Tuesday 29 October 2013

Find the right dog, give it proper ID and then have fun together!

It’s official! Yesterday I signed the papers and we adopted Lady, a 3 year-old Labrador Collie cross. She’s been in our foster care for over a month, and as the weeks went by any notion of taking her back dissipated.

Mind you, that’s not to say there hasn’t been dog-induced drama along the way.

Marina Fiddler, the co-founder of Madra, advised us to foster Lady for a while, to see how things went for all of us. She told us it was important that the dog fitted in to our lifestyles, not the other way around, so it was vital to me that Lady could handle a trip to town.
We’d met a lot of dogs during an 18 month search, finding that some rescue dogs have been through such traumatic times that a crowded street proves too much for them.

We don’t know much about Lady’s past, but she proved such a star on her first appearance on the streets of Galway, that I became completely over-excited and took her for an extra walk on the Salthill Prom. We’d already walked the bog road that morning, because I wanted to get the energy out of her before her big trip to the city, so we’d had plenty of exercise. After the Prom, there was tea and buns at Dalooney’s, a cuppa with Whispering Blue and a gathering outside Neactains, at which point you’d think I’d know enough was enough.

But no. I am, sometimes, a complete and utter idiot.

After driving home from the city my spirits are so up I can look down on the moon. The sun is shining and the grass is long. Hey, why not mow the lawn?
An hour later my knee starts hurting. ‘Tis the old trouble, as men in their 50s are allowed to say. Time to stop, but no, I’ll just do another hour and finish it off. The sun’s shining and the dog’s brilliant and what’s a knee between the sun and a dog?
By that evening the pain in my knee is trending on the twitter inside my brain. How could I have been such a fool? A torn meniscus had been removed years ago, and the knee had recovered well. But now I can’t walk without pain, and I have to walk, as we have a dog.

All of a sudden everybody turns into an expert on dogs and starts telling me to rest the leg, the dog will be fine, don’t be silly, isn’t it better for the dog to be there than back in the charity shelter?

Well, maybe, and maybe not. Truth be told, I become really upset about this onslaught of well-meant opinion. None of them are in my kitchen at 8.30 with a 3 year-old dog bouncing off the floor in ecstatic anticipation of a walk. None of them consider that maybe, if I’m not going to be able to walk my own dog in a satisfactory way for both me and dog, it is better to admit so early, before strong bonds are forged. The rescued dogs at Madra are so well cared for, I’d rather take her back there, in the hope she’ll be adopted by a younger family, better able to offer her walks a young adult needs.

Aha, yes, but just as in all matters of life, there are many things to consider. Exceedingly high on the list is the fact that Lady is the best indoors dog in the world.

Okay, alright, for me, okay? I’m sure your pooch is better because he makes a mean cheese toastie and pops over to visit yer mam, to see if the old girl’s doing okay.

All I want my dog to do is exactly what she’s doing now. Sleeping on her bed, while I work. The Lab in her allows for fairly goofy behaviour, but the Collie just wants to please, and after walking the bog road each morning, she flops and sleeps and leaves me to it, until afternoon laps of the garden.

Within half a mile circle of my home there must be 20 dogs, many of whom wander loose, making regular visits to our garden. Lady seems to be finding her place in the local hierarchy, but it’s pretty heartbreaking when she wants to run with her boyfriend, a tan Springer Spaniel from down the bohreen. When he runs off, Lady’s straining at the lead, whimpering, leaving me feeling pretty mean.

My knee? So kind of you to ask. Well, it’s a pain, but I wear a knee brace thingy most of the day, and now that I know we’re keeping Lady, there's only one thing for it to do: get better, because whatever anybody says, you have to walk your dog.

Naturally, the Snapper and Lady have a wonderful thing going on. After IVF failed we accepted we’d be childless, so having another heartbeat in the house is lovely.
Marina, Tara, Paul and all the crew at Madra have been fantastic, patient, wise and generally wonderful human beings. The charity is a magnificent combination of shelter, care and utterly dog-centred people.

All they ask is you take choosing a dog seriously. Yes, it has to fit into your lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean a St. Bernard can live in a high rise flat. Consult an unbiased expert in a rescue shelter, such as Madra or the GSPCA. They’ll guide you to a breed that suits both your needs and the dog’s. All dogs adopted from Madra come microchipped, neutered and vaccinated. All you have to do is put an i-d tag on them, love them and make sure they don’t find their way back to the Pound.

Last year, Madra rescued 515 adult dogs and 204 pups. In 2005, the put-to-sleep rate for rescued dogs in County Galway was 83%. Now it’s 14%.
Madra I salute you. Lady waves a paw.

Facebook: MADRA
Text: 0868149026

1001 words
©Charlie Adley


Thursday 24 October 2013

“Adley, you horrrrrrrible vile little wretch!”

 I can still feel the fear. Terror might be a more appropriate word.

It’s September 1974, and I’m sitting in the back row of my classroom, two in from the window. The least visible place to sit. I’m not on an edge or a corner, and I have a line of heads in front of me sporting dodgy 70s haircuts that further obscure me from the teacher’s view.

Plus I can see out of the window, space out, explore the universe outside.

Today however there is to be no escape. I know it and the reason I’m terrified is that I’m about to do something that I know will cause me tons of strife.

English Public Schools are manufacturing businesses that produce what is known as Oxbridge candidates: students who are likely to be offered a place at either Oxford or Cambridge universities. The more Oxbridge candidates a Public School produces, the higher it is ranked.

At my school, ‘O’ Level Exams start at 14, two years earlier than the national norm. Before choosing which subjects you want to take, you have to decide two things: whether you are inclined to the Arts or Sciences, and to which college at which Oxbridge university you will apply.

At the age of 14 your colyoomnist is very far away from knowing the answer to either of those questions. Boiling inside me is a powerful cocktail of self-pity, lust of both the physical and wander varieties, mingled with a dreamy ambition to be a writer. More than anything, I don’t want to go to university.

That is the problem. Today that’s a very big problem indeed, because as I well know, the first lesson of the year is a session with RAGS.

RAGS is Mr. Stokes, the deputy headmaster, who posts on the TODAY board in the cloister much-dreaded lists of boys’ names; boys who have to report to his office before 9.00am, to be dealt with accordingly. Each list ends with the four typed letters of his initials, R.A.G.S., so obviously he is universally known as RAGS. It is very possible that Mr. Stokes is an honourable and good man. I only know him through the eyes of a teenager, and am quite sure he’d not deny he enjoyed the power he had over us.

So it’s the first lesson of the 5th Form. We’re going round the room, person by person, boy by boy, telling RAGS whether we’re doing Arts or Sciences, and which plans we have for which university. Each boy is also prepared for a possible ‘Why?’, when he’ll have to support his choices with reasoned argument. There are acceptable answers to his questions and ... well, nothing else. This is English Public School. You don’t plead ignorance of the rules and you don’t do any of that American stuff like pleading the fifth. Oh no. Not here.

Getting a better picture why my 14 year-old self is feeling just a tad rebellious?
I’m going to tell him.

The process starts and RAGS is not in any hurry. He starts front row left and goes steadily, predictably, boy by boy, row by row, which means I have to wait for ages.

“Effingham? What has your curious brain decided will be best for you for the rest of your life?”
“I’m doing Arts, sir, focusing on language, and then going to Jesus, Cambridge, sir. To do English Literature.”
“Oh are you? How very uninspired of you. Does the world really need another English Literature student?”
“Don’t know sir.”
“Don’t know sir. Is that really the best you can do? Don’t know sir. Find out. Next. Harris?”
“Sciences, sir. York, sir.”
“YORK? What on EARTH do you mean by YORK, Harris?”
“Maths sir. Want to do maths there, sir. They have a very strong maths department and -”

If you don’t want to go to Oxbridge, Bristol might be acceptable for reading Law, maybe York for reading Classics, but anything that might be construed as a red brick college is out of the question. Trojan horses for Lefties and apparently beneath who we’re supposed to be.

Finally. “Adley?”
“Not going to University, sir.”

A loose spray of convulsive spume flies out of RAGS's mouth. Years later I’ll watch the sweat sweep in slow motion from Robert de Niro’s cheek in ‘Raging Bull’ and think of the time RAGS lost control of his saliva.

“What did you say, BOYYYYYYYY?”
“Not going to university, sir.”

Silence falls for a moment, as 23 teenage boys turn their heads to look at me.
 I’m standing. We all stand when answering RAGS.

“And what do your parents think of this, Adley?”
“Don’t know sir. Thought I’d tell you first, sir.”

RAGS is out of his chair and he’s coming for me. Stretching my neck, I try to lift my hair off my collar. If he sees it hanging over my collar, I’m in big trouble. A heck of lot of stretched necks suddenly appear whenever RAGS is around.

“You haven’t told them? Do you think this is some kind of joke, boy? Are you out of your tiny pea-brained mind? Do you have any idea how hard your parents have worked, both of them I happen to know, sweating and scrimping and saving, making sacrifices, do you UNDERSTAND Adley, SACRIFICES, to send you to this school, so that you might have the chance to in some way repay their efforts? This? Do you have any idea how selfish you are being? Oh Adley, I saw it in you, but I hoped you were better than this. You you you HORRRRRRRIBLE VILE LITTE WRETCH!”

I want to tell him that it’s only the formalising of academia I hate. It’s like the trombone l played in the school orchestra and a jazz band. I loved it, but when they made me do Grade Exams, I stopped playing.

To this day I’m as eager to learn as I am loathe to turn that pleasure into a chore. As a definition of excellent education, what's better than leaving school with a desire to learn?

©Charlie Adley

Monday 14 October 2013

Galway's leaders need to break bread and talk!

The way both Galway City and County Councils react to cars serves as a metaphor for much that is wrong with the modern world. They say it’s integrated but it’s dislocated. They tell us it’s coordinated yet it’s bewildering. It’s distracting and unnerving and maddening and baffling.

Nothing works better than a bit of coordinated town planning, and that’s what we’ve got right now: nothing. Galway has so many plans for its county town’s traffic I’m surprised we’re not all driving into each other head on.

They tell us they’re getting rid of all the roundabouts on Galway’s Ring Road to install a massive chain of intelligent traffic lights that can sense the volumes of traffic at any given time, who you’re talking to on your car phone, what you had for lunch and why most of it is smeared all over your fave pink skirt.

Then they fail to count the number of exits on one of the roundabouts and the whole scheme rear-ends itself. Even if it hadn’t, nobody seemed to notice the effect of the roundabout on Prospect Hill, which would have screwed up the ring road plans anyway.

I’ve given up driving the Ring Road. Red light after red light, it gnaws at my soul.

Yesterday I actually saw a bus using the bus lane down the Westside. I was so shocked I nearly drove into the car in front, which would've caused an almighty tailback, because there’s only one lane of traffic each side of the road.

For years we watched, waited, put up with piles of rubbish, contra-flows, road closures and the loss of a swathe of St Michael’s green playing fields. After enough time and heavy duty construction to knock up a pyramid or two, we ended up with exactly the same amount of space in which to drive our cars, a few dead trees, and a bus lane, which in itself would be a wondrous thing, were there plentiful buses using it.

Right now, all over the world, there are those who want to rid society of cars and those who want to make it easier to drive them everywhere. In Galway City the sides are drawn up clearly. 
Trouble is, none of the city’s leaders knows or cares what other parties are saying or doing. 

Business leaders are obviously eager to make the city more car-friendly. This colyoom has oft pleaded over the years for an extension to the two-hour limit on Galway’s Pay and Display parking. It’s an insult to a great city. If the city were a date, you’d have just enough time for a sip of your aperitif at the bar before dinner. 

Meanwhile the Galway Chamber and the Galway City Business Association alongside the Galway Retailers for Profit and the Galway Local Businesses For Local Galway Businesses and Local Councilors Who Own Local Galway Businesses For Local Businesses have strewn a range of pretty candy proposals in front of our gullible public eyes, tempting us with a wide range of well, not quite fun fresh parking innovations that will boost the footfall on Shop Street. 

They want park by text; free parking in November and January between 10 am and midday, and they’ll come round your place after tea, do the dishes, hoover round about a bit and plump up your pillows.

They need to stop people driving to Athlone’s mall heaven. I love Galway, so I’m with them.

Also, I’m completely against them, because as I said, this is confusing and convoluted, tortuous and perplexing. You see, Galway’s City Manager, Brendan McGrath, has said he dreams of a car-free city, and doesn’t that sound simply wonderful? It might, if it was in any way feasible. As things stand, it’s as idealistically inviting as it is delightfully absurd.

He wants to extend pedestrianised streets, boost bus networks and build a light rail system. 
Even if that were to happen, which would be a marvelous achievement, it would serve little purpose. You see, Mr. Manager, Galway City is a County town. We all travel in and out of town all the time. If you live in Furbo, Corundulla or Moycullen, you can’t rely on 2 or 3 buses a day that might or might not stop because they’re too full.

I’m a great fan of public transport and I hate cars (even though I have to use one) and parking in town is a mare, so I’m not stomping on other people’s ideas for fun here. I’m in favour of cheap parking and I’d love to see Galway's public transport system serve its own satellite towns a hundred times better, but more than anything, I think everyone needs to sit at the same table, break bread and talk to each other.

How can we the people profit, if half our leaders are fighting for cheap parking to encourage more cars into town, while others are dreaming of banning cars and introducing a congestion fee? Yes, I did just say ‘congestion fee’ in relation to Galway City.

Another plan, admittedly for the future, but nonetheless laden with delusions of grandeur. Last time I was in London I had to catch a mainline train from Waterloo to an outer suburb. Dashing from the tube, I wondered how many trains there might be on that route each day.
Oh pooper. I’d just missed one. Aha, here’s a digital timetable, so when’s the next train?

Every three minutes.
Wow. That’s a city in which you can have a congestion charge. London offers viable alternatives to the car, but any notion of further punishing punters for driving to Galway City is beyond bananas.
Galwegians are fed up with all your half-baked unworkable frustrating and incompetent ideas. 

Now it’s time for you all to sit down and talk to each other with the aim of coming up with one integrated idea that works, instead of this constant babble of ill-thought out incomprehensible indefensible nonsense.

 ©Charlie Adley

Monday 7 October 2013

I love the sounds and silences of Galway!

Driving home from town last Wednesday, I had a bit of a moment. Summer just didn’t want to leave. The car windows were open, wafting me in a balmy 26°C breeze. The Cranberries were blasting out of the speakers, and all of a sudden the present was gone from me. I was lost; abandoned in a reverie of times past.

Paul McCartney realised 50 years ago that the pop song offered its fans an encapsulated moment in time. Whenever they heard that tune, however many years in the future, they thought of that first dance.

My moment wasn’t quite so romantic. Listening to The Cranberries’ ‘Everybody else is doing it, so why can’t we?’ whilst driving under blue skies, my mind disappeared back to Ballyconneely in 1994, when Dolores O’Riordan and her band were hitting the big time.

Ensconsed on a barstool at Keogh’s pub, I’m sat beside two gentlemen, sadly no longer with us, but then the core of what I call ‘The Brethren of the Bar’. Before the smoking ban, every pub had its own contingent of older fellas who constructed endless conversations through empty Tuesday afternoons, and every other afternoon, come to think of it.

These lads were staring at a photograph in a redtop tabloid newspaper. As I recall, it was of herself, Dolores, on her wedding day, revealing a slightly risqué visible panty line, or somesuch. Whatever it was, it titillated these two fellas. One leaned bacGalwayk, scratched his hairy cheek and smiled, declaring:

“Sure, she’s nothing but a hoor.”

New to the village, I was eager to arrive quietly. Not wanting to appear rude, I tried not to laugh out loud at yer man’s opinion, but instead ended up snorting Guinness out of my nose, simultaneously managing to offend himself and make myself look a prat.

The Cranberries were Ireland's sound of that distant Summer, and once again for me this year, when Summer happily refused to budge.

With the warm weather eating into Autumn, I’m enjoying the sounds on Galway’s streets. Walking up High Street on a sunny day, the harpist lass plucks her gossamer tunes making me feel all ethereal and lucky to be alive. Just up from her, on Johnny Massacre Corner, there’s the Mumford and Son’s style lads, be-hatted be-bearded very pleasant and quite fun, but not something that gets my blood pumping.

Outside Eason’s the Atlantic Pirates are gathering a collection of the smarter 50-year-old American tourists who come to Ireland now, with the kids away at college. The lads belt out the classics with admirable gusto and skill, and I thoroughly enjoy them. But then again, I don’t work in Eason’s.

Earlier this year one of the band was standing outside Four Corners, playing his banjo on his own. Heading up Church Lane I found myself humming Beethoven's 9th Symphony. He’d been playing Beethoven’s 9th on his banjo? The wonderful choral section? On his banjo? Wow! I turned around, went back and tried to find him, but he’d gone.

Away from song, Galway teems with the spoken word. You'd think maybe a scribbler might be half decent at talking, but still I sometimes become dazed and confused by the West of Ireland. Last week I was buying a new pair of walking boots for the wetness to come. I asked if she had this in a 9. She said yes, that’s a 9 there, in your hand. I said great, put it on as she watched, and then had to accept that she wasn’t going to get the other boot. I had to explain to her that I wasn't willing to pay €100 euro on the strength of one boot.

This happens all the time to me, to the extent that I accept that I’m the odd one out. Most Irish idiosyncrasies I enjoy. I'd be a fool to live here if I didn't appreciate your eccentricities as much as my own, but there’s one Irish attitude I’ll never embrace.

As it happens, I last experienced it on the same day as the boot incident. Walking into a newsagents I offered:
“Beautiful day!”

To which the lady behind the counter replied:
“Oh it is thank God. Beautiful. But we’ll suffer for it. I don’t know how, but I’m telling you, we’ll suffer for it somehow.”

At times like those I’m very happy to be the foreigner. If the locals want to spoil their own rare sunshine by worrying about the inevitability of impending pain, then so be it.

Sometimes the only sounds I want to hear in Galway are the waves breaking on the bay, or now that I'm near the lake, the gentle ripple of water on mud and pebble.

Best of all, there exists an off-switch for noise, just as there is for movement. I still have to breathe, but when I stand stock still, in that rarest of West of Ireland moments, when there is not a whisper of a breeze, when the power tools are retired to the shed and drained, when the tourists’ rental cars are parked in sweeping solid rows once more at Shannon Airport, I can feel the silence.

There’s the sound of my breathing, which I tend to see as a good thing, but here where I live, with fields shorn of grass and livestock, with trees soon to be bereft of leaf, revealing huge crows nests built high in their canopy, I feel bliss.

There are many different types of silence. So far I love all the ones I’ve met. As with all of the universe’s greatest gifts, silence is best sampled rather than lived. As much as I love the sounds of the West of Ireland, I adore the fact that by living here, I am also allowed moments of silence.

Va-Shoooom! Memory over, I’m back in Bennett, my car, driving home in the early Autumn heat, singing the Cranberries’ ‘Sunday’ at the top of my voice.
Some songs stand the test of time.

1005 words
©Charlie Adley

Tuesday 1 October 2013

The Seanad is broken, so you have to fix it!


When politicians rush to destroy something, I become suspicious. When they want to destroy a democratic institution, I become fearful. Although it’s something of a stretch to describe today’s Seanad as a democratic institution, Ireland’s second house has democracy within it, in much the same way that raspberry ripple ice cream has raspberry.

Throughout Margaret Thatcher’s ‘reign’ over England, she was taunted by the Greater London Council (GLC), led by Ken Livingstone. Each day a massive neon sign attached to the GLC’s headquarters on the Thames’ south bank flashed the nation’s shameful unemployment figures across the river to the Houses of Parliament directly opposite.

Challenged daily in policy and public relations by this Old Labour stronghold, Thatcher acted according to type, and simply abolished the GLC.

I remember well the outrage I felt at her ability to remove a democratic institution that she just happened to disagree with. At least her motives were brazenly honest.

Typically, this Irish government are being neither honest nor open about their motives for trying to abolish the Seanad.

Each time I drive past one of those ‘Vote Yes’ posters, my blood comes to the boil. Do they really think we are so stupid as to be beguiled by a saving of €20 million and a promise of fewer politicians? We all know this country recently borrowed over €80 billion to pay off the banks. We know that in the order of things, €20 million is not a vast amount of money. For goodness sake, if we’re talking of wasting money, the Mahon Tribunal cost the country €101,314,920, taking 5,687 days to peruse 1.6m pages of evidence to find just one person guilty.

We know that this potential €20 million saving won’t be used to build a new hospital. It’s a pathetic gambit that fails as dismally as the promise of ‘fewer politicians’. If the Irish were really allowed to rid themselves of worthless politicians, they’d be trampling over each other to shrink the Dáil.

In their haste to break away from their oppressors, ex-colonial countries sadly often end up mimicking the worst features of their erstwhile overlords. Only a country once ruled by the British, whose House of Lords is unelected and unaccountable, could have come up with the formula that allows only NUI and Trinity graduates, councillors and politicians to vote for their representatives in the Republic’s second house.

Even in its present form, the Seanad makes the House of Lords look indefensible, yet I’d fight for the right of both to exist. The abused has yet again become an abuser. Successive Irish governments have abused power to deprive their own recently-liberated people of access to the democratic process.

Now they want to limit that access even more. It doesn’t take a genius to understand the rabid haste this government shows to rid itself of a moderating force. Equally, we know only too well from experience that as soon as Fianna Fáil return to power, the moderation they now show in opposition will disappear as quickly as a container of arms to Ulster.

Of course I’d prefer the House of Lords to be democratically elected and therefore accountable to the British people, but even this arcane institution performs a vital role. Much extreme legislation from both the political Left and Right has been delayed, amended and rejected by the Lords over the decades, allowing a comforting feeling to seep into the people that their freedom cannot be diminished by any rogue leader.

Richard Bruton claims that as the Seanad hasn’t blocked any piece of legislation since 1964:  “... a watchdog that barks every 50 years isn’t very effective.”
Does that mean you should kill your watchdog?

Surely, what you do is train your watchdog to change its behaviour. Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, writing in this newspaper last week, explained that
“... since 2011, the Seanad has proposed more than 2,600 amendments to Bills, and of these the Government has accepted over 520.”

The way things stand, a Bill can become an Act of Law in a single Dáil session. Some might think that’s great, as it allows for change to be implemented quickly. Personally, it gives me the heebyjeebys to think that either Enda or (soon?) Micheál could impose a new law without serious debate.

Every democratic nation benefits from having a second house. As well as keeping extremists at bay, it offers another essential layer of democratic evaluation.
Governments made of large majorities need to have their activities tempered, and a revising house is the perfect place to do that. The only feasible reason that today’s Government want to abolish the Seanad must be that they don’t want their policies restrained.

After introducing the household tax, water tax, property tax, rent allowance reviews that terrify the poor and needy, alongside prescription charges that have tripled overnight, betraying the sick and weak, I strongly suggest this government needs a mitigating factor. 

Clearly, the Labour Party have failed miserably in that task, so let’s create a new Seanad that is elected by and accountable to the electorate: a Seanad that has real powers of revision, delay and rejection.

Instead of aping the elitism of the English, Ireland should imitate the American model, where the Senate carries 2 senators from each state, irrespective of land or population size. The Irish Republic has 26 counties, so the new Seanad can have 2 senators from each county, voted for in free and open elections by anyone over 18 years of age who is registered and inclined to vote.

Abolishing the Seanad would not so much be an act of washing away the baby with the bath water as taking a sledgehammer to the bath itself. Even better, voting ‘No’ in the referendum on October 4th, in the hope of reforming the Seanad, will remind our arrogant leaders that unlike Margaret Thatcher, they can’t just rid themselves of democratic institutions that get in their way.

©Charlie Adley