As his Mallorcan host tries to explain that he understood the first time, I slip out feeling incredibly lucky not to be stuck in those flats. Equally, I’m glad we’re not as stiff and nonchalant as the rich yachters of Porto Colom

We enjoy sitting in the middle of this bay with two ends; a place where normally I’d expect to be driven crazy by the screams of the children or the noise levels of the adults but instead, I love Es Cucurutxo.

Waiters at both resorts all greet us asking 
“German or English menu?” yet here at Es Cucurutxo the menu is in Mallorcan, Spanish and then other languages. Here at Es Cucurutxo I can believe I am in another country. I crave neither the highest gourmet standards of northern Europe, nor to eat the same food that I do at home.

Here, midway between the posh and the touristy, life feels perfect. There are one or two tourists like us sitting outside too, but mostly it’s just young mums checking their watches while sullen kids read comic books; toddlers running and laughing and screaming; clouds of cigarette smoke; coffee, Mallorcan wine at Mallorcan prices and mind-blowing ice cream that might make a man dribble.

I give thanks. I planned a holiday and it turned out exactly as I hoped. This year I knew exactly what I wanted and got it. Thank you Internet. Thank you travelling instinct. Thank you universe.

I needed calm and as I write this, apart from the thing that's sucking blood from my ankle (no, not the Snapper) I am absolutely blissed out.

Earlier our dinner at a restaurant on the quayside was destroyed by commentary of the Germany v Ukraine game, pumped from the screen behind our table, two seconds later echoing from the screen in front of our table.

We tried to focus on the view, the yachts, that lovely old church on the other side of the bay and

“Levvan levvan dovski dovski ooohhh ooohhh dass varr dass var nicht nicht so slecht so slecht!”

It felt like left-field CIA torture.

“Hey, these two are tough. They didn’t respond to 'The Devil Went Down To Georgia' played backwards on a loop at 359 decibels? Okay, hit 'em up with time lapse German echo treatment!”

The food is excellent but my attempts to speak Spanish to the waitress falter as she turns out to be German.

Just for second I feel a mite relieved. Evidently the English are not alone in liking to go abroad to eat their own food served by their own people.

Disoriented by the cacophonous commentary, we skip dessert and head home, to sit on the high balcony watching sunset's hues scatter over distant mountains.

Soft strains of a neighbour's blues guitar deliver a subtle soundtrack to our evening.

A crescent moon above dances with Venus by her side.

I turn to the Snapper and whisper

"Bloody splendid love…” as I exhale deeply.

©Charlie Adley