Sunday 17 August 2014

PLEASE STOP SHOWING US WHAT WE’RE ABOUT TO WATCH!


 Given the pace of technological advance, there will come a time in each of our lives when we’ll feel left behind. For me that moment came a while back, when Netflix announced they were releasing the American adaptation of House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey.
 

A big fan of the original BBC series and its dark yet brilliant anti-hero played by Ian Richardson, I’m sure I’ll love the series when I see it.
 

Were it not for the hamster on my roof that runs to provide my internet connection, I’d already have watched it. Suddenly I felt a little left out and I didn’t like it.
 

That perception of being excluded bought back memories of the days when there were only three TV channels in England; when you dared not miss the big show that everyone else would be watching. 

There was no taping, no rewind or pause. You had to be in front of the TV to see it, so if your parents didn’t happen to like M*A*S*H, you’d be fighting with your brother for control of the tiny and ancient black and white portable upstairs.
 

It was vital you watched what everyone else in your social sphere was watching at exactly the same time, or the next day at school would be a miserable exercise in bluffing away the fact you had missed both Monty Python and M*A*S*H.
 

Those excited chats everyone used to have about last night’s tele are what they now call ‘water cooler moments’. Away from live sporting events and soap operas, they have almost entirely disappeared. Unless you’re a fan of either balls or balls-ups, watching television is no longer in any way a sharing social experience.
 

We’re all doing our TV differently. While you’re catching up on the latest Storyville documentary on BBC 4, your friend is working his way through series 3 of his Breaking Bad box set, your mum is watching the gardening programme from last Tuesday. and the kids are off on You Tube, glued to the live broadcast of a pet chipmunk performing open heart surgery on its owner.
 

With the very welcome arrival of what’s known as ‘Long Form Drama’, (West Wing, The Sopranos, The Wire, Game of Thrones, etc.) the stars of the big screen have drifted from cinema to TV, attracted by quality scripts and massive budgets. For once the viewers are winners, as technology in the form of digital TV and DVD has freed us from forced-watching of mindless dross.
 

Have to admit, I absolutely love digital TV, as apart from news and sport, I hardly ever watch live TV. My digibox is loaded with everything from Cheers to Simon Schama, so whatever my mood, there’s always something there I feel like watching.
 

No longer a slave to commercials, I’m king of the fast forward button, straight through the ad break, luvvly jubbly! 

Series link? Yes please!
 

The change of the season is heralded by the TV networks advertising their Autumn schedules. Whatever wonderful or woeful programming they offer, of one thing we can be sure: they will be treating us like idiots.
 

Since the arrival of the TV remote control (yes kids, there was a time...) our attention spans have shrunk to something comparable to a squirrel on speed, but that doesn’t mean our brains have become indistinguishable from walnuts.
 

So why do the networks feel the need to talk down to us as if we’ve all had frontal lobotomies?
 

The first 5 minutes of every programme consist of a preview of everything we’re about to see, so that in effect, we don’t actually need to watch the programme at all.
 

Indeed, if we do decide these tasters are appetising enough, we tacitly accept that by choosing to watch the show, we are condemning ourselves to seeing all those clips again, represented to us as if we’d never seen them before.
 

The other night, at the start of RTE’s Six One news, Sharon niVol o’Vent squiggled on her seat as she ran through the day’s headlines. 

We were shown a long and tedious clip of yet another crooked politician somehow found innocent, reading a statement on the courthouse steps. It was painful the first time, but one minute later we had to watch and listen to the gobshite reading the same mind-numbing nonsense all over again.
 

As far as ‘dumbing down’ goes, the BBC are no better. I recall Fiona Bruce reporting on their 6 o’clock TV news how census results showed that Scotland’s population is growing.
 

“Experts say that this is a result of more people being born than dying in Scotland, and more people coming to the county than leaving it.”
 

Thanks Fiona - if you hadn’t explained that to me I’d have lived the rest of my life thinking that new Scots were spontaneously erupting into life, or being grafted onto planet Earth by space aliens.
 

Thankfully there are still some channels which offer the mind stimulation. Ah look, there’s that nice Tony Robinson chap, about to present a Timewatch Special about Stonehenge.
 

Oh no! Please no! He’s at it too.


“Coming up - we’ll reveal faaaascinating secrets about Stonehenge that nobody has ever seen before, except you now, in this preview. In fact we’re going to show you the key points of the whole programme in 30 seconds, so here’s the interesting bit about the stones being a healing place; now we’re telling you how the blue stones came from Wales; there’s the skeleton we found of a significant archer and a man murdered by Druid security."
 

Now sit back and enjoy the fact that when you see all those juicy morsels in a wee while, they’ll already be memories rather than revelations.
 

The best show in town never changes: hitting the off button; watching the fire’s flames lick over the turf; listening to the wind howling outside and the dog snoring at your feet.


©Charlie Adley
06.08.14.

Saturday 9 August 2014

WHY CAN’T EVERY CUSTOMER HAVE THE MAGIC BUTTON?




My body weight doesn’t grow or shrink much, but there’s so much of me that I change shape in quite dramatic fashion. 4 days a week I’ll do a 10 minute warm-up on my rowing machine, followed by a 3 mile walk with Lady Dog. On the Snapper's day off I sweat for a two hours mowing the lawn.

All good and triff, as long as the rowing machine isn’t broken. A month ago the belt went, and now my body is falling to bits. No, sorry, my bits are still intact and attached, but everything has fallen out. 

Watching tele with my arms resting on my belly is not good for morale. Buttons zinged off 2 pairs of trousers that were giving me an inch of spare air only a fortnight ago. Worst of all, pecs the size of small continents are inexorably morphing back into what my beloved wife once described as 

“14 year-old nubile breasts.”

There cannot be a less attractive look.

So off I went to find a new rowing machine pronto. Visiting a major catalogue store’s website I found a €490 piece of kit on special offer, going for €220. Great! I’d simply drive into Galway City and buy it, but first I needed to check whether it was in stock.

I clicked on the drop-down menu beside ‘Check stock in your area’ - entered ‘Galway’ and up came a big tick and words saying ‘In Stock’. On the other side of the window it advised me that if I wanted home delivery, it would be done in 10 days.

But I neither needed nor wanted home delivery, as the rowing machine was in stock in Galway.

Eager to look more like a man than a schoolgirl, I drove into the city, filled out the slip in the shop and presented it to the checkout server, who said I couldn’t buy this rowing machine in the shop. 

When I told him I’d just driven all the way into the city because their website specifically said it was in stock in Galway, he assured me that yes, it was in stock, in a warehouse in England. If I wanted it I’d have to go for home delivery, but I’d have it within two weeks. 

Living in an obscure spot, I try to avoid home delivery at all costs. I pointed out that everywhere I looked delivery times were estimated within 10 days. He shrugged. I asked him to go to the product’s website page and follow my click trail, which he did and then said:

“Oh yes. I can see why you thought it might be in stock.”

Why I thought that? 

Why I thought that a search for stock in their Galway shop resulting in ‘In Stock!’ showing below a great big tick might lead me to believe it was in stock in Galway?

I paid for the item and went over to the shop’s customer service counter, where the server told me she couldn’t help me as I needed customer service. Standing back I pointed to the sign above my head and then she explained that customer service for the website was different. I showed her my website journey once again and she said that it was confusing.

“It’s not confusing,” I assured her, “It’s just wrong; a lie.”

Back at home I called to set up my delivery and was told that the next available delivery date was just under 4 weeks later. Worse, it was coming on a Friday, sometime between 7:30 am and 6:00pm - a window that in this day and age is anachronistic and ridiculous,

Holding my breath I told her that Fridays are busy days in my life and to be stuck in all day would prove extremely inconvenient. I asked if the driver could leave it at the garage in the village, to which I was told that yes, that could be arranged, but this delivery would then have to be cancelled and a new delivery organised, and the nearest date for that delivery might be even further away.

At this point I sort of lost it. I told her that nobody expects their customers to wait in an entire day any more. Their customer service ethic and delivery service was stuck in the 1970s.

So I called their customer service team to make a complaint and after waiting a long time in the queue I spoke to a woman who was frankly pretty confrontational. Unlike the staff in the store, she adamantly refused to see that the website was at fault. She raised her voice and dug her feet in. I asked to speak to her supervisor and she was much more conciliatory, yet could not offer me any solution. 

Later that day I received a call from a UK number on my Irish mobile, so I didn’t answer. The message left advised me to call urgently about this order, as some new information was available. 

Believing it possible that someone had worked miracles, I sat on the phone, waiting in long queues all that afternoon and twice the following morning, until eventually I got through to a human, only to be advised that they had no idea why I’d been asked to call, because there was nothing new. 

They said I’d probably got a call from the automatic dialler. 
Great! More valuable hours wasted waiting on the phone for no reason whatsoever.

So I pressed my magic button, available only to those willing to make enough noise or write about consumer debacles in newspapers.

Within a couple of hours of sending an email to their media department, the entire matter was resolved.

The rowing machine arrives next week, for which my body and those around me are truly grateful.

What bugs me though, each time things like this happen, is that if they can do it for me, just because I’m threatening to write about it, why can’t they do it for everyone?


Charlie Adley
31.07.14.

Sunday 3 August 2014

ONLINE GAMBLING DOESN’T COMPARE TO THE OLD BOOKIES!


About a mile from my childhood home there was a cluster of shops around a crossroads that served the local council estate. To this middle class boy, they looked strange and mysterious, inevitably tempting.

Side by side stood the transport cafe and the bookies. The concepts they represented were not strange to me. I had eaten in restaurants and both my father and my grandmother liked to place a bet on the horses every now and then. They lifted their phones and called their bookmakers. It was all very efficient, but somehow rather cold and distant.

My first job was milkman's boy, jumping on and off the float to pick up the empties. Jim showed me how to make sixpences dance around his fingers, blatantly lying to me that it made the housewives laugh. I knew well he was doing it to shortchange them but I didn’t care because I was 10 years old, unable to discern such adult rights from wrong.

After we finished the round, Jim took me to the transport cafe. I loved it, made a complete fool of myself and actually enjoyed all the men laughing at me when they heard my clipped accent. In there I felt no pressure; no expectation and more, enjoyed an acceptance of some kind, powerful enough to change my life in later years.

After drinking several mugs of steaming strong sweet tea and snarfing down a fried egg sandwich (two slices of toasted white slathered in butter and ketchup, dripping yolk and dropping white as you ate it) Jim would lean back in his chair and belch incredibly loudly.

His burp sounded like mix of someone being sick and an opera singer tuning up, which all seemed to me a bit behaviourally extravagant, seeing as how we were in public. To my bourgeois mannered amazement nobody twitched an eyebrow.

“Right, Charles me boy! On your toes son! Just got to pop next door and then I’ll return you safe to your mum.”

Fantastic! We were going to visit the bookies next door. The not-very-swishy strips of filthy dirty plastic hanging over the bookmaker’s doorway acted as a portal to another universe.

Being in the bookies was like watching tele, which was black and white in those days. There was little daring to declare itself beyond monochrome in the scene before me.
 

Men in flat caps talked to others in boiler suits, rollies permanently stuck to bottom lips, staying lit, being drawn on every now and then.

There was a long queue of men trying to put money on a race that had already started and a very short queue of men (rarely more than two) who were trying to pick up their winnings from the last race so they could put a bet on this other race, the one that the other men wanted to bet on, even though it had already started.

It used to make me giggle. These grown men doing the same silly thing every day. They knew that the bloke behind the counter would tell them they couldn’t place their bets on a race that had started and everyone knew well that everyone else knew that was the case and every day everybody ignored it.

So ferociously eager was the mens’ desire to bet after the race started, I used to wonder if there wasn’t some kind of magic involved. There was no question of cheating. The bookies at Brockhurst Corner wasn’t a launching pad of cutting edge technology back in 1970. 


It was a smoke-filled litter-ridden mixture of hope and loss, testosterone driven dreams and nightmares, where lives might be riven between success and failure, by luck and a little knowledge being a dangerous thing.

Thankfully, it was also a place where men went to have a laugh and behave like children. So as soon as the wire rose or the stall doors opened, just as the field galloped into the first furlong, all of them would race over to the betting window, waving their wads, shouting the name of their horse, screaming the particular odds they wanted, as if their’s was the only voice in the room; in the entire world.

Every day the bloke behind the counter would wave them away, shout back some blue abuse and then, just to wind the crowd up into a blind frenzy, he’d take a couple of bets from those closest to the window, agreeing preferential odds which fuelled loud guttural grunts of “Fix!” and “ He’s on a bung, the dirty little bugger!”

Despite the pure farcical and wonderful comedy involved in this maelstrom of a floor show, the real fascination of the old bookies for me was the bloke who worked the chalkboard.

With the radio going in the background and messages coming from the back room, he’d write out the runners and riders by hand on the blackboard, and then work out the odds right in front of you, doing the maths in his head, rubbing out the 3/1 and going Berlington Bertie 100/30 on No. 6 in the 1:45 at Haydock, move on, rub out, rewrite, keep calm while wiping the hair down on the back of his head.

Using what seemed to me like a planet’s worth of mathematical ability, he did all this while also having a bit of a laugh and a chat with the lads, rolling his Old Holborn into liquorice papers while taking a swig of Tizer from the bottle.

Gambling these days is unrecognisable from those. The way having a flutter stands today, you're more likely to sell your bet to someone else than bet on a horse’s nose.

Online betting has become just like my Dad’s phone call to his bookies: efficient but cold and distant. Part of the thrill of having a flutter on the gee-gees was being in the bookies, shouting and cheering with the crowd. There was a thrill of excitement to share, even when you lost.


©Charlie Adley
26.07.14.

Sunday 27 July 2014

I wish all of you could see my Facebook feed!



I wish all of you could see my Facebook feed. If you did you might wipe that rabid foam from your mouths and put down your flags. This dreadful conflict in Gaza has the wonderful people in my life polarised to the most ridiculous of extremes.
 

All of a sudden everyone is an expert, yet nobody seems to be listening to the people on the streets. Maybe, instead of your instant-miracle solution, or the slightly satirical offering proposed in this week’s Double Vision, or the traditional two state solution, or the one state solution which has support from many sides, we should ask what solution people want, because that might work.

It doesn't matter what I think. It doesn't matter what you think either. All that matters is we start talking and stop waving flags. This week’s ‘Double Vision’ is available in the Galway City Tribune and the Connacht Tribune, but it won’t be appearing here. 


You’re all too crazy right now. Yes you are, when you consider that this one piece of writing will upset people on both sides of this process. I don’t need to be falling out with people.

There’s enough conflict. My scribbling on this subject has brought me grief of a profound kind in the past. With so many of those whom I love holding such contrasting opinions, I need to protect myself from heartbreak.

When this conflict eases many of you will follow other news stories, but for me, even as a secular Jew, the Middle East forms part of the fabric of my life.

The Six Day War in 1967 is one of my earliest childhood memories. I was only 7, far too young to understand what was happening, yet right now I can serve up mental images of men sitting in groups in our living room, talking in hushed tones. I knew something serious was happening, sufficient to imprint it upon my brain.

Similarly I can completely recall six years later, my brother coming down the stairs on Yom Kippur, announcing to us that Syria and Egypt had invaded Israel's North and South, on the holiest day of the year.

For once, as it is for Muslims, so it is for Jews: this story doesn’t go away for any of us; it lives with us always. We are characters trapped in the worst of books and this present conflict is a dreadful and tragic chapter.

I just wish less people were flag-waving and more listening was going on.
 

We need to be talking about a lasting peace.


(Normal online colyoomistic service resumes next week)


Monday 21 July 2014

THE GALWAY ARTS FESTIVAL HAS GROWN UP AND MOVED OUT!


In the past your scribbler has been guilty of clinging to a vision of what the Galway Arts Festival used to be, rather than coming to terms with the inevitability of change.

When the Snapper became a Chelsea fan she displayed such partisan zeal it frightened me a little.

“Ah, but I’m a convert!” she explained. “You’ve been a Chelsea fan all your life. Converts are always a bit more crazy than those born into it.”

This blow-in became a convert to Galway back in 1992. Unlike the locals who see Galway city and county as the ever-changing backdrop to their lives, I realise now that I took an emotional snapshot of the place I first arrived in, burning into my brainbox an image of this place at that time.

It was gone forever before I exhaled, yet foolishly still I yearned to replicate how I felt in the anarchic atmosphere of the Saw Doctors in the Big Top, or how I wondered at the sight of a giant Noah shooting water from his fingertips at the parade spectators. 

This year the festival offers The Waterboys in the Big Top and hopefully Macnas will parade in the Autumn, so all is good with the world, yet it is those early formative moments that give birth to one's own nostalgia.

So for several years this colyoom struggled against the Galway Arts Festival changing, moaning about the price of seats, groaning about how few local artists were being included, bewailing the lack of street theatre and bellyaching about the loss of connection the city had with its major festival.

Misguided as it may have been, mine was not a lone voice crying in the wilderness. Indeed, I wonder if we would have our excellent current Fringe Festival (galwayfringe.ie) had not Project 06 made such a powerful case for the people on the streets.

Despite all my rants, I am and have always been a huge fan of the Galway International Arts Festival, (née: Galway Arts Festival). Along with countless other international blow-ins, one of the reasons I fell in love with this place was the respect it afforded the creativity that thrives here.

There are those who joke that Galway City is the graveyard of ambition. To them I say “Poppycock!” partly because it’s an apt word, but also because it feels good.

Hell, I’m going to write it again:

Poppycock!

Compared to my native city of London, where genius can live and lose a life invisible, Galway embraces artistic endeavour with open arms.

Thankfully, I am now no longer expecting the Arts Festival to connect with the city as it used to. For ages it hurt me that Galway had turned from an Arts Festival City into a city with an Arts Festival, but now, given the Arts Festival’s ongoing success, I understand that was inevitable.

The Arts Festival left home years ago and just as a person might turn to their clingy parents at the age of 36, in an effort to appear even more independent of the city, it has announced that it shall now be known as the Galway International Arts Festival.

It’s not a huge change, but it is puzzling and apparently pointless.

Of course the Galway Arts Festival is ‘international’ - it always has been! Under the artistic direction of Paul Fahy, the festival attracts all manner of exciting and talented creativity from around the globe.

Having lived in San Francisco, Melbourne and London, I know internationality when I see it, and Galway has internationality by the busload; by the rental cars and camper vans; trains and taxis and planeloads of people travelling on coaches. We’ve foreign students living here learning English and more foreign students studying at our internationally renowned universities and colleges.

A portal to both the Mediterranean and the New World, Galway’s harbour has drawn international music, wine and art to the city for centuries, yet to be truly international, a place and its people have to emanate from a strong core culture that can be shared, spread and adapted. Galway's great strength lies in the way it blends its unique character with international ingredients.

Restaurateur JP McMahon performed the entire cycle single-handedly. Acknowledging Galway’s manifold links with Spain, he introduced authentic Spanish tapas through ‘Cava’, while his Michelin starred ‘Aniar’ bought Galway international recognition, solely using ingredients from the local area, or ‘terroir’.

Entrepreneur Kevin Healy has worked tirelessly to bring top international comedy acts to Galway, while our own Druid Theatre strut the stage at the English National Theatre and Macnas export their talent worldwide.

Sometimes it’s easier for blow-ins to see the magic of a place. Locals find it hard to feel pride in their home’s intrinsic worth. The beautiful ancient heart of this city: preserved, alive, vibrant and authentic, now for some reason branded ‘The Latin Quarter’.

Why not the ‘Medieval Quarter’ or ‘Old City’?
Why look abroad?

There is much in Galway to be proud of and more for which it is internationally famous. Beyond songs about the sun setting on Galway Bay and a certain Galway Girl, loved worldwide by generations three apart, Galway is universally loved for its unique cocktail of craic, beauty, history, creativity, racing madness and mad weather.

A city truly international to its core, Galway shares its own culture while borrowing from others. When you naturally possess such fine attributes, surely you don’t need to state the obvious.

Why the need to remove our Arts Festival one step further from the city of its birth?

Why is ‘Galway’ not enough?

All praise to the festival for its success, but in the same way that an open flower will flourish so much longer if nurtured by healthy roots, it might be prudent for the Arts Festival to love the city back.

Given the weighty matters of the day, I’ll admit that the inclusion of the word ‘International’ in the Galway Arts Festival might justifiably be deemed unworthy of debate. It’s just that when you love something, feelings matter.



©Charlie Adley
10.07.14.