Friday 31 July 2009
“Jeeze, you're taking it very well, Charlie!”
“Well, I'd be a fool if I was surprised, eh Mike?
We both went silent, nodding knowingly. It's every everywhere out there. Ireland's workforce is shrinking at speed visibly before all our eyes.
And anyway, I wasn't even an employee. He wasn't letting me go, as the disingenuous say these days. Mike was merely telling me that the accountants had done their sums, and the entire Life section of this Noble Rag that you are now holding in your hands has to go.
I'd be a fool to take it personally, and I'm not one, so I don't.
Given the choice, editors would keep this colyoom and Dick Byrne's 'Under My Hat', but it wasn't up to them.
Freelance has disappeared across the board. When I lived in north Mayo a few years ago, I was making a healthy living by writing this colyoom, selling features and a column to the Irish Examiner and flogging the odd feature here and there to the Irish Post.
Lovely jubbly it was, but now the word is 'insourcing', which in the phrase book of Freelance Language means 'you please to go now and please to try to not walk under buses thank bye byes to you.'
Mike was looking so sad.
“Look mate,” I said, “you know I only ever saw it as a weekly gig. To you it might have felt permanent, but to me it was only as good as the last week, and let's face it, some weeks were better than others!”
One of the greatest gifts that my beloved adopted home gave me was the word 'Scribbler'.
The auld fella in my first real Irish pub asked me what I did for a living, forcing out of me the word 'writer'.
I love the word, but hate how most nationalities react to it, and then he spluttered
“Ah sure, isn't everyone a scribbler here so? Doesn't every gobshite have their feckin' novel stashed under the bed?”
So it was back in October 1992 that an unknown uninvited English scribbler first walked into this newsroom, where Mike and I are now trying to make each other feel better.
I'd thrust three double-spaced typed sheets into his hand and asked if he could use a weekly column.
Only a few short weeks after I'd arrived in Galway, I had a column in the newspaper. I knew nothing about the place where I was living, yet was meant to deliver witty insight weekly.
And jeepers creepers, what an Ireland that was in '92! I'd been around the world a couple of times, so forgive me for thinking the country next door might be modern.
It was as if l were stuck in an episode of an Irish version of Life on Mars or Ashes to Ashes.
Through a prism life appeared almost like over there in England, but then I discovered that the abortion referendum wasn't a vote of Yes or No, but about whether it was legal to display a telephone helpline for women, or whether they should be legally bound to stay in the country.
What? And What!!!???!!!
Oh, and there was no divorce.
For the first six months my jaw was jammed open with shock.
This was the Ireland of the Beef Tribunal, that young Pat Kenny and buses down Quay Street.
But there was craic aplenty and Connemara, so I had enough to scribble about, but in those days took the sensible precaution of writing under the nom de plume of Andy Prince.
So-called Catholics were keen on sending me used condoms and vile photographs in the mail. Best to remain anonymous while my staggering ignorance of all things Irish was matched only by my enthusiastic arrogance.
Writing this colyoom has been the best freelance gig ever, and to me the best job in the world. Apart from 4 years America from 1995, I'm professionally proud to say I have delivered copy on time every single week since 1992, and having to think, notice, imagine and grump my way into a thousand readable words is a great exercise for the mind.
Well, it's been good for mine, even if it's destroyed yours on a regular basis.
For a scribbler, there can be no better thing in the Universe than to know that those 1,000 words will pay your rent, and in latter days, bills as well. This colyoom has defined the way I see myself a writer. Waffle well and you get a roof.
Life does not get better.
Ever since this colyoom's incarnation in this Life section, with a photo above and the excellent illustrations of my colleague Allan Cavanagh, there have been countless encounters with folk walking by who look at me and wonder 'Now, who the feck is that yoke? Know da face know da face alright, but no idea!'
Be still. I will soon be gone from your memory, and to some of you that will come a blessed relief, while others might wonder where their weekly dose of blather and insanity has gone.
Well, I'll still be out there, and soon a compilation book will be on the shelves, so keep an eye out.
Most important and finally, I need to come over all Grindead Paltrow and Kate Windswept, and say a few million tearful 'Thank Yous'. Trouble is, I haven't won an Oscar.
I've just got the bleedin' boot, but ennyhoodyhoo, I want to thank Mike, Brendan, Dave, Mags, Kathleen and all the other newsroom and downstairs crew who have helped me over the years.
When I returned to Galway after 4 years in America, I popped into the newsroom to say hello.
”Hello!" Mike said, "Are you broke?”
'Do you want your column back?”
Kindness like that I do not forget.
I want to thank Allan whose brilliant drawings have destroyed any sliverish vestige of pride I ever had in my appearance. I want to thank the Snapper, for her patience and many appearances. Also, thanks to the Body, the Guru, Dalooney, Yoda, Angel, Soldier Boy, the Diplomat, Artist in Blue Towel, Grumpy Chef, the Artist formerly known as Snarly, the Waistcoat and the Goat.
Thanks also to the Whispering Giant and Blitz, who didn't make it into the above list in the print edition. What can I say lads, it's either a case of you're out of Connacht, out of mind, or just Charlie out of his mind.
Luvieeess dwarrleeengs, sniff sniff.
Mostly, of course, thanks to you, my loyal colyoomistas, as well as the occasional dippers and online readers. See you around, and thanks for reading this colyoom.
Thursday 23 July 2009
A couple of years ago, the nice man who works in the launderette was worried about me. He thought he’d done me a favour, but I was acting very strangely.
The big plastic bag into which he packed my clean clothes was usually the one in which I returned my dirty ones, but that week it had torn, so I’d stuffed my dirty clothes into my old beloved Blue Bag.
I never gave it a thought, until I went back to collect my clothes.
“Howya doin’ Charlie!” he smiled, grabbing one of the regular plastic bags off the shelf. “Here’s your clean washing, now!”
“Bu-bu-bu- but where is my Blue Bag?”
“Oh that old yoke? Sure, it was filthy, so I threw it in with the rest of your wash!”
“You washed it? You washed it? You washed my Blue Bag? You, oh, you, oh my god.”
”You all right Charlie?”
My face had gone white, my eyes rolling around in their sockets as my brain hit the express return journey back to some place hundreds of thousands of miles away, decades before.
It’s November 1984, and a 24 year-old version of your colyoomist has just spent ten quid on a blue Cubmaster sausage bag. I’ve just quit a lucrative but soul-destroying job in marketing and I’m off to travel around the world.
In the 1970’s I’d hitched around Europe with an A-frame rucksack and a small satchel bag, but I’d been young and ignorant.
When The Guru went off to India, all he took was a small sausage bag, He explained that in the Third World they put rucksacks on top of buses and somewhere else on trains, and he didn’t like to be separated from his stuff.
Being a less frugal packer than himself, I bought a slightly larger version than his: dark blue, with white straps, it was hanging on a hook alongside a hundred similar cheap bags, above the doorway of a tourist shop in Oxford Street.
Best money I ever spent.
Regular colyoomistas will know that your scribbler is not a man into ‘things’. My pulse does not thrill at the thought of owning stuff, but my Blue Bag I love, unashamedly.
Now, as I celebrate its 25th year with me, its effect upon me is as strong as ever.
Recently I was over in England celebrating a brace of 50th birthdays. It was going to be a decadent few days, involving a marathon of train rides, planes and pubs, beers and breakfasts.
Fearful of being out of practice, I hoisted Blue Bag onto my shoulder and immediately felt a shot of power run through me.
All was good. Nothing could touch me.
Together Blue Bag and I have travelled twice around the planet. We have hitched over 200,000 miles.
When about to hit the road, I buy one of those bright orange plastic mountain survival bags, into which I pack a complete change of clothes for keeping warm and another change for cooling down. Add spare footwear, a few creams and potions, and then I roll that orange bag into a tube and place it into Blue Bag.
Everything I needed to survive is now safe and waterproof inside Blue Bag, and yet it’s light and easy to carry.
Wherever I was, whatever the weather, be the terrain tropical or tundra, I’d always have a dry set of clothes. At night I simply put Blue Bag inside the huge orange bag, and then slide in myself.
My paranoia does not allow me to relax in a tent. Whilst out in the immense wonders of the universe I prefer to see it, to look up at the stars and know what’s going on around me.
I never understood tents. The entire wild world is just outside, but you are crammed into the teensiest space you’ll ever sleep in.
No, if I’m out there I like to be part of it and not apart from it. If it lashes rain, then all I need to do is slide down further into my orange bag, and roll the top over.
Come morning I am dry, as are all my belongings, and I’ve no tent to pack up.
In fact, as I sit here now there are probably confused folk all over the world who at some stage drove through the rain past a large orange plastic ball sitting by the roadside. Little did they know that inside lurked a mad scribbler, crouching inside a waterproofed ball, my hand holding the orange bag’s scrunched top to let in some air.
Blue Bag and I have have been through all manner of madness and tribulation, but always it is by my side, and with it I feel safe and complete.
In the Cadillacs of California, the buses of Bali and the 24-wheel rigs that master the English motorways, Blue Bag stood on its end between my legs, taking up no more space that I do myself.
In strange bars Blue Bag’s handles are hooked round my bar stool so that no stray hand might whisk it away. And before the ridiculous limits of carrying of liquids in airports, Blue Bag used to be my hand luggage, allowing me to be off the plane and out into a new country while all the other passengers were left behind, waiting at the baggage carousel.
Metaphorically and practically Blue Bag was my fast track to freedom.
“Charlie? Charlie? You okay?”
Woh! I’m back in the launderette, ripping open the plastic bag to see if my old friend has survived the rigours of the washing machine.
In all those years it never had a wash. Blue Bag bore the dust of 4 continents, the sweat of a quarter million miles hitched to my side. It had been thrown from ten thousand trucks onto the dust, gravel, mud or sand below. It had been infested by giant wood lice in Noumea, and somewhere between Sydney and Melbourne it had come under attack from thousands of bull ants.
Now all that dust, all those grubby souvenirs were gone.
Had it disintegrated into tatty ashes?
Was it now a useless piece of old cotton?
It was not.
Blue Bag looked grand. Clean, yes; not as good as new, but then again, nether am I!
And together with Blue Bag, I still feel ready to take on the world and win!
Thursday 16 July 2009
The plan was simple. We'd get a taxi from Leeds Station to the B & B, check in, drop off our bags and head off to the party. We were on a roll; didn't want to linger.
But plans are proof that god has a sense of humour.
I'd arrived in London on the Thursday, four days earlier, and had been building up a beery head of steam with an ever-growing assemblage of lifelong friends. Friday evening we sat outside a pub in Hammersmith by Old Father Thames, drinking copious pints and eating excellent fish and chips. On the Saturday 'twas Martin's 50th birthday party, and having drunk dry his monumental supplies of champagne, wine and anything else we could get our hands on, we grabbed a few hours dribbly kip, and regrouped at Kings Cross Station.
Somehow we were all still in great form, and aided by wizardly cooler bag technology, we drank our way to Yorkshire in a couple of hours, powered by laughter and building excitement. Tonight the Guru's sister was throwing a 50th birthday party for himself, and as long as we kept going, all would be good.
But there was nobody at the reception desk of the B & B. In fact, all we were greeted by was an overwhelming smell of dirty greasy fat. Finally a diminutive lass arrived, and we told her of our plan.
"Well, you'd be best to tell the taxi driver to go, because we're all going to go into the sitting room and have a wee chat."
We all wanted to say "A chat about what? Who are you? Our mother?"
But we didn't, and were then suitably patronised by somebody 25 years our junior. Finally, having parted with a substantial sum, I was given my key and told my room was down past reception on the left.
Off I went, down past reception, but the only thing on the left was a flight of stairs.
Room 231? Hmmm, surely that must be upstairs? So I climbed the creaky old stairs, walked along a corridor, through another door, down some steps, along another corridor and there it was.
Oh, it's a cupboard with a tiny single bed in it.
Ah well, never mind. It's not like I'll be in here long.
Outside we swapped similarly miserable tales of our rooms. This one had no towels. That one stank.
Oh look, here's our taxi, hurrah!
And off we went, to enjoy one of the finest parties I have ever been to. There was beer and food aplenty, as well as a film of the Guru's life, a firework display and later, the release of hot air lanterns into the night sky. Magic times spent with your bestest of friends: memories to keep forever.
Morning was dawning as I stumbled up the B & B stairs, along the corridor, through the other door, along the other corridor and down some steps into my cupboard, finally laying upon my tiny single bed, only to find that the old broken mattress immediately collapsed into a 'V' beneath me.
Did I care? I was, as they say, past caring.
Kicking off the ancient blanket I lay under a single sheet and woke, three hours later, as an airlock in the plumbing was shaking the entire building.
OW! Ow and bloody hell! What's that?
All over my legs were giant volcanic welling bites. I've done a fair bit of bumming around the world, and have been bitten by many mozzies. This was not the fault of a flying beast. These gigantic bites (7 on one leg and 4 on the other) were the work of something(s) that had crawled out of the decrepit mattress.
Stomach churning, I leaped in the shower to be instantly blinded by the water coming not from the holes in the shower head, but out of the sides. Swiftly exiting my hellhole of a room, I stumbled into the dining area, ready to be rescued by what the hotel's website described as a 'buffet breakfast'.
There was a 'Routiers' sign on the outside of the building. They must have nicked it and put it up themselves.
In a bowl were some tired stale slices of the cheapest white and brown bread. There was a toaster with a timer, and a note telling you how to use it. Over by the hot water urn was a small bowl with a small amount of coffee granules in it. Everything had obviously been out since the night before. The vile catering-pack coffee granules would have been merely undrinkable, were it not for the milk which turned into clotted lumps as soon as it hit the liquid in my cup.
A bloke came out of the kitchen and took my order for a cooked breakfast, apologising for the off-milk. Several minutes later UHT cartons appeared; not exactly what you want with your cereal.
They must have given themselves those 3***. Nobody else could have.
Unlike the previous morning, we were now all royally destroyed. Our party weekend was over and we had squeezed every last drop of pleasure from our days together.
Frantically scratching my bitten swollen boiling knees, I tried to eat the grease-sodden breakfast put in front of me.
1981. I suddenly realised that I used to stay in places like this when selling advertising for Pearl and Dean, back in 1981. Nowadays there are Travelodges and Holiday Inn Expresses: less expensive, spotless, slick and plastically fantastic compared to this dump. If this is the independent sector, bring on the boringly corporate chain, any day of the week.
Giving up on my squidgy sausage I stumbled past reception, and in my semiconscious stupor passed the stairs on the left, only to find my room, yes, room 231, right in front of me.
No! Please no! Don't tell me my flea-ridden Harry Potter cell from hell was on the ground floor, only a yard or two from reception!?!
When the day before she had said "Go past reception and it's on the left", she had meant "...the right", and had I realised her error, I could have saved myself miles of epic stair-climbing and wandering the stinky corridor circuits of the entire scummy B & B.
Why put room 231 on the ground floor?
How did that work?
Evidently, as well as everything else in the place.
Thankfully, nothing could spoil that weekend. Sublime. Spectacular. Thanks guys!
Saturday 11 July 2009
Everyone hates a whinger who comes out with the same knocking copy each year. Yet once again I find myself looking ahead to the Galway Arts Festival with a mixture of excitement, hurt and sadness.
I couldn’t pin down exactly why, until I read in this Noble Rag a few weeks ago an interview with Noeline Kavanagh, the Director of this year’s Macnas Arts Festival Parade.
“Macnas is like the largest divorcee in Galway.” she said. “Everybody has a relationship with it.”
There it was: replace the word ‘Macnas’ with ‘Galway Arts Festival’, and that’s how I feel. We Galwegians used to be married to the Galway Arts Festival. We lived in the same place, loved each other, had our ups and downs of course, but generally knew that we were good together. These days, the people of Galway feel so divorced from the Galway Arts Festival, they can barely remember what it was like to love it.
I want us to renew our vows. I want the Galway Arts Festival to ask us to move back in; to woo us; love us; kiss us and lick us the way it used to.
I’m not sitting here on my voluptuous arse trying to diss that plethora of extremely talented people who put a vast amount of creativity and energy into the two week splurge.
I think they do a fantastic job, but somewhere along the way the whole affair was lost.
I talk to a lot of people, and at the moment the word on the street is that shows are simply too expensive. To be fair, I don’t think that price is the single biggest factor in the decline of the Galway Arts Festival. There are many cheaper happenings in this year’s programme than other years, but through their pricing policy we glimpse how badly the Galway Arts Festival has lost touch with the people of Galway.
I wanted to see the New York Dolls, Femi Kuti and Primal Scream, for which I would pay €112, to stand at all three gigs. But what really made me angry was the fact that if I was on the dole, I’d still have to pay €110 for those three tickets.
For god’s sake, get real, Arts Festival people! Are you trying to intimidate the poor with art? Do you want us once again to believe that art exists only for the affluent élite? Isn’t that the opposite of what the Galway Arts Festival once stood for?
Climb out of your ivory towers and take a look at how many of us have been laid off, or are just plain broke. Cop on to the fact that a night out which starts with a pair of tickets at €90 belongs to a dream of a Galway past, and exists now as an insulting anachronism.
In case you hadn’t noticed, the Tiger is dead, and we’re trying to stay alive by picking mouthfuls from its rotten corpse.
We all have our personal beefs about what is wrong with the Galway Arts Festival.
Project 06 splendidly reminded us how vital it is to include local artists and performers, yet each year, the official word comes forth that the Arts Festival have pulled off another major success.
Trouble is, for years now, it hasn’t felt like a success to us, the people of this city. Let’s learn from the dazzling success of the Volvo Ocean Race. If the organisers of the Galway Arts Festival understand anything of Galway City at all, they know that you could take a burnt banana skin, mount it on top of a bus shelter, and advertise ‘The ‘Burnt Banana Skin On Top Of The Bus Shelter Festival - the biggest thing to hit Galway since last Tuesday Afternoon!’, and as long as the people of this great city were behind it, hundreds of thousands of people would flock to Galway, because we’re the finest hosts in the best city in the world to throw a party, where fun is free and family-oriented.
Don’t tell me a over a half a million people came to our little city to see a sail puff in the wind. They came because Galway is uniquely packed with brilliant, skilful and diverse talents. We’ll give you the time of your lives, as we do every year during Race Week, but the joy of Galway is on the streets.
Doubtless during the Galway Arts Festival, our city centre will be strewn with buskers and performers of all kinds, which is just as well, because this year’s Galway Arts Festival programme lists a paltry 2 street acts, performing in total 5 times on 3 different days.
Shame on you, Galway Arts Festival.
If this marriage is ever going to work again, you really need to listen, learn and understand that whereas 15 years ago we were all buzzed up and proud of you, now you appear like a distant lost relative who expects us to run around, cook, clean, sweat and serve whenever you turn up on our doorstep.
As for the 10.00pm start time of the Macnas Parade, I say again, shame on you!
Parents simply won’t want to expose small children to crushed hordes of drunken midnight revellers. I’m sorry, Noeline, because I understand what you are trying to achieve with your segmented parade that tells a story, but who is entertaining who here?
You don’t see the purpose in “walking along with a rail of images that snake through the streets”?
Well, let me enlighten you. The purpose of the Macnas Parade is to say ‘Thanks!’ to the people of Galway with a dazzlingly fun and colourful event that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. If you are with Daddy at Spanish Arch and Mammy is in Shop Street with Granny, you’ll all see the same parade and later share your thrills and joys: it’s what they call a ‘communal event’.
Do I have any positive suggestions? Why yes! In order to save this sick marriage between the Galway Arts Festival and the people of Galway City, first quadruple the free street theatre; return the Parade to the afternoon; and offer a hefty price concessions on all tickets sold to locals, upon production of a locally-addressed utility bill.
Then we might learn to love you again, and put the best of Galway - the fun, family and free - back into our own Arts Festival.
Monday 6 July 2009
I’ve been Galwayed. Galwayed good and proper, that’s what I am right now. I had a double, a double Galway: that’s city and county.
If I’d mixed the county after the city, I might not be feeling so bewildered and crap.
But I didn’t.
So I do.
My head is crushed, my thoughts spinning in negative spirals that I know well to leave alone. This is not about a hangover. Being Galwayed is a combination of sleep deprivation, over-consumption, over-stimulation of sensory experience and a glut of social auld bollox that seems substantial at the time, yet dies into ephemera with the first snore of the semi-comatose night.
Coming or going are concepts you abandon when being truly Galwayed.
As I write this I know that it’s Monday, but it could be Saturday, Flipday or tomorrow.
I’m going to pin the guilt for the whole sad and wonderful day on the sun, which rises so early and sets so late over Galway at this time of year, you wake up three hours before you’ve gone to sleep.
So yesterday, Sunday morning, at 5am, I open my eyes, go for the middle-aged peeper, and realise to my horror that I am quite awake.
I also notice that herself the Snapper is not yet home. A text tells the tale of a well-earned glass or two after a hard night’s work which led to a party, and who could blame her?
I go back to bed but I’m half thinking about herself getting home safely, and half thinking about how that’ll be fine, and half thinking about the blue sky and sunshine and how you can’t have three halves.
So I get up at silly o’clock on a Sunday, and walk the causeway to Mutton Island under blue skies before the shops are open, wondering how to fill my day off. Even when you work for yourself, you have to have days off, where sloth is no crime.
But today is a day for action. Firing up Shaaanny car, I do what I do most naturally, and head west, excited at the prospect of the very early very empty road to Clifden.
Connemara looks jaw-droppingly beautiful as piercing summer sunshine is hidden and released by towering tumultuous storm clouds. The Maamturk Mountains themselves appear to move, as vast black shadows travel at speed across them.
Speeding along but less stunning, your scribbler arrives in Clifden at 10:15, and takes a most excellent breakfast in the Off The Square Restaurant. Great service, fab food, followed by a stroll down to the bridge on the Ballyconneely road, to watch the river cascade a while and build a thirst.
All the serious pubs are shut.
Himself the Goat is not responding to texts, and why would he?
What am I doing in Clifden so bloomin’ early on a Sunday?
Well, now what?
Back in Shaaanny, to drive at a more leisurely pace back to Galway. I pick up a hitcher in Oughterrard. We chat and laugh and then I’m back, aimless and hyper in Rahoon (never a good combination). I call round to Angel, but he’s not about, and Soldier Boy has been out since yesterday fortnight, so I’ll leave him be.
I go home and see the curtains upstairs still drawn. I sit and try to read the Sunday papers but no, not for me, not today. Something is eating me up, so I drive into town not knowing if I really even want to go into town.
Instead of parking in the Claddagh, I drive down Henry Street and for some reason decide to pointlessly pootle in circles around the town centre.
Sitting alone outside Neachtain's, watching Sunday strangers throng with cameras, up pops the Artist Formerly Known As Snarly. Off to the Quays, where we talk of religion, fly fishing and zombies in dreams.
Then I wander up to God knows where looking for the Devil knows who, and stumble into Dalooney outside Tigh Coilis, who persuades me to have a pint. Half of me is still in Connemara, half of me still on the road, half of me in bed asleep and the other half suddenly holding a pint that somehow makes sense in a world with too many damnable halves in it.
But I’m driving and have to call it a day, so I walk over the bridge and bump into The Waistcoat, who thrusts a can of Apples into my hand, and feeling bad and reckless and boring and mediocre I sit and chat as we reminisce of 80’s London and great travels and watch the river flow past.
Then, knowing that this is one of only 3 occasions in my long life when I have driven whilst possibly over the limit, I drop the car back to Salthill.
The bedroom curtains are still closed, so I go into the house, have a blissful peeper, and head off, again, into the city, feeling like Martin Sheen going into the jungle in ‘Apocalypse Now’.
Deadly black clouds are hanging huge and low. Me no walky, no be soaky.
Get a bus? But no, there’ll be an age to wait but look at that cloud and ennyhoodyhoo, why are you going in when you haven’t any money you fool and look -yahoo! -there’s a bus!
‘Tis meant to be. ‘Tis written.
Quay Street again, where first I gorge myself on piping hot salty vinegary potatoey heavenly chips from McDonaghs, and then head towards the motley crew of eccentrics, musicians and gobshites (myself included) hanging outside Tigh Coilis. Dalooney and the Waistcoat show great generosity with the drink, and I know I’m being Galwayed, but I don’t care, because at that moment you care about neither future happiness nor past pain.
The Snapper texts to say she is coming into town to pick up her car, left in town the night before, and would I like a lift home?
Finding myself incapable of texting properly, I realise that thanks to the beauty of Connemara and the kindness of friends, I have managed to make it through this strange day. Hallelujah! Now I must indeed go home.
Later, despite being wrapped entirely in the synthetic warmth of the Chelsea blanket, herself trembles and shivers on the sofa, while I sit mouth agape, dribbling staring unblinking at a procession of godawful Sunday evening white chocolate TV dramas.
Oh yes. We know we’ve been Galwayed.