Sunday 18 October 2015


Your very own hitch-hiking space cadet, 
courtesy of the excellent Allan Cavanagh of Caricatures Ireland

If you’re standing next to doctor at a party it’s hard not to mention your back pain, or your son’s allergies. In the same way, as a scribbler, people are always coming up to me with broad smiles and exuberant enthusiasm, announcing:

“Hey, I’ve got something for you to write about!”

It’d be plain ignorant not to listen to them, but more often than not their suggested material is exceptionally personal. While they think they’d like to see their tale of woe splashed over the media, 9 times out of 10 I don’t want the responsibility of being the bearer of their news, so I simply suggest that they should write about it themselves.

A hurt look appears in their eyes as they feel rejected, so then I have to rub salve on their wound.

“It’ll sound better coming from you. You feel it more!” I explain. “Send it to me when you’re done and I’ll edit it for you if you like.”

What mystifies me though is the tacit feeling among others that I might be suffering from a shortage of things to write about. Clearly their offers come from a benign and well-intentioned place, but do I approach architects and suggest houses they might build? Do I wander into a butcher’s and ask if I can cut up a carcass?

More to the point, do they really suppose that in a world crammed with 7 billion humans, there might ever be a lack of material?

Regular colyoomistas might by now be familiar with the way I describe our species as comprised of the ‘4 Effs of Humanity', but for you newbies out there it works like this: all of us are Freaked Out (life is scary), Fucked Up (we were raised by other humans), Fallible (yes very) and Fantastic (something we all too readily forget).

Given that unique cocktail of horror and joy, humans present themselves as the perfect inspiration for this scribbler.

Sitting outside Tigh Neactains on this rare sunny afternoon, I’m watching life in many of its forms on Galway TV. When I first arrived here in 1992, Galway was a city with a tourist season. Now it is very much a tourist city. 20 years ago the only class of tourist you’d find on the streets of the city at this time of year were well-off Americans whose kids had gone off to college.

Now coach parties parade along Quay Street, each pair walking next to and behind the others, as if still in position on the bus. With earplugs relating audio descriptions and phones raised to film shaky videos and take way more photos than they’ll ever need, these tourists are physically here, yet more involved in the process of visiting than being in the place.

Part of me wants to leap out my chair and point them all to the empty seats.

“Sit down and relax!” I might implore them if I were a much more friendly man. “This is the West of Ireland. You need to watch and chill out to truly sample our pleasures.”

That’d be great, save for the fact that they are all genuinely happy doing it their way. Not everyone enjoys sitting and doing nothing.

Yet really, in my stillness I’m as far from doing nothing as those rushing around very visibly doing lots.

The secret lies in the brainbox. Some people can process their lives on the go. Others like myself need time to sort it all out in the head, time to listen, watch and learn from others, time to stop and try to make some sense of this short sojourn we call life.

Some skills we nurture from childhood. I’ve always had the ability to space out, to stare at nothing in particular, while simultaneously contemplating everything.

At school I sat close to a window and was often reprimanded for not paying attention. In the fantastically egocentric way that 13 year-olds view the world, I used to feel unjustly accused: I had been paying attention. In fact I’d been incredibly focused, just not on whatever the teacher was warbling about.

It was the tall blade of grass outside the window that had earned my attention. That long plume of green leaf swaying in the breeze fascinated the hell out of me.

How old was it?
Why had it grown so much higher than all the other grassy stuff around it?
Had an animal poohed there and helped it grow?
How long was it going to survive, sticking out above all the other grass in that wind?
If I watched long enough would I see it fall over?
If I made funny contortions inside my brain, could I make it explode like that girl Carrie in the Stephen King book?

Boredom is a stranger to me. Everything is fascinating.

Doubtless this aptitude helped me enjoy the many roads I hitched. After the first 100,000 miles I stopped counting, but for years I was happy standing by the side of a road, in the middle of absolutely nowhere for hours, enjoying a view that maybe nobody had ever seen.

Eventually a car would stop, but for as long as it took, I’d stand there, loving my place in the world and the world’s place in my life.

It’s that mental skill - or failing - that helps me to pass time waiting for trains and planes. Put me in an airport or a station and I’ll happily pass time for many hours in a relaxed and happy fashion.

When I tire of watching people, my eyes stray to a window, where they’ll find a leafless tree, swaying in the distance. Doesn’t it look like an upside-down lung?

Now, thankfully, I’ve found my home, so I say thanks to all the people who have walked and lived before me. Thanks to all you who rush by, in such a hurry.

Maybe one day you might try stopping and let the world pass you by: it’s inspiring.

©Charlie Adley

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