Tuesday 31 December 2013

DWARLINKS! LUVEES! IT’S TIME FOR THE 2013 DV AWARDS!



Welcome one welcome all to the annual event you can’t bear to miss! This year’s DV Awards will be announced directly after your scribbler’s ‘Best Of’ stuff, because let’s face it, we’re all gorged and grogged out. Our brains are moving like slugs through gravel, while our distended bellies feel as if somebody else has moved in and taken up home there. The only information people are able to absorb at this time of year has to come in list form, so here goes:

Best thing I did in 2013: Adopting Lady, a 3 year-old Lab-Collie cross from the marvellous folk at madra.ie

Stupidest thing I did in 2013: Completely over-doing the walking when Lady arrived, thereby rekindling an old knee injury, with pain that has now spread to my ankle. Interesting test, in that my love for the dog increases at exactly the same rate as the pain I endure exercising her.

Best meal of 2013: Any I didn’t cook myself.
Best restaurant meal in 2013: The Mustard Seed at Echo Lodge, Ballingarry, Co. Limerick. Dan Mullane’s personality, style and flair for beautiful food combine to make you feel special. That’s a rare and beautiful thing.
Best place to take a break from life 2013: Rosleague Manor Hotel, Letterfrack, Co. Galway. Mark Foyle and his long-serving amiable team create an ambience where all is tranquil and refined, yet nothing is starchy or ostentatious.

Enough already with this self-indulgent nonsense. It’s time for the main event, so without further ado, we’ll open this year’s DV Awards with the Colm Keaveney DV for Opportunistic Bravado 2013, which goes to the Irish government's Bank Debt Deferment Deal, a despicable piece of political postioning best summed up by Father Ted, via Facebook:

“This debt is large, but it’s far away!”

So sad to see the Irish turning from a people who kept their money under their mattresses to hide it from their English overlords and save it for their children, to today’s version that’s merely sweeping the debt under the carpet, to hide it from their own eyes, saving it for their children for deal with.

Next up comes the DV Darwin Award 2013 for someone whom Humanity would benefit should they be taken out of the gene pool. No problem awarding this baby to one Wayne la Pierre of the US National Rifle Association. After yet another of the countless school massacres in the USA, he issued a statement saying:
“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
Go now, Wayne. Depart. Leave us humans to live better lives.

Sticking with politics for a while longer, the coveted Whoever You Vote For The 
 Government Gets In DV 2013 goes to Fianna Fail, doubtless Ireland's natural party of government. The only thing that was immediately and absolutely evident when the death of Fianna Fail was announced after the last general election was that they would most certainly win the next.

They’ll be back, because you’ll vote for them. Yes you will, because this shower might be just a little bit straighter and slightly less corrupt, but they’re so damned dull. Many Irish are still drawn towards chancers with big German cars, wads of cash and smart Italian suits. They look like they’re really living the life, so they do. You’ll vote for them next time. I know you will.

Slightly scatological but no less fun, the Can You Be Sick In Two Directions At Once? DV 2013 is shared equally between Gerry Adams’ hypocrisy in giving out about Magdalen apologies but not the Disappeared, and Enda Kenny’s emotional efforts, which, to my surprise, seemed to dupe the majority of the population. Maybe I’m a hopeless cynic, but I didn’t believe his remorseful tears.

The team behind the annual DV Awards are very keen to keep a positive edge to proceedings, so with that in mind the Dick Spring In The Step DV 2013 for surprising us in a good way goes to Sinn Fein’s Pearse Doherty, whose oratory makes a welcome change from Cowen, Noonan and all the other mumbly blatherers. Doherty speaks to us, the public, in a way that nobody else can.

No, I’m not about to become some horrific kind of Stockholm Syndrome Londoner Convert to ‘CIRA RIRA Let's Have A New RA’ and all that, but it’s great to hear a man who can talk with compassion, clarity and charisma.

The Michael Lowry Shame On You DV 2013 goes to President Obama, for failing to close Guantanamo Bay while encouraging use of drone attacks in Pakistan. Shame on you. ‘Nuff said.

The So Shameful I Cant Even Joke About It DV 2013 goes to the late Savita Halappanavar. All those millions spent on Volvo Races, Ironman triathlons and god knows what to put Galway on a global stage, and there’s my mother ringing from London to tell me she’s just seen Galway Hospital on the BBC 6 o’clock news.

One of everyones favourite awards each year, the Pots and Kettles DV 2013 goes to the inestimable Bono, who showed both a formidable amount of denial and subconscious self-awareness when asked for a comment at the death of the late great Seamus Heaney:

“I admired him because he managed to avoid the arrogance and creeping sense of entitlement that so many people suffer from.”

You said it Bono. We couldn't have put it better ourselves.

Is it that time already? But we haven’t had time to mention the Anglo Tapes, or our new 21st Century folk heroes, the online Whistleblowers.

Still there’s always time for the most important award of all.
The Best Place To Live And I Should Know ‘Cos I’ve Been Around DV 2013 goes, as always, to Galway City and County, along with all the people (well, nearly all!) and places on Ireland’s west coast, from Mizen Head to Malin Head.

Tha-tha-tha-that’s all folks! Happy New Year to all my colyoomistas!

 
©Charlie Adley
12.12.13

Monday 23 December 2013

A TALE OF TWO SANTAS AND BUCKETLOADS OF JEWISH GENEROSITY!





Snow was falling onto the sodium-lit London street outside my Rats Alley flat. The Winter of 1986 was so cold the water in my loo froze over. All down my road, cracked toilets bowls lay dumped outside the flats, like rejected Christmas presents.

Chris and I sat in my living room for hours, staring at each other in silence, hunched against the old plastic sofas, wrapped in layers of clothing and blankets. Broke. Utterly boracic and lint: skint, the pair of us, with only two days to go until Christmas.

“Hey Charlie, have you got any old whiskey bottles?”
“Yeh, there’s two empties in the kitchen. Why?”
“Aha! Bring them to me, and bring out that fan heater you hide in your bedroom. We’ll have a drink yet!”

Ten minutes later, we were lying on our bellies, eyes at carpet level, watching whiskey seemingly appear from nowhere. Chris had stood the two empty bottles in front of the fan heater, which was running at full blast. The heat from the fan was hitting the cold glass, thereby condensing the holy juice out of the bottle. Where before there was nothing, we suddenly had a couple of inches of Christmas Cheer. So we did.

“Yay! Nice work mate! Happy Christmas to you and your cunning ways! You’re a bloomin’ genius!” I exclaimed.

The phone rang. It was my landlord, who also owned the shop below my flat. He was sorry to ask at such short notice, but he wondered if I wanted to earn some cash? And did I know anyone else who needed some too?

Did I?

He explained that the shop owners of the street were looking for a couple of guys to stand outside dressed as Santa Claus. They would be collecting money for the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital.

“Sure, yes, we can do that!” I told him, “But how can you pay us if we’re collecting for a charity? We wouldn’t stoop so low as to take money from the sick kiddies!”

He explained that our presence was going to attract punters to his shop, one way or another.

Well, fair enough then. More than fair, but just one more thing. This was Golders Green, the most Jewish suburb in North London. How kindly were the locals going to take to Father Christmas?

“Well, he was Jewish, wasn’t he?” came the inscrutable, irrefutable reply.

Yes, Jesus was indeed Jewish. He was born, lived and died a Jew. 1,986 years later, in the tiny back room of a shop in frozen London, Chris and I were falling about laughing as we tried on our costumes. We were unsure if Santa was meant to be naked underneath his regalia, but the freezing air settled our minds on that issue.

Somehow, fitting the tights over our jeans felt more than a little Superman-ish, but the beard was another matter entirely. It got up my nose, tickled my lips, and after a minute or two of breathing, returned to my senses the less-than delightful scent of the previous night’s Rogan Josh curry.

And so, out onto the streets, followed by a gaggle of giggling girly shop assistants.
“Cor! Look at those two sex bombs!”
“Yeh, don’t fancy yours much though!”

We asked the boss if it wasn’t a little excessive having two Santas out there together, but once again, his answer was beyond reason.

“Most places they only get one, so in Golders Green, they get two!”

Chris and I started to shake our buckets, trying to catch a generous eye. People were ready and eager to give. Great Ormond Street Children’s hospital was a cause that crossed the barriers of race and religion, although I felt a little saddened to have to treat a hospital like a charity.

We had been provided with bags of lollipops, which we were meant to give to sweet little kiddies who came up to us. Unfortunately, (or maybe most fortunately) children are trained to stay away from strange men bearing candy. The combination of my costume, and the ultra-deep voice I adopted for my ‘rôle’ seemed to scare the hell out of the wee darlings.

All it took was “Hellow lickle girlie! Do you want a lollipop?” and I was instant pervert, children scurrying away to hide behind their parents, safe from the nasty red man.

Suddenly, off in the distance, we heard a strange commotion. Two police cars were creeping slowly down the street, followed by a massive demonstration by Hassidic Jews, they who sport the long hair curls, blue raincoats and big floppy velvet hats.

Hundreds of them were marching down the Golders Green Road, carrying placards written in Hebrew. Chris and I stepped back to watch this strangest of sights unfold, and then all of a sudden, it dawned on me that each and every one of them was a potential punter.

Leaping into the fray, I frantically shook my collection bucket. Each side of me, every which way, hats, raincoats and beards glided past, the marchers temporarily blinded by my flash of scarlet ripple in their ocean of dark blue.

I felt I was inside a roll of Pathé News film, and was sorely tempted simply to savour the moment, but there was work to be done.

“Cough up for the kiddies! Great Ormond Street Hospital needs your help! Dig deep!’”

Dig they did. Hands reached into pockets, coppers started flying into the bucket, followed by silver coins and then notes. Wallets were hurriedly opened, to the left of me, to the right of me a passing beard, a glance of spectacles, everywhere spectacles, hands putting notes into the bucket, fivers, tenners. It was amazing and wonderful to stand there and watch them give wads of cash; enough to bring a tear to my eye.

There was no question of Old or New Testament loyalty here, just a river of raincoats on a mission from God.

A full bucket, a happy shopkeeper, and two very merry Santas in the pub that Christmas Eve.

May your God be with you.


©Charlie Adley
07.12.2013

Monday 16 December 2013

NEVER JUDGE A SHOPPER BY THE BRAND NAME ON THEIR BAGS!



Walking down Dominick Street, I’m carrying a Marks and Spencer's bag in one hand and a Lidl bag in the other. Make of me what you will, oh casual observer. The Lidl bag is enormous, so does that mean I do all my shopping there?

Who cares? Maybe I have the money to shop at Marks and maybe I just want to be seen to. 
Unlikely, admittedly, that your colyoomist gives a toss about what others think about where I shop, but there are people out there ... ‘Snobs’, they used to be called.

As a tiny lad back in the 1960s, your scribbler was given a fantastic definition of snobbery. Coming from the upper echelons of the English middle classes, it was, in itself, inherently snobbish. I was told that a snob is someone who looks down their nose at someone else, when they have no right to look down upon that person.

The tacit inference therefore was that there were other people who did have a right to look down on others.

Gradually and thankfully, a snob became anybody who looked down on another, and rightly so, because to do so is unjust.

Anyway, if my shopping patterns are anything to go by, you should never judge a person by their Bags For Life. I might be dead posh and do my entire weekly grocery shop in Marks and Sparks, and equally I might fill my boots at Lidl, Dunnes or SuperValu. So why this fixation with bagly brand recognition? Well, I worked in retail for many happy years, but encountered in that industry such a level of customer snobbery that I am still to this day outraged and perplexed.

Many years ago I opened a charity shop in Galway City, and having grown up in a family of shop workers, I knew that it was important to put our brand name out there on the streets. So I ordered a batch of printed carrier bags, only to be told by my Head Office that nobody would ever carry a charity bag onto the streets of Galway.

Why not? I just couldn’t understand. Rather than an embarrassment, I thought it would earn the customer kudos, for having made a contribution to the charity.

A few weeks into the job, I realised that I been wrong and Head Office right. In fact, the situation was worse than I could ever imagine.

Several regular customers bought a good deal of clothing and then carefully folded their new belongings into Moons bags. My oh my, how I had overestimated the social conscience of Ireland. Not only did they not want to be seen to contribute to a charity shop, they needed to pretend that they’d bought their clothes in a posh one.

Snobbery, pure and simple. Sad but true. Yet these days, even though the phenomenon thrives, the word ‘snobbery’ barely exists. The predictive texting on my Nokia phone recognises the word ‘Lidl’, but not ‘snobbery.’ Yikes! The Frasier Crane snob in me suddenly feels I must have the wrong phone!

Does my blend of bags, this visual cocktail of budget and luxury retail brands, mean I’m a societal mess? Well, I’m a supermarket whore. I go where the sun shines brightly. I go where the parking is easy, the produce is fresh and the prices dandy. Good little consumer, too. Signed up to all the loyaty schemes, so that computers somewhere can whirr and crunch and try to work out what I’ll want to buy next year, in return sending me coupons offering 25c off a metric tonne of cheese strings or something else that I have no intention of buying.l

Armed with our supermarket Bags For Life, we carry our consumer colours with us as we walk the streets. In a fantastic period of social engineering, between 2002 and 2004, the Irish were used as Eurozone lab rats, tested for compliance in a series of increasingly challenging ways..

Try them out with the plastic bags, then hit them with the Euro, and if they show a suitable willingness to be manipulated, smack ‘em up with a smoking ban too.

Politically, Brussels treats Ireland similarly to the way the Tories have always dealt with Scotland: contemptuously. Without any kind of electoral base there, they have nothing to lose, so they scornfully use it as a testing ground for their least popular policies, such as the Poll Tax.

The dishonesty of the ‘Bags For Life’ moniker still irks me. When they were introduced, we consumers were all told that the supermarkets (enjoying free advertising from their names emblazoned upon the bags) would replace worn out bags free of charge.

Me hole.

Over in the UK they’re contemplating switching to Bags For Life, so BBC News ran a piece about the pros and cons of phasing out plastic bags. Their correspondent spoke to two middle class people on a provincial English street, who didn’t think it was a very good idea, because oh dear, well, you know, it’s just that change, you know, change is never a good idea, is it dear? No, thin end of the wedge, change is. Hrrrmph.

Next the BBC consulted a nutritional hygienist who advised that if you repeatedly used the same bags, there’d be an epidemic of food poisoning.

Meanwhile I was wondering whether maybe, just maybe, somebody might have pointed out to the BBC that Bags For Life are working fine on this island, their nearest sovereign neighbour right next door. Charging a nominal fee for plastic bags at the checkout transformed shopping here overnight. All of a sudden we’re rid of an awful waste and an unsightly polluter. No more plastic bags caught up trees, blocking drains and doing gordknowswhat fearful damage to wildlife.

We’ve been using these bags for years, and nobody’s died. We’ve just got a much cleaner environment. All you have to do is remember to bring the damn things with you.


©Charlie Adley
06.12.13.

Monday 9 December 2013

RETURNING TO GALWAY IS CULTURE SHOCK OF THE CALMEST KIND!



When I returned to Galway from California in 1999, I moved into a house on Grattan Road, overlooking South Park. Perfectly placed, so if I turned right out of my front door I’d be heading up the Prom, while a left turn took me on a very short walk into town, along the Claddagh basin and over Wolfe Tone Bridge.

The very first morning I attempted that walk, it took me a lot longer than I anticipated. As I approached Claddagh Hall I looked across the river Corrib. The previous night‘s downpour in Connemara had been transformed into furious brown waves, tumbling one upon the other, licked in grey and sepia spume, raging to catch up with each other.

That alone would have been enough to stop me in my tracks. I love Galway City’s river, and sometimes while standing on O’Brien’s Bridge, watching the whooshing flow disappear out into the bay, I fantasise that I’m standing on the stern of a mighty boat.

But that morning it wasn’t the river that made me stand motionless. It wasn’t the sight of the opening to Quay Street in the distance, sucking locals and tourists alike into its medieval orifice like a Faustian temptress.

It wasn’t the beauty of the bay, or the shimmering allure of Co. Clare’s Burren, purple limestone hills promising days of gentle walking followed by nights of raucous craic.

I wasn’t frozen in my tracks by anything that was there. The pleasure I found was in what wasn’t there at all.

There were no hordes of people, walking six deep across the pavements, struggling to avoid bumping into each other. There was no constant roar of traffic. Yes, of course, the number of cars on our streets has risen substantially since then, but believe me, even today, compared with the major urban centres of the UK and USA, Ireland’s most brilliant city is still a gentle place to be.

That first morning of my return I didn’t so much stop, as perform an upright slump. My shoulders dropped and my neck drooped, my knees crumpled and I couldn’t move an inch.

Didn't want to. My body was awash with fast flowing inner rivers of relief, stomach-wrenching rolls of gratitude and broken glass shards of remorse that cut through all the rest.

Standing there I thanked the universe for returning me to the calm. My soul was bleeding from the massive gash of guilt I felt, for all the pain I had recently caused others whom I loved.

So there I stood, with a heart tormented and a head that could not believe the calm.
Looking to the city across the river, it all seemed so placid. After so many years in America, this major city of Galway seemed like a slow peaceful oasis of sanity.

Of course I knew then as I know now that Galway is as insane as anywhere else in the world, but that feeling of peace and tranquility revisits me every time I return to Galway city and county.

As regular colyoomistas know, I have recently visited both London and West Yorkshire, and thoroughly enjoyed my time in both places, with each beloved person I visited. Yet nothing compares to the joy I feel each time I return to the West of Ireland. Whether I’m driving down the N17 from Knock Airport, or hurtling along the wonderfully empty M18 from Shannon, I always raise my fist in the air and shout out, loud and triumphant:

“Yes!”

Because I am back. I am home again. To this wandering Jew, who spent 20 years travelling the globe in search of a home, the happiness I feel in having found it remains undiminished. 

While I was living in California, a very lovely friend of mine in San Francisco once confessed to being confused. She had been raised in a military family, moving all over the USA as a kid, so she could relate to my search for a place that felt like home. However, she didn’t understand my choices.

“You always talk about Ireland as if it was your home, so if you’d finally found it, why did you leave it?”

She knew well the answer, but I took her point. Sometimes, evidently, you have to leave a place to find out it was where you belonged all along.

So now I’m back once again, walking past a pair of buskers on fiddle and double bass, who put a spring into my step as I turn into High Street. Smiling faces everywhere.

Yes, that’s right! I’m quite sure that if you asked people in Galway whether they thought they lived in a happy or miserable city, they’d probably opt for the latter, but they would be so wrong. Galway City and County alike are full of happy people

Yes I know: trying to make ends meet is bloody tough at the moment, and even more often than usual all the locals are saying “Ah sure, I’d complain but nobody’d listen!”

Everyone has a bad day once in a while and we all need a little moan and all that kind of malarkey, but hear me now: I look at the faces of people on the streets, wherever I go, and here there are more people smiling than anywhere else I know.

It’s infectious. I love it.

You could live and die a long life in London without ever bumping into somebody you know, yet in Galway it’s almost impossible to remain anonymous. Everyone from half-hearted Howyas to full-blooded friends come by you on the streets, and after my short breaks back to Blighty, I love the feeling of belonging that is granted to me, back here in my adopted home.

Quite simply, it’s culture shock, of the most sublime kind. Here there is room to breathe, faces to smile at and a rare calm in this modern world, that’s yet to be destroyed.

For these things, we must be truly grateful.

©Charlie Adley

28.11.13.

Monday 2 December 2013

CORK’S CORPORATE CULTURE BEATS MANCHESTER CITY!



The morning is truly splendid. A cold breeze cuts through the blue Yorkshire sky as my mate and I set out for a pootle. Turned out he hadn’t been putting on a brave face about his leukaemia. The treatment is working and if you didn’t know, you wouldn't know.

We climb into his van and spend the day creeping up sheer Yorkshire hills, looking down into perfectly-formed valleys, where isolated stone farmhouses shelter behind golden-leaved trees, with only motionless sheep for company.

We find a warm and friendly pub, where we drain a pint of Tetley’s, snarf a slice of homemade steak and kidney pie and revel in our reunion.

Then I take the train to Manchester Airport and things go downhill.

My mood could not be better as I approach the Aer Lingus check-in desk. I’ve been a good boy: checked-in online, printed my boarding pass and only have my bag to drop. The lass behind the counter is engaged in conversation with her colleague at the next desk, so she waves her hand, beckoning me to come forward.

At this point I think I’ll get the usual corporate meet and greet, eye contact and a smile, all that sort of thing. Instead, she just carries on talking, putting out her hand to imply I should hand over my documents.

Being a bit of a prat, I lower my arms, stand to attention, stare at her and say:

“Hello!”

She continues talking to her colleague.

“Hello. Human being here.”

Finally she stops talking. Handing over my passport I start over-compensating for my anger by continually saying ‘Sorry’ and ‘Thanks’ like a raving maniac, as if I had just spat in her mouth.

Shame really, because recently I’ve been raving about Aer Lingus, choosing them over Ryanair to fly from Shannon to Heathrow. That’s why I’d booked this flight, which originally was due to land at Cork at 18:15, giving me plenty of time to drive home to Galway. Other flights from Manchester to Dublin and Shannon arrived so late I’d have to stay overnight in a hotel.

So I was far from delighted a few days before I travelled, when I receive a text from Aer Lingus - and how they have my mobile number I’ve no idea - telling me that my flight was now arriving at Cork at 22:30. No explanation, no apology, but hey, sometimes you have to swallow the poop, go with the flow. It meant I’d have to book a room at an airport hotel after all, and lose most of a day’s work hammering back to Galway on Friday roads, but on the plus side, I’d have longer with my mate.

Back in the airport I’m through security and straight into WH Smiths to purchase vast amounts of chocolate for the Snapper. Up to the till, where a lass wearing a sash that reads: ‘I’m Here To Help’ is on the phone.

All around me people are struggling with the self-service video tills. We have to scan our boarding cards into the things to buy chocolate. It’s insane, made more so by the bewildering chorus of several identical female computer voices announcing “Illegal item in the bagging area! Illegal item in bagging area!”

My heat is still up after my non-encounter with the check-in person, so after failing miserably to scan my boarding card into the damn machine, I try again:

“Help please. Human over here in need of help!”

By this time Sash Lady is off the phone and helping somebody else. I turn to ask her if she could help me too, when out of her mouth comes a noise:

 “Khuuughhk!”

Little Britain’s Vicky Pollard would be proud of her spitting hiss.

After venting my spleen to a sympathetic gentleman in the Whisky shop, I feel a little more human, and venture back to the departure lounge, where the screen declares my flight had been delayed again.

Again? Yes, let’s not forget the original delay-by-text, which made my arrival over four hours later than the flight I’d booked and paid for. Finally, having seen the Dublin flight that I could have booked take off, the only passengers left in the terminal are going either to Cork or Shannon.

If only I’d booked that Shannon flight, I’d have been able to drive home tonight.
It looked too late at the time.

Hah. Yes, I know. Life’s little ironies. They are so funny. Ha. Ha.

Ah well, at least I’ve a lovely corporate hotel bed waiting for me in Cork. A big modern firm bed in a bland wonderful plastic menu hotel.

Finally arriving back at Cork around midnight, I stumble to my hotel where I am given a room in which is a glorified Z-bed. This is the bed the cousin’s kids sleep on at Christmas. I’ve stayed at this chain before, know they’re good, so what is this crappy pathetic bed with no headboard or base? Having called reception to complain, I collapse, exhausted, onto the bed, hear it groan, squeak and complain (irony grudgingly accepted), while I stay cold all night.

The next morning I go to Reception to pay for my room service breakfast, only to be told by the receptionist that she’s really sorry about the bed. My complaint had been registered and she knew that this room wasn’t the best. They had just been trying to comply with my request on the booking form. Nevertheless, she says that the hotel want to pay for my breakfast. She also wants to let me know that she is sorry that the room wasn’t well heated. 

Could she please have my car park ticket, so that she can let the hotel pay for that as well?

She certainly can. Once again I’m reminded of why I love living in this country.
Irish Corporate Culture: 2 - Manchester Airport: 1

©Charlie Adley
21.11.13.