Monday 23 September 2013

Newspapers make me happy, sad and insane!

Apparently, if you’re under 25 years of age, you rarely if ever buy newspapers, preferring either to read them online or just watch the TV news.

What a world you are missing out on! Yes, you can click random links as you surf the web, but that in no way compares to the experience of physically holding a paper in your hands, and turning to pages far away from the front page headlines.

Buried in any newspaper’s hinterland, from page 6 onwards, there lurk two kinds of news: important stories that remain under-reported for reasons that keep conspiracists awake at night, and the bizarre little stories that make my eyebrows rise and my head spin.
Tearing both types of story from the newspaper, I build them into little piles on the bed in my office (it doubles as a guest room) alongside other more dishevelled piles of scrawled often illegible notes.

Loopy I may be, but thankfully, I’m not as bonkers as these stories. How could I be? Yes, there have been insane moments in my life (the time I awoke unexpectedly in New Zealand springs to mind) but in comparison to the bad craziness hidden in my little piles (behave!) I’m as sane as a lump of granite.

Trouble is, these clippings betray in their lunacy snapshots of how far we have lost our way. They act as micro-metaphors for our condition as a supposed civilization.

On top of the pile to my right at the moment is a tiny torn story about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-confessed planner of the attack on the Trade Centre Towers.

According to The Guardian’s Washington Staff and Agencies, while at a CIA prison in Poland, Mohammed was forced to stay awake for 180 hours and endured 183 instances of water-boarding. Popular with international intelligence forces these days, water-boarding is a form of torture that replicates in your mind the feeling that you are drowning.
Ever precise with their very few words, the CIA describe this process as one

“… designed to psychologically dislocate people.” 

The CIA use torture because it works a treat, but sadly their - what do you call people being tortured? ‘Subjects’? ‘Prisoners’? I’m tempted to say ‘victims’ but Mohammed is a self-confessed mass murderer, so I’ll settle for that disgusting 21st century euphemism - ‘clients’ often end up schizophrenic and post-traumatic. The CIA’s own medical records suggest nobody makes it out with all their noodles intact.

When the Polish prison was closed in September 2003, Mohammed was moved to another CIA prison in Romania, where his captivity was less aggressive. A request arrived at CIA Headquarters from that secret facility in Bucharest. Mohammed, who had been reading the Harry Potter novels, was asking for permission to design a vacuum cleaner.
My tiny brain can only imagine the conversation which then took place at CIA headquarters, but a short time later a CIA manager called their prison in Romania, approving Mohammed’s request:

“… in the hope that it would help preserve Mohammed’s sanity.” according to an ex-CIA official.

Stables, doors, bolts and a little bit late for compassion, you might think.

For the next three years Mohammed worked on his vacuum cleaner design, but nobody will ever know how it looked, if it worked, or indeed if it really was a vacuum cleaner rather than perchance a craftily-disguised jet pack, which he was planning to strap onto his back before flying away.

Sorry, had to pause there for a moment. I just saw a white-robed bearded devout Muslim climbing high into the Romanian sky, clutching a rocket-powered ‘vacuum cleaner’ like a 21st century Dr. Strangelove, while down below be-suited be-shaded CIA agents wave their fists in the air and shout:

“Damn you, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed! You may have outwitted us this time, you dastardly devil, but look out, we’ll not be so dumb again. We’ll be ready for you next time!”

Sadly, life is neither a comic book nor a movie, and in 2006 the Romanian CIA prison was also closed down, which resulted in Mohammed being transferred to that testament to moral low ground, which every anti-American terrorist in the world exploits as justification to attack: Guantanamo Bay. He is still there to this day, being held along with many others who are doubtless far less guilty of such heinous crimes as his.

The reason these obscure newspaper stories mean so much to me is not because they entertain me, on a facile level, but because there’s inevitably something within them that gives me a chill. Somebody is always saying something that makes me fear for our collective sanity and safety.

In this instance, that role is fulfilled by Mohammed’s military lawyer, Jason Wright, who is quoted in this tiny hidden-away newspaper story, trying to explain why he was not allowed to discuss his client's interest in vacuum cleaners.

“It sounds ridiculous,” he said, “but answering this question, or confirming or denying the very existence of a vacuum cleaner design, would apparently expose the US government and its citizens to exceptionally grave danger.”

From mass murder to the absolutely absurd, via Poland and Harry Potter, one tiny supposedly insignificant corner of a newspaper page has taken us to vacuum cleaner design, through CIA torture and Guantanamo Bay, ending up, tragically yet inevitably, with a global superpower so entirely wrapped up in the fetid blankets of its own paranoia that it can see neither the inanity nor the insanity of its own methods.

Newspapers are great. I’d much rather have the torn corner of that page from The Guardian than an ignorant troll ranting at me online.

©Charlie Adley

Tuesday 17 September 2013

There’s sense in nature’s chaos and symmetry!

The swallows are still here, but not for long. They’re waiting for the right wind to blow and carry them away towards Africa. I wonder which way they’ll go: south, across the widest part of the English Channel to northern France; south west, towards the Bay of Biscay; or south east over Wales and England, where they’d be able to stop off for a feed and a rest?

Whether the wind that carries them away from me is a north-westerly, north easterly or pure northerly, as they leave for their epic journey the weather they’ll behind them will have an Autumnal nip in it.  The arrival and departure of these beautiful and entertaining birds define my seasons.

This year we had that long cold Spring, when the north wind blew for so long it felt as if it might never stop. Those clear cold April night skies left a heavy dew blanketing the ground each morning, providing enough water to germinate seeds, yet the freezing air then left those sorry seedlings clinging to life, only daring to raise their tiny leaves a mere millimetre above the dry cracked earth. As if to reinforce my strong belief in the tenacity of nature, they defied the sub-Arctic temperatures and lack of water to survive, dormant in suspended animation, unable to develop roots or foliage.

During that sunny yet uncomfortably long cold Spring, I stood outside my house, looking to the skies. Where were the swallows? Were they not coming this year? Had they been stopped in their migratory tracks by the brutal northerly wind spinning off the blocking high pressure zone? 

Maybe they’d become exhausted by their journey from Africa, and settled in West Cork or Normandy, deciding that County Galway was just too far. Why on earth would they choose to battle that blood-freezing wind, when they didn’t have to? I’m sure they’d find midges to eat in Wexford.

The answer to my question was revealed in a most splendid way. When finally the wind changed, sending a very welcome warm breeze up from the south, the damson flies of Lough Corrib launched into a massive hatch. The air around my house was thick with them, churning themselves into blurry tornados of crazed aerial insect orgies. 

My friend, the Artist formerly known as Snarly, happens to be an excellent and very knowledgeable fly fisherman, and he explained to me how these barrel-shaped clouds of  of flies were actually thousands of females, while the male would fly through the centre of the mêlée, inseminating as many of the ladies as he could manage on his merry marital way.

Then, no longer than a few of hours after the arrival of that warm southerly wind, the swallows flew in. As if ecstatic to have finished their intercontinental trek, they swooped and looped and dived and soared around the barn in which they nest, just over the stone wall from my back garden. I know it’s never a good thing to try and super-impose human emotions onto wild animals, but just as I was overjoyed to see these clarions of Summer, only a very sour and numb man could fail to have interpreted their flying that day as anything but jubilant and joyous.

They’d made it, and from what I understand  - please correct me if I’m wrong - the vast majority of these new arrivals had never been to this barn before. As young birds barely beyond fledglings, their parents had guided them all the way to Africa, where most of the older birds would die, leaving only a few flyers experienced enough to guide the young ‘uns back to this barn, several thousands of miles away across seas, oceans and two continental land masses.

As if that wasn’t miraculous enough a matter to contemplate, Nature in its magnificent blend of chaos and symmetry had contrived to provide a handsome feast for these tiny global travellers.
There’s not much that I fully understand. The only constant we can absolutely rely on is change, a fact that often makes our journey through life something of a struggle. Yet here, at last, was a wondrous phenomenon that made perfect sense to this oft-confused scribbler. The very same warm air that precipitated the damselle hatch was carried on the southerly that allowed the swallows to reach their destination, and for a while I sat outside my house, at peace, watching the exhausted little birds gorge themselves on their juicy fly feast, leaving several thousand damselles uneaten to thrive again another day.

It’s too easy to call it the balance of nature, because often, even without the invasive hand of mankind, nature’s systems provide far too much food for one species, while starving another. Such fluctuations happen and then correct themselves over time, or encourage a species mutation to occur that is better-suited to those conditions.


Away from all the science and theories, there’s just the utter bliss that these birds bring to our lives for six months each year. Their eye-catching aerobatics are legendary, while their presence reinforces our sense of Summer.

This year, thankfully, we didn’t need reminding it was Summer. The hot dry weather left me feeling more than a little smug, because I’d been a lazy yet lucky gardener. Having created a long flower bed, I simply cast my wildflower seeds from last year, along with a sprinkling of tall mixed seeds along the back.

Cornflowers and poppies hate the wetness of the average Irish summer, but this year they thrived, as if a tranche had been cut from an idyllic wildflower meadow and dropped into our garden. The bed required no digging, the seeds dropped on bare ground, yet for months we’ve enjoyed a swaying metre-high forest of deep blue cornflowers and blood-red poppies. Simply, it has been a delight for us, along with the butterflies, bees and ladybirds.

By the time you read this the swallows will probably have set off, but I’ll be outside again next Spring, scouring the southern skies, yearning for their return.

Thursday 12 September 2013

The betrayal of the cursed Bayern beer bottle!

I can’t afford Sky Sports, so any live football involving either Chelsea or England on terrestrial TV is a source of excitement in this house, as well as a chance to indulge our English palettes.

As many Irish people know, when you live away from the country of your birth, there exists a comfortable nostalgia for the ways of the old country. So before Chelsea’s thrilling encounter with European Champions Bayern Munich a couple of weeks ago, I spread the coffee table with plates of pork pies, Scotch eggs, pickled onions and Branston pickle. Then, lifting my 1970s dimpled glass pint mug, I slowly poured out a bottle of Fullers London Pride.

One of the few English beers available in Irish supermarkets, London Pride may not be a supreme beer, but to someone who yearns for real ale, it goes down a treat. Also, it’s brewed in Chiswick, west London, close enough to Chelsea to feel local.

Sad to admit, but I was twitching with excitement. Much as I enjoy the craic watching footie in pubs, as a lifetime fan of the game there’s little I love as much as watching a Chelsea game unfold properly, at home. Everything was prepared so that I could sit on my voluptuous arse throughout the match.

Just before kick-off I decided to build up the fire. As I stood up my foot got caught in the phone cord, which tripped the little table, which threw the entire pint of Fullers London Pride all over the floor, phone, coffee table and ... just bloody everywhere. My eyes tried to follow the beery tidal trail, marvelling for a second at just how far a single pint of liquid can travel.

Then I moved like the wind.

From the age of 17 I worked in bars, so spilled beer was nothing new to me. Zooming into the kitchen, I grabbed the mop, bucket and wooden floor cleaner and set about an emergency operation.

The teams were already coming out, but UEFA were throwing a razzmatazzy party to celebrate this coming together of footballing giants. Good, that’d take a while.

Mop, rinse, mop, rinse, then out with the lavender wooden floor spray, because after years of opening up pubs in the morning, I know only too well the stink stale beer leaves on a floor. Mop, dry, into the kitchen to dump the filthy mop in the sink, and finally sit down, breathe out, say bollocks out loud and stand up yet again, to get another bottle of beer, because after all that stress I really needed one now.

Just typical. The one thing I’d been looking forward to and tried to set up so that  -
Oh give the whinging a rest man. Football’s on.

The Snapper arrived back from work just before kick off and we sat and watched a thrilling first half, in which Bayern Munich had all the possession and made twice the amount of passes that Chelsea achieved, but Chelsea scored the goal.

Even though my beer was going down a treat, part of me yearned for a proper pint. The hand pumps you see in English pubs draw real ale along the lines, finishing at a little valve called a sparkler, which sucks air into the beer as it flows into the glass. In namby-pamby Southern pubs, the sparkler is set really loose, so the pumps are easy to pull and the beer floods out uninhibited.

So it wasn’t until I moved north that I discovered how real ale should really be poured. When I went for a job at the Peel pub in Bradford, West Yorkshire, the landlady told me to pull a pint for her. Sure, no problem, I’ve pulled thousands and - ooeerrr!

She laughed as I struggled to pull the handle down. In the north, they tighten their sparklers to the max, making the pump the super-stiff. The beer then hisses as it slowly fills the glass, forming a thick creamy pint of bitter that needs time to settle and clear, like a pint of Guinness.

I’d poured and drunk the very same bitter in London, but it had never looked so good in its glass nor tasted so fine in my mouth as that proper northern pint.

I got the job and withstood the inevitable barrage of abuse that any London boy would endure from Yorkshire ‘regs’ in their local.

Everyone had their own bar stool and their own style. At the far right of the bar sat Jeb, a softly-spoken philosophical genius of a man. Every day I’d bottle up 9 bottles of Carlsberg Special Brew on a shelf just for him, so he could drink them warm.

Then there was tall Tony, the Wizard we called him, with his long white hair and beard.
“Ere Chaaarlie!” he drawled, handing me back the pint I’d just poured for him, “Can you drop a whiskey in there fr’us?”
“‘Course I can Tony.”
“Well then top it up with beer ye prat. Asked for a pint, didn’t I, not half ‘alf a bleedin’ pint.”

Meanwhile, back in my living room, Bayern Munich had scored a equalizer in the second half and Chelsea’s Ramires had been sent off. When the whistle blew at 90 minutes, the score was 1-1. Chelsea were heading into Extra Time with only 10 players.

There’d be a few minutes before the game resumed, so I dashed off into the kitchen to rinse out the beer-drenched mop, because I knew it’d smell wretched, but as I lifted it out of the sink it hit the bucket, which hit the empty beer bottle, which flew into the air and fell onto the kitchen floor, shattering into thousands of beery shards of broken glass.

That same bloody bottle, spilled and then shattered at each end of the match. 
Maybe it wasn’t brewed in Chiswick any more. 
Maybe London Pride was now brewed in Munich. 
Maybe that bloody beer bottle was an inanimate Bayern fan. 
Maybe this was now a game that required Irish whiskey.

Tuesday 3 September 2013

Do the hokey pokey - that’s what it’s all about!

Oh Adley, you silly beast. What on earth made you think you could make plans? Life happens: majestic, terrible and ecstatic, pushing far beyond the cosy confines of plans.

My tiny plan was beautiful in its simplicity. Despite a lifetime of experience informing me I should’ve known better, it also seemed eminently achievable.

Yesterday I rushed around like a manic depressive on the upswing (know thyself) trying to clear the decks, so that today I could have an entire day at home, doing nothing but writing.

I did the laundry, went to the supermarket, cooked a huge lamb and sweet potato stew that’d feed us for 2 days, made a fire and put down the first draft of a feature I hadn’t expected to write at all.

Bloody lovely. One of the great things about working for myself at home is that I can write at any time: on days off and while onions are sweating in the pan.

At this stage my plan didn’t even feel like a plan. It was just tomorrow. I was that confident.

Usually I get up at the same time as the Snapper, but last night I told her I was going to lie in. She said she had a big day at work coming up, so she’d be leaving early anyway. Sleep in my love. That’s what she said.

With my impending day tantalising me like a fat golden peach ripening on the tree, I am sleeping deeply and dreaming of other worlds when I hear a shout.

“Charlie! Charlie, my car’s dead.”

My ears and brain kick-start my voice. I seem to need to mumble out loud to myself, in some slurry muddy treacle way, to prove that I'm awake and therefore able of conscious thought.

“Wha-? Whassa the oh, ohhh, for Christ’s sake, I, ohhhhh, thusha musha geddup.”

A quick glance at my clock and I realise there’s no time to look under her car's bonnet, no time for jump leads. She has to leave now.

No tea no banana no time. I’m dressed and off we go.
Feeling simultaneously drunk and seasick, I point my car Bennett down the bohreen. The Snapper suggests I might like to put on the headlights, as it’s a bit of a dim morning. Of course she’s right, but I bark back that it’s a little early for me to be taking instructions, in a voice that sounds way too aggressive. She takes it on the chin because she feels guilty, but she has no reason to be. It’s not her fault. Yeh, but still I drive another mile before I flip the lights on.

After dropping her at the bottom of Quay Street at 8 o’clock, I exploit Whispering Blue’s hospitality for an early morning cup of tea. My brain is barely out of port, my sails are slack, but puffs and breezes of direction and possibility are blowing in.

I’m in the city with my car, and her car is dead back home, 15 miles from Galway City, most probably in need of a new battery. If I drive back home I can jump start her car, drive it to my mechanic in Galway, get a new battery fitted and then wait for her to finish work.

But that’s my entire day gone. My whole lovely day, empty of obligation and domestic dirge, full of work and opportunity.

No, I can't let all that go so easily. I hatch a plan. You’d think I’d have copped on by now, but I’m just one of the universe’s compulsive problem solvers.

Maybe just maybe I can convince my mechanic and his mate to come out to my place, start her car and take it back with them. Then I can still have the afternoon to work and - aha!

Aha indeed! This is the moment when my brain decides that I’d actually had a plan all along, thereby offering me the chance of not achieving it. Sorry to let you into my messy psyche, but we all suffer from our own patterns, and one of mine is to find ways to feel I’ve failed to work enough.

Anyway, yes, thankfully my mechanic shows sympathy for my plight. We arrange to meet by the garage in the village at 1. Home in a sleepy blur, unable to focus on work, I whip myself into a whirlwind of mindless domestic activity, then jump in Bennett and drive up to the village to meet my mechanic and his mate, who then follow me back to my house.

In two seconds the lads have her car running. Standing in front of my mechanic’s car, I bow as Nureyev might at the Bolshoi, extravagantly grateful to him and his mate who, having used their lunch hour to rescue me, promptly disappear into the distance..

Standing on my front step, I call the Snapper at work. Doubtless she’s worried about the car situation, and come on, let’s be honest: how often in our safe modern lives do we have the chance to rescue the damsel; to ride in on a white charger and kiss the sleeping Princess?

“Hey babe. It’s all sorted. I’m home and your car’s back in the city. It’ll have a new battery ready for you to pick up after work. All done my love. Sorted. I’m about to Ohhhh nooOOOOoooooo!”

“What’s the matter? Charlie, are you alright?”

“Ohhh, yeh, I’m alright. Just realised that my keyring’s gone back into town in your car. I gave it to himself to start your car and never thought when he drove off. Don't worry. I'll be fine. Bye.”

I’m locked out of Bennett, sitting smug, secure and silent, 4 feet away.
I’m locked out of my house, which I’d hoped to be inside all day.
I can’t go in and I can’t go out.
The day’s gone loony and my plans are up the spout.

Do the hokey pokey as you live life, ‘cos that’s what it’s all about.