Monday 27 July 2015

Yes, I actually want what I ordered from you!

Why was it so difficult?

With Blue Bag sitting snug on Bennett’s back seat, I jump into my car and drive off. It’s 7:10 on Saturday morning. Yahoo! That time of year again, when the World visits Galway and I feel a strong desire to leave.

I do recall though that last year’s trip was bathed in sunshine. I think I was off waxing all lyrical and poetic about the gold and the green of the Irish Summer landscape.

This year it’s a proper Irish Summer landscape: you can’t see it. Impossible to tell if it’s a downpour, low cloud or that old fave: a soft day, the water is all around. If the Eskimos can have their words for snow, the Irish should have 40 shades of delay for their windscreen wipers.

South, through the tunnel through the clouds, into Cork and then the capital of the rebel county, where you have to do that mad going east to go west Ring Road thing. Although I do get lost in the Burren, for some reason forever sucked back to Miltown Malbay, I’ve a strong sense of direction muscle.

So as that cries “No! You are going the wrong way, you fool!” from my substantial gut, I do as advised by Cork City’s planners, and after a mind-stretching maze of filters and bewildering junctions that makes Galway look mildly sensible, I make it to the Guru’s house.

The rain is lashing and just as I hoped, my friend has no plans We need go nowhere, do nothing, so we will talk. We met in 1969, becoming firm friends in the early 1980s. Since then strands geographic, spiritual and emotional have intertwined our lives. We need not say much to find out a lot of each other, yet sometimes one will rant for hours.

On this trip, as the cloud touched the ground, the wind whipping up just enough to light a fire, we played cards for a day and a half, pausing between random hands to look round the Guru’s garden. 

He is a man who knows how to work with the land and gradually, bewitchingly, his patch is looking splendid.

First though we decide to make up the sofa bed. There, now that pulls out there and oh - lift - there, that’s it. Now this cushion here, and that one there, great.

The bed is out, secure and two of the three cushions are on it. There only remains the wedge cushion that runs along the top, where the pillows go.

There can only be so many different combinations of how that cushion might fit across the sofa bed, but I think it’s safe to say that over the next twenty minutes we tried each of them seven times, as we gradually collapsed with laughter.

No idea where it started. A glimpse in the eye maybe, acknowledging that this really should be very a very simple task, yet now there was the potential for absurdism and humour.

Who cares why? We laughed our socks off for ages, knees wobbling, lungs gasping, eyes squirting, until he - because, after all, he is the Guru - found a little slot of wood on a hinge that, if raised, might support the cushion.

Evidently the makers of the bed had discovered a design flaw beyond the last minute so this was their only solution. Thankfully, our souls benefited from their inefficiency. By the time we finally sat down at his kitchen table, to drink the first cup of legion teas, we felt as if not a minute had elapsed since our last time together.

A very special feature of my Blue Bag trips is the moving on. Instead of this being a flying visit to see my mate, I am on the road. 

In the dank darkness of a July Monday morning I drive through more clouds, dripping countryside, watching forlorn tourists clutching the doors of their rental cars in car parks, staring at the relentless grey, wondering what the hell they’re going to do with the kids today.

Around midday I arrive at a mobile home atop a Kerry cliff, where I’m spending the night with my excellent friend Angel. More tea is drunk, more gentle man to man, biscuits dunked, chins nodded in mutual support and appreciation.

As we sit and chat I watch out of his window as the cloud gradually lifts, until I’m looking at his everyday view, across the Atlantic ocean to the Kingdom’s rugged and sensual coastline. My friend has been through much, so it is truly wonderful to see that the smile on his face now reaches the far corners of his eyes.

The following day I head off to secure a solitary night for my own head, stopping off in Tralee for what I hope might be a leisurely lunch.

Instead I rage belligerent from pub to pub as I find it impossible to get a pint of Guinness and a cheese and ham toastie. Place after place try to sell me something I don't want, until I become a grumpy bastard, obsessed with getting exactly what I do want.

Obviously, the Guinness is no bother, but all the pubs want me to eat something they rate as ‘gourmet.’

Finally I find an old pub, in which the darkness promises much. Surely here, where local blokes are lounging around all casual like, nobody is trying to impress anybody in particular.

With his black apron around his waist he walks up to me.

“You look like a man on a mission!” he says, flashing his teeth at me.

“I am!” I reply. “I would like a pint of Guinness and a cheese and ham toastie, please.”

He turns to the bar and shouts for the pint and then he’s spreading his hands and telling me he’ll bring me the menu.

“Did you here what I asked for?’

“I did, but we have so much more to offer!” he declares.

“Not to me you don’t. Cancel that pint, I’m off to find somewhere you can get what you ask for!”

© Charlie Adley

Monday 20 July 2015


One of two 13lb salmon I managed to entice from the Pacific Ocean, 
thanks wholly to the skill and guidance of my friend...

It has to be said that I am a spectacularly bad fisherman, which is a great shame. As a pastime it would suit me down to the ground, as that’s where I like to be: on the ground.

Nothing pleases me more than time spent out in the open air, wrapped in verdant surroundings, glorying in the natural wonder that is the West of Ireland.

Fishing tempts me because it supplies an excuse to indulge myself in my favourite sport of spacing out, letting my mind go where it will.

Over the years I have dangled lines in all manner of water. I vainly cast a line into  the sea off New Zealand’s Coromandel peninsula, only to watch 6 year-old boys to my left and right pull up fish after fish with their hand lines. I fed the trout of Lough Anaserd, when I lived on its banks in Connemara, and as a teenager, I entertained the roach, bream and perch of Northwest London with my pathetic and fruitless efforts to catch them.

Whilst living in a house not 100 yards from the flag iris banks of Co. Mayo's Cloonaghmore River, I watched trout leap ostentatiously high in the air, not two feet from me. Once again I let my optimistic nature get the better of me.

How could I possibly live there and not fish? An hour later, with a bright orange float resting in the upper branches of a tree, I wrestled with hundreds of metres of tangled, knotted line. The hook had landed on my T-shirt and – ouch! –  no, it was worse than that.

Somehow I'd managed to hook my nipple. 

Great. Loads of dosh spent on fishing gear, long chats with the local experts in tackle shops to discover that I need this particular kit for my neighbouring stretch of river and while the fish take the piss by jumping and laughing, all I've succeeded in doing is polluting this bucolic environment and -  

OHMIGOD that HURTS so SO so much! - 

pierced the hook into one of my most sensitive bodily bits.

Even better, the Snapper chose this particular moment to come down and see how her He-Man was getting on with hunting dinner.
Fishermen in the village pubs had made it clear that I needed to start with a simple, cheap rod and reel. It was a matter of paying my dues, but I had my doubts.

The fine figure of a much younger scribbler 
 dangling a line in Australian waters, c. 1989. 

You see, I used to sell industrial chemicals for a firm that gave its salesmen ‘promotional giveaways’ to bribe customers. The more you sold, the better the ‘giveaways’ allocated to you. Needless to say, I sold only a paltry amount, and my ‘giveaway’ kit comprised a few broken bic biros and a half-eaten chicken sandwich.

Surely, as their least successful salesman, I needed the help of a large number of the best ‘giveaways’ around?

They didn’t see it like that. They just fired me, and now, several lifetimes later, I was applying my ‘Theory of Giveaways’ to my fishing struggle, concluding that it just felt wrong to be punching three squirty brown holes in a writhing worm, while the experienced fishermen were off using all the latest cool gear, wise flies and shiny lures.

I wanted to learn the right way to fish, with fly rod and centre pin reel and – oh damn and blast it! – while trying not to shear the nip off my nipple with the barb on the hook, I trod on and broke the handle off my reel on my first outing.

Screw this for a game of soldiers.

After more than three years in that house I finally caught a tiny trout, barely big enough to keep, which I rushed to the kitchen and ate within minutes. I savoured every butter fresh bite, but better than that was the barter.

I might not be much of a fisherman but I can scribble with the best of ‘em, and after helping a local couple with their planning permission appeal I found a box of home-grown lettuces, tomatoes and spring onions on my doorstep, beside a large parcel wrapped in silver foil.

A whole wild salmon! What a treat! No question of poaching or the like, Officer, because I have no idea who fished it. Just appeared on my doorstep, out of the blue. Must be the Little People, Officer. You know how they get this time of year.

When I lived in Northern California I went out for a day on a friend’s Boston Whaler. The two of us sailed 23 miles out into the Pacific Ocean and with the aid of my mate’s radar gizmos, we could tell where the fish were. Thanks to his skill and experience, we each caught two salmon over 13lb, and two was all our quota allowed, so we headed home.

Even though I walked tall into my apartment, a huge fish hanging off each hand, I couldn’t call the day an unqualified success. 

Usually almost obsessive about the dangers of sunburn and heatstroke, I’d forgotten to slather my face in sunblock when we left the shore at dawn.

That evening I was the guest from Hell at a dinner party, swaying and rolling around the room on jelly legs, with rigid brow and cheeks the colour of Ribena. The only part of my face that wasn’t damaged was my lips. Like an alien from Doctor Who, with a tiny mouth moving as I spoke, my face showed neither expression nor animation of any kind.

For the last few years I’ve lived less than 200 yards from the shores of Lough Corrib, yet my reel and rod are still unused. Seems so very wrong to be buying trout in the supermarket when there’s better fish much nearer to my home. I really should give it a go.

What harm can it do?

Floats in trees, lines in hedges, hooks in nipples, hmm, quite a lot of harm actually.

Maybe I’ll leave it to the experts and the 6 year-old children.

Charlie Adley

Wednesday 15 July 2015


 Local heroes John and Joe...

I never know whether to laugh or cry when I see headlines proclaiming how many millions of Euro this event or that festival will bring to Galway’s economy. Quite apart from the fact that after the Volvo Ocean Race finale there were many local people left out of pocket, the idea that cruise liners, events and festivals offer something special to Galwegians is missing the point entirely.

Of course it’s great that people from all over the world and every corner of this island flock to Galway City and county. Race Week would feel strangely empty if it was only attended by Galwegians, but it would still be an amazing festival, because it’s Galwegians that put the magic into any event, not the other way round.

When I arrived here Galway Arts Festival posters were created by the inimitable and irresistible Joe Boske. His wonderful depictions of our local flora, fauna and culture were as exciting and eccentric as the festival itself.

Joe Boske's great anthology - buy it!

In its present incarnation, sporting a logo that any multinational pharmaceutical conglomerate would be proud of, the Galway International Arts Festival is incredibly reliable and successful, taking its own productions on sell-out international tours.

However, as first illustrated by the success of Project ‘06 and the subsequent burgeoning Fringe Festival, down on the streets people feel sadly distanced from it.

Ah, and what streets they are! The perfect size for a city, in Galway you can walk everywhere, while if you want to explore the stunning countryside, nothing is more than 90 minutes away.
Quay Street offers the perfect rendezvous for tourists and locals alike and the river Corrib roars through the city centre like a bold artist’s signature at the foot of a painting.

Yet more than the geography of Galway, it’s Galwegians that offer the most. We’ll applaud your IronMan athletes. We’ll greet your Volvo yachts with the greatest welcome any sailor has seen in a century. We’ll host the entire nation for one week every August and everyone, from busker to billionaire will wear a grin and cross the cobbled streets with a spring in their step.

We’ll do all this because we thrill at human endeavour, appreciate the effort involved in throwing a party and love having a good time. Ask anyone in Ireland to sum up Galway in one word and I’ll put a penny to a pound that they say:


Galwegians know better than any others how to go with the flow. Arrangements are for sissies round here. You go out and let the evening happen. As you walk though the city, take a look at the other people on the street and notice how many are smiling. I have lived in London, Melbourne and San Francisco: some of the world’s most splendid cities, yet nowhere have I seen such apparently happy people.

I say ‘apparently’ because you wouldn’t want to be asking too many Galwegians if they’re happy. They’ll keep your ear busy all day explaining why they can’t be complaining, now, ‘cos nobody’d listen.

The reason that Galway hosts so many festivals, attracts the cruise liners and the coach parties is that we have a unique combination of charisma and creativity. In this city and county we have a plethora of painters, playwrights, boatbuilders and banjo players. We’ve sculptors, singers, stonemasons and horse trainers. We've fiddlers aplenty and poets. We’ve actors and scribblers coming out of our ears. We’ve film makers and food-foraging chefs offering culinary slices of cutting-edge cooking.

We’ve a spirit that others find incredibly attractive and contrary to the misconception that Galway is the graveyard of ambition, we’ve a collective buzz in the seat of our pants to get out there and give it a go.

For those people who can’t stand crowds, or those times when what you need is a moment’s peaceful reflection and inspiration, take a walk along the prom to Salthill and look across the bay to the purple hills of County Clare.

Stick out your thumb, jump on a bus or drive, but whatever you do: head west. You don’t need a huge ocean cruiser stacked with American tourists to make Connemara look stunning.

Wherever you roam out there you’ll see the Twelve Pins, mountains smoothed down by ancient ice to resemble God’s own fruit bowl. Walk on the white coral sands of Dog's Bay, Gurteen and Mannin Strand. Get out of your car and sit on a rock and watch small clouds whipping across a blue sky, their shadows racing over the sides of the mountains, over the surfaces of the glacial lakes and dashing rivers, picking out the nuances of the hillsides and the movement of the water.

That’ll do it. The coldest of souls could not fail to fall in love with our landscape. Look toward the Atlantic Ocean from the top of the hill behind An Spidéal and see all three Aran Islands in their rugged defiance. To the distant south the Cliffs of Moher and the sensual curve of Black Head, guarding the end of Galway Bay.

Dries your mouth and fills you with gratitude.

A few weeks ago I was chatting to another of Galway’s adopted sons, Little John Nee, about Galway’s bid to win the 2020 City of Culture nomination. I was worried that it might turn out as so often before, with locals getting screwed while major corporations cleaned up.

John’s response was a cocktail that summed up this place: equal parts optimistic, energetic and enthusiastic, as he talked I felt that nobody better embodied the strengths of Galway.

I remember watching him years ago, walking in the middle of the road with a suitcase, using his wit and warmth to excite the vast Arts Festival crowds, as the tremendous uproar, chaos and wonder of the Macnas Arts Festival Parade approached close behind him.

That’s why festivals love Galway: not so they might offer us something, but because of people like John Nee and people like you, reading this now, who have so much to offer.

©Charlie Adley

Thursday 9 July 2015

If you can't laugh at yourself you're missing out on so much humour!


My brain

Last weekend I had one of the best laughs I’ve had for months, entirely at my own expense. Had there been nobody else in the house I’d still have laughed out loud, repeatedly, interspersing my chuckles with mumbles about how I do not bloody believe myself sometimes ... what an idiot I can be ... that kind of malarkey.

A friend who’s leaving Galway to move back to the States was visiting and I planned to celebrate the occasion with a nice bit of roast rib of beef on the bone, Yorkshire pudding, the works.

Leaving home to pick up our guest deliberately early, I enjoyed a couple of sunny Saturday afternoon hours sitting on Quay Street, watching the Galway Shuffle. 

What a great place Galway is. I’ve invested very little into the place for years, yet so many faces and friends stopped to chat, a glow appeared inside my soul.

Unfortunately the heat of my love for my fellow humans is always the vanguard of a desire to experience that other glow, the one which arises from the consumption of whiskey. Alas no, I couldn’t. I was driving. While all around me swigged bottles of cider, pints of cold lager and shots of whiskey, I sat nursing my mug of tea.

By the time we returned to my gaff, it’s fair to say the Summer heat and city dust had combined to create a thirst. I had to open a bottle of red for the gravy, so I thought I’d open the Bordeaux to let it breathe, and then, while I was at it, why not open that lovely Californian red too?

‘I mean, come on!’ I thought to myself, ‘It’s 4 in the afternoon and there’s a long night ahead.’

While our friend and the Snapper caught up with all their news in the living room, I peeled spuds and drank a little California red, sealed the meat and slurped, chopped the veg and swallowed a drop more.

As my soundtrack to the cooking, I had the commentary of the big match on the radio. Outside the kitchen window Shaggy the donkey was living up to his name, his member trailing the ground, while 

Brownie, his supposed mate, remained steadfastly indifferent. She waited until he climbed onto her back, then walked a few steps forward, just far enough to let him know to bugger off and leave her alone, without exerting herself unnecessarily.

Donkeys, stone walls and green fields out of the window, roast beef, red wine and live sport on the radio: I was in heaven, with my wife and friend in the other room.

Perchance ‘twas time for another wee slurpeen.

Oh. Oops.

The Californian was gone.

‘Ah well, that’s okay,’ I told myself, ‘We’ve plenty more and I didn’t drink the whole bottle anyway. The roasting pan got a good glug or three for deglazing.’

I reached for the Bordeaux.

Hmmm, lovely drop.

Everything was building to a crescendo. Roast dinners are easy, but there’s a certain amount of stress involved in a Yorkshire pudding. Temperatures and cooking times, which can be adjusted for meat, become rigid and precise.

When the veg hit the heat I know it’s ten minutes to serving time. Time to fly and focus. All my culinary cylinders are Go with a capital G.

The Snapper comes in and says she’s going to take Lady Dog out for a peeper, so that we can eat and relax after dinner.

Perfect my love.

Five minutes later she’s back in to announce the dog has gone. 

During a game of ball Lady took a notion and had it on her legs into the bushes. Experience tells me this is not the moment to wonder aloud why it was a good idea to play a game with the dog at two minutes to dinner, but I want to.

The other two go off to find Lady while I look at the oven and the saucepans and wonder what the hell to do.

The Snapper's mobile on the kitchen table starts ringing over and over again, so I know a neighbour has found our dog and all is well.

The Yorkshire and the meat are burned but edible. The dog is shut in another room in disgrace while we stuff our faces and drink more wine.

Later, after the dishes are done and the dog has been reconciled and forgiven, I decide that in the morning I’ll drop some cut flowers from the garden down to our neighbour, to thank her for catching Lady Dog and saving the day.

Thinking I’m way smarter than I actually am, I explain to my friend that I’m going to write a reminder to myself to do that and put it on the kitchen table, because I know that the day after I’ve had a drink or three, my memory is like a colander.

The next morning I ooze my way into the kitchen to see on the table a piece of paper, upon which is written very clearly and underlined:


For a few minutes the silence of the Sunday morning is broken. Unable to stop myself laughing out loud, I wonder at my befuddled stupidity.

While our guest and the Snapper would doubtless have preferred to sleep longer, there are worse ways to wake up than to the sound of this scribbler mocking his own idiocy.

© Charlie Adley