Sunday 23 September 2018

GRATITUDE OILS OUR HUMAN HINGES!



There are no more joyous words in the English language than “Thank you.” You've given a child a present and they just turn and walk away, leaving you standing there with your arms lolling around like an ancient willow, chin stuck forward and eyes bulging, waiting for the magic words.

You know the present was something he wanted. You’d asked his parents, so there’s no point blaming the child.

Off goes the head in imaginary circles of erroneous thinking: it’s the parents’ fault.
 

Clearly they never bothered to teach their son manners.
 

What a shame. Tut tut.

What a load of tosh. Every parent tries to teach their child which words to use in order to say thank you, and if we learn other languages we’re taught how to give thanks in several different ways.

We are not, however, taught gratitude. We are not taught how to want things and we are not taught how we feel when we are given them.

That’s down to who we are.

Of course our education and socialisation influence whether we enjoy or shrink from generosity or thankfulness, but the way we react to another’s kindness forms a seminal part of who we each are as individuals.

Random acts of kindness are well trendy and truly wonderful, but deliberate generous gestures can be pretty bloomin’ splendid too.

I’ll never forget the woman with the dogs, because she was silently kind and I never had the chance to thank her.

I was living in Salthill where a sunny Summer’s day threatened to turn parking into a nightmare. Arriving back from a shopping expedition I was delighted to see two clear spaces just round the corner from my home.

After unloading the weekly shop and dropping it into the house, I drove back to discover that someone had parked their car in such a way as to take up both spaces.

“Inconsiderate bastards!” I muttered aloud under peevish breath, and then, as if I had drunk of a magic potion, I began a slow but steady metamorphosis into my own personal Mr. Hyde: Bear From Hell.

Stubborn to the last, I tried to squeeze my car into the space and failed, became a bit more Bear From Hell, tried again and failed better.

On the last of my pointless reversing runs, I spotted a woman walking her dogs around the small park just over the road.

Aha!
There she was!
The driver of the offending car.

Maybe I should just nip over and have a word with her.

Leaving my car obnoxiously double-parked, I strode into the park and approached the lady in question, asking if she would mind moving her car a bit, so that two cars might park where now one occupied two spaces.

She nodded and immediately headed out of the park and back over the road, to do just as I had asked.

Without wanting to alarm her, I tried to catch her attention by following her and waving my arms, because I wanted to offer to hold her dogs’ leads.

She saw neither me nor my gesture. Leaving me feeling increasingly embarrassed, she opened the hatch door of her car, eventually encouraged both of her dogs to jump in (they were not best pleased, thinking their walk had been cut cruelly short) and moved her car the requisite few metres.

As I climbed into my car to move it out of the centre of the road, I saw her open the back door of her car again, encourage her somewhat bewildered pooches to jump out once more and head again towards the park.

By the time I’d finally parked my car she was off, gone, out of sight.

After quick reflection I decided that it’d just look plain weird and potentially scary if I suddenly charged off to seek her out.

Instead I walked home, grateful for the polite calm way she dealt with the situation, feeling rather guilty that what I’d thought at first would be a pretty easy task had turned out to be a time-consuming laborious effort for her, not to mention her confused dogs.

Most of all though I felt bad because I hadn't thanked her.

Even though now it’s a tiny sliver of memory, the fact that over a decade later that feeling remains strong serves to show me how powerful is our species’ need for kindness, decency and generosity of spirit.

We are assaulted every day, minute and second by an onslaught of news, images and sounds that relentlessly impose upon us the notion that we, the Human Race, are a terrible beast.

We wage war. 

We murder.
We rape and abuse.
We torture, beat and maim.

Yes we do, but we are not all bad.

Far from it. Just like yer Grannie used to say, it’s the rusty hinge that makes the most noise. Billions of human hinges work perfectly peacefully. Speaking as one of the planet’s most oxidised hinges, I know I create an unholy racket.

Displays of gentle generosity and heartfelt gratitude lubricate the pathways of the human spirit. When someone acts as that woman did, this hinge is suddenly silenced, oiled by kindness.

I take solace, comfort and hope from these sweet injections of humanity.

Don’t believe all the hype raining down upon us from our 24/7 media culture. We are a gentle, loving, caring and generous species.



©Charlie Adley
23.09.2018

Sunday 16 September 2018

GREED WILL DESTROY GALWAY'S SOUL!



The Swiss couple next to me at PJ McDonagh’s are getting stuck into plates of oysters. Their tweenie son with a cheeky grin is watching me out of the corner of his eye, fascinated by the way I’m creating a lacy lattice of ketchup over my chips.

Then he lifts the squeezy bottle and tries to do the same, but in his eagerness lashes a scarlet splash over half the table.

In a flash both his parents are onto him, but I laugh out loud and point to my spudular artwork.

“He was only trying to learn about local culture!”

We all laugh.
He flashes me a grateful toothy grin.

How could you feel anything but love while eating this freshest of fish? Steamed inside a crispy batter, forkfuls of snow white flakes of cod, as fine as any anywhere in the world.

The chips are superb too, with a lingering potato hit up the schnoz as you exhale, which I do as I head up the river walkway to O’Brien’s Bridge.

I’m a man on a mission.

Well, no. I’m a scribbler on a long-overdue ramble, hoping to arrive at Taylor’s Bar early enough to find a barstool.
 

The only time I’ve been in there since it reopened was during the Arts Festival, and much as I enjoyed the nostalgia hit of walking back into my old pub, the place was absolutely jammered.

I knew I needed to come back after the madness and just be there; see how it felt.

At night I had no particular spot in the old Taylor’s. I’d linger in the back bar, watching musicians mingled with hosteleros, and then chat to the hardcore regs in the middle bar, their arse groove well established on their own barstools.

Inevitably I’d end up in the front bar, where Arty types with a capital ‘A’ drifting down from Tigh Neachtain engaged in drunken conversation and serious flirtation with self-described entrepreneurs from Shantalla and eccentric gardeners from the Claddagh.

Afternoons were a different matter. After work I’d take the barstool right at the end of the front window, cosily trapped by wall and bar.

Supping a mug of coffee I’d chat to ever-smiling Una, do the crossie and gently enjoy the space and place.

Bloomin’ lovely! 

That very barstool is vacant, waiting for my voluptuous arse.
 

I settle in and feel happy.

The wonderful woodwork retains a sense of integrity, but of course Taylor’s isn't the same. There are TV screens, yet it doesn’t matter. I’m not looking for a replication of my life 20 years ago, just a pub where I might feel at home.

Before a sip of whiskey slips my lips, I’m talking to old friends. Like so many they are being turfed out of their home by their landlord and face the stark truth that they can no longer afford to live in the city they love.

A vile cocktail of vulture capital gentrification, Airbnb rapacity and pure dirty greed threatens to turn Galway City into the vapid homogeny to which so many cities around the world have been reduced.
 

The unique tragedy for our county town is that many of the people being evicted are those who make this city different from all the others.

Artists, musicians, actors and writers all have to be risk takers. We have to be willing to jump off the gravy train and hope for the best, so often we’re the most financially vulnerable.

Unregulated and out of control, rents in Galway are destroying what made this place great.

Eventually there’ll just be billionaire landowners looking out of their helicopter windows to the medieval streets below, where tourists sit outside pubs and restaurants watching other tourists walk by.

We hug emotional goodbyes and wish each other luck in the face of this ironic tragedy, where the Irish force each other from their homes.

I head up Sea Road to the Crane, where I’m presented by a spontaneous performance that once again illustrates why Galway is so loved.

Down the bar sit a couple I’d met at Taylor’s a few hours before, so I raise a glass in their direction, jokingly asking who is stalking who?

One of the two lads standing between me and the couple turns round and apologises for being in the way. Would I like to sit closer to my friends?

I explain that I’m fine and he then reaches out his hand and tells me his name. I shake his hand and tell him mine, at which point (and far from lairy drunk, he is young, clean and charismatic) he stands back and engages everyone’s attention at our end of the bar by raising a glass and waving it in the air while looking everyone in the eye.

“To Thursdays!” he toasts.

We all smile, raise our glasses, toast

“Thursdays!”

 
and drink, after which he shakes all our hands, and we all introduce ourselves to everyone else, and all of a sudden I’m on a night out with Peter and Gert from Vienna and they’re on a night out with Mick from Mervue.

Pure Galway magic.

It is disgraceful that a country with Ireland’s painful history allows good people from Galway City to be evicted in the name of financial gain. 


A mature nation would legislate for enforceable rent regulation, restrictions on Airbnb and independent scrutiny of vulture investors bulk-buying Irish real estate.

Above all, Ireland needs to build homes for all those sleeping on the streets, the people on the housing list, and those invisible souls struggling to get onto the housing list.

As an Englishman I’ll never understand how the same people who have long lectured me on the horrors of evictions and rack renting now rush to impose evictions once again.



©Charlie Adley
02.09.2018.


Sunday 9 September 2018

You have to discover your own Galway!



Two pairs of friends are heading my way. One couple from England in a camper van, the other from California in a rental car, both arriving roughly the same time and each, on the way, experiencing their own Ireland.

Four different people who will enjoy Galway City and County in their own individual ways,
 

The only thing I’m certain of is that whatever they choose to do and wherever they go, they will leave loving Galway.

The thing I’m less sure of is whether I should show them my Galway. Would it be fair to bombard them with my passion - now that this Englishman is Irish, I dare to use your language - my grĂ¡ for Galway?

Shouldn’t they have the freedom to find their own Galways?

They’re arriving at one of my favourite times of year. For a week or two there’s a brief Galway hiatus after the arts festivals and races yet before students get their money and oysters are shucked.

We have the chance to breathe; to look around and appreciate where we we live.

After an achingly dry scorching summer our land has turned green once again. Autumn arrives with the soft sweet odours of ripe fruit mingled with fresh rain, soon to become a cocktail of damp and decay.

Overhead the swallows are gathering, perching in crammed lines up on phone wires, shooting off for practice runs with their second batch of fledglings.

Come the next northerly wind and they’ll be off. For some their departure carries sadness at the loss of Summer, but while I’ll miss their aerobatic display and company, I embrace Autumn.

We have four seasons and it seems pretty stupid not to like each one. Why write off a quarter of your life?

I’m standing still on the bog, aware how the light has started to change, as sun travels lower in the sky.

Distant chainsaws cut timber.

On the western horizon black clouds crash bulbous tips into distant dark hills. At once the sky becomes blood-streaked: one of the Gods has spilled red wine on the Tablecloth Of The Firmament.

Just another Galway sunset.

I don't expect my Galway to be ideal for others, particularly because much of mine hides away from what Galway does best: socialising. The craic in Galway can be fierce, so in the past to survive I discovered escapes that nurtured, helping me to survive.

One of those escapes we all share, local and tourist alike, because we all must walk the Prom to Black Rock. Every day an endless variety of light offers a differing panorama of Galway Bay and the coastline of Clare, the purple hills of the Burren appearing, disappearing, stark and then veiled in morning mists.

For Galwegians this walk is a universal ritual. The loping teenage hangover victim walks three paces behind the short rotund brown cardigan grannie.

Overtaking on the inside come super-fit mum and dad in identical running suits, with triangular pushchair and baby to match.

All of us, we walk up there, kick the wall, spin around and walk back.

In my personal Galway there’s water everywhere. The legendary bay and roaring river Corrib are only part of the story. A few yards off city centre streets I stand and watch trout jumping by the stillness of Galway’s myriad canals.

Shortcuts slip me away from racing shoppers to hanging gardens of fuchsia and lobelia, where clematis loll above meandering currents, while up past the university my feet ease their way alongside the river on rich wild pasture.

In Autumn my Galway becomes a place of vivid light, of contrast and colour. Sitting on the riverbank by Claddagh Hall, I make sure to appreciate the ultra-dry air of this north-easterly breeze, which creates scalpel-cut edges of blue sky on mossy green rocks on blue water and white swan.

Oh my god. That shattering white of the swans captivates me, as they preen themselves on the wet dark rocks, while the ebb tide river trickles out to the bay.

Oops.

That’s the thing with Galway, you see.

You get distracted. I was going to take you on a tour of my Galway, City and Connemara, but I ended up sitting and staring.

Time to walk over the lock gates and Wolfe Tone Bridge into the city and abandon ourselves to the narrow jaws of Quay Street.

My Galway would lead me to the tiny front bar of the Quays, which has somehow retained its authenticity. It remains, defiant, like a wonderful carbuncle of old Irishness on the cheek of yet another Paddywood conversion.

There I’ll sense the ghost of Galway’s Traveller matriarch, Biddy Ward, sitting in the corner by the fire, supping her Satzenbrau, scowling at how the rest of the place has become a theme pub.

After the Quays I think I’ll encourage my friends to explore the city.

“Have good time!” I’ll say. “Tomorrow I’ll impose my Galway upon you when we visit Connemara. We’ll go to the magical Inagh Valley, where the 12 Pins meet the Maamturk Mountains, and then we’ll find an empty beach in the Aughrus peninsula.


 “After lunchtime pints and seafood at Oliver’s in Cleggan, we’ll go south to walk the white sands of Doonlaughan, surrounded by treeless moonscape.

“Tonight wander out and find your own Galway. It’ll be built on the people you’ll meet, the strangers’ faces that can so easily become your howyas of each waking day.

“My Galway is all of the places I'm not going to tell you about. Now, go find a hundred of your own.”


©Charlie Adley
09.09.2018.

Sunday 2 September 2018

BAD DECISIONS TEACH US MORE THAN GOOD ONES!





“Ah come on Charlie! Away with your feckin’ psychobabble! You must have some regrets. It’s not as if your life’s been screw-up free!”

I laugh and agree with my friend, but to answer his question I have to switch off and scan my memory files for regret.

Have I made decisions that in hindsight were naive, destructive, or just plain stupid?

Yes, m’Lud. Guilty as charged.

So why do I not plead guilty to regretting them?

Well, m’Lud, they were decisions I chose to make, driven either by love or knowing no better, so yes, they were bad decisions but no, I don’t regret making them.

Searching searching and yes, back in 1985, I had the chance to be taught how to sail and passed it by. I regret that.

After retiring from the corporate world in October ’84, I’d found a tiny shop called Trailfinders. In those days budget Round The World trips were a relatively new concept, so I stitched together my own, arriving in New York, then on to stay with my friend Angie in the Bahamas.
 

After that came the great cities of DC, Philadelphia and San Francisco, so by the time I flew out of LA I was ready to do very little on Tahiti.

While Polynesia catered amply for the rich, those down in the basement of travelling budgets dwelt in giant straw huts, balanced on stilts above mud pools breeding mosquitoes the size of tennis balls.

Holed up in the hut during endless humid days of rain, I chatted to Cory, an Anglo-Saxon Californian Amazon, tanned hazelnut brown from her 6 foot 3 crown all the way down. 


Although physically attracted to her, I felt wary, as she was prone to spouting irritating maxims such as:

“The more I say ‘I’, the more likely I am to lie!”

To these I replied silently in my head

“Speak for yourself love!” while my insecure 24 year-old face forced an expression of false awe at her wisdom.

We travelled to Aukland together and in the hostel lobby I found Cory, talking to some old geezer. My London head was concerned that this Valley Girl was vulnerable to being conned, but I was underestimating her, this man and New Zealand altogether.

Just as I still have no idea how Cory spelt her name (was it Cory, Corey or the traditional CoRi?) I’ll never know if that gentleman was called Maurice or Morris, but a gentleman he was, and more: an inspiration and revelation.

Maurice was a wiry retired teacher who’d spent his life hand- building the stunning Celeste, a beautifully fitted-out 38 foot yacht.
 

Clearly he’d been a vocational teacher as he loved to share his vast knowledge of the local environment. Every couple of months he came down to this hostel, looking for two or three young people who might be interested in sailing with him on Celeste, around the islands of the Hauraki Gulf, on the edge of the South Pacific.

For the next three weeks I lived an existence utterly different to anything I’d experienced before. 


 

Gentle and gliding in movement, strong and steady in muscle, Maurice was a passionate man whose sole loathing was noise. He hated boats with engines.

After a few hours I too was in love with being under sail.

Shooting across the ocean with the wind rustling Celeste’s great sheets brought a thrill of excitement, alongside an exhalation of calm.

All day I sat on deck and watched the blues and whites of wave and sky, listened to the splash-crash of water on wood, the flap of breeze on canvas and in the background, the sound of Maurice teaching Corey how to sail.

He asked me if I wanted to join in but I declined. I was really happy, simply sitting on deck and staring, allowing myself to feel as far from the world of marketing Japanese photocopiers as a man could get.

However when Maurice declared it time to catch dinner, I paid attention.

“Over there, where those black and white birds are circling. Steer her that way, Charlie!”

We dropped hand lines over Celeste’s sides and lo! We hauled up a feast of Kahawai the size of salmon.



Then we’d drop anchor in a silent empty bay and take a dingy to the shore, where we’d follow Maurice as he prowled the clifftops, looking for edible roots and plants. This we now know as foraging.

To us in January 1985 it was what Maurice did: new, ancient and remarkable.
 
We’d build a fire on the beach, cook our fresh fish and veggies, and drink the beer which Maurice bought with the paltry 2 dollars a day we’d been asked to contribute.

“Yeh, mate. I suppose I regret not letting Maurice teach me how to sail. That’d be a great skill to have, and he was such a fine teacher.”
 

 Corey and that deck....

“You’re some weird soul, Charlie, if you can find regret anywhere in that tale.”

Reflecting 35 years later, I realise that sitting on Celeste’s deck changed my life. My decision not to learn sailing allowed me to discover something far more important.

For the first time in my life I was free to stare into the horizon for hour upon hour, day after day.

On that gorgeous deck I rediscovered the spaced-out peace I’d first felt on childhood holidays at a farm in Somerset.

On Celeste I grew to understand that while I had the ability to be a marketing success in the eyes of everyone else, for me all that high-flying city stuff would always feel utterly meaningless, unless my life included times of deep calm.

Having talked myself out of my own argument, I turn to my friend.

“Nah, sorry mate, changing my mind. Didn’t learn how to sail, but I found out how to make myself happy, so no, cancel that. No regrets at all.”

“You’re a lucky man, Charlie.”

“I know mate.”



©Charlie Adley
02.09. 2018.