Monday 31 August 2015

Sad confessions of an eccentric marmalade eater!

I have a confession to make. Last week in this colyoom I was fluffing my feathers and strutting my liberal stuff all Right On Man and Hey Dude style about how material goods meant nothing to me; how all I needed was time, peace and meadowsweet.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, this sanctimonious scribbler was going to unusual lengths and a fair bit of trouble to order an entire case of material goods, in the shape of marmalade.

Yep, you read that right. The orangey spread you put on your toast. 
Not a very important ingredient in the recipe of life you might well think, and I’d fully agree. Sometimes my behaviour surprises me too, not always in a good way.

For years I bought the Chivers Olde English, and when that disappeared from the shelves I switched to Marks and Sparks’ equivalent, until they changed their recipe, turning a supposed spread into a solid glutinous lump. 

Scanning the supermarket shelves I spotted a dark thick cut marmalade made by a County Cork company called Folláin, which was splendid.

Just as you might now be wondering how long you can sustain any interest in my marmaladey prattlings, I had never wasted a moment of my valuable time thinking about the stuff.

Why would I, in a lifetime that offers love and disease, war and joy and football?

I hadn’t and didn’t, right up to the time when the supermarkets stopped stocking Folláin’s dark thick cut.

Only old fogeys such as your scribbler like bitter marmalade with chunky peel. In the world of marmalade (I know, that sounds so sad) the trend is most definitely towards a sweet pale peel-free gunk.

I tried others brands and found them sadly lacking, which is the point at which a man of healthy mind would settle either for the least disgusting brand or just let the whole thing go.

Yet for some reason I didn’t. Despite lists a metre long of genuinely important things I must do, I found myself studying the label of my last bottle of Folláin, looking for contact information.

At the same time as I checked the label, a niggling worry ran around my brainbox. My behaviour was becoming a mite odd. Had 
I now officially left behind the realms of ‘Quirky’ and strayed into the great plains of ‘Eccentricity’?

Doubtless many of you who know me will take great pleasure in reassuring me that I left eccentricity behind ages ago and have lived long in the land of ‘Weirdo.’

Most people seem to believe that being eccentric sounds fun, but as it turns out, eccentricity is a very subjective matter.

Writers of period drama portray the classic English eccentric as a happy human cocktail of haphazard disorder and benevolence, but my experience of the type was very different, burned into my being at Prep School.

Unlike proper State schools, English Preparatory and Public Schools do not require their teachers to be qualified. Any kind of degree from an Oxbridge university will see you given a job, with control over a class of 7 year-old boys and access to dormitories, within a culture where corporal punishment is seen as a damn fine thing.

Throughout my education I was taught by eccentrics, some of whom were marvellous and inspiring, others dark and sadistic.

One of my teachers was a barrel-shaped being nicknamed ‘Bippy’. With his trouser waist up to his nipples, his neckless anaemic sweaty head as amorphous as a deflated balloon, he would stand in front of me, raise his magnifying glass to his eyes and squeak in his whiny high pitched voice:

“Boy! Are you a good detective?”

If you saw him near a playground you’d call the cops, but he was harmless; just eccentric and ineffectual.

Then there was Mr. Brown, with his crazy mess of curly grey hair, who used to come to class brandishing a size 13 gym shoe.

“Boys, this is Whhhhhistling Whhhhinny. Any trouble out of you and you’ll feel the force of Whistling Whinny and you will not like it. You will not.”

Although teachers’ nicknames offered important clues to us boys, I failed to take heed and stay away from the biology teacher known as ‘Anus Ganus.’ 

Those memories stayed repressed for over 40 years, drifting for the first time into my consciousness as I drove through Connemara 5 years ago.

Clearly a stark border exists between harmless eccentric souls and sexual abusers, but my exposure to such a medley of madness throughout my youth has made me suspicious of ‘eccentric’ as a notion.

Hence my misgivings about ordering the marmalade. While it’s doing no harm (except to my waistline) it does seem excessive to order it privately. Smacks of aristocratic behaviour. Oh yes, Master Charlie, he has his marmalade delivered so he does, from County Cork it comes, because there’s no other marmalade that’ll do for him. Very particular, Master Charlie is, so he is.

Then there’s my friend Jane to consider, who rightly ridiculed me for writing about cheese and ham toasties a while back. In the face of worldwide famine and deprivation, she was disgusted that I might ponder such a First World problem. Thing is, that’s where I live (just about!) and hell, if marmalade is as batty as I become, I can live with it.

After a couple of chats on the phone to Folláin, I sent an order and a cheque by mail, for a case of 12 jars.

All this preserve acquisition activity clashes just the teensiest bit with my plan to lose weight by giving up bread, but hey, that’s the price of eccentricity I suppose.

Having gone out of my way to source and purchase something that most folk wouldn't waste a moment on, have I finally found pleasure in shopping?

Have I become materialistic? Well maybe just a little.

Quite possibly right now, somewhere in rural Ireland, there’s an eccentric scribbler leaping up and down yelling:

“Yay! My marmalade has arrived!”

©Charlie Adley

Sunday 23 August 2015


Stuff doesn’t matter that much to me. I don’t drift through life wishing I owned this car or that washing machine. When I lived in the USA, I failed to feel compensated for my long working hours and lack of holiday time by buying stuff.

Everyone else I knew, intelligent sensitive people, raised their pulses as they clutched shopping bags and ordered items for delivery, while I simply dreamed of a couple of days off.

Eventually I decided to give consumerism a go, so I took myself downtown and walked into the Virgin Megastore, determined to buy movies and music. After hours browsing I left with two DVDs and a CD, but felt neither excitement nor fulfilment.

Owning things doesn’t bring me happiness, but free time to sit and stare, to scribble, to walk myself into a sweat along the bohreens of Co. Galway, between the meadowsweet, purple loosestrife and fuchsia laden with orchestras of buzzing bees: all of the above bring me joy.

There is one reliable way in which I combine the spending of money and time to pleasurable effect, as I did the other week when 
I spent a solitary evening wandering the streets and pubs of a small town in west Clare, observing, participating and thoroughly enjoying myself.

Walking into the town early on a Summer’s evening, the stench of chip fat hangs heavy on the air. For a moment the gloopy aroma is almost overpowering, but then I turn a corner and 
- Phew! Breathe! - it’s gone.

In front of me is a familiar parade of pubs. Which is offering the real Ireland in this tourist haven tonight? Sadly one of the larger hotels in the town has closed down, so I slide into the bar next door to find it almost empty, save for two very obliging bar staff trying to ignore the two regular customers sat at the bar.

Ordering my Jameson I sit quietly, relishing this moment of public privacy. However it soon becomes clear that I cannot ignore the heated conversation going on to my right. 

Sitting on his barstool, wearing a tweed jacket and a pair of eyebrows as white and crazily wild as an Atlantic breaker in a Winter storm, yer man is trying to explain to his mate how the government has sold Ireland to global corporations.

Standing in front of him, tall and lithe, sporting a weary worry-heavy facial expression and a complexion that’d make a beetroot appear anaemic, his mate looks as if he’s heard it all before.

The debate, diluted substantially by the amount of drink on the two men, is reduced to that essentially Irish form of communication, in which there is an Insister and a Resister. What is said matters less than pulling off a victory, and the lads make a great cabaret.

“So, now listen to me, listen, so when you go down d’Lidl and pay 7 euros for a can of mackerel, the lads back in Germany will be paying 4 euros for the same thing. D’ya see? That’s how da government's ripping us off, offering these companies the chance to put their prices up.”

“But I don’t go to d’Lidl. I do me shoppin’ at d’Aldis.”

“Okay okay, same as. If you’d be buying the same mackerel in d’Aldis, it’d be cheaper in Germany than it is here.”

“Feckin’ long way to go to get a can of mackerel, and who’d be paying that anyway, when you can hang a milk bottle top off the rocks and rake them in outa the sea?”

“You’re missing the point, so.”

Dunno, looks like you’re the one missing the point, going all the way to Germany to spend 4 Euros on a can of mackerel.”

“I’m not sayin’ anything like that. Jeeze Mikey, sometimes ye can be terrible slow. It’s the government, that shower of cunts which is ripping off d’Irish consumers and selling d’nation to d’highest bidder. That’s what I’m saying.”

“So what about the mackerel?”

“Forget about the feckin’ fish. The fish is irrelevant. Can ye just try to understand a simple political truth?”

“No need to get heated. You’re the one who shtarted on about the fish. Anyways sometimes I do go to Dunnes to do me shopping, so’s I keep my money in the country, d’y’see?”

“But Dunnes are the ones ripping off their staff. Ye shouldn't be shopping there at all.”

“So if I can’t go to Dunnes, d’Lidls or d’Aldis, where am I meant to go?”

“I don’t give a monkey’s where you get your shopping. I’m just trying to explain a simple thing to ye and you’re not getting it.”

“Did you ever think that maybe it’s too simple? I prefer a more soph-histicated argument, myself, so.”

Just when they appear unstoppable, they both suddenly fall silent, raise their heads and shuffle towards the TV with quasi-religious reverence.

All hail the powerful forces of Met Eireann’s weather forecast.

As Gerry Murphy delivers his meteorological sermon of gales, thunder and lightning, another an auld fella walks into the bar from the jacks, casually tucking in his shirt and doing his belt up, as if he were in his own home rather than a public bar.

Licking his lips, his eyes are focused, his chin stretched forwards as he concentrates on the multitasking demands of walking across the room, breathing, thinking, belt tightening and tucking in all at once.

Spotting a stranger in the ranks he turns to look challengingly at me. Raising his chin and almost snarling, he declares:

“Tourist, hear me! See that! Storms the man says, so stay away from the beach! That’s all I’m saying.”

Not one part of me can be bothered to explain that I've lived here nearly 25 years. Tonight I’m an English tourist, and that suits me fine. 

Buying DVDs doesn’t do it for me. This is the way I love to combine my time and money: sitting on a barstool; a part of it while apart from it, revelling in the humanity of it all.

©Charlie Adley

Sunday 16 August 2015



As a pumped-up political prima donna in the early 1980s I’d talk long and loud of the evils of something called the ‘Military Industrial Complex’. Back then in my early 20s the world seemed so simple, so black and white. It was completely clear to me that wars were wholly avoidable but essential, as they provided shop windows for the world’s latest military products. 

How were some of the planet’s wealthiest manufacturing corporations going to sell their latest fighters, computer-controlled missiles and stealth bombers, if nobody had the chance to see them in action?

Remember the First Gulf War? No no no, not the real First Gulf War between Iraq and Iran. That one doesn’t count any more, because in that one the West supported Saddam Hussein, so now we try to forget that. I’m talking about the second First Gulf War, the one called ‘Desert Storm’, when the United Forces of Democracy liberated Kuwait, leaving skeletons and scorched earth along the road to Baghdad.

Yeh, that one. Don’t tell me you weren’t impressed the first time you saw footage of smart bombs. There on your tele was a live picture of a house thousands of feet away from the plane that shot the missile that flew into the window and hit the very person it was meant to hit. Unless it was cloudy, when the gizmo didn’t work, or those times when the guy was out playing dominoes up the road with his mates and they just killed his wife and children instead.

Part amazed, part horrified, you watched as the height of killing technology combined with Sky TV to produce live warfare in your living room. Thankfully you’re not a psychopathic dictator sitting on a pile of oil money, because if you were, your finger would be aiming directly to dial McDonnell Douglas and say yes please, you’d like to order 20 of those planes and all the missiles you might ever need.

State-of-the-art killing machines don’t come cheap. We’re talking billions here, serious chunks of green folding that can make or break a developing economy. It’s no surprise that the UK’s royal family are often the ones to visit prospective arms buyers. When you’re selling apocalyptic weaponry you’d be wise to send your Head of State to press the punters’ flesh.

Sadly, it turns out all those ‘Military Industrial Complex theories I spouted as an idealistic young lefty were right. After the Berlin Wall came down I wondered who might be our next enemy. Spanky new weapons were still being made but there was no war suitable to use them in, and then in 1998, while living in California, I saw Osama bin Laden.

“That’s him!” I shouted out loud and prescient, as soon as I saw a photo of a wizened bearded man flash up on the TV news. “Look at that face. Remember him. He’s our new enemy. We’ve just been given a new person to hate.”

Since then that enemy’s name has changed a few times but the message is clear: with the Cold War long gone, the Military Industrial Complex needs a new enemy, and the War on Terror is perfect.

Call it Osama, call it Al Qaeda, call it ISIS, call it what you will. In Orwell’s 1984 he called it Goldstein. I’m calling it the relentless indefatigable enemy, who you can no more defeat than destroy an idea.

We’re not stupid, even though our leaders and media treat us as such. We know that you don’t cure terrorism by dropping bombs on the Middle East. We know that’s like sowing seeds to destroy a crop.

The War on Terror will run as long as each side wants. If we truly wanted peace we would simply stop attacking them, but there has to be a shop window for those weapons.

To justify such dreadful expense while your Auntie’s been on a waiting list for dialysis for six months, they have to ram the terror down our throats, ears and eyeballs on every news program, newspaper and radio show, every day of our lives.

We must be made to feel afraid, so that we accept the need to be protected by our rulers attacking others.

Quite accidentally President Obama let slip a great truth a couple of weeks ago. Speaking to the BBC, he was arguing yet again and most nobly for gun control legislation in the United States:

“If you look at the number of Americans killed since 9/11 by terrorism, it's less than 100. If you look at the number that have been killed by gun violence, it's in the tens of thousands.”

Terrifying and tragic statistics for domestic America, but as Michael Moore showed so eloquently in his film Bowling for Columbine Canada actually has more guns per capita than the USA, yet a minuscule murder rate. 

Unlike Americans, Canadians live in a collectivist society with a safety net, whereas in the USA, fear is a way of life.

Fear of losing your home, your job, your doctor and dentist, because there’s nowhere to turn when things go wrong. That fear is then stretched towards others who might take what you have: those terrorists; that indefatigable relentless enemy.

Yet we heard it straight from the President’s mouth. Less than 100 Americans killed by terrorists in the last 14 years. Last year alone, 450 Americans died by falling out of bed, but there’s not much money to be made from a War On Falling-Out-Of-Bedism.

The Shop Window Wars cost hundreds of thousands of innocent lives around the world. To justify this our leaders, along with the global corporations who lead them insist we endure a portrayal of the War on Terror, which goes on and on, daily assaulting our senses, constantly darkening our hearts and fencing in our minds.

This bombardment of the public with the War on Terror serves only to create terror and perpetuate war. Is there a finer definition of terrorism?

©Charlie Adley

Wednesday 12 August 2015

A little inefficiency can be a good thing!

There’s all manner of fancy pants compost making drums, rollers, boxes and barrels you can buy, but your colyoomist doesn’t bother with any of that clobber. 

I’ve a bin in the back room for food waste, egg cartons and the odd shredded newspaper, while outside along the hedge there’s grass cuttings, garden waste and the compost itself.

After mixing the three ingredients I cover it with a strong plastic sheet and let nature perform miracles. 
 little and large, best of mates...

Some say it’s hard to create enough heat unless you invest in some flash gear, but under the surface my mountain of damp grass cuttings are in a perpetually smouldering state (oooerrr missis! Behave!)

Slap that unctuous black grey green sludge into the mix and we’re cooking with gas; just not sure which one.

However, after spreading last year’s compost on my beds and shrubbery, around the apple saplings and soft fruit bushes, I noticed that marigold and poppy seedlings were sprouting up.
 Evidently those steaming clods of grassy goo hadn’t produced enough heat to kill the seed from last Autumn's dead-heading.

The Snapper's cornucopia....

How bloomin’ splendid! Now the daring purple of the Snapper’s prolific perennial sweet peas are contrasted by a carpet of orange calendula below, courtesy of the inefficiency of my compost making. 

Better still: under, up, around and into the apple saplings we planted three years ago are growing marigold and poppy, out of the mulch laid there to feed and protect the trees.

 There be apples in there, there be...

Unexpected, free and beautiful: not a combination that often goes together, yet had I taken expert advice, there’d be no extra colour; no thrill of this gift from nature.

It has taken until this fourth Summer living here to finally be able to enjoy the work and love invested in this patch.

Staring back at me under an ever-increasing amount of weedy rubble is the black mypex sheet that should have been my veggie patch many moons ago, but no, I’m not going there. 

Instead of punishing myself for failing to build raised beds three years in succession, I harvest all our raspberries, blackcurrants and gooseberries. 

Rather than feel perpetually guilty about what I haven’t done, I stare in wonder at the purple, yellow, red and golds in the shrubbery and drop my jaw in awe as I look up above me, where Oaky’s branches reach for the heavens. 


When I first met him he was a one-leaf stick in a 3-inch pot. Now he’s an arboreal teenager, somewhere between sapling and mature adult.

Despite a terrible July I have gleaned some joy from this Summer. Although it’s hard to believe now, after four weeks of wet wind and lit evening fires, but June was dry. It was cold and breezy but it was dry, enough to promise a season that failed to emerge. I just love being out there, under the big sky, alone and at peace. 

Human contact is not normally something I crave, but recently I’ve come to develop a yearning for checkout people. Those who sit by tills and beep your shopping, tally the price and take your money.

Instead we are now presented by banks of self-service scanners, serving as age detectors to the likes of this middle-aged man. Were they efficient I wouldn’t mind, but invariably something goes wrong and I have to 'Seek Assistance.'

Then I’m engaging one to one with a real human being and wondering why those checkout jobs were cut in the first place. If you have to employ people to stand around and help, why not just re-create those checkout jobs and let us customers enjoy a little service?

Must confess though, something inside me strongly suspects this is more a matter of me being an old fuddy-duddy. Were I a teenager I think I’d use the self-service and be gone with no bother.

One night, before we tragically lost our airport, I was in Manchester Airport waiting for the late flight back to Galway. The terminal was almost empty, and in WH Smith one woman stood behind a counter.

I wandered in, picked up a sandwich and made for the till, where herself insisted she could not serve me. I had to use the self-service scanner.

Was she seriously refusing to serve the only customer in acres of airport?

I asked her what on earth she was doing there? She said she was there to help me if something went wrong with the self-service scanner.

With my brain spinning in reels of ridiculousness I tried and failed to scan my boarding card into the bloody machine. Turning to call for her to help, my circuits nearly blew a fuse.

Yes, sometimes inefficiency is incredibly annoying. Sometimes I really want people to help me out, to serve me and make me feel a tiny winy bit pleased to part with my money.

More importantly I don’t want to see good honest jobs unnecessarily replaced by machines.

However, all is not lost. On my last trip to London I was in the queue for WH Smith’s self-service scanners in Heathrow's Terminal 2, when an employee approached me.

“Excuse me sir. Are you just buying that newspaper?”

“Yes, why?” I asked suspiciously, anticipating his telling me about that day’s super-dooper buy a newspaper get fifteen bottles of water free deal.

“Well sir, if that’s all you want, you can use our honesty box.”

Do what? An honesty box at Heathrow Airport’s spanky super-modern new terminal, where security demands they scan your boarding card each time you fart.

He showed me the slot by the newspaper stand, into which I slipped my coins and left, feeling reassured and delighted that there was hope for us as a species.

Even though I’m aware of the phenomenon that occurs whereby, due to the wondrous nature of humankind, honesty boxes actually tend to make a profit for retailers,

I’m in love with this planet of unexpected poppies and marigolds and honesty boxes at Heathrow Airport.

1,004 words
©Charlie Adley

Monday 3 August 2015


As I drove out of Galway on last week’s Blue Bag trip I noticed that there were traffic cones at Dead Tiger Roundabout. Between Oranmore and Clarinbridge, the roundabout serves as a stunningly apt monument to greed and excess. 

Created to serve a housing estate that was never built, it goes nowhere and offers no purpose.  Hopefully those cones meant that it was finally being removed.

Watching the rise and demise of the Celtic Tiger was painful for me, as I’d already lived through the construction-based Boom and Bust economy of Thatcher’s Britain. The Irish had never had it so good, embracing the lure of monetary wealth with the fresh gusto of a puppy trying to catch a bee.

So now, after the sting and the crash, beyond ghost estates built on flood plains, there lurks this circular mausoleum to Mammon. 

Doubtless behind its creation smoulder disputes between developers, councils, banks and builders, but to you and me it’s a pointless waste of time and money.

For years I have dreamed of creeping up in the dead of night and mounting a large sign, declaring ‘Dead Tiger Roundabout’, above which I’d place a full colour cut-out of a very large very dead green tiger, all four paws pointed straight to the sky.

At least giving it a name would offer some purpose to the roundabout. Maybe as we drove past the sign and giant upturned cat, we’d smile and think back, possibly learning something of our own absurd natures.

It didn't help when they awarded the pointless roundabout a signpost, all flashing digital lights and colours, warning: Slow Down - Roundabout Ahead.

We all mindlessly follow all the other traffic who have no choice but to go straight on, wondering whether we should indicate, before deciding that there’s no bloody point.

Has anyone spared even a moment for the roundabout itself? How do you think it might feel to be a roundabout that nobody needs? Unless utterly lost, nobody will ever drive all the way around it. How much existential angst might a roundabout with no turnoffs suffer?

More to the point, what right do I have to be wasting your time with such nonsense?

The maxim tells us that time is money, but here in the West of ireland the two do not have the same relationship as elsewhere. At any given time I’d say around 40% of my workload  consists of unpaid labour. Of that, three quarters I do willingly, because I know many who have serious needs or great skills other than writing.

At the end of Europe’s western road there still exists the economic force of ‘What Goes Around Comes Around’, for which there is no app. You cannot formalise a nebulous arrangement, so with friends and others who make it clear from the off that they cannot afford to pay me, I’m happy to help.

This work I do without hoping that something might come of it down the road, but rather the faith that it might, coupled with the pure and simple pleasure of helping another.

However the final quarter of my unpaid workload gives me no pleasure at all. Quite often it seems that the more money people have, the more willing they are to waste your time.

Regularly I receive calls from clients saying that they really want to do my ‘Craft of Writing’ course, but they haven’t the time to attend classes. I then explain that I also offer bespoke 1-1 courses, designed to fit busy lifestyles. When I point out that the 1-1 course is more expensive than my group classes, they tell me that’s fine.

Earlier this year, one character even uttered the words:

“Money is not a problem, Charlie.”

That’s not something you hear too often. As an astute friend of mine pointed out at the time, just because dosh wasn’t a problem to them didn't mean any of it was about to head my way.

Invariably these types say the 1-1 course sounds perfect, but several phone calls later it turns out that this year’s not a good year for them. A year later they call again. This time they say they’re certain, so I drive into Galway to meet them, listen to what they want and design their course accordingly.

Then I hear nothing at all. Eventually I politely enquire as to whether they are interested and it turns out that this year is not a good year for them, but would I be interested in doing some work for them for free?


A member of the Oireachtas contacts me offering ‘writing opportunities.’ After wasting a working day while they change arrangements, we eventually meet. They ramble semi-coherently about do-gooding schemes, wittering half-formed ideas about helping the kiddies. They suggest nothing, offer less and promise to send me reports that are inevitably never sent.

I leave wondering what on earth they wanted from the meeting.
Why had they called me? What opportunities had I missed?

None. They were just wasting my time, because they could afford to.

Sadly the death of the Tiger has had no effect on those in power and privileged positions. They care no more than they ever did, possessing precious little awareness of the needs of Patricia and Pat Public. Maybe it’s silly of me to hope they might, but hey, at least there were cones at Dead Tiger Roundabout.

Maybe by the time I return to Galway the depressingly stupid carousel will be gone.

As I drive up towards it I notice that yellow slow-down stripes have been freshly painted across the roads and - no, surely not! - new concrete pavements have been built around it, so that anyone who is leaving the housing estate that doesn’t exist can walk around the roundabout that goes nowhere.

How they can justify spending yet more money on such a pointless waste of time?

Then again, maybe such an investment in futility was inevitable.

©Charlie Adley