Sunday 3 May 2015

Never let politics get in the way of a good giggle!


The evening was going fairly well until the subject of food banks came up. Considering the blue sky Spring evening outside, there were a surprising number of potential voters in the hall of Stanmore Community College.
 

I was born in Stanmore and my family have a huge connection to the place. My sister has her shop there, my brother took his A levels in this very college, while I misspent my entire youth in the place.
 

Politics has always been a subject central to our family, so excited and intrigued by this most unusual of UK elections, it’s natural that my mum and I attend the local hustings while I’m staying with her in London.
 

Raised by a brace of dedicated Conservatives, my brother introduced me to socialism at the tender age of 13 and despite endless heated debates (I gather non-Jewish people call them ‘rows’) little has changed in my family’s political outlook.
 

Contrary to the endlessly patronising assurances I endured from adults throughout my teenage years, my views have not changed as I’ve grown up. My sense of social justice is as strong today as four decades ago.
 

It all comes down to housing, health and education.
 

Until everyone has a safe home, access to healthcare at all levels and an education that not only prepares us for life but instils within us the desire to continue learning, I will continue to agree with Mahatma Gandhi. When asked what he thought of Western civilisation he replied:
 

“I think it would be a good idea.”
 

So far these hustings of England’s Harrow East constituency have felt quite convivial and good-tempered. Upon on the stage sit five candidates with a variety of skin colour that implies a civilised society. Proceedings might be running slightly smoother if there were microphones available, but although it’s impossible to hear questions asked by anyone sitting in front of you, the politicians’ answers are so predictable, we manage to deduce the questions.
 

This constituency is a key marginal, with the distinction of being the only Conservative-held seat in the country with a majority of ethnic minorities. The polls suggest that Labour might take it, and their young candidate, Uma Kumaran, is doing an excellent job tonight. 

Gradually the candidates descend into their familiar trenches, each party representative trying to outdo the other. The incumbent Tory MP Bob Blackman claims that unemployment in Harrow is “...now a thing of the past.”
 

If so, I’m impressed, yet somehow I doubt it.

He promises the Conservatives will build 88,000 houses. 
Uma then claims Labour will build 200,000 houses. 
Emma Wallace, the slightly ineffectual Green Party Candidate, who sometimes seems unsure exactly what her party’s policy is, refers once again to her notes and perkily pipes up to announce the Greens will build 500,000 homes.
 

With the greatest respect Emma, I’m as likely to form the next UK government as you are, so if voted into power I promise to build everyone a home, and send the bill to that fella in Nigeria who keeps trying to send me money by email.
 

The most energetic and likeable of the bunch is Ross Barlow, of the Liberal Democrats. Looking barely old enough to vote, he's amiable and at ease, attracting a laugh from the crowd by hoping that if he’s elected, it’s because people have voted for the party they like the most, not just the one they hate the least.
 

The Chairman rambles on far too long inbetween each candidate, and for some reason he seems to think it’s okay for him to disagree with certain candidates, even though he is meant to appear neutral.
Rumbles of discontent start to rise from the floor about the Chairman’s rambling. 


A whiff of the Vicar of Dibley threatens to disturb proceedings. The atmosphere starts to change, just slightly and still comically, as people turn to tell others to stop talking because they can’t hear what’s being said. Then the others explain back that all they were saying was that they can’t hear what’s being said either, and why is the Chairman rambling on?
 

Then someone has a go at my 86 year-old mum and I have a go back at him. Again, for the umpteenth time in my life, I remember how we English exist so close to aggression; how it affects me; why I love life in the West of Ireland so much.
 

At which point, quite unexpectedly, things turn very nasty.
 

A woman asks the panel why, in sixth richest nation in the world, the number of food bank users has risen from 61,000 in 2011 to over 913,000 in 2014?
 

Bob Blackman invents a response that immediately reminds me why I loathe the Conservative Party. Wilfully ignoring the question, he complains how awful it is that some people abuse the food banks, taking stuff they don’t need.
 

Given an evident failure of modern society, he manages to dredge Daily Mail blame culture from human tragedy. As Aneurin Bevan so aptly described them in 1948, the Tories truly are “Lower that vermin.”
 

This despicable attitude is the reason why I’d still vote Labour, despite the fact that these days they are little more than Tory-lite.
 

The woman who asked the question is outraged, as am I and we both shout our disgust. Suddenly the previously relaxed man sitting next to my mother growls fiercely and disrespectfully at the woman for expressing her feelings. These are hustings, for goodness sake! We’re all meant to be heard. That’s why we’re here.
 

Back at my mum’s later, we rerun the events of the night over a cup of tea.
 

“I was impressed by Nana Asante.” she says. “She made a lot of sense.”
 

Then I point out to my life-long Tory mother that Asante is the candidate for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition and we have a good laugh together.
 

Love and laughter are the stuff of life. Politics should never get in the way of a good giggle.

© Charlie Adley
25.04.15.

Sunday 26 April 2015

TOO MANY CHOICES DRIVE THIS SIMPLE MAN SLIGHTLY CRAZY!



“I’m off to the shop lads. Want anything?”
 

“What’re you getting?”
 

“Tea, milk and something to munch on.”
 

“Oh, okay, I’ll have something hot. One of those chicken baguettes.”
 

“Sound, see you in a bit.”
 

As I wander around the corner to the shop I wonder why what I was going to buy in the shop made any difference to my mate. If I’d said I was going to buy chocolate biscuits or half a giraffe, would he have felt like eating something other than a chicken baguette?
 

The human mind is truly a wondrous thing, designed and primed to help us live long, prosper and ideally reproduce. Over millennia our minds evolved to deal with choices that some time way back in our history would have meant the difference between life and death.
 

While there can be some ugly and aggressive beasts prowling the aisles of the corner store, I’m pretty unlikely to encounter a hungry sabre-toothed tiger at the deli counter. Given that we no longer live in fear of our lives every day, you’d think maybe our brains would have eased up on the decision-making. 

Sadly rather than grasping the chance to simplify things by disposing of pointless options, we’ve been beguiled by commercialism into unnecessarily complicating everything, by creating as many different choices as possible.
 

What first appears as too many choices can later make perfect sense. To virgin European ears, the endless options offered when ordering something to eat in America become, after practice, a simple and efficient way to eat exactly what you want. Proud of their product and aiming to please, Americans really care, so you just learn to say “I’ll have the Hunter S. Andwich, with mayo, no butter, radicchio and rocket, no dressing, tomato, wild turkey, cranberry sauce not jelly, mustard and olives, on cracked wheat bread.”
 

Not so difficult really, but it’s so much simpler in Ireland; or is it?
 

“Hello!” says the smiley woman at the hot food counter. ‘“What can I get for you?” “I’ll have a spicy chicken baguette please, with mayo and lettuce. That’s all thanks!”
 

As she toddles off to prepare the roll, I turn around to stare idly at muffins and take an unusual interest in the crisp selection, as I don’t want make her feel uncomfortable by staring at her.
 

“Do you want white or brown?”
 

Dammit. Forgot that. “White please.” 
“And do you want butter or mayo?”
 

Told you that, though. I clearly remember saying mayo. Ah well. What price politeness? She’s the one stuck working while I’m spending the afternoon drinking tea with the lads, so why would I get grumpy with her over such a stupid little thing?
 

“Mayo please!” I reply, still smiling.
 

“Is it the spicy or the plain chicken that you’re after?”
 

What part of spicy didn’t you get the first time? “Erm the spicy please!”
 

“And what salads would you like?”
 

Argghhh. Why did I bother to prepare in my mind what to ask for in the first place? What was the point in me ordering anything at all? This all would have turned out just as successful and a whole heap less stressful if I’d just wandered up to the counter and asked her straight out to ask me a series of questions, gradually deducing from my collective answers the ingredients I wanted her to stick between two slices of as yet indeterminate bread-like product.
 

“Just lettuce please!” I mutter through clenched teeth, producing what must look to the outside world like an unsettlingly scary smile.
 

Okay Adley, calm down. That’s the lot now. There’s nothing more to this sandwich. There can’t be. We’ve just had an interesting exchange of ideas concerning every single aspect of what was potentially a very simple roll.
 

Stay kind. Be happy. For God’s sake man, you’re only buying a sandwich. There are some things in this world to become stressed about and many others that are not worth a raised pulse.
 

Pull yourself together. Stop referring to yourself in the Third Person. You know that’s a thoroughly unpleasant fascistic characteristic.
 

Increasing our choices does not make the world a more wonderful place, but the freedom to choose is a precious thing. While we impose pointless options on ourselves, we choose to deny ourselves variety elsewhere. It’s ridiculous that we drink tea or coffee every day, yet for some reason everyone is meant to have ‘a way’ they like their drink, each and every time.
 

I’m not sure how I’m going to want my tea. Never weak, but do I take sugar? Maybe today yes, but tomorrow no. Call me crazy, call me troublesome, but call me.
 

Aha! She’s looking over at me again, so she must have the baguette bagged and ready to buy.
 

“Do you want it cut in half?”
 

Oh, my fault. I entirely forgot that old chestnut.
 

“Yes please.Thanks.”
 

Now please please please give me the bloody roll or we’re both going to make it onto the six o’clock news and not in a good way. I don’t want to be this petty het-up person.
 

I‘m in a lovely mood, la la laaah  ... having a fun day with my lovely friends ... doo bee dooh...
 

I have worked in jobs like hers and know how pathetic customers like me can appear to be, when displaying impatient and unreasonable behaviour.
 

Maybe she didn’t understand my accent. Maybe she’s just a little hard of hearing. Maybe she deliberately ignored everything I asked for just to wind me up. Maybe I should get a grip and recover my sense of perspective.
 

“Hello, Sir! Your baguette is ready. Would you like a bottle of coke or water with that €4.50?”
 

No thank you. I just want to pay for the roll, please, and get out. You see, although you had not the slightest suspicion, I very nearly killed you over the making of it.
 

Just kidding. Or am I? You choose.
 


©Charlie Adley
14.04.15.


Wednesday 22 April 2015

I USED MY THUMB TO FLY BUT NOW WALKING IS THE PROBLEM!



As I lay out my things for the morning I find myself laughing out loud. Onto the blue velcro knee brace that lies on top of the chest of drawers I put the blister plaster and the heat wrap. Collectively they look like a First Aid training kit, but right now they’re just the items I need to walk the dog.
 

Somewhere between the arthritis in my right knee, the sciatic cramp and numbness that runs from hip to toe down the other leg and my new walking boots that have bored a hole into my left ankle, middle age has become so established I don’t know where it ends and old age begins.
 

All this for a bloody walk? That’s when I laugh out loud, wondering who the hell I am and what happened to that bloke who used to walk effortlessly for hours?
 

From the age of 15 I felt a strong desire to hitch and quickly discovered that I was good at it. Back in those days hitchhikers were a common sight, groups of longhairs clumped around service station exits, sitting on guitar cases, relaxedly unperturbed by the prospect of getting anywhere.
 

While they sat waiting for someone to stop, I walked further to a spot where a car could easily pull over. A few minutes later I was climbing into a car accompanied by the distant sound of hippy wailing.
 


As so often in life, empathy is the name of the hitching game: if you want a lift think like a driver. Stand still where drivers can see you from as far away as possible. Give drivers somewhere safe and easy to pull in. People used to ask me if I’d ever been stuck, to which I replied that if I was stuck I’d still be there. Every time I put out my thumb I enjoy a thrill of excitement along with the assured knowledge that I will reach my destination.
 

Some people, apparently unable to stand still, hitched while walking along the edge of the road. I never understood them. If you can walk to where you’re going, why are you hitching? If you can’t then what good will walking do you? Drivers won’t stop if they can’t see your face and by the way, the car that just passed you on that tight bend was the one which would've stopped for you, were you standing in a good spot.
 

Always an early start and then walk out of town. Walk and walk until the buildings are far behind you, yet the traffic’s not speeding up too fast. Find a good place and stand there until you get a lift. 

No signs, because you’ll miss out on the shorter interim lifts that might bring you somewhere better.
Innumerable fascinating one-to-one talks with drivers from every walk of life. Some want silence, happy just to help. Others need to pour their hearts out to this stranger who they know they’ll never see again. Then there’s the ones who want to convert you to their belief system, be it a world religion or vile racism. They expect you to agree with them as you’re riding in their car or truck, but instead at the sound of
 

“Bloody Pakis!”
 

I’d simply smile and explain how much I loved living in Bradford.
 

Hitching wasn’t just about moving from A to B. The purely random length of lifts requires sometimes being dropped off in the middle of bleedin’ nowhere.
 

I love that.
 

Watch as the car disappears into the distance down a side road. 

Wait for silence to fall once more. 

Now take a look: you’re standing alone in a magnificent wilderness. Walk a few paces up the road and stop to look at the view from a perspective that possibly nobody has ever seen.
 

For a couple of months in New Zealand I went with the lifts, persuading each driver that just because I had no destination in mind, it didn’t mean I was a dangerous psycho. I went wherever they went, and gradually there grew within me a profound state of calm.
 

Faith is an essential ingredient of hitching. Smile and believe that you will get there and sure enough, you will get there. A friend used to start hitching up the M1 from Brent Cross, harbouring thoughts in his mind that he’d give it three hours and then go to Golders Green and get the 3:30 bus.
 

He was doomed to failure, due to the doubt in his heart from the off.
 

I used to hitch to the pub where I worked when I was 17 and in my early 20s I flew all around England’s motorway network. Working in warehouses each winter, I saved enough to board the Cross Channel Ferry in the Springtime and hitch around Europe once again.
 

I’ve no idea why I loved sleeping out in French fields so much. Long before I’d read Kerouac or Guthrie I savoured waking up in a ploughed furrow on a dew-soaked morning, feeling fantastically unleashed.
 

After walking the dog and removing all my medical support systems I walk down to the crossroads. The Snapper has promised to drive me home later, so I’m hitching into Galway to have a drink or three with excellent friends arriving from London.
 

After fifteen minutes the first car comes along. It stops and takes me into the city. Looking out of the window at this road which I’ve driven ten thousand times, I’m reminded how much drivers miss of the world around them.
 

Wow look at that house! It’s huge and I didn't know it existed! Oh and over there, see where that stone wall curves and rises along the crest of that hill, with that beautiful little shed built right into it?
 

It feels great to be sitting in the back seat; invisible yet welcome. I miss the worlds that hitching reveals, but between my knee, blister and back I suspect my freewheeling days might be behind me.



©Charlie Adley
05.04.15.

Sunday 12 April 2015

It'll be fun showing Lonely Planet's Ryan the best of Galway again!



Being a scribbler brings unexpected and very welcome fringe benefits. In March 2009 I was writing about how good it felt to have my backside on a barstool in Lahinch, Co. Clare. A midweek night, the gales were bowling gigantic breakers onto the beach and over the sea wall. The hilly seaside town was very quiet and apart from myself, everyone in the pub was a local.
 

The old fella next to me was eating his fish and chips. A little girl was attracting attention by practicing her Irish dancing. Neighbours chatted to neighbours.
 

“This is what the tourists who come to Ireland want: as real a slice of Irish life as it is possible to experience.”
 

Three months later, far away on the Pacific North West coast of America, Ryan Ver Berkmoes googled something like “Real Irish life” and came upon the online version of that colyoom.
 

He emailed me, explaining that he covered Ireland for Lonely Planet guide books and was coming to Galway. Could I tell him anything about the best places to go in Galway? Could we get together and have a chat?
 

We arranged to meet up outside Tigh Neachtains at 2. It was a rare Summer afternoon, hot and still. White T-shirted 20somethings paraded their blistered sunburned biceps. Gulls swept down to scoop up chips dropped by the hordes of tourists parading along Quay Street.
 

I sat outside the pub, admiring the tiles on the medieval rooftops opposite, drinking in the river of deep blue sky running above the narrow street.
 

A large avuncular man walked directly towards me with his arm thrust out, inviting a handshake.
 

“Charlie?” 
“Ryan? Hi! I was wondering how we were going to recognise each  other. How did you know it was me?”
“I couldn’t miss you! You look exactly like you do in all those great cartoons Allan Cavanagh does of you each week!”
“But he draws caricatures! What are you saying?”
 

I went off to get pints and we sat outside that unique pub, talking easily to each other for many hours. Ryan’s face wears a natural smile. He’s easygoing yet hardworking, hedonistic yet self-disciplined; almost a mirror-image of this city.
 

Thankfully, he’s not a man in a rush, so the afternoon unfolded before us in a gentle stream of pints and people. Passers-by stopped to chat over the rails, to share a little craic and gossip; to do what Galwegians do.
 

Surprised by the number of people who said hello, Ryan mistakenly took me for some kind of social magnet, until I explained that this was just the way of Galway, where we all have our 10,000 Howyas and nobody knows anyones address.
 

Whoever you might be, whatever mood you find yourself in, it’s impossible not to enjoy a few hours spent in the sunshine on Quay Street, but shade is good too, so we moved over to the Quays where we bumped into two of the finest folk I know. Much laughter ensued as the others shot suggestions Ryan’s way, which he diligently noted in his book and on his map:
 

“You have to go there! Eat here! Drink that! See this!”
 

Ryan has a strange job. I think I’d hate it. While I often end up writing about the places that I visit, the last thing I want to do is feel that I have to. Yet Ryan must cover much ground, find the essential heart of each place and then move swiftly on.
 

By 6 o’clock Quay Street was starting to feel as if it were Race Week so we slid off to the sanctuary that is Sheridan’s Wine Bar. Up the stairs above the cheesemongers, we drank lovely reds, ate homemade pizza, olives, cheeses and salamis, trying to replenish our stamina before the evening ahead.
 

However the mixing of the grape and grain wiped out any beneficial effects the scrumptious food might have had, so rather than hesitate and find ourselves lost, we headed west, towards the Blue Note, the Crane and all points subsequent fade to grey.
 

Somewhere along the way Ryan fell completely in love with Galway, and thankfully the friendship forged that night has endured, beefed up by further visits for Lonely Planet updates.
 

With Ryan due back soon, I wonder: where will I point him this time?
 

The ‘gourmetisation’ of Galway over the last 20 years has been astonishing. Thanks in no small way to the triumvirate of Harriet Leander, Seamus Sheridan and JP McMahon, Galway’s young chefs have been inspired, encouraged and supported.
 

Emerging from dark days of soggy sandwiches and thin tinned soup we now have a plethora of sparkling choices at all ends of the foodie spectrum.
 

Very favourable reports are coming in about Hooked, the new fish restaurant on Henry Street, which is sourced daily by Ali’s fishmarket. I’ve not yet been so that’ll be a good place to start with Ryan. 

Then I’ll point him towards Loam, tucked away on Fairgreen just down from the coach station. Now running his own restaurant, chef Enda McEvoy is performing magic with local ingredients and very possibly heading towards another Michelin star, to add to the one he earned at JP McMahon’s innovative Aniar.
 

On Sea Road, Jess Murphy continues to thrive at Kai Cafe, offering modern cuisine with a whole lot of soul, while Connemara chef Joe Flaherty does wondrous work with meat at the Brasserie on the Corner, on Eglington Street. If you’re not in the mood for the full restaurant experience, try their steak and pint deal in the bar.
 

Despite tumbling prices it still costs a pretty penny to dine out in Ireland, but Ryan will be spoilt for choice when he returns to Galway city.
 

Life’s not all about food: there’s drink to consider too, and I’m looking forward to sharing a couple with my friend. It’s a tough job, with long hours and no pay, yet this Londoner feels privileged to be Galway’s very unofficial ambassador to Lonely Planet Guide Books.

© Charlie Adley
02.04.15

Monday 6 April 2015

WILL THE REAL ADLEY ACCENT PLEASE SPEAK UP!


Dalooney, The Body and myself are talking outside Rob Kenny’s lovely café, Pura Vida. Just behind us the lads from the council are hammering a pneumatic drill into the bottom of Quay Street.
 

In less urban corners of the Emerald Isle people seek the first cry of the cuckoo as the signal of Spring. In Galway City, it’s the Lifting of the Cobbles Festival, whereupon hundreds of the thousands of cobblestones lining the streets of the medieval heart of the city are ceremoniously raised and then lowered once again.
 

The cacophonous cocktail of metal, stone and diesel that’s rebounding off Jury’s walls is so loud it leaves me trying to read The Body’s lips.
 

As it happens, over the years I’ve tried the same tactic in normal conversation. The Body has a deep and very particular voice, which can be difficult for this Englishman to hear at times. When himself and Whispering Blue are swapping stories, I sit back and smile - at them not with them - because I don’t have a clue what they’re saying to each other.
 

One mumbles “Blahimm shissshhhgaboodle?” to which the other replies heatedly “Frickle jug mug kashh-heesh!
 

At which point they both roar with laughter and I laugh too, because they are my friends and even if I don't get their joke, that doesn’t stop the entire vignette being funny to me.
 

It’s puzzling that after over 20 years I still find it difficult to understand my closest Irish friends, because when I’ve lived out in the countryside, I’ve generally acclimatised to the local vernacular fairly well.
 

I’m one of those dreadful people whose accent wobbles with the wind. This is no mere fickle foible. I don’t do it on purpose. Neither is it linked to any vain desire to be liked. A fine colyoomist I’d be, if all I sought was acceptance.
 

However when I try to stop doing it, I consciously have to force myself to talk in my normal voice. Maybe it’s linked to my Jewish history, a desire to assimilate, to blend in? Or is it simply a subconscious desire not to be blamed yet again for the British Empire?
 

Whatever it is that drives my inadequacy I do know that when aided by several whiskies and abetted by a late nighttime hour, my voice grows deep and gravelly while my accent becomes sufficiently authentic to make a Connemara farmer ask
 

“Local man are ya? Where is it you’re from then?”
 

I was in no way trying to pass myself off as local, but he was genuinely shocked to find out I was a Londoner. Mind you, my friend in Castlebar has for years shrieked with horror and shrunk back whenever I unleash what she delightfully describes as:
 

“Your feckin’ leprechaun voice.”
 

She reckons that himself the farmer and all others who’ve mentioned my accent in any complimentary way were taking the piss, telling me how good it was, while I was foolish enough to swallow their bait.
 

I’m naturally paranoid, and therefore see myself as pretty good at identifying verbal attacks, but I’m not Irish so I cannot disagree with her.
 

This mimicry is not something I aspire to, although occasionally I do find some pleasure in it. When a Melbourne taxi driver declared
 

“Chroist! Ya don’t saaaarnd like a Pom!” 

I was delighted. A mere three months in Australia and my voice no longer sounded like the locals’ favourite target of abuse. 

Anyway, although fake accents are utterly cringeworthy, I’d feel more false trying to control the sound of my words. They just tumble out of my mouth in whichever accent my subconscious decides.
 

As a scribbler who harbours romantic notions of being a custodian of the language, I care about words, or rather those who abuse words by repeating them.
 

At the moment we’re in the midst of a bizarre epidemic that involves the infected not being the inflicted. For some reason believing that their audience does not have ears, infected people become stuck saying the same thing over and over again, until you want to ask them if, by any chance, they forgot to take their meds today?
 

“So he’s slagging off the tourists and I’m saying no, not the tourists, that's your wages, that's your wages, don't be giving out about the tourists, that's your wages. Your wages. That's your wages.”
 

Yeh, you know what I mean.
 

Then there’s those who make you laugh with a good joke but feel the need to repeat the punchline ad infinitum. The first time you heard it you found it genuinely funny, so there’s room for residual humour on the second and third repetition, but after that you just wonder about the psychological trigger that needs to wring every joke like a damp flannel.
 

Language has its fads and fashions, while some words change forever. Last September this colyoom was giving out about the overuse of the word ‘So’, particularly the way that media presenters and experts were starting their sentences with the word to sound irritatingly patronising:
 

“So this is a cow and the cow eats the grass and then we milk the cow.”
 

Sadly Double Vision’s ability to spot changes in the language is as hot as ever. Way back in 2007 this colyoom first pointed out how people were starting to us the word ‘iconic’ too much. Now cheese and onion is an iconic potato crisp flavour and another powerful word has become worthless; a spent force.
 

So now everyone is starting sentences with so. Not just TV presenters but all of you. So that’s the end of so as we know it. So the language changes almost as much as my accent, and I have control over neither.
 

I have no control over the noise from that pneumatic drill either, so the lads and I go into the café to enjoy the upstairs view and embark on a conversation. I’ll try to understand them, just as my friends will have to struggle with however I to sound to them!


© Charlie Adley
29.03.15