Monday 24 July 2017

When being served be kind, be human and be generous!



“Bloomin’ eck, is it just me, or are these desserts taking a long time? I mean, the mains came really quickly, but we’ve been waiting ages for dessert. It’s been yonks!”
 

It’s always a treat to eat out, and thanks to the gastronomic revolution that’s taken place in Ireland over the last 20 years, you can now find lovely yet not exorbitantly expensive pub food, and end up feeling a little bit special for a couple of hours or so.
 

However, as we wait for our desserts in this Connemara pub, I allow impatient thoughts to tumble around my brainbox:
 

‘... isn’t too much to ask, is it? Must’ve been twenty minutes now, since that waiter was here and this wait is spoiling a lovely evening out, and mutter grumble moan groan …’
 

Finally, slightly irritated that herself appears wonderfully unperturbed, I decide that it’s time to recruit the Snapper onside, to light fires of indignation within her belly.
 

“I mean, how long does it take to scoop a bit of bloody ice cream?”
 

The Snapper looks over at me with that marriage cocktail of three parts familiarity and one part contempt.
 

“But Charlie, we haven’t even ordered dessert yet.”
 

“What?” 

“The waiter came over and asked if we’d made up our minds. You were lost in a quandary about sticky toffee pudding and pistachio ice cream, so I asked him for a couple more minutes.”
 

“Really? Oh bugger. How long ago was that?”
 

For once I’m delighted to be in the wrong, because thankfully I haven’t yet verbally abused an innocent waiter. Something dangerous happens to certain human beings when they are being served.
 

A little like road rage, they suddenly and irrationally see themselves as the single most important and powerful person on the planet, for whom all must run perfectly.
 

Having been a barman for years in my youth, and befriended many chefs and waiters, I know all too well what it’s like to serve people like that, and therefore respect and honour good service by smiling, saying thanks, and because I know it’s a vital part of a server’s wages, leaving a chunky tip.
 

Shame that others don’t do the same.
 

A despondent city centre waiter friend complained to me years ago that when festival season hits, and Galway's restaurants become busier and busier, people leave tinier and tinier tips.
 

“It’s like cutting the weakest link in the chain, just so you can pretend to be well off! And now people like me can’t afford to live!”
 

“I just wouldn’t have the patience any more” I offered, remembering how testing it was serving people in pubs.
 

“Oh believe me, mate, you so wouldn’t. You’ve got no idea. The other night I seat two tables at once, right? I give menus to both and go to the first table to tell them about the venison special. They say they’re not ready to order, so I say:
‘Fine, take your time!’
and go over to the second table to take their order. Three of them order the venison special, so by the time I’m back at the first table, we’ve run out of it. Of course yer woman orders it, so I tell her that I’m afraid there is no more venison. She says I shouldn’t have told her about it, if it was all gone.”
 

“She wha’?” exclaimed your colyoomist. “Ooooh, I’d’ve, I’d’ve, ooh, I don’t know what I’d’ve done!”
 

“And that’s why you’re not a waiter, Charlie. So I explain politely that when I first told her about the special, there were three portions left. Then she asks me who had those portions, so I point to the other table. And then, get this, she says that I should go over there and explain to them that she wants a venison special so they can’t all have it.”
 

“She WHAT? No way! Don’t believe it!”
 

“God’s honest truth, mate. So I smile and tell her that no, I simply couldn’t do that, as she’d actually had first choice, yet declined to place her order while there was still venison on the menu.”
 

“I cannot believe she told you to go and nick the other table’s food! I mean, it’s not exactly complicated stuff, is it! Yes, we have no venison, so tough, love. Stuff a scallop in your gob and be happy.”
 

“You’d think, mate, but she still hadn’t given up. She asks me if there is any chance of me finding some venison in the kitchen. I tell her again that it’s all gone. And then she turns a bit nasty and sarcy and says that if I should happen to come across some venison that I didn’t know about, I was to tell her and she’d order it. I smile once again and tell her as calmly as I can that that isn’t going to happen, because Chef has a very precise knowledge of exactly what he has and doesn’t have in his kitchen, and there ... is ... no ... venison.”
 

"Don’t know how you do it mate. I do not. Fair fucks to you and  your comrades.”
 

I’m removed from the memory of my mate’s tale of venison and woe by a smooth gentle servile voice.
 

“Would you like to order dessert now, sir?”
 

How lovely to be asked that question. How lucky am I that professionals employ their superb cooking and serving skills just so that prats like me and that vile venison woman can have food brought to them.
 

“I would, and thank you! Thank you so very much!” I say to a slightly bemused waiter.
 

I leave him as big a tip as my pocket will allow, and suggest you all should do the same.
 

If you can’t afford to tip properly, you can’t afford to eat out.
 

Think of your server as you stuff your festival faces, and be kind, be human and be generous.

©Charlie Adley
06.07.2017.

Sunday 16 July 2017

Walking flies the flag of my mental health!



 Thanks to The Snapper for the wonderful photos!


My mental health is like the weather of the West of Ireland: all manner of changes and varieties, sometimes quite stormy and scary but most of the time wobbling around inside a fairly moderate range.
 

Leaving the house with Lady Dog this morning should have been a very happy occasion. I’ve not been able to take Lady for a walk since I injured my leg back in March, and this is the second time I’ve done it this week.
 

My relationship with depression is inextricably linked to walking. When fit, happy and healthy I walk my sorry plates of meat off, enjoying the mental release and emotional peace that come alongside all the physical benefits.
 

I have joked that it’s impossible for me to know whether the walking goes before the depression arrives, or if it’s the depression that kicks the walking out of my life. All I know with certainty is that when I’m physically able to walk yet not walking, I’ll be in the midst of a dark one.
 

 

In the past I’ve found this observation incredibly useful, as one of the recurring symptoms of my depression is a few months of denial, during which time I endeavour to ignore the bleedin’ obvious, carrying on as normal, wondering why I'm so tired; why life seems so testing.
 

After weeks of that nonsense, I will eventually look back and realise I’ve chosen not to walk for ages, which is when I have been known to say out loud to myself something akin to:
 

“You’re not walking are you, and there’s nothing wrong with you physically is there, so you’re in one, Adley, ye daft bollocks!”
 

When I'm physically unable to walk I struggle to maintain the naturally positive perspective that allows this scribbler to enjoy life, love, work and BBC4. 

Doing my physio stretches and taking various supplements, I feel I’m working on my mind as much as my body.
 

Do those pills work?  I don’t know, but as a fan of the placebo effect, I know they’re much more likely to help if I believe they’ll help, so I do.
 

I’ll do anything to get me out of the house and walking again, so I’ll take this and bend over like that and try to be patient, calm down, don't push it or I’ll just injure myself again.
 

A few days ago I strapped up my knees in Velcro thingies and thoroughly enjoyed taking Lady out for her morning stroll. This morning, for reasons that I recognise are beyond my control, I can’t shake the bluey from my head.
 

 

Yesterday I felt a little lost, mildly bewildered, unpleasantly disoriented, but thought little of it until I awoke this morning, feeling all those symptoms, intensely and simultaneously, latched like a limpet onto the dark side of my brain.
 

Even though I know it’s silly (and that I’d absolutely hate it if someone else dared to do it to me!) I try to cheer myself up, pull myself together a bit:
 

Look at yourself man! You’ve so much to give thanks for. You’ve a perky dog bouncing along at the end of the lead, and time to cross the road into a magical world of nature before breakfast.
 

A mix of bogland and pasture stretches for miles, and as I desperately try to appreciate being out here once more, after months of longing for it, I stop and sniff and breathe, standing under a celestial sky carpet of grey clouds, cracked by the heat and high light of midsummer sun.
 

While Lady bounces and pounces in the undergrowth, being irresistibly cute as she fixates on the long grass below and tries to catch a frog, I stand in gentle silence as a peaceful breeze caresses my ears, and look around, taking in the glory of my local world.
 

With Summer past its peak hours of daylight, the yellows that burst into life in early Spring are on the wane, making way for the pinks and purples of late season. 

 

There’s still dandelions and gorse to fly the yellow flag, but now there is pink from the gracious willow herb and vetches, while wild orchids of every shade from dark purple to the palest of pinks thrust up from the wild grasses, erect and proud and just a bit wonderful altogether.
 

 

When I worked at the University of San Francisco, I used to have a John Hinde calendar on my office wall, and dream deep and long of days like this.
 

I’d stare each month at a different photo of the West of Ireland and grieve for its loss and imagine lying on my back in a field in the middle of Nowhere, Co. Galway and feeling free to have the time to spend my days walking and writing and …






…and it’s all here, now available to me. Of course this life comes with new tests and challenges to face and overcome, not least the physical pain I must endure, but even as my spirit and thoughts feel tired and weary today, I know how good life is.
 

I know that I have major problems, but who doesn’t? I know that I'm lucky to have so many in my life who love me, and equally I know that nobody, including myself, can ease my mental condition this morning.
 

This is not a bad one. By the time you read this it will have long been consigned to history. Just enough of a chemical imbalance to erase from my day the joy of a walk, but at least, after all these decades, I have learned to recognise what happens to me, understand it, and know that it too shall pass.
 

Regardless of how I perceive it, the world outside will continue to bloom, thrive and luxuriate in its own splendour.

© Charlie Adley
05.07.2017.

Monday 10 July 2017

TRAVELLING IS REALLY ABOUT BEING STILL!


The splendour of the Douro Valley.
Most pics by The Snapper, naturally!

Holidays are notorious tests of relationships, but thankfully the Snapper and I enjoy them together. We use most of our spare time visiting family and life-long friends in England, but for one week each year we’ll find a wee house abroad with some kind of pool, walking distance from a restaurant, and then do nothing.

Herself will sit outside, reading a succession of vast tomes from dawn to dusk, while I will stare for hours into space, eat some olives and sip whiskey.
 

There might be an excursion to a Roman ruin, certainly natural history rambles where the Snapper can invest in her photographic talents, and most evenings we’ll probably walk out for dinner.
 

Apart from that, we are happy to relax in peace and quiet.
Bloody lovely, I think to myself in anticipation of Portugal’s Douro Valley. Can't wait.
 

As we steer out of our drive and head to Dublin Airport, I whack on the radio.
 

“Reports are coming in of a major forest fire in Portugal. So far at least 35 people are known to have died, many burning to death in their cars.”
 

I quickly flick the radio off.
 

“How many times do we hear Portugal mentioned on the bloody news, and here we are, not a half mile from home and they’re giving out about firemageddon.”
 

Having been a bit of a nerd on Google Earth before we left, I find our little place, where we are greeted by our hosts. 

 

Although Armando was born in the area, the couple met and lived in Anne’s native France, so all our communications are in French.
 

The warmth of their welcome is extraordinary, and while we sample Armando’s lip-dribbling cakes (a French patissier? Oh no, how terrible!) they tell us all the things we can do around the area.
 

It’s 38C.
I don’t want to do anything except sit in the shade and drink water.
 

Turns out our place is not a separate house, but a flat below their house, while our terrace is at the junction of the path to the garden.
 

Throughout the week we are visited constantly by both of them, so we don’t enjoy the privacy we usually like, but it’s impossible to be upset. The garden that Anne has created is incredible, with the river at the bottom of it offering shade, alongside the magic sounds and mesmerising sights of flowing water splashing over rocks.




Such is the diversity of Anne’s planting that wildlife of all types thrives here, with the smell of figs colliding with the croaks of frogs, the low-down burr of big black flying beetles with cries of human delight, as the Snapper discovers dragonflies of many colours.
 

  
Any gardener who can grown cacti and banana palms in the same garden as ferns and purple loosestrife knows their onions. Anne’s garden is living proof of ‘Right Plant Right Place.’
 



Meanwhile the strawberry Chantilly cream tart and lemon meringue pie that Armando creates to celebrate the Snapper’s birthday could not be more perfect.
 



It was clear from the start: even though this wasn’t going to be our usual holiday, Anne and Armando are so unbelievably kind, generous and friendly that there is no way I could be upset with either of them, about anything.
 

To be fair, they probably wanted to make sure we were not bored, popping down every couple of hours to chat and suggest places to go.
 

Maybe we are strange, in that we can amuse ourselves. More than that, I discovered after many years of travelling that to truly enjoy and understand a new place, I need to stop within in it; to look, listen, watch and smell the air. A paradox entwined in truth: travelling is about staying still.
 

You also have to move your arse every now and then, and I fell in love with the breathtaking Douro region, where stonewalled wine terraces line lush valleys that plunge dramatically into deep meandering rivers. 


Although tourists pass through, this is authentic Portugal. Nobody speaks English. There are no photos on restaurant menus. There is no ‘tourist food’ aisle in the supermarket.
 

Bloody lovely.
 

One invitation I had no intention of resisting was to our village’s Sardine Festival. Part of an annual midsummer tradition, each village runs an event to raise funds for the local community, and thanks to our hosts, the Snapper and I find ourselves the only non-villagers present. 

 















As my lovely wife dances yet again with the rather insistent Chief of Police (who can say no?), I snarf yet more gigantic sardines, fresh from the flaming barbecue, eaten in hands as is their sensible way.

 

The sun sets and the band strikes up with traditional local music, while we are brought soup, wine and beer with smiles and flourishes. 

It feels an absolute privilege to be here, to share their festival, run by themselves purely for themselves: the pure opposite of commercialism.
 


A week after Portugal’s worst ever natural disaster, with 72 now known dead, the local lads see no reason to change another tradition. Much to our disbelief and outrage, they light up a succession of fire lanterns and launch them, flaming, into the night sky.
 

Even though my mind boggles, for once my mouth stays firmly shut.  

This is my fifth visit to Portugal, and each time I find myself loving the calm, patience and sincerity of the locals.
 

Part of me is now pleased that they are also capable of behaving like pure eedjits, while another part of me will keep an eye open tonight, and a nostril alert for the smell of burning eucalyptus.

©Charlie Adley
28.06.2017

Sunday 2 July 2017

WHAT DOES IT MEAN WHEN YOUR PLANE IS ‘DELAYED INDEFINITELY’?



If you’re lucky enough to be flying away on holiday this year, I suggest you prepare yourself mentally for the airport. 

Between accidentally pulled plugs crashing computer systems, cabin staff working to rule and doubtless, that age old Pythonesque perennial - the French Air Traffic Controllers going on strike - you might have to spend a fair bit of time in the aptly-named Terminal.

Breathe out and rid yourself of all your expectations and desires. Give yourself up to the airport. They own you now and there is nothing you can do. 

Do not join a queue to board a plane that has not yet arrived. Do not sit and stare hour upon hour at the Departures/Arrivals screens. 
Do not believe that your gate will be announced at 16:05.

Most probably your journey will pass without a hitch, but should it go wrong, hopefully you’ll find comfort in knowing that however bad things seem, I had it worse in 1985.

Back then airports displayed flight information on ladders of plastic slats. When a plane left or landed, those slats flew around going:

kashunka - kashunka - kashunka - kashunka

The whole effect was quite trippy and hypnotic, as the destination names and flight numbers appeared to flow upwards, like the waters of a river, as the sign updated itself.

32 years ago I was perched eagerly on the edge of a seat in Auckland airport, watching just such a sign. After sleeping in the airport to save money, I was waiting for my cheap flight to Sydney with an airline called UTA, the less well-known Pacific branch of Air France.

UTA insisted you fly to Australia via Noumea, or New Caledonia, as the imperialists called it. Despite the fact that the French treated the airline with the same contempt, neglect and disregard for health that they showed the indigenous people of their Pacific colonies, all the Polynesians and young travellers flew UTA in those days.

The locals joked that UTA stood for ‘Unknown Time of Arrival’, with flights invariably delayed, overbooked or cancelled. But boy, were they cheap! 

My flight to Noumea had already been delayed a few hours, because the plane hadn’t yet arrived, but the board now said it was due to leave in an hour, so I shuffled off to the bathroom to wash; make myself feel human. 

It had been a long wait, but that was okay. I can stare into space for ├Žons. I’ll do all the waiting that’s out there, but I was feeling unusually twitchy about this trip to Noumea. 

There was a civil war going on there, especially notable as a triangular conflict. There were the colonial Caldoches, the native Kanaks and the French, all fighting over an island rich in nickel.

There’s always a natural resource in the mix somewhere. 
War follows natural resources as poopers follow peepers.

Having splashed off the detritus of a rough night’s sleep, I threw my blue bag over my shoulder and walked with a spring in my step towards the check-in desk. As I passed the Departures board, I threw it a cursory glance, and off it went, as if propelled by my eyes:

kashunka - kashunka - kashunka - kashunka

The ripple of movement arrived at the plastic slat with my flight on it, and whoooshhhh! It was off, moving around, who knew if up or down?

kashunka - kashunka - kashunka - kashunka

My feet were frozen mid-stride as I waited for the plastic flow to settle.

And there it was:

UTA flight to Noumea: ‘Delayed Indefinitely.’

Wow! What the hell did that mean? I have seen all manner of delays to flights, but ultimately, they’re either ‘Cancelled’ or ‘Estimated at...’.

Only UTA could come up with ‘Delayed Indefinitely.’

No. No no no. I was here all bloody night and everything was okay until I went to brush my teeth and then there was the bad 

kashunka - kashunka - kashunka - kashunka 

and now what? 

Some kind of existential holding pattern?

Delayed indefinitely? 

Am I meant to sit here for the rest of my life?

Has the plane even left L.A.? If not, when is it going to, and if it has, how is it delayed indefinitely?

Unable to fight my way into crammed UTA office, I heard from several over-excited youthful types that our plane had come down on Vanuatu; had been hijacked in Tahiti; had crash landed into the ocean; had an engine on fire and had to turn back...

To this day I still don’t know what happened to that plane. 

With no Kiwi dollars left, I simply resigned myself to fate and waited another three days in that airport, trying to learn from the experience.

Bring on the ├Žons.

Still, the delay meant that I had only three days on Noumea instead of six, and then I would be in Australia, reunited with dear friends at last. 

Three days on a tropical island? 

How bad could that possibly be, compared to being ‘Delayed Indefinitely’ in an airport?

Well, quite bad, as it turned out. 

The Scouse lad that sat next to me on the hotel shuttle bus from Noumea Airport decided it would be a “crackin’ idea” to use his huge camera to take lots of photos of all the military planes and tanks lined up in the fields outside.

After he was promptly arrested and yanked off the bus, never to be seen again, I was suspected of being his companion, and placed under house arrest.

One minute I’m delayed indefinitely, freed from everything but progress for all eternity.

The next I’m imprisoned, stuck for a finite time into a tiny space.

Life’s wee tricks, eh?

Now sit back, relax and enjoy your flight. 

©Charlie Adley
12.06.2017