Saturday 23 February 2013

Without Bradford there'd be no ‘Double Vision’! Come on you Bantams!

I’m thrilled to bits that Bradford City will be at Wembley this Sunday for the League Cup Final. My connections to the West Yorkshire town run deep and personal.

Indeed, without Bradford this colyoom would not exist.

Back in 1992 I’d been living in Bradford for 3 years, just finished a novel and felt pretty finished with England too. The great British public had elected their fourth consecutive Conservative government. Well, if they wanted Tories they could bloomin’ have them. They deserved them, but I wasn’t going to stick around.

So I walked into a travel agent and asked for the cheapest flight out of the country. £39 bought me a one-way flight to Malaga. Luvvly jubbly. Walking out of the airport I stuck out my thumb and looked for a new life in Spain.

After hitching around Andalusia, I headed for Barcelona. I knew the place well and hoped I might feel I belonged. However, after a tremendous Summer in Catalunya I found myself hitching over the Pyrenees into France.

Throughout my teens I’d hitched around France and felt such an affinity with the place that it already felt like home. But the Goddess of the Road had other ideas. Despite arriving in the south-westerly corner of the country on a Sunday and sticking to ‘D’ roads, slow and void of traffic, I found lift after lift propelling me northwards, until in a single day I’d reached Poitiers.

Then I was in Roscoff, boarding a ferry to Cork.

Six weeks later I was walking from my new home in Salthill to the Westside, where I was starting a job as a Youth Worker in the Rahoon Flats. As I turned out of Highfield Park I saw on the side of the Rahoon flats a huge mural of a city skyline. Stunned, I recognised it immediately, as it was the last place I’d truly called home.

How bizarre! I’d taken a one way flight to Spain, hitched randomly through three countries and ended up in Galway, which was apparently twinned with Bradford.

The question that most perplexed me was ‘Why?’

Why was Galway twinned with Bradford? I couldn’t think of two less similar places. Bradford is in the centre of the country; Galway’s on the coast. Bradford, like Rome, is built on seven hills; Galway’s pretty much flat. Bradford has the largest Pakistani population living anywhere outside of Pakistan, while Galway’s population back then was completely white. Bradford is a heaving melange of so many global cultures it’s hard to keep track. Galwegians think their city is multicultural, but it’s not really.

Ever the chancer, I typed all this down on a couple of sheets of A4, called it ‘Double Vision’ because of the comparisons I was making between two twins,
and wandered uninvited into the newsroom of the Connacht Tribune.
Shoving the sheets under the Editor’s nose, I asked if he could use something like that. After reading it, to my amazement he said he could use something like that each week.

That was September 1992, and you’re still stuck with me. But now at least you have some idea of how important an ingredient Bradford has been in my life.

I moved there in 1989, and within a few months had blagged my way into so many jobs at the university, nobody was quite sure what I did, which proved perfect for allowing me to access all areas.

I worked as a cellar man, tending real ales and as a barman I served students vile pints of Guinness and blackcurrant. The only male cleaner on a staff of 83 women who cleaned the student halls of residence, I also drove the Union van, did turns as a DJ, sweated for a few months as a pizza chef, worked a venue kiosk, wrote the programme and tasting notes for the beer festival, and wherever I went, whatever I did, I was welcomed.

Much of this was made possible by the Bars Manager, my friend and housemate, the enigmatic and wry Malcolm Arnold, who tragically died aeons too early.

Phwoof! A wave of emotion him me when I wrote that. I’ll just take a moment if you don’t mind.

As is the case when you’re working in extremis, I forged friendships behind the bars of Bradford that proved stronger than time. So when Bradford City made it to Wembley, I noticed on Facebook a conversation between two of my erstwhile colleagues. Now we’re back in touch, and that’s the power of football.

Distant from embarrassing Premiership giants like my own beloved Chelsea, there are clubs like Bradford City that make the game worthwhile. They haven’t won a major trophy since their FA Cup victory in 1911, which might make victory for them seem perfect, until you consider the fact that Swansea City, their opponents, have never even made it to a cup final before.

I’m not so petty that I’d begrudge Swansea a win simply because they outplayed and defeated Chelsea over a two-leg semi-final, but every cell in my body will be rooting for Bradford City this Sunday.

Back in 1985, the entire population of Bradford was devastated by the fire at City’s Valley Parade ground. The blaze killed 56 fans and left 265 injured. Afterwards the club rose from the ashes, gaining promotion to the Premier league in 2001, only to plummet down 4 leagues since.

With a side that cost absolutely nothing except the £7,500 they paid for their centre forward (he used to work in the local co-op) Bradford City have defeated the Premiership’s mighty Arsenal, Wigan and Aston Villa to make it to Wembley.

Once the home of Britain’s industrial millionaires, Bradford is now a poor and beleaguered city, yet their football team shines like a beacon to the underdog.

You don’t need to spend millions to be successful.
Glory doesn't come with a price tag.
Come on Bradford City!

Monday 18 February 2013

You’re not one of the five-eighths, are you Charlie?

 When I was living in Co. Mayo, my doctor once asked
 “You’re not one of the five-eighths, are you Charlie?”

It took a moment for the meaning behind the words to sink in, but as soon as it did I shrugged and smiled back.

“Well, seeing as how 90% of your clients are farmers, no, I suppose I’m not.”
“No no no!” he insisted. “You’re a bit of a rebel, aren’t you?”

For a second I imagined myself sporting an extravagantly wavy moustache, a wide-brimmed leather hat and an X-shaped brace of bullet belts wrapped around my torso. What a ridiculous notion.  Firmly ensconced in middle age, my life was less Brando’s ‘Whaddya got?’ and more ‘What’s for dinner?’

“No, I’m not a rebel, doc. Haven’t the energy.”
“So how did a suburban London boy end up here?” asked the doctor.

I smiled and left, sparing him the answer. There was a long queue of coughing spluttering people waiting outside, so it wasn't the moment to settle back in my chair and say

“Well, it all started back in the Spring of 1973…”

We imagine we’ll notice the seminal moments in our lives, but at the age of 12 I had neither the perspective of hindsight nor the wisdom of experience. However, as soon as the doctor asked me, I instantly remembered the first moment I did something vaguely rebellious.

I was in my last year of Prep School, blissfully unaware that I was peaking in both my academic scores and social standing. A few months later, after arrival at Public School, I’d plummet from being a straight-A student to the bottom of the class. From being House Captain, Dormitory Prefect and one of the most popular boys in the whole school, I was about to become a bullied friendless pariah, gaining weight as quickly as I lost confidence.

Thankfully I didn’t waste those high-flying years. Each morning at Prep School after assembly in the gym, classical music played as the boys filed out in order of seniority, followed by the staff.

Our Headmaster was a tall thin rollie smoker called Jock Lumsden, known as ‘Jockles’ to the boys, which serves well to illustrate how much affection we felt for him.

One day Jockles told me I was to become the boy who sat in the wings of the stage each morning, hiding behind the curtain, ready to play the music for filing out. I was thrilled. It was an honour and a privilege.

Each morning the album sleeve of the record to be played was placed at the foot of the Headmaster’s lectern, facing the hall, so that everyone might know what to expect and possibly enhance their knowledge of composers along the way.

All went well until a band called Focus had a hit with a song called ‘Hocus Pocus’. An upbeat folkish instrumental piece, it shot up the charts, blared constantly from our transistor radios, and one morning I held the single in my sweaty 12 year-old paws.

Would I do it?
Could I do it? 

Would I be expelled, and if so, might that be worth it for the glory that I’d enjoy and the respect I’d earn from my peers?

A decision had to be made, as in a few minutes the boys and teachers would start arriving, and if there was no record sleeve out on the stage then there'd be questions to answer.

So with nascent pubic hairs sprouting from an onrush of youthful testosterone, I put the black paper single’s cover at the foot of the lectern and went off to hide by the turntable behind the curtain.

Being on stage and therefore behind the lectern, Jockles and the other teachers suspected nothing, because unlike all the boys, they couldn’t see the single cover.

Peering around the edge of the curtain I looked towards the boys, only to find every single student staring back at me with chins dropped, eyebrows raised in excited anticipation.

Jockles was making his closing remarks. As he sat down he turned to me, giving the signal that assembly was over. Time to play the music.

So I did. With shaking hand I lowered the stylus towards the vinyl, shrinking foetal in my chair as the song filled the gym. 

Boom-botty  boom-botty  boom-botty doom boom boom!

The planet didn’t rip apart, so I peeked around the curtain once again to see the boys filing out with huge smiles on their faces, the subtle hiss of exuberant whispers offering trebly background to the chart hit.

Finally the gym was empty, save for Jockles and myself. To say I was bricking it would be to say that Donald Trump’s got a few bob.

Rising slowly out of his throne-like chair, the Headmaster ambled over to me.

“Well, Adley, I might have preferred to have been consulted, but I don’t see why, maybe once a week, something more, erm, contemporary than the world’s classical geniuses might be played. Only something suitable, do you understand? Something suitable!”

Bloody hell, I’d got away with it! Better, I’d got a result. Not only had I rebelled, albeit in a minuscule way, but I’d changed things forever.

Well, I’d changed that Prep School’s assembly forever,

Or had I?

Altogether carried away by Jockles’ approval, and ridiculously too young to understand a word such as ‘suitable’, the following week I placed the album cover of Deep Purple’s ‘Machine Head’ at the base of the lectern.

As the boys stood to leave, the now-legendary opening chords of ‘Smoke On The Water’ blasted through the rarified gymnasium air.

Bam bam baaaaam       bam bam ba-baaaam     bam bam baaam       bam bab-baaam!

Truth be told, I can’t remember Jockles’ reaction. Nor do I recall playing any assembly music subsequent to that morning. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions, but I think it’s safe to say the words ‘suitable’ and ‘rebel’ don’t sit well together.

Monday 11 February 2013

Would you like to learn the craft of writing?

Loving what you do for a living is one of life’s greatest gifts. Before I took up writing professionally I worked in a plethora of corporate jobs, many of which sapped my soul and made me wonder whether life was worth the effort.  

Fortunately I never felt like that when I was employed by non-profit organisations, mainly because the work I was doing made sense. 

Whether I was training a teenage football team, looking after a gentle professor with terminal Alzheimer's or facing the challenge of helping a severely autistic boy, I rarely felt that my efforts had been wasted. At worst, I’d earned a crust and done no harm. Sometimes I might even have made a positive contribution to other peoples’ lives.

In all those jobs I felt like a visitor in someone else’s world. Yet sitting here at my keyboard in a typically ungainly position, with my ankles badly twisted underneath my desk, I feel completely comfortable.

Some of you already know what I’m on about. If you love your work then you know how lucky I feel. Of course sometimes, just like anything one has to do, it can be a pain in the derrière. 

Occasionally my ideas become as blocked up as an 8 year-old’s nose, or I’ve got the ‘flu and can barely sit upright, let alone make my deadline. But somehow I always make that deadline, because I’ve got the best gig in the world and I won’t waste it.

From the age of 15 I wrote every single day, keeping a diary until the age of 21 that contained as much fiction as fact. As a precocious teenager I thought it might be interesting for an ‘older me’ to look back and see what I was like in adolescence.

In truth the 6 volumes constitute a terrifying journey into petulance, paranoia and sexual fantasy, but their making instilled within me the discipline of a lifetime: to sit and write each day.

Since then I’ve completed 4 novels, had over a million words published in Ireland and the UK, and had 3 plays performed. A few months after I arrived in Galway my one-woman show Aileen Stays In won Punchbag Theatre’s Month of Sundays competition.

As well as this colyoom, I had a column in the Irish Examiner for over two years and several features published in the Irish Times, Irish Post and other media.

So why am I telling you all this? Have I become such a pathetic praise junkie that I need to brag at you from your newspaper?

Far from it. The reason I’m sharing my credentials is that I’m excited and delighted to announce that I’ll be leading a residential weekend writing course in the historic and beautiful village of Killala.

So if you ever wanted to be a writer and you fancy a Spring weekend break in an unspoiled fishing village, you can combine the two this April, by enrolling in The Craft of Writing Weekend.

The Old Deanery Cottages

Staying in a 4-star holiday cottage on the site of the Old Deanery overlooking the harbour, you’ll participate in 9 lessons over a fascinating weekend, after which you will know how to use the essential tools of writing craft.

Before you can paint a portrait in oils, you have to learn how to draw a straight line. Writing is just like every other art form. There is a craft, which can be learned by anyone. There is no mystery to this craft. It’s abc, 123. Some of you will have talent, which cannot be taught, but talent is useless without craft.

I have dedicated my life to learning this craft. Having to some extent now mastered the rules, I can break them, because I know how they work. But I’m still learning, and hopefully will always learn, because clearly you never know it all. 

 The Old Deanery

Over the course of a fun and fascinating weekend, you will learn how to free yourself from fear, write a first draft, develop characters, structure, plot and voice. You’ll discover how to use shape, tense and dialogue to enhance your particular style, while becoming expert in the vital business of editing. I’ll also give advice about how to sell your writing.

Arriving on Friday April 19th, you’ll find a turf fire lit in your 4-star holiday cottage, which you’ll share with other participants on the course. Each cottage has 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, so privacy is no problem, while the village of Killala offers lively pubs, welcoming smiles and great craic. 

Should you wish to explore, a local guide (my very excellent friend Denis Quinn) offers walks in the stunning surrounding countryside, which is laden with virgin white sand beaches, stone circles, ogham stones and the world-famous Ceide Fields.

 Ross Beach, Killala

The Craft of Writing Weekend starts at 6pm on April 19th, with refreshments served before the introductory lesson at 7pm, after which everyone can relax together in one of the local pubs.

The entire cost of the weekend is only €250 per person, which includes The Craft of Writing Weekend course, cottage accommodation for 2 or 3 nights, a light lunch on both the Saturday and Sunday, as well as tea and coffee during well-earned lesson breaks. Hot breakfasts can be delivered to your cottage at very reasonable rates, while excellent dinners are available locally. 

                       Killala village                              

I have to confess that where Killala is concerned I am utterly biased. I lived there for nearly four years and loved both the people and the place. The village and surrounding area is truly the jewel in Co. Mayo’s crown. You’ll have a fabulous weekend in Ireland's beautiful best-kept secret, meet friendly and fascinating people and leave laden with all the tools you need to write well.

For bookings and more information please contact me by email at :
The Old Deanery:
Facebook: Old Deanery Cottages; Joe Keane Creative Centre.

Monday 4 February 2013

CCPR: your 3-in-1 one route to health!

 The brilliant James O'Sullivan at his Traditional Chinese Medicine clinic

The world can live quite happily without another annoying acronym, but CCPR has now become a way of life to me. When dealing with something as unpredictable, individual and vital as my health, I’ve found the best results come from a blend of Conventional and Complementary medicines, alongside Personal Responsibility.

CCPR evolved as the result of my efforts over the last few years to cure the inflammation in my knee while trying to understand what was causing explosive bowel movements and pain in my abdomen.

Conventional medicine started off magnificently when an MRI scan identified a torn meniscus in my knee. Off to the hospital for a quick arthroscopy, back home that night and eight weeks later I was walking without pain.

Full marks to conventional medicine. For years, each time I’d taken a step, the torn meniscus had trapped itself inside the moving parts of my knee. More debilitating than the sharp pain was the way it sapped my confidence. When each step forward hurts, life seems such a struggle.

However, after an ultrasound scan and two colonoscopies, all conventional medicine had come up with vis à vis my gut was that I have IBS, which is conventional medicine’s way of saying:

“We don’t really have a clue!”

Repeatedly I was told by doctors to eat more roughage and drink more water, but as I explained at the clinic, I eat vast quantities of fresh fruit and vegetables and am accompanied all my waking hours by a glass of water, that is drained and refilled regularly. I also love walking and exercising, so I just didn’t fit their IBS model.

Deaf to my protestations, they handed me yet another box of Fybogel sachets and sent me on my way.

Unsatisfied and unwell, I went to see the very excellent James O’Sullivan of Active Health at the Smiling Body Clinic.  Alongside his colleague Eunice, James O'Sullivan is a gem of a man. A calming wise soul and an incredibly skilled practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine, a session with James is a happy blend of mental and physical therapy, after which you leave feeling optimistic and on the mend.

I first encountered him years ago when my back was in spasm. He insisted I told him about my dreams, listened attentively, and then cured me with a single session of Tuina, Chinese Medical Acupressure.

Having studied Chinese herbs, Acupuncture, Tuina, Qi Gong, and Tai Qi under the legendary Hung Shui Chen, James gained extensive clinical experience whilst studying at many Chinese teaching hospitals, including the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine.

More than anybody, James inspired CCPR, always insisting that both conventional and complementary medicines were essential ingredients of healthy living, while his own philosophy states:

"Everybody has the right to better health, movement, freedom, and well-being and each one of us has the ability to learn and practice the techniques necessary to sustain this aspiration"

After each session of acupuncture, my knee improved, and his advice to visualise my inflamed gut cooling down really helped. I’d just lie in bed for ten minutes at each end of the day, concentrating on my Qi, my life force, whizzing around my body, from top to toe, and then I’d visualise my hot angry gut cooling down, easing, calming, and yes, it worked. Within minutes I felt the pain ease.

Trouble was, I still didn’t know what was causing it. Everything I’d read about the vague and unsatisfactory diagnosis of IBS suggested sufferers should eat more fibre, but I was living on the stuff.

So I decided to add the PR to CCPR. Taking personal responsibility for my own health, I started to do the opposite of what the conventional medical practitioners told me. I stopped eating all fruit and veg, and two days later passed the first solid stool I’d created for three years.

For fear of sounding fetishistic, I’ll avoid describing the pleasure I felt.

Gradually I reintroduced my beloved fresh ingredients to my diet, so that now I can eat almost all vegetables (although the onion family can give me a tough time), bananas and blueberries. All citrus fruit and apples are out, and I sorely miss them, but I do not miss the pain in my gut, nor the explosions in the loo!

As long as I stay stress-free (nice idea, but unlikely!) and avoid too much strong coffee, my innards now behave themselves pretty well. Added to the thrill of being well is the buzz that I did it myself. Where conventional medicine could only prove there was nothing seriously wrong and complementary could ease my symptoms, it was only by working on my own problem myself that I found the cause of my illness.

However, when complementary and conventional medicine offer the same advice, it’s best to listen and act. A couple of years after my knee surgery, swelling and pain returned, this time at night. Sharp enough to wake me up, the pain hit my weak spot: sleep. I can do anything as long as I get a good night’s kip, but suffer quickly when robbed of my slumber.

My spirits sank, so I visited both my medicine men.

While one talked of blocked Qi and the other of undrained lymphatic systems, both James O'Sullivan and my conventional doctor used the same word to explain the problem: stagnation.

So instead of avoiding exercise in the morning, when my knee hurt, I went straight for a walk after getting up or worked out on the rowing machine and hallelujah, the pain went away!

So thanks to my doctor, to James O’Sullivan and to the sense I was born with, to care about myself, I’m now almost completely pain free, in both the knee and gut.

CCPR is the way for me. Now I need to go for a walk!

Smiling Body Clinic, 4 St. Bridget's Place, Prospect Hill, Galway.
Monday to Saturday 9am to 7pm.
For appointment with James call 087 785 1158. For Eunice call 087 414 9228