Monday 18 February 2019

IT TAKES A YEAR TO SLOW DOWN AND SEE THE WORLD!



Standing outside my new house I look around and know the views are beautiful.
 

I also know that at the moment I cannot perceive all that beauty.

As a writer I’ve been lucky enough to earn a living working from several homes in rural Ireland, and I learned in the first, near Slyne Head in Connemara, that it takes a year.

It takes a year to calm down from the pace and madness of modern life.

It takes a year to become open enough to see all treasures that nature has to offer.

We jet off on holidays and drive around on staycations, grabbing our phones to take pictures of this beach, that mountain, those rolling hills.

We feel we’ve seen them, and wave our photos in the faces of other people, to show off the fact that we’ve been there, done that.

While their images may be planted in our brains and computers, we haven’t really seen them at all.

I know that for me it takes a year of living in peace, through all four seasons, before I can fully appreciate the depth and glory of my surroundings.

Already I’ve started to stare for ages out of windows, to stand in the garden and phase out as I watch the world around me, but also I observe myself, knowing that I’m still twitching around like a post-traumatic fart in a colander.

I’ve a long way to go before I see it all.

I’ll get there, day by day, and this time next year, when I stand in this garden, I’ll truly be able to appreciate this view.

I’m in no rush; simply excited at the prospect of returning to that state of inner bliss I’ve been lucky enough to encounter in similar homes twice before.

Time now though to stop all this fancy philosophising, and return to the mundane world of practical tasks: to go into town and buy a toaster and a kettle.

The shop is one of those old-fashioned cavernous places that sells everything from rugs to rat poison. A simple plastic kettle and one of those four slice thick‘n’thin toasters, off the shelf, over to the counter, sorted.

Yer man behind the counter neither speaks nor looks at me once. I hold my peace. This is my very first encounter with a shopkeeper in my new town, and I’m a firm believer in arriving in a new community with a very mild plop, rather than a mighty loud bang.

Whatever happens, I’m going to be nice.

As he hands me the receipt he says thanks, leaving me to wonder if his attitude was the result of me being a stranger or my English accent.

Maybe he was just having a bad day, or maybe abject disinterest is the local way.

Back home I discover that the toaster’s slidy handle on the left works, but the one on the right won’t stay down.

Oh bugger, what a hassle, but I might as well deal with it while the transaction is fresh, so I box it up in its plastic bag and cardboard surrounds, and drive back into town.

At the shop I’m greeted by an older fella who seems a lot nicer than the Silent One who sold it to me. Upon hearing my complaint he disappears into a back room, emerging with an extension cable that he plugs into the wall, and then plugs the toaster into that.

I stand and watch utterly bemused. Either I'm a liar who wants to swap a toaster for no reasonable reason, or an eedjit who doesn't know how to use a toaster.

What I am not is a customer impressed by this attitude. I grew up in retail and cannot for the life of me work out why this bloke thinks I’ve nothing better to do with my day than make up stories about a toaster.

I already told him I’ve just moved here, so you might think he’d be interested in keeping my custom, but no. He tests the toaster, which of course works absolutely perfectly, and then he hands it back to me.

I drive home, plug it in, and predictably it doesn’t work.

Grrrr.

Next day I go back to the shop, desperately hoping they will do the right thing. I made it clear that I just wanted to swap it for an identical one, so there’s no question of a refund.
 

Thankfully the older fella makes the right decision, and just gives me another one.

I smile and thank him profusely, going home happy that a combination of patience and experience have turned this first rather trying encounter with locals into a successful, if not wholly pleasant affair.

I will make sure to become a regular patron of the place.

Waiting for my toast to brown I see six black bullocks and one pregnant-looking Jersey cow run into the field outside my kitchen window. The young fellas frolic and skitter about, possibly just released from their Winter sheds.

They chow down like they’ve never seen grass before, but they have. Maybe their memories don’t go back as far.as last Autumn. Equally it’s possible their excitement is one of renewed familiarity with freedom and fresh pasture.

Just to their left is the leaf-strewn hole in the ground where I saw a beautiful fat pheasant emerge an hour ago. I think I saw three chick heads peeping out too.

In a flash of shadow I see behind the hedge a fox the size of a labrador. Rich pickings round here, then.

If I knew no better I’d think I was perceiving it all, but as I calm down over the coming months I know I’ll enjoy discovering more and more detail and depth in the world around me.

Sideways rain pummels this old house’s thick stone walls.

Everything is finally unpacked, and surrounded by the familiarity of my own possessions the place feels like home.

There’s two months of chaotic retro-filing to do in the office, but not right now.

That can wait.

First I’ll enjoy my toast and watch the world outside.



©Charlie Adley
18.02.2019.

Tuesday 12 February 2019

LOST IN A WORMHOLE, UNPACKING INTO AN ANTI-TARDIS!



Staring out of my new office window as I write this, I’m feeling strangely emotional. It’s not strange for this scribbler to feel emotional, but today my emotions themselves are strange.

Today is actually the latter half of the week before last, as lost in a time wormhole, the only thing I can focus on without distraction is my work.

Next week there’s a trip to Galway, then to London, and every other moment I work at the physical and creative exercise that is unpacking.

Never had a move like this. My new home is an anti-Tardis: much smaller inside than you’d think from outside.

When I first saw this house I took photos of it and showed them to a gillie friend of mine from Connemara.

“What do you think? It feels good but the kitchen and bathroom are so tiny, and -”

 

“-you walk in here flashing photos of a house at me like it’s your new girlfriend. Now, does it have a room to sleep in?”

“Yes.”

“Does it have a room for you to write and work in?”

“Mmhmm.”

“Does it have a room for you to relax in?”

“Yup, but -”

 

“Anything more for one man is gluttony.”

There must be something about the acid soil of bogland that makes my Yorkshire and Connemara friends so cutting; so brutally to the point and effective.

Today, last week, whenever this is, my churning gut of feeling is interpreted perfectly by the snow dancing on the blizzard raging outside.

We give out about the forecasts, but my app predicted 12 hours of snow here today, starting at 9am, and it was spot on.

Much of the country has rain but evidently I’m elevated here, and that’s fine. High up means less chance of flooding, and with a back boiler in my fireplace I don’t care if the power goes out.

As long as I have fuel to burn, my rads will be humming and -

oh -

- yes, that’s what’s been happening. Months overloaded by major life events and humungous lists have left my poor wee brainbox in need of a vacation.

I just keep wandering off, creating a trail of new jobs to be done, while old ones are left half-finished, or never started in the first place.

I suppose my subconscious knows I can relax. All my worldly goods are here now. My office was the first thing set up. I’d boxed it up the week before the move, and spent the intervening 10 days twitching around like a man missing a limb.

Only a madman would go out today.
Okay, that definition doesn’t exactly excuse me from an afternoon stroll, but no.

After this I have to return to the back box room once more, where bags and piles of gordknowswhat lie in wait to be allocated a place, or deemed superfluous and put away.

I’d rather have a feeling of space than feel hemmed in by clutter.

Snowed in and boxed under. Thank you universe, and all things others might consider Holy, depending on personal preferences. I’ll admit, I asked for a week of warm weather in which to make my move, and that was given.

Driving the van for three days through this week’s snow would’ve been a nightmare. My unfettered gratitude goes out to my faithful formidable crew of Galwegian friends (a Cork lad, an Englishman and a true Maroon: Galwegians all!) who made all the work a pleasure.

Every hour or so I sit down and do deep breathing.

It's all gone really well.
I love this house. It felt like home immediately. 

But but but there’s so much yet to be done.
 

and
 

breeeeeathe...  

It’ll all be fine.
I can set my own agenda.
 

Who am I kidding?
I have no agenda.
 

and
 

breeeeeathe...

Outside the snow swirls on a strong easterly. Mature trees all around sway and adjust to the power of this gale, challenging them as it comes from the opposite direction of our prevailing wind.

There’s a certain level of exhaustion that takes the legs from under you. Maybe that’s why I’m loving having no TV service yet.

Normally I’m a complete news junkie, and soon I’ll be connected again, but now, lost in my wormhole, I need neither clocks, nor war, nor Brexit. I turn the radio on for a few minutes of Sean O’Rourke and as much Ivan Yates as I can bear, and then I sit and watch The Sopranos on my ancient DVD player.

At my friend Whispering Blue’s gaff last week we watched best bit clips, but without the juxtaposition of Tony's two families - his cosa nostra and his blood relations - the drama was merely dramatic.

The show’s greatness lies in this family man, who sits at his kitchen table, like any other loving father, trying to raise his children to be clever and benevolent, who then leaves the house to become a violent brutal killer.

After my father died I lay on the sofa for weeks, watching Euro 2008 and The Sopranos. This will be the third time I've watched the entirety of this seminal series, and each time, at some stage, Tony Soprano infects my dreams.

I suspect absorbing all that machismo increases my testosterone levels, which to be honest would be no bad thing right now.

Time to rest; to heal; to rebuild and create new strengths.

This is house will be my chrysalis.

Just the peace of the Irish countryside, the sound of the wind in the trees, birdsong and American mafiosi shoe leather breaking wiseguys' cheekbones.

Sitting by the fire I watch branches waving, reflected on the glass doors of the dresser.
 

Once the unpacking is done I’ll embrace the chance of routine for the first time in 9 months.

Does the scent of future beckon?
Bring it on.

Right after a wee nap.


©Charlie Adley
12.10.2019.

Monday 11 February 2019

HAPPY 90TH BIRTHDAY TO MY MUM, A WOMAN OF CHARM AND GRACE!


“Anyway, I’ve been thinking about what to get you for your birthday, and -”

“Oh I don’t want you worrying about -”

“No mum, I’m not worrying. I was just wondering what you get for the 90 year-old woman who has -”

“No really, you’ve so much on your mind at the moment, and -”

“Don’t be ridiculous! Of course I’m getting you something, and I had an idea which I want to run past you.”

“Oh well, that’s very kind of you.”

“Well, the reason I want to tell you about it is ‘cos you might think it’s in poor taste.”

“Well I’m sure I won’t.”

“Okay, here’s the story. Recently we’ve lost a lot of very good middle-aged men here in Galway. Some took their own lives, others fell over on the prom, crazy horrible stuff. I’ve written far too many obituaries, mum, and this is where it gets tricky. Y’see, the only thing I could think of to give you for your 90th was a column that celebrates your life. It’ll be so great to enjoy someone who’s still living life to the full, but I also want to pay tribute to those men in the introduction.”

“Well that sounds lovely.”

“So you’re not offended?”

“Why would I be offended?”

“Well, because y’know, mentioning obituaries in the context of a 90th birthday, well, it might not look -”

“Don’t be silly, that’s fine.”

“Really?”

“Of course.”

“I’m going to show how fun and easy our relationship is, by writing up this conversation, and then I’ll include the speech I’m making at your lunch. I’ll frame it and give it to you. Feels like the most personal and, well, meaningful thing I can give you.”

“Well I think that sounds lovely, but I don’t want you to go to any trouble. Oh, I remember what it was I wanted to say to you. Did you watch Andrew Marr this morning? Very good for once. You’d have liked it. That Caroline Lucas, the awful Green woman you like so much, she was on.”

If you sit in the front window of St. James restaurant, in the tiny London suburb of Bushey, you can look out to a village green and a pond, and for a moment believe you’re not within a megatropolis.

Our family has known Alfonso, the restaurant’s owner, for decades. Long before he owned this place, he worked and we ate at the Alpine down the road; now a block of flats.

Yesterday, on Mum’s birthday, we were in the back room, around 45 of us, and this is the bit when I stood up, clunked cutlery off the side of a glass and drew attention to myself:

“Hello everyone, and thanks for coming. It’s great to see you all here. Well then, what to say about Elizabeth Adley?

There’s a couple of things I’m sure of. Looking round this room, I feel safe assuming that there’s not one person here who would have a single bad thing to say about her.

It takes some doing, to live a long and full life, being extremely socially active and involved, yet upset nobody.

When we add to that the certain fact that mum would not say a single bad word about any of us here, we find a splendid human being.

I’m not saying she doesn’t think them - she is human! But when something upsets her she either deals with it head on or, far more often, lets it go. In that way, she’s a far better person than I could ever dream of being.

It is possible that her exceptional ability to let the proverbial water wash off the duck’s back might have evolved as something of a survival mechanism during her marriage.

I loved and still miss my father, but he was not an undemanding man. He’d sit in his chair and announce that he’d like a cup of tea, and a small part of me was always astonished to see mum rise to her feet and make and bring him one.

She loved him throughout, cared for him for 10 years, and after he died she built a new life on four ancient foundations: family, friends, Bridge and the Conservative Party.

Our family bonds are stronger than ever, and around me here I see friends from mum’s childhood, names I’ve heard all my life, from her schooldays.

It’s no accident that all of us, my brother, sister and I, enjoy many strong lifelong friendships.

We were inspired to do so.

How lovely it is for me to say that my nightly phone calls to mum are a pure pleasure. She is constantly my advocate and friend, as well as critic when she needs to be.

Even though our visions are far apart, we can and regularly do debate politics, although I avoid use of the ‘I’ word - immigration - because if I press that button she’ll be off talking about “only being a small island”, and from there it’s all downhill!

Mum is a woman of strong opinions, about many things. I remember standing in her back garden on a Summer’s evening, watching her give a dribble of water to her containers.
 

'You’d be better off just giving them a really good watering once a week, mum. A proper soaking, until the water comes out the bottom.'
 

'Yes, I know, you always say that. Monty Don says it too, but I really don’t know!'

Well, mum, Elizabeth Adley, you’re 90 today and honestly - and this is not just another Jewish son praising his momma, this comes from everyone in your life: you’re utterly amazing; a force of nature universally loved and admired; a charming woman who holds that rarest and most precious of qualities: you possess grace.

So many many happy returns mum, thanks for being such an incredible mother. To Elizabeth Adley! Happy 90th Birthday!



©Charlie Adley
11.10.2019.

Sunday 27 January 2019

A long way from everywhere, yet not far from anywhere!



There’s an old Yiddish proverb that says: when you don't know where you're going, every road will take you there.

Telling myself that not knowing where I was going was really just being open-minded about where I live, I scoured four property websites every night for months, searching the entire counties of Mayo, Galway and Clare.

Served notice to leave, I had to go. Part of me wanted to anyway. Right now I need a sanctuary; a healing place.

My home is just too important. I’m incapable of deciding, in less time than I spend trying on new boots, if a house can become be the home in which I’ll be happy to work and live.

I get all panicky and tongue-tied, so when I first went to look at this house, I bought my friend Whispering Blue.

He’s visited all my homes in Ireland.

I knew he’d know.
It was the right price, but was it right?

“It has a good feel about it, Charlie. It’s very you.”

I’m so lucky to have friends I trust implicitly.

Done deal, so I’ve gone, this time heading inland for my first time in Ireland.

While the edges of countries are naturally the most exciting places, bustling with trade, culture and tourism, I often feel the true essence of a country, be it bland, bilious or brilliant, lies in its middle.

I’m excited to find out, but at my own pace.
Oy. This wandering Jew’s road has been winding.

It started in the leafy North West London suburb of Stanmore, where I was born into a big house with a fabulous garden.

When I was ten we moved into a terraced quasi-Georgian in a cul-de-sac, and 10 years later shifted to a smaller bungalow around the corner, where my mother still lives.

From there I moved to Cambridge, where I shared a filthy flat over a chemist's shop with my much-missed friend Jon. Young lads eager to break our umbilicals, the place was littered with Scalextric tracks, empty KFC buckets and gallons of home-brewed beer.

Moving back to London in ’83 I made a wad of dosh marketing for a Japanese company, while sharing a flat in Highgate with a Canadian ballet dancer.

She used to stand in the kitchen with her ankle on her head.

Disenchanted with the corporate world, I wandered the world, landing in a friend’s luxury home with swimming pool in a posh Melbourne suburb.

There I worked in a garage, doing up cars and generally ladding it up Aussie style for a good while.

Back in London by ‘85, I decided to take the scribbling seriously. After three years writing in a tatty old flat in Golders Green, NW11, I left the prohibitively expensive capital city for what was then the cheapest place in England: Bradford, West Yorkshire.

A year at Nurser Place in a very pleasant 3-bedroomed terrace, shared with friends and loved ones, was followed by a brief yet intense period of madness.

Then I had two years in a decrepit damp old terraced house in Ellercroft Road, which I shared with 32,000 mice and two longhaired DJs from hell.

Escaping England on a one-way ticket to Malaga in 1992, I hitched to Barcelona and enjoyed a splendid Olympic summer, living in my friend’s duplex above the gentle old plaza-strewn streets of Gracia.

I loved Catalunya but it wasn’t home, so I hitched over the Pyrenees, up through France, and took the boat from Roscoff to Cork City.

In Kinsale I worked as a kitchen porter while living in a hostel, going gently yet certainly mad from sleep deprivation and split shifts.

Hitching north, I ended up in Salthill, where for a year my tiny house turned into a 24 Hour Party Pandemonium, so another move, just around the corner, to the anodyne, warm yet fireplace-free flats of Church View Mews.

Fleeing the city madness I headed west to my soul’s own country, Connemara, where I lived blissfully, on the shore of Lough Anaserd, until I fell in love.

Deserting Ireland, I moved to San Francisco's Lower Haight, an area back then decadent enough to make me feel welcome.

A month later I moved to a very grand apartment on Fell Street, near Golden Gate Park. Although there was, as the locals put it, an awesome sweep to those hardwood floors, there were also problems with my relationship with America.
 

Tragically a move 65 miles north, to tiny Occidental in Sonoma County’s magnificent Redwood Empire came too late.

Much damage was done, and I returned to Ireland finally aware that I belong here, anywhere west, from Cork to Donegal.

I’d not stray again.

After two years in a crazy haunted and magical house in the Claddagh, I moved to wonderful Killala, north Mayo, into a lovely warm old farmhouse, where I was ecstatically happy for more than three years.

Sadly, by the middle of the fourth I started to feel lonely, as people seldom came round.

Then, on my very last night in the house, half the village arrived to throw me a surprise leaving party.

 

It was absolutely exceptional and glorious.

All my glasses were packed in boxes, but not for long. I woke the next day to find one character sleeping face down in my bath.

Back to Salthill for 2 years in a one-bedroom house, followed by 6 in a grand Rockbarton terrace just off the Prom, and then 7 years beside Lough Corrib, a half an hour from Galway.

Blimey.
What a journey!

From my new home it’s an hour and 10 minutes to the Coolagh roundabout, so I’ll be down every week.

You don’t get rid of me that easily!

Where am I living?

Well, now that I’m officially Irish as well as English, I’ll obfuscate the details by delving into your native love of paradox.

My new home is a long way from everywhere, yet not far from anywhere.


©Charlie Adley
27.01.2019.

Sunday 20 January 2019

WHAT’S BEHIND THIS SURPLUS OF SERVIETTES?



Early Saturday morning and I’m sitting in the pub. Everyone needs a treat once in a while, and I make sure to enjoy my weekly cooked breakfast without guilt, much to the annoyance of my arteries.

Yet today, as I survey the plethora of plates laid around the table, I’m twitching and perplexed.

What’s with all these serviettes?

Don’t get me wrong. I can be a right clumsy oaf, well capable of knocking over cups, spilling bottles and sliding my elbow through food on plates you didn’t even know were there, so I’m delighted that there’s a serviette under my cutlery.

I can even understand the serviette sitting between the teapot and its saucer, because those little metal teapots can present a heck of a challenge when pouring.

If you just lift them willy-nilly and thoughtlessly try pouring tea straight into the cup, the tea will run out of the pot’s spout and then, as if the pot emitted the gravitational force of a small planet, the liquid will cling to the pot and flow in a small tidy line down to the bottom of the pot and onto the table.

Serviette time.

Ah but your scribbler is ahead of the game. I raise the teapot up to eye level, grip the handle firmly between two fingers and holding the little blighter high over the centre of my tea cup, I pour a slow steady stream directly and accurately straight into the cup below.

Tea is important. It’s the rarest of things, fundamental to the essence of culture in both my native England and adopted Ireland.
Anyway, the tea is well-behaved and in my cup where it belongs. No spillages, no serviettes necessary.

There’s a serviette under the saucer upon which sit the little bottles of jam, marmalade and butter. There’s a serviette between the china bowl of saucy ketchup and mayonnaise sachets and the saucer underneath. There’s a serviette under the salt and pepper jars, which also sit on a saucer.

None of this offends me in the slightest, although it makes me wonder about resources and waste, and ponder about extra work for serving staff.

Then there’s the yuk, the really yuckkety poopers, which is the serviette underneath my hot toast, which is now disintegrating, and in the process rather unpleasantly proving itself to be less paper napkin and more some kind of evil plastic/paper hybrid, that is presently both crumbling onto the plate below, while kind of melting into my toast.

What with all the serious suffering going on around us, there’s no way I’m going to sit here and give out about how the serviette screwed up my slices of brown pan, because I don’t live in a world where that matters very much.

No, I’m much more concerned about where this mass serviette behaviour comes from and what mentality it represents.

This place is far from the only establishment currently guilty of serviette excess. Everyone’s at it. I wouldn’t be surprised if next week the checkout bloke in the garage passes me the credit card zapper with a serviette underneath it.

At this point you’re probably wondering what the hell the problem is with serviettes. Who cares about the bloody serviettes?

I don’t, but the statement behind their overuse is significant. We live in the West of Ireland, where historically life has been tough. These counties endured a holocaust during the great famine, and as a result there’s a strong ethic here of waste not want not.

If you’re a guest in a house in Connacht you’re expected to clear your dinner plate, even if there’s potato cooked five different ways and half a ton of swede.

When the Irish economy booms we in the West enjoy only a few drops of the sweat flipped off the foreheads of dancing Dubs. A boom in the West is when there’s no mass poverty here; when most of us can afford to live without financial fear.

That’s as good as it gets here, for most of us. That’s what constitutes good times west of the Shannon.

Well, financially. What makes the West the best is that we don’t need money to have a good time.

Yet now, there are serviettes everywhere.

Not all are cheap and noxious. Some are high class triple-ply numbers in rich burgundy hues, so posh that you’d think twice before wiping the melted cheese off your mouth onto one.

Whatever they’re made of, this blanket use of serviettes is an ostentatious display, representing a delusional attitude to our economic situation.

After the last crash there were many voices, from townlands to cities, complaining that we’d lost the run of ourselves; that for some reason we’d overdone the good times.

Not me. I believe we all deserve to live large if we want to, but right now we are not in a boom. Kabillions in debt has been swept under the carpet for your grandchildren to pay off, and while house prices and rents are through the roof, nobody (save for the usual suspects) is getting rich.

Yet for some reason the ether feels that good times have come again.

Aren't we one of the fastest growing economies in the EU?
Let’s cover the place in serviettes to show we can afford to splurge that bit extra now.
Sure, isn’t it mighty that things are great again!

Sorry to be a downer, but reality bites. Whatever form it takes, Brexit will devastate our economy. Like a ghost flying unwelcome through the door, it’ll instantly reduce Boom to “Boo!”

Then we’ll see how many serviettes there are to waste.


©Charlie Adley
20.01.2019