Sunday 30 October 2016

The best mysteries are left unexplained...

Dammit dammit dammit! I knew I should have gone to the loo before I left Sligo, but I didn’t, and now I’m driving along with certain muscles very clenched, waving my knees around in frustration.

There’s a car in front of me and a car behind me on this two lane twisty road to Ballina. This night offers no moon, a thin veil of cloud obscuring stars, so beyond our tiny convoy of light the world is invisible, lost in a pit of utter blackness.

Nope. Not going to make it to Ballina. Have to stop.

MmmMummaMOOooerrr - soon!

Headlights behind, brake lights in front, no time to escape from the middle of this three car train travelling at 60 mph, impossible to pull over safely into the cavernous darkness, but I have to.

Ah, there’s a turning on the left.

Indicating, I pull out, hardly time to brake and - whoahh! - too fast, swerve wildly across the side road, kicking dust, mud and gravel into the air as I brake hard.

Finally at rest on the verge. Nothing broken, no harm done, but as I turn off the engine and take a well-earned breath, I sense something in the air.

An atmosphere of pure menace mixes with the inexplicable feeling that I’ve behaved badly; interrupted something.

Stepping out of the car the horizon starts a foot away and ends with dawn.

Stumbling blindly up the side road I - 

....ahhhh … ohhh … whoof! 


Catching my breath I freeze dead still. A few feet to my right a toothy chomping noise is piercing the ethereal silence. Suddenly behind me and to the left of me, all around me out of the night come complaining guttural grunts and mutters.

Instantly I’m engulfed in pure terror, and sprint back to my car with even more urgency than I felt minutes ago.

Driving off, I talk out loud to myself about the madness of it all.

Must be the adrenalin from the swerve off the road. 
What else can it be? 

Sounded like voices though. 
Sounded like voices complaining that I’d interrupted something. 
I’d felt extremely unwelcome.

I know the sounds of cattle, sheep, foxes and the ear-splitting brays of donkeys, so it must’ve been the Little People.

Oh get a grip Adley! You’re a Londoner,for god’s sake!

For 12 years I kept that story pretty much to myself, until last week, when with Halloween in mind, I told it to the Snapper.

“Badgers!’” she immediately offered, at which I plunged into the internet and yes! Aha! At last a solution!

I had indeed interrupted something that night. A colony of badgers, who between the young and old create a fascinating variety of noises. 

Depending on what they’re doing, they can churr, purr, wail, chitter and kecker, growl, snarl, yelp, and squeak, bark, snort, cluck, coo and chirp.

They also hiss and grunt.

One metaphysical Mayo encounter solved, leaving me with just one more that remains a mystery.

Back in those days I lived in a fine old farmhouse, onto which the farmer had built a new kitchen and bathroom at right angles to the old house. Visitors always said how warm, welcoming and lovely the place felt.

Music to my ears, as when you live alone in a house off the road, in the Irish countryside, you simply cannot feel in any way spooked out.

So each time a friend said “Great vibe here mate!” I felt slightly less worried about the arm that came through the bathroom window.

There was no point mentioning it to anyone. Why would I scare others? Anyway, talking about it might make it more real in my head too, that long male arm, clad in a red-checked shirt, reaching through the window behind me as I sat on the loo.

The hairy wrist, the forearm that tried to strangle me as it pulled on my throat…

Just my imagination, running away with me.
Sing it. Charlie. Forget the horror, think of the song.

I successfully ignored the recurring apparition for years, until my friend from Canada came to stay. The Snapper was up visiting when he walked into the living room.

“What’s the deal with the arm thing, dude?”

“What arm thing?”

“The arm, man! The red chequered shirt, hairy wrist thing that just tried to strangle me in the bathroom.”

Oh poop. Buggeroo and buggeration. That’s torn it. 

“Oh that arm!” I said, as nonchalantly as possible, as the Snapper dropped her jaw and looked at me in a most accusatory fashion. 

“Yeh, I don’t know. I decided that I’d just invented it. I mean, there might be ghosts in this house, it’s old enough, but the bathroom and kitchen are brand new builds, so I can’t see how there’d be a ghost there. And anyway, there’s way too big a gap between the window and the loo. Nobody could have arms that long.”

“Sure they could. Before I came in here I walked round the house and checked and hey, from outside you can reach anything sitting on that toilet!”

“No! No you can’t! Even if you can, I have to believe you can’t, just so I can live here in peace.”

“Sorry dude.”

Silence fell upon us, as I desperately tried to come up with a solution that would allow me to live a terror-free life in my home.

“Hey, suppose what you saw was just a manifestation of the vision my own imagination created? Like, I made the arm and then you saw it?”

My dear friend understood my dilemma, and nodded generously.

“Yeh, right. That’s what it must be. You must have some powerful creativity, man!”

“Either me or you!” I retorted, as the three of us sat, avoiding eye contact, each knowing that the truth lay elsewhere.

Good luck over Halloween and remember: your brain is the scariest weapon in the universe!

©Charlie Adley

Monday 24 October 2016


 “Take it in mate. Nobody ever spends enough time taking it in.”

Wise advice arrives from a friend who’s just seen my photo of Lacken Back Strand. 

From the low cliffs beneath my feet, the sand stretches out ahead of me for over half a mile, its grain barely interrupted by footprints.

The tide is out and on the turn, so there’ll be a firm flat surface to walk along, just by the water’s edge. Better watch the waves though, or my boots will get a wash of salt water.

When the golden strip is edged near the towering dunes by a high tide, the sand becomes deep and soft, turning a fairly gentle walk into a proper sweaty workout.

This beach and me are old friends. Soon after moving here to North Mayo I explored every boreen, alley, mud track and gully around, and will never forget the joy that filled my heart as I crested a hill and saw below a vista that summed up everything we love about this country. 

A golden horseshoe bay with (the only apt word) emerald strip fields running vertically down towards the sea, along the headland opposite. This side, ancient cliffs, with seams of eras, lie under my feet.

I walked -alone - here on a Christmas morning, so cold that ice sheets made the climb down to the beach a perilous journey.

I walked - alone - here at dawn on a Summer morning, encountering a perfectly intact extremely dead dolphin perched on top of a dune, fifteen yards from a family of seals.

I stood there staring at that massive mammal, as the seal pups watched me with similar fascination.

Take it in? No need, my friend. 
North Mayo takes me in. 
That’s the way it works.

While living in West Connemara in the early 90s, I discovered my ideal cocktail: 9/10ths living in the glorious countryside of the West of Ireland; 1/10th a couple of dashes to Galway City, where like angostura bitters in a pink gin, everything subtly changes colour and becomes excitingly dangerous.

Six years later, I set off to find a home further north. After a night sleeping in the car, enveloped by the wind-whipped wilderness of Ballycroy, I drove on through Belmullet, around the stunning coastline of Ross Port and Pollatomish.

Onwards past gigantic cliffs, past Belderg, past mile upon mile of intact wilderness, where save for bags of turf on the bog, human life remained invisible. Past the Céide Fields, through Ballycastle, and on, into the village of Killala.


It was pretty much love at first sight. With its twisted hilly street, its splendid round tower and ancient cathedral, Killala immediately offers more to the eye than most drive-straight-through Irish villages. Beyond that, there’s a feeling to the place: an indefinable quality that attracts strange ones like me.

I put up a card in the supermarket window, mature professional seeks quiet home, and a few days later I was thrilled to receive a response. Enlisting the Snapper for support, we drove to meet the farmer landlord and his wife.

Sitting in the conservatory we drank tea and no, don’t worry about a deposit, Charlie, he said. Ye’ll have another sandwich, she said.

A handshake. Pure old school: pure wonderful.

Off the main road, beside a beautiful river, the house ticked every single box I’d requested from the universe. Equally excellent, several other slightly eccentric blow-ins had recently arrived in the area, so there was a crew with whom I could share my assimilation into this rural community.


More than anything there were the unique land and seascapes of North Mayo. As well as the marvel I wrote of above, I found many white sand beaches, untouched by mass tourism. At Downpatrick Head there are blowholes and the astonishing sea stack, Dun Briste, a sight that never fails to make my jaw drop.

North Mayo has the lot: rolling green pasture and barren ancient bog; drumlins and mountains; flatlands and cliffs; subterranean galleries and ancient abbeys, where you can stand on a quiet cloudy afternoon, feeling and seeing what the monks of the middle ages felt and saw. Stone circles rub shoulders with ogham stones, while wildlife thrives in North Mayo’s ecosystems.

Before we get too lost in the flora and fauna, I have to say that the people are mighty fine too. The great thing about North Mayo is the worst thing: it’s a hard place to make a living, a region familiar with emigration and poverty. 

What survives is a population who are genuinely pleased to see you. They’ll not change for you, but once they like and trust you, they’ll be friends for life.

North Mayo doesn’t have try to be anything apart from the essence of itself. While West Cork panders to the English and Germans, while Kerry turns towns like Killarney into Irish theme parks for American tourists, North Mayo is what it is: a wonder.


This trip was originally intended to be a few days of peace and reflection, time to sit and stare. Happily however, I’d forgotten how many people I know here. 

There were a couple of friends I very much wanted to see, who sadly yet inevitably were the ones I spent the least time with, but if I didn’t end up with much restorative time, my heart and soul are rekindled and aglow after so many encounters with locals.

I’d formed an idea that I’d only ever socialised with the blow-ins up here, but evidently, as I end up chatting in the garage, the café and shop, I’m better known here than I thought.

Despite that though, they all seem relatively pleased to see me.

©Charlie Adley

Monday 17 October 2016


It’s a beautiful blue sky crisp Autumn morning. Lady Dog and I are enjoying the view from the top of the hillock we call Grassy Knoll. Below us the bog has turned the deepest russet red.

In the far distance the tops of Connemara’s hills are dusted with a sheet of white, reflecting the bright sunlight back into the frosty morning air. Between us and the 12 Pins, wind turbines spin on the hills around Spiddal.

Sighing with gentle satisfaction I feel relief. Those propellors make me feel we have a chance. Maybe one day I will stop quoting Mahatma Gandhi, who when asked what he thought of western civilisation suggested that it “would be a good idea.”

I want to live in a world where this beautiful view will remain just that.

I want to be a part of a society that understands we cannot forever exploit the planet which offers us a home.

I want to be part of a population that realises we have to make sacrifices to ensure that Ireland is a safe place for the next generation.

Of course there are problems inherent in the supply of wind power. I wouldn’t like to live close to a wind farm, as I’m sure the noise, buffeting and light strobing must be distrubing. 

I understand that when wind farms are planted on the ocean floor their presence interrupts the local ecosystem and the structure of the sea bed.

Nothing is perfect, least of all our own species. In recent years I’ve become completely confused by the attitudes of people who describe themselves as ‘green’ yet protest against the provision of wind farms. 

Naturally people become concerned when turbines are erected near their homes, but as my eyes stretch out over this perfect Irish landscape I wonder at what they want.

Do they want to see their country's unique beauty burnt by acid rain?
Do they want wi-fi? 
Do they fancy their chances of surviving a nuclear winter?
Do they want the light to come on when they flick a switch? 
Do they want their children to sleep in warm houses? 
Do they want their children to die of radiation poisioning?
Do they want to watch the big game on TV?

I suspect that some of these people are so intent on being righteous, they have lost sight of what they want. They certainly don’t want nuclear power, and they post on Facebook campaigning against electricity pylons running around the countryside. 

They stand by the famers who don’t want underground cables running through their fields and then they march in the streets protesting against wind farms, because they are an eyesore, a noise hazard and a danger to all when falling down hillsides in mudslides.

I grew up in London during the height of the Cold War, lying in my bed as a paranoiac child, ready for the Russian ICBMs to hit.

Flash! Bam!
We’re all gone.

It was a terrifying time that thankfully today’s children do not have to endure. Neither me nor any of my friends thought we’d ever make it to adulthood. 

We stood up to be counted, marching each weekend from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square, shouting one week in favour of CND (Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament), the next wearing those yellow sun logos as we cried and stamped our feet, shouting

“Nuclear Power No Thanks!”

We watched Raymond Briggs’ brilliant film ‘When The Wind Blows’, which through animation showed the true horrors of nuclear fallout. 

Years later we watched that same horror unfold on the TV weather forecast, as it followed the nuclear fallout cloud from Chernobyl, the presenter explaining how the future of our wildlife, food supply and drinking water relied on the direction of the wind.

I remember feeling shocked and appalled at how nonchalantly everyone seemed to accept that situation. Oh there’s been a nuclear disaster and now we might be living and subsequently dying under nuclear fallout and radiation poisoning. Oh look, it’s gone to Scandinavia, so never mind. What’s for dinner?

Do we want to see the wind as a killer or a benign supplier of our needs?

After the Fukushima disaster in Japan, the German government made the eminently sensible decision to stop building nuclear power plants, yet the UK has just agreed to allow the French and Chinese to build a new nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset.

The entire business is a scandalous sham, as nuclear ‘always-on’ power is no longer economically viable or necessary. Thanks to the development of sodium-ion and redox flow batteries, we can now store energy created by renewable sources efficiently.

All electricity comes at a cost. Fossil fuels pollute our atmosphere and offer only a depleting resource that cannot be replaced. Nuclear energy will inevitably create nuclear disasters, as we invariably exercise our human right to be fallible.

Last May, Portugal ran for four days on wind and solar power. In the same month, Britain produced more energy through solar power than coal-fired stations. When the wind blew at 115mph at the beginning of August, land and offshore propellers span and created 106% of Scotland’s energy needs.

Right here in County Galway the people of Lettermore have worked with Muintearas, Udaras na Gaeltachta and the Sustainable Energy Authority to erect two 6.0W wind turbines, wholly owned by the local community.

The power they create supplies 100% of the needs of both the creche and the local water treatment plant.

Hurrah for humans! We might yet build a civilisation, once we learn to worry less selfishly of our own needs.

Rather than fearing the wind might bring lethal poison, let’s live in a world that greets the wind and gives thanks for it.

©Charlie Adley

Saturday 8 October 2016


A prolific dreamer, I head off to the other realm up to 4 times a night. Many are exciting, filled with adventure while some are plain daft, inexplicable beyond my own cod psychology, unworthy of further analysis.

Even in sleep nature requires a pay-off, so in exchange for all my enjoyable nocturnal excursions, I also suffer nightmares.

Oh yeh. I’m horribly good at them.

My creativity works overtime to come up with obscure and wonderful ways to scare the life out of me, Sometimes it happens quickly, simply and effectively; others drag out the horror through long slow torture.

Having enjoyed and endured so many dreams, I’ve learned that the movie running on my brain-screen is fairly irrelevant, compared to the feelings that accompany the action, which might bear no relation whatsoever to the narrative.

For example, once I dreamed I was lying on my back on the floor. Up above me on a small table was a cotton reel. My eyes were fixed on that cotton reel. My heart was filled with terror. My breathing was short and sharp, as I existed only to fear the cotton reel.

Thankfully over the years I’ve also developed some pretty good lucid dreaming skills, so I’m aware that I’m dreaming. Once you know that, you can make changes to what’s going on in your dream. My conscious self makes my dreaming self close his eyes, and when he/me opens them again, I’m dreaming a different scene.

As if to counteract my ability to lucid dream, my subconscious mind designs my darkest dreams, so that they start off with me sleeping exactly wherever I’m sleeping.

Confused as the action unfolds, it’s impossible for me to distinguish between what’s happening in the dream and what might actually be occurring in real life.

My simplest nightmare was undoubtedly the most terrifying of all: the essence of precision and purity.

I was sleeping in my own bed in my Golders Green flat, in 1988. Life was good and I was happy, with nothing to fear, but when I opened my eyes, I saw my bedroom door swing open a little. 

Around it floated a nebulous black cloud that made its way to my bedside. As it neared me it grew in size and darkness, so that by the time it was leaning over me it was a man-sized hooded cloak with no man in it. 

The left sleeve reached inside the cloak, produced a shiny steel 18 inch stiletto blade, raised it high with both empty sleeves above its headless hood and plunged the knife, with great speed and force, directly into my chest.

Waking, screaming, so true had it all seemed that it took several minutes to understand that it had not happened.

Then I laughed and gently patted myself on the back for creating such a perfect nightmare. Pure unadulterated terror. No sub-plots or ex-lovers. Just darkness, a blade and death.

This business of dreaming that I’m sleeping where I’m sleeping proved a challenge when I lived in an old farmhouse in Co. Mayo.

Again it was a period of great happiness for me. I suspect that it’s when we feel safe and secure that our brains drip feed us the mental pooh we’ve stashed in the background with a lid on, during times when we were unable to deal with it.

Why else would I suffer two of my worst nightmares in the same bed in which I dreamed, for my one and only time, that I could fly?

What an amazing morning that was! To wake up in bed having experienced an entire new dimension of freedom; of flight; of exuberant joy; of glory in existence.

How unfortunate then it was to see my bedroom door swing open, as I lay seeping and dreaming in that same bed, to allow in two young women dressed in printed frocks of the 1950s.

They came giggling over to my bed, took me by the hand and led me through my own living room, across the hall into my office, where one of them lifted her dress to reveal she had no nipples, no navel, no human form at all.

As I leaped back in horror they both turned and laughed, now revealing their skeleton heads, as they grabbed my right ankle, knocked me over and dragged me back through my house to my bedroom.

There one pinned me down while the other produced a hacksaw, which she proceeded to use on my leg, just above the ankle.

Both of them laughed as I screamed in pain, and I woke up clutching my ankle, feeling a very long way from flying.

Another night while sleeping in that same bed, I heard a knock on the door in the middle of the night. Outside a terrible storm was blowing, and my house was a good way off the main road, so I was concerned who might need help on such a night.

Putting on the lights I headed for the font door, where through the glass I saw the face of a long-dead distant relative, a man who I always felt looked just like the Devil.

He was banging on my door, calling me by name, demanding to be let in. When I shouted back through the glass that he was dead, he laughed defiantly, nodded in agreement staring at me with wide-eyed mirth and pleaded again to be let in.

Whoah. Me and my head.

Why my need to share this particular aspect of my insanity with you now?

This is my way of apologising to Whispering Blue, who slept here last night.

Well, he slept until I was screaming my head off, lost this time in a tornado vortex between life and death.

Then the Snapper woke me up, so that she and our patient houseguest might perchance dream too.

©Charlie Adley

Sunday 2 October 2016


 All photos by The Snapper.

The heather! Thanks for that heather!

Now fading into the incoming darkness, the heather on Connemara’s bogs this year has been utterly magnificent. To whatever combination of weather and insect life brought about such a splendid natural carpet, I say:

“Thank you. It was breathtaking.”

The seasons here in the West of Ireland are heralded by changes in flower colour. At the first sign of Spring, celandine’s sunburst flowers announce the arrival of the yellow season, followed by the supernovae of primroses, exploding yellow stars of light and powerful intent.

Despite unwelcome hordes of noxious ragwort, the odd dandelion and stray buttercup, the yellows are long gone, superseded as always by the purples. Incredibly prolific, swathes of pale purple willow herb lined the bohreens, tussling and rustling with the cow parsley that also did so well this year.

Magical wands of purple loosestrife rise up from river banks and ditches, while hundreds of different types of thistle burst Emperor purple from tiny short spiky ouch that hurt stems, to vast soft towering varieties that appear to defy gravity.

Instead of dreading the cold months, I look forward to different habits. No more obsessive watching of the weather forecast, trying to work out when it might be dry enough for long enough to mow the lawn, I’ll just empty the ash bucket and build a fresh fire.

My lovely sister cannot stand the short dark days. She dreams of Los Angeles, where seasons come and go without anyone noticing, but I’m more than fond of the seasons: I need them. 

Sometimes I can build up such a head of steam, I can’t see my need to slow down. Nothing forces you to put on the brakes better than a storm force wind and three days of solid rain.

It’s nature’s way of telling us to keep warm, eat lots of high fat foods and sleep a lot. Given the chance I’d happily hibernate. We’re hairy mammals and that’s what a lot of them do, but oh no, we can’t. 

In an effort to try and overpower the darkness, we’ve mashed together the Pagan and Christian and created a commercial behemoth that is still, thankfully, way too far away to mention.

What were we thinking? Was it some kind of human-wide hubris? Did we imagine that we can ignore our natural rhythms, by being the busiest we are all year, at a time when we need to be calm?

My sister and I share something vital. Although she might choose California while I prefer Connemara, we both love being outside. I wonder if it’s something to do with our biological need to soak up vitamin D, to stave off depression.

Everyone has their own way of dealing with the dark months. The Snapper revels in the glitter and sparkle of ‘Strictly Come Dancing', greeting its return to our screens as an ancient might the solstice sunrise.

It’s a marker in the year, a chance to forget your woes and immerse yourself in light, pizazz, music and laughter.

Although The Snapper also enjoys football, I suspect she watches a lot more of it than she might choose to, so in return I have chosen to embrace this TV reality competition, so that we might enjoy it together.

Just as well really, as we’ll be watching it seven days a week throughout its entirety.

There’s the Saturday show itself, the Sunday Results Show and then each day Monday to Friday we record and watch Zoë Balls’ ‘It Takes Two.’ By the time we’re back on the next Saturday show’s recap of last week’s dances, we’ve seen those moves kaleventy bazillon times.

While a lesser scribbler might not be able to take it, your colyoomist smiles on. ‘Strictly’ is benign and camp, while unlike other reality shows, its contestants have to make an extraordinary effort to become fit, and then dandy on their toes, hand extensions and head back dwaaahhling and oh my good god, it’s got to me.

You cannot consume that much reality show medicine without side effects, and one most unwelcome phenomenon that ‘Strictly’ delivers every year is that bloomin’ signature theme jingle riff, which becomes permanently implanted in my brainbox for months, to the extent that I find myself humming it in the queue at the Post Office, like an anachronistic extra from ‘The Full Monty.’

Ah, whatever helps us both enjoy the darker months, that’s good enough for me, and while I’m feeling all soppy I realise I was a little unfair about her football viewing.

While I was away in England during the Euros, she watched three consecutive games in one day, and often I’ll head to bed after the Chelsea game on Match of The Day, knowing full well she’ll carry on and watch Middlesborough v Stoke and Watford v West Bromwich Albion on her tod.

A miracle on legs at 87, my mother quite enjoys the Winter. Temperatures over 30 degrees don’t suit octogenarians at all. She’s very happy to draw the curtains, switch on her fire, turn the central heating up to levels that might make me melt, and sit with her cat on her lap, absorbed by a political debate on the tele (that’s my mother, by the way, not the cat). Referring to a World War maxim, she calls it ‘digging in’ and says it with a smile on her voice.

As Autumn rolls in with its Atlantic gales and moldy fungal scents, try not to feel down. It’s plain daft to choose to dislike a quarter of the year. 

Instead embrace all the wonderful contrasts that our planet’s angle and orbit allows; enjoy all four seasons, because they’re going to happen anyway.

©Charlie Adley