Sunday 19 June 2016

BREXIT DOESN’T MATTER IN POST- DEMOCRATIC WORLD!




We naturally dislike being wrong, but as I saw my youthful dreams of a united strong and friendly Europe becoming defiled, demeaned and dashed on the rocks, my sadness grew way beyond my own vanity. 

Back in 1992 I believed in the concept of European Union. When my fellow Englishmen muttered about loss of culture, I’d suggest that the Spanish, Italians and French were probably quite keen to hang on to theirs too. 

I could happily live with the idea of a massive Brussels bureaucracy, because employees all over Europe were being awarded long-overdue rights. Alongside those came Human Rights, recognition of the needs of children and women, and a Court of Human Rights. 

I was seduced by the humanitarian wrapping paper, which promised so much compassion. 

Now I’m beyond disappointed to discover that inside the box was a raging behemoth, blinded by greed and avarice, burdened by cowardice and its own amorality. 

This EU now trades filthy promises of visa-free travel with Turkey’s corrupt regime, so that refugees who have risked their childrens’ lives to reach free soil can be sent back on boats to Turkey, whence they fled. 

I want nothing to do with any organisation that officially traffics the most vulnerable, visiting yet more terror upon them. 

If that is the best solution the mighty European Union can come up with, they and we should be ashamed of ourselves. Imagine how we might perceive the US today if those two million Irish had been sent back to starve in the famine? 

Supposedly a proud defender of democratic values, one might hope that at least this conglomerate of nations is eager and able to offer peace and human rights to their own member states. Yet the EU has utterly failed to protect sovereign Ukraine from invasion by Russia. 

It poured scorn on the democratic wishes of Greek people, just as it ignored Irish voters’ rejection of both the Nice Treaty and the Treaty of Lisbon. It does nothing at all to defend basic human rights being trashed by recent right-wing regimes in Poland and Austria. 

Imposing war-level austerity on Europe’s weakest and poorest, the EU sanctioned debt relief for billionaire speculators, while forcing poor uncle Colm in Carrick-on-Shannon to cough up for a 500% increase in the price of each prescription item. 

A year ago all my instincts would sing of the UK voting to remain. Brexit will rock asunder both the currencies in which I deal. It will damage Irish trade and industry and yet now I know that really, it makes no difference.

Over the last four decades power has drifted from nations to corporations. Once governments lead from the front, or ‘governed’ as it used to be known. Now all they can do is react to outside forces. 

There’s no room for ideology when it’s all about responding to the markets, the price of oil, the arenas of war and anything and everything that makes you and me feel detached and unheard. 

Add to that process the negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and you realise just how profoundly we now live in a post-democratic world. 

Originally an obscure trade agreement, TTIP will have a massive impact upon our lives. Creating the world’s largest ‘free trade zone’ it will open Europe’s public health, education and water services to privatisation and sale to US companies. 

EU standards on food safety and the environment will resemble their US versions, where 70% of all processed foods sold in supermarkets contain GM ingredients, grown in poorly regulated US industries.

Jobs will be lost, along with Trade Union rights, but even more disturbing, corporations will have the right to sue countries for loss of profits. As reported in this colyoom months ago, we already have the obscene example of Swedish energy company Vattenfall. 

After the terrifying Fukushima disaster in Japan, the Germans decided to cut plans for building nuclear power plants. For this eminently sensible and democratically popular decision, the German government are now being sued for billions of dollars, for loss of future profits, by an unelected private corporation. 

This is how the world works now. 

While Boris and his band of Brexiteers cry passionately about sovereignty, they love the markets and capitalism more, so while bemoaning the UK’s loss of influence in the EU, they sign up, with dribbling anticipation, for a treaty allowing fundamental changes to be made without interference from any pesky democratic process. 

As old-style Western Democracy twitches in its death throes, unable to reinvent itself, the people of the Western World struggle to feel represented by our leaders, seeking the comfort of ideologues such as Sanders and Corbyn, and the rhetoric of demagogues like Trump and Johnson.

The days when a charismatic President, Prime Minister or Taoiseach sat astride a united and visionary government that imposed progress and improvement on its own people are gone. 

Trump is the vanguard of a new and unhappy marriage between profit and parliament, which will inevitably be visited upon us too one day. 

The time has come for governments to better reflect this brash new corporate world. Our human rights, now called ‘Customer Service Pledges’ will be enshrined in constitutions henceforth known as ‘National Mission Statements.’ 

Then we each can be given our own customer helpline number and feel a part of the process of government once again. 

 ©Charlie Adley 22.05.16.

Thursday 16 June 2016

Sit back, relax and try to ignore my voice!



As the holiday season approaches those lucky enough to be fleeing to warmer climes will have to face the trauma of flying. 

Long gone are those halcyon days when going up in the air in a metal cylinder was perceived as fab and fun. I remember when the notion of flying sounded incredibly exciting. 

For reasons that now completely escape me, the idea of a pre-cooked reheated meal-for-one served in a silver foil dish at 30,000 feet represented the height of glamour. 

If you are flying Ryanair there’s not much help to offer. Everyone has their own coping strategy for budget airlines. Mine involves paying the extra for a 15kg bag, priority boarding, 5mg of valium and ear plugs, so that I no longer melt into rage each time the cabin crew announce over the tannoy -

 “Now sit back, relax and enjoy your flight!”

- wondering why, if that truly is their wish, the blue and yellow bastards then burn my ears off every five minutes trying to sell me Beyoncé eau de toilette, train tickets, e-cigarettes, sachets of gin and vodka, scratch cards for the homeless, little model Ryanair planes and vile soggy ham and cheese concoctions... and after each pitch they finish off with -“Sit back, relax, and enjoy your flight.”

“Sit back, relax, and enjoy your flight.” 
Up there with "Your call is very important to us!" 

If you are lucky enough to be flying on a long haul flight to another continent, I offer you the following suggestions: Get to the airport as early as is feasible. Ignore those who flashily say that they like to arrive at the last minute. They are fools. 

However early you arrive there will already be a queue for check-in. That is because however anal you are about timekeeping, there are always others who are more so. 

When you approach the check-in desk, put on your best voice and ask the corporate hume if there is any chance of an upgrade. They will look at you as if you are a scumball chancer from Hell, but there is a chance they might say: 

“Why yes, as it happens today you are travelling Business / Connoisseur / First Class!” 

If they do then skip the rest of this colyoom. Your flight will be a joy. However never expect this to happen. There is also a chance that Michael Lowry will be the next Pope. 

Most likely you will be allocated a seat in Economy, or Coach as frequent flyers call it. There you will be packed in like sardines, but this is not as bad as it sounds, as sardines are generally happy. Not many people know that. 

Go to the bar and drink whiskey. 
Do not under any circumstances eat airport food. 

Go to the newsagents and buy a newspaper and a magazine. It doesn’t matter if you never ever buy magazines. Now is the time to start. 

Buy Earthworm Monthly or Roadworks Digest; it matters not. Believe me: you will need a magazine. 

At the Boarding Gate try to look nonchalant. Everyone else will. 
Glare at babies so that they cry themselves to sleep before getting on the plane. As you take your seat on the plane make sure you have all your reading matter, puzzles, pens and sweets in a bag at your feet. 

Do not under any circumstances engage any of your ‘neighbours’ in conversation at this stage. Do not even look at them. Pretend they are dead. 

Behave sycophantically to the cabin crew. They can make your flight much more pleasant if they like you. Look bewildered and lost and they will love you. 

Try not to watch the safety routine. Only flight virgins do this and you know that if this baby hits the ocean, it’ll be between you and Beelzebub. 

After the seat belt sign is switched off take off your shoes. If your feet stink pretend it’s not you. 

All attempts to sleep during the first half of the flight will cause unnecessary grief, as you will be interrupted every ten minutes while being offered a meal, a drink, or hot (tepid) towel. 

Read everything. Read your newspaper, your magazine, the vomit bag and then read your newspaper again. 

Watch the movies. They will be inane and terminally dull but you can amuse yourself by lip-reading the actors saying “Fuck You!” while the voice in your headset says “Please go away!” 

After this you may try to sleep. Wrap yourself in the blanket and exhaust yourself by trying to cover your toes and chest at the same time. All airline blankets are designed for midgets. 

When you fail to sleep you may annoy your fellow passengers by lifting your window shutter, thus flooding the cabin with sunlight. Insist this ritual is part of your religion. 

Look down and you will see clouds or the vast frozen tundra. If you look down and see blue sky put your shoes back on pronto. 

During the flight you will gradually become aware of whether or not you want to make contact with your neighbours. It is quite possible to just smile and crush their toes each time you go to the loo, without ever speaking to them. 

However if you’re in the mood for conversation, remember that you’ll never see them again, so feel free to lie with panache. 
Even if you have no idea what Rugby League is, you can pretend you are a professional Rugby League superstar. 

In the unlikely event that they turn out to be interesting and amiable, you should anoint their heads with oil and praise Allah (maybe not such a great idea), unless they introduce themselves as Hyram and Elsa Goldenblatt from Queens. 

They will, of course, suffer from halitosis. This is a universal truth of flying. 

Good luck up there folks, and happy travels! 

 ©Charlie Adley 20.05.2016.

Thursday 2 June 2016

Connemara's hills love me back!


...veiled by the finest of mists, they hid and glowed like a coy bride...

After they discovered at A&E that my chest and arm pains were not the result of a heart attack, but a common yet fiendish cocktail of stress, exhaustion and anxiety, I decided to get some counselling. 


All of us seek help when our bodies break down, snap or become infected, yet still so many think that their minds are beyond cure; nobody’s business but their own.

Don't know about you, but I wouldn't fancy driving a car without a steering wheel. Looking after my mind is way up my list of priorities.

As luck would have it I’d already made an appointment weeks before with a counsellor in Clifden. My intention had originally been to seek a little help for myself and glean advice from someone who knows their stuff about how to best help the Snapper. As it turned out, helping anybody but myself was a concept far from my brainbox by the time that Friday came around.
 

The Thursday evening before, I was teaching my Craft of Writing Course at the Westside Community Resource Centre. I absolutely love delivering those lessons, but when I return home after them, I’m a hyperactive bouncing ranting fool. 

It takes me ages to fall asleep so with my session starting at 10:00am, I decided I’d drive to Clifden after class, stay in a B&B and wake refreshed and ready to make the most of any counsel coming my way.
 

Regular colyoomistas will already be familiar with my love affair with Connemara, but although I used to live out there, and over the years have hitched, walked and driven every road and bohreen to enjoy fresh perspectives of God’s own fruit bowl, the Twelve Pins, I’d never driven through it during a Summer’s twilight.
 

Oh my God. 

It was both gently and dramatically so beautiful I nearly drove off the road three or four times, as my eyes were drawn to another combination of black granite and soft pink lake; of distant clouds that might have been hills, and hills that could have been clouds. Ethereal, majestic: no words do justice to those blends of stark and subtle, stone and water, light and dark.
 

I’d forewarned the proprietors of Dun Ri guesthouse that I’d be arriving late, and was met by a smile and told that I had just what I’d asked for. A room on the top floor, with views out the window, and nobody banging on the ceiling above.
 

Before there was any chance of sleep I needed to work off my excess energy, and although 11 o’clock might be late for checking into a B&B, in Clifden’s pubs the concept does not exist until far into the following day.
 

Off for gazillionth time in my life to trawl the capital of Connemara’s triangle. I only wanted one or two whiskies, as the whole point of this trip was to benefit from a good night’s sleep, but I couldn’t help wonder if my friend Sean Halpenny might be playing his bodhrán somewhere.
 

Sure enough, as I looked through the open door of Lowry’s, there was the man, standing as he’s always stood whenever he plays his music, very ably accompanied by Padraic Jack O’Flaharta, son of Tí Joe Watty’s renowned PJ O’Flaharta of Inis Mór.
 

25 years ago myself and my German girlfriend had pitched a tent in the garden of the defunct Clifden Hostel, close to where the SuperValu is now.
 

It was my first night in Connemara, my second in Co. Galway, and when we wandered into E.J.Kings (ever after to be known as Terry’s, after its owner Terry Sweeney) our eyes and ears were drawn to Sean’s dynamic performance.
 

Standing, lost to the world in his musical reverie, beating the hell out of a goatskin with impeccable timing, the once All Ireland Champion had us transfixed. That night he and I formed a friendship that has now lasted a quarter of a century.
 

It’s impossible for me to write about Sean without mentioning the lovely Sonja. Cruelly taken from us by cancer, she was Sean’s partner when the three of us were neighbours in Bunowen, Ballyconneely. The universe will be forever darker without the light that shone from that wondrous woman’s soul.
 

Over two decades later Sean was still standing, playing, bringing joy and music to locals and tourists alike. Mind you, that night the atmosphere in Lowry’s lovely family-run pub strayed into the absurd.
 

A crowd of tourists were yelling the lyrics of The Fields of Athenry as if celebrating a winning goal at the World Cup:
 

“A prison ship lies waiting in the bay! Cha Cha Cha!” 
they roared with jubilation. 

Then they formed a long jolly conga, dancing around the pub, singing joyfully:
 

“I shot a man in Reno, just to see him die!”
 

Sean later explained they were Belgians, for whom the conga is apparently something of a national dance, not to be confused with the Belgian Congo, which is a topic altogether more unpleasant.
 

I retired to bed at midnight, to wake at 5am, my head brimming with topics to talk about at counselling. After a beautiful breakfast served with charm, I had an hour to spare, so I drove the Sky Road loop on a cloudless gorgeous morning.
 

 

I’ve lost count of the times Connemara's mountains, my hills, have brought me solace, peace and calm over the years. That morning, veiled by the finest of mists, they hid and glowed like a coy bride, offering much comfort and love.
 

Yes, hills can love you back. At least, Connemara’s can.
 

Finally I was ready to go and sort out my screwed-up head.
©Charlie Adley
15.05.16.

Sunday 29 May 2016

A&E staff are amazing - the system's not their fault!

 



I can be an awful idiot. When the financial crash hit in 2009, freelance work just disappeared. A dogged and stubborn fool, I worked 15 hour days, 7 days a week, trying to earn a living, but no papers or magazines were buying anything.
 

Eventually I became so exhausted that my chest felt tight and my breathing was all over the place. At that point I really should’ve gone to the doctor, but our respective families had generously paid for the Snapper and I to go to France on holiday, and I really didn’t want to miss it .
 

Convincing myself that all I needed was rest and relaxation, I waited until we were in the middle of nowhere, in a farmhouse somewhere in the west of France, before becoming seriously unwell and ending up on a cardio ward in a hospital near Bordeaux.
 

As it turned out I was fine. I’d had a massive panic attack but as I’d never known anything like it, I’d imagined I was having a heart attack.
 

Thankfully two good things came out of this horrible experience: we discovered that my blood pressure was up in the stratosphere, so that has been treated ever since, and after returning home I sold a feature to the Irish Times about what it’s like to have a panic attack and end up in a French hospital.
 

Well, you have to. If you’re going to make a living out of scribbling, you cannot turn down opportunities like that.
 

My lovely wife had a most miserable holiday, staying in a cheap hotel on an industrial estate so that she could visit her prat of a husband, who’d been living in denial of his poor health, so I swore to her that I’d never ignore such symptoms again.
 

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, when I went out for a stroll in the warm afternoon sunshine.
 

The last few months have been a difficult period in our household, as the Snapper’s illness forced her to leave work last year. 

Thankfully she’s on the mend, but with all the ensuing changes to finances and everything else, I’d been working too hard, trying to cover too many angles all over again, and inevitably my own health had started to suffer.
 

Over the previous few weeks I’d noticed a slight tightness in my chest when I’d been out walking Lady Dog, and the night before my stroll I’d felt the same discomfort when I awoke for my middle-aged male peeper, so that morning I’d called my doctor to make an appointment for the following day.
 

A few hundred yards into my afternoon walk I suddenly felt that tightness again ,this time accompanied by a drawing pain down my left arm.Very aware of how these symptoms matched those of an impending heart attack, I returned home scared, wondering whether to drive myself to A&E, but after resting for a few minutes I felt better.
 

I wasn’t going to make the same mistake I’d made in 2009, and anyway I’d promised the Snapper I’d take my health seriously, so the next morning l was at my doctor’s to seek advice.
 

We all moan and complain about the HSE, and while we’ve all experienced heinous delays at A&E and long waiting lists for procedures and operations, I have to say we have much to be grateful for.
 

First of all, I’d been able to get that appointment with my doctor. My 87 year-old mum is always complaining how incredibly difficult it is to see her GP in London, and even when she sees him, she only has 10 minutes to explain her symptoms.
 

So I felt very lucky to be sitting in my doc’s surgery, while he listened to my chest, tested my blood pressure, my oxygen levels, and reassured me that he felt I was okay.
 

He suggested that we never mess with chest pains, so after he wrote me a letter of referral I went down to A&E at 11 0’clock, armed with a 600 page book, prepared to wait the customary 8-12 hours to be seen.
 

Much to my surprise my name was called a few mere seconds after my arse had hit the plastic seat. Evidently, they don’t mess with chest pains either, and over the next six hours I received an amazing level of care and attention.
 

It’s all too easy to equate the staff on the ground with the organisation they work for, but the two exist in different universes. 

Every single nurse, doctor, porter and consultant I saw that day offered me gentle kindness, professionalism and efficiency.
 

By 7 o’clock I’d had every test known to man and medical science performed on me. They gave me an EKG, my blood pressure was taken, my urine, blood and blood sugar levels tested. Finally I was given a stress test on a treadmill, after which the report was seen immediately by a cardiologist who declared my heart healthy.
 

Nobody could find anything wrong with me at all, except for the symptoms that I was still feeling, so I prescribed myself some serious rest and relaxation, and over the next few days proceeded to feel increasingly better.
 

Clearly Galway’s hospital system cannot cope with the numbers seeking help, a situation massively exacerbated by the closure of A&E departments in Ennis and Roscommon, but despite the ridiculous demands put upon them by Dublin-centric politicians, the staff at our hospital are dedicated and wonderful professionals, doing a great job in dreadful circumstances.
 

While it’s essential we continue to protest about our hospital situation in the West of Ireland, we must remember to give thanks for the people who work in them.
 


©Charlie Adley
14.05.16.

Sunday 22 May 2016

Any time's the right time to come to Galway!

Aboo festival in action...

“Well when’s a good time to come?”
 

“Depends on what you want to do while you’re here.”


“Well, I heard something about a Galway festival. When’s that?”
 

“Hard to say really. See, you’ve already missed the New Inn Mummers Festival, the Music for Galway Midwinter Festival, the Galway Astronomy Festival, the Subtitle Film Festival and the Galway International Rally.”
 

“Oh, are there any left?”
 

“Don’t be silly, that was just January. In February we had Tedfest, that’s the Father Ted festival out on Inis Mór, the Muscailt Arts Festival, Seachtain na Gaeilge Festival and Éigse an Spidéil”
 

“You what? You’ve gone all gobbledegook, mate.”
 

“Nah, that’s the local lingo my son. Probably nowhere near right, but I do my best. Anyway, you’ve heard of Paddy’s Day? Well they call Lá Fhéile Pádraig, and seeing as Fhéile’s their word for festival, that counts too.
 

“Then we had the Galway Food Festival, the Clifden Traditional Music Festival, the Galway Dance Days Festival, followed by one of the major events of the year, the Cúirt International Festival of Literature.”

“Is that the one where you got up and read a load of rude words in public?”

“The very same mate. ’Twas a right laugh.”

“Well that’s what I want: a laugh. That’s all really.”

“Well if that’s all you want then come anytime. Honestly mate the best time to come to Galway is when we’re all just getting on with our lives. The city’s perfect for bumping into people, going with the flow until you suddenly realise you’ve missed the evening, half the night and you’re heading into early morning. Right up your street, I imagine.”

“You know me.”

“I do, and you know me, so there’s the other side of Galway too, the county, Connemara and a million places perfect for making sure you bump into nobody at all.”

“So when’s there a gap between festivals?”

“Well now, let’s see. You’ve already missed the Inishbofin Walking Festival, the Leenane Mountain Walking Festival, the Inishbofin Arts Festival, Bealtaine Festival, the International Mayfly Festival, the Connemara Mussel Festival, the Galway County Fleadh, the Galway Early Music Festival, the Galway Theatre Festival and Fleadh na gCuach.”

“Bless you.”

No, wasn’t sneezing. That’s the Cuckoo Fleadh.”

“Right. Whatever you say. Never mind what I’ve missed. What’s coming up?”

“Well, next up is the Galway African Film Festival, the -”

“Seriously?”

“Bloomin’ right seriously. It’s in its 9th year now. Then there’s the Clarinbridge Banjo Gathering -“

“Now that sounds more like what I’d expect!”

“Stuck in cliché-ridden Ireland, you are mate. Still, if you really want old school, come for Conamara Bog Week, starts next week. Or if that sounds too distant from the comfort of your flat white, come for The Café Arts Festival.”

“Too exciting. I’m trembling.”

“Sarcy bugger. If it’s adrenaline you want then there’s the Venture Cup Powerboat Race in June, the longest, toughest powerboat race in the world, just off Salthill Prom if you don’t mind. More sedate altogether, there’s the Galway Garden Festival, the Connemara Green Festival -”

“Mmmm -”

“Steady boy, green as in ecology, mate, not what you’re thinking at all.”

“Oh.”

“Then it’s July and the big hitters move in. Culture Vultures aplenty and not much room for just chilling. Mighty stuff though, with the Galway Film Fleadh, the Galway Fringe Festival and the Galway International Arts Festival. At local level then you’ve the Westside Community Arts Festival and the grandaddy of ‘em all: the Galway Races. Mind you, there’s also the Omey Races, out in west Connemara’s Claddaghduff, horses running on sand at low tide, just fantastic.”

“Pub nearby?”

“Of course.”

“What about late August? Does it quieten down towards Autumn?”

“What do you think? There’s Cruinniu na mBad Festival, with scores of Galway Hookers - oh behave, they're boats - racing in Kinvara, followed by the Connemara Pony Festival, Galway Heritage Week and the Loughrea Medieval Festival. Out west there’s the Oughterrard Agricultural & Horticultural Show, while back in town you’ve the Oscar Wilde Festival, the Galway Races Autumn Meeting and the Clarenbridge Oyster Festival.”

“It just goes on and on. Don’t you people ever work or sleep?”
 

“We work eat and sleep promoting our city and county, mate, ‘cos we’re at the end of the European road and we have to let people know how great it is out here. 

"Anyway, so then there’s Shorelines Arts Festival in Portumna, Clifden Arts Week, Galway Culture Night, Galway International Oyster Festival, the Ballinasloe International Fair & Festival and the Galway Jazz Festival.
 

“There’s the Sky Road TV & Film Festival, The Why Not? Adventure Film Festival and the fantastic Baboró International Arts Festival for Children. Then you’ve the Connemara 4 Seasons Autumn Walking Festival, Conamara Sea Week, Food on the Edge and the massive Vodafone Galway Comedy Carnival.”
 

“Blimey. Does it never stop?”

“Not yet, ‘cos then there’s the Racing Festival, the Bake Fest, the Galway Aboo Halloween Festival and in November we’ve the Tulca Festival of Visual Arts, the Spirit Of Voice Festival and the Galway Science & Technology Festival.”

“What about Christmas? Is that festival free?”

“Are you kidding? That’s the perfect time for the Connemara 4 Seasons Winter Walking Festival, the Christmas market, Galway on Ice and the Cope Christmas Day Swim.”

“Okay then. Seeing as there’s no gaps and I’m completely blinded by choice, I’ll just book a ticket and come out this weekend.”

“Perfect mate. Looking forward to that. Festival or no festival, any weekend is the perfect weekend to come to Galway.”

©Charlie Adley
09.05.16.