Monday 18 February 2019

IT TAKES A YEAR TO SLOW DOWN AND SEE THE WORLD!



Standing outside my new house I look around and know the views are beautiful.
 

I also know that at the moment I cannot perceive all that beauty.

As a writer I’ve been lucky enough to earn a living working from several homes in rural Ireland, and I learned in the first, near Slyne Head in Connemara, that it takes a year.

It takes a year to calm down from the pace and madness of modern life.

It takes a year to become open enough to see all treasures that nature has to offer.

We jet off on holidays and drive around on staycations, grabbing our phones to take pictures of this beach, that mountain, those rolling hills.

We feel we’ve seen them, and wave our photos in the faces of other people, to show off the fact that we’ve been there, done that.

While their images may be planted in our brains and computers, we haven’t really seen them at all.

I know that for me it takes a year of living in peace, through all four seasons, before I can fully appreciate the depth and glory of my surroundings.

Already I’ve started to stare for ages out of windows, to stand in the garden and phase out as I watch the world around me, but also I observe myself, knowing that I’m still twitching around like a post-traumatic fart in a colander.

I’ve a long way to go before I see it all.

I’ll get there, day by day, and this time next year, when I stand in this garden, I’ll truly be able to appreciate this view.

I’m in no rush; simply excited at the prospect of returning to that state of inner bliss I’ve been lucky enough to encounter in similar homes twice before.

Time now though to stop all this fancy philosophising, and return to the mundane world of practical tasks: to go into town and buy a toaster and a kettle.

The shop is one of those old-fashioned cavernous places that sells everything from rugs to rat poison. A simple plastic kettle and one of those four slice thick‘n’thin toasters, off the shelf, over to the counter, sorted.

Yer man behind the counter neither speaks nor looks at me once. I hold my peace. This is my very first encounter with a shopkeeper in my new town, and I’m a firm believer in arriving in a new community with a very mild plop, rather than a mighty loud bang.

Whatever happens, I’m going to be nice.

As he hands me the receipt he says thanks, leaving me to wonder if his attitude was the result of me being a stranger or my English accent.

Maybe he was just having a bad day, or maybe abject disinterest is the local way.

Back home I discover that the toaster’s slidy handle on the left works, but the one on the right won’t stay down.

Oh bugger, what a hassle, but I might as well deal with it while the transaction is fresh, so I box it up in its plastic bag and cardboard surrounds, and drive back into town.

At the shop I’m greeted by an older fella who seems a lot nicer than the Silent One who sold it to me. Upon hearing my complaint he disappears into a back room, emerging with an extension cable that he plugs into the wall, and then plugs the toaster into that.

I stand and watch utterly bemused. Either I'm a liar who wants to swap a toaster for no reasonable reason, or an eedjit who doesn't know how to use a toaster.

What I am not is a customer impressed by this attitude. I grew up in retail and cannot for the life of me work out why this bloke thinks I’ve nothing better to do with my day than make up stories about a toaster.

I already told him I’ve just moved here, so you might think he’d be interested in keeping my custom, but no. He tests the toaster, which of course works absolutely perfectly, and then he hands it back to me.

I drive home, plug it in, and predictably it doesn’t work.

Grrrr.

Next day I go back to the shop, desperately hoping they will do the right thing. I made it clear that I just wanted to swap it for an identical one, so there’s no question of a refund.
 

Thankfully the older fella makes the right decision, and just gives me another one.

I smile and thank him profusely, going home happy that a combination of patience and experience have turned this first rather trying encounter with locals into a successful, if not wholly pleasant affair.

I will make sure to become a regular patron of the place.

Waiting for my toast to brown I see six black bullocks and one pregnant-looking Jersey cow run into the field outside my kitchen window. The young fellas frolic and skitter about, possibly just released from their Winter sheds.

They chow down like they’ve never seen grass before, but they have. Maybe their memories don’t go back as far.as last Autumn. Equally it’s possible their excitement is one of renewed familiarity with freedom and fresh pasture.

Just to their left is the leaf-strewn hole in the ground where I saw a beautiful fat pheasant emerge an hour ago. I think I saw three chick heads peeping out too.

In a flash of shadow I see behind the hedge a fox the size of a labrador. Rich pickings round here, then.

If I knew no better I’d think I was perceiving it all, but as I calm down over the coming months I know I’ll enjoy discovering more and more detail and depth in the world around me.

Sideways rain pummels this old house’s thick stone walls.

Everything is finally unpacked, and surrounded by the familiarity of my own possessions the place feels like home.

There’s two months of chaotic retro-filing to do in the office, but not right now.

That can wait.

First I’ll enjoy my toast and watch the world outside.



©Charlie Adley
18.02.2019.

Tuesday 12 February 2019

LOST IN A WORMHOLE, UNPACKING INTO AN ANTI-TARDIS!



Staring out of my new office window as I write this, I’m feeling strangely emotional. It’s not strange for this scribbler to feel emotional, but today my emotions themselves are strange.

Today is actually the latter half of the week before last, as lost in a time wormhole, the only thing I can focus on without distraction is my work.

Next week there’s a trip to Galway, then to London, and every other moment I work at the physical and creative exercise that is unpacking.

Never had a move like this. My new home is an anti-Tardis: much smaller inside than you’d think from outside.

When I first saw this house I took photos of it and showed them to a gillie friend of mine from Connemara.

“What do you think? It feels good but the kitchen and bathroom are so tiny, and -”

 

“-you walk in here flashing photos of a house at me like it’s your new girlfriend. Now, does it have a room to sleep in?”

“Yes.”

“Does it have a room for you to write and work in?”

“Mmhmm.”

“Does it have a room for you to relax in?”

“Yup, but -”

 

“Anything more for one man is gluttony.”

There must be something about the acid soil of bogland that makes my Yorkshire and Connemara friends so cutting; so brutally to the point and effective.

Today, last week, whenever this is, my churning gut of feeling is interpreted perfectly by the snow dancing on the blizzard raging outside.

We give out about the forecasts, but my app predicted 12 hours of snow here today, starting at 9am, and it was spot on.

Much of the country has rain but evidently I’m elevated here, and that’s fine. High up means less chance of flooding, and with a back boiler in my fireplace I don’t care if the power goes out.

As long as I have fuel to burn, my rads will be humming and -

oh -

- yes, that’s what’s been happening. Months overloaded by major life events and humungous lists have left my poor wee brainbox in need of a vacation.

I just keep wandering off, creating a trail of new jobs to be done, while old ones are left half-finished, or never started in the first place.

I suppose my subconscious knows I can relax. All my worldly goods are here now. My office was the first thing set up. I’d boxed it up the week before the move, and spent the intervening 10 days twitching around like a man missing a limb.

Only a madman would go out today.
Okay, that definition doesn’t exactly excuse me from an afternoon stroll, but no.

After this I have to return to the back box room once more, where bags and piles of gordknowswhat lie in wait to be allocated a place, or deemed superfluous and put away.

I’d rather have a feeling of space than feel hemmed in by clutter.

Snowed in and boxed under. Thank you universe, and all things others might consider Holy, depending on personal preferences. I’ll admit, I asked for a week of warm weather in which to make my move, and that was given.

Driving the van for three days through this week’s snow would’ve been a nightmare. My unfettered gratitude goes out to my faithful formidable crew of Galwegian friends (a Cork lad, an Englishman and a true Maroon: Galwegians all!) who made all the work a pleasure.

Every hour or so I sit down and do deep breathing.

It's all gone really well.
I love this house. It felt like home immediately. 

But but but there’s so much yet to be done.
 

and
 

breeeeeathe...  

It’ll all be fine.
I can set my own agenda.
 

Who am I kidding?
I have no agenda.
 

and
 

breeeeeathe...

Outside the snow swirls on a strong easterly. Mature trees all around sway and adjust to the power of this gale, challenging them as it comes from the opposite direction of our prevailing wind.

There’s a certain level of exhaustion that takes the legs from under you. Maybe that’s why I’m loving having no TV service yet.

Normally I’m a complete news junkie, and soon I’ll be connected again, but now, lost in my wormhole, I need neither clocks, nor war, nor Brexit. I turn the radio on for a few minutes of Sean O’Rourke and as much Ivan Yates as I can bear, and then I sit and watch The Sopranos on my ancient DVD player.

At my friend Whispering Blue’s gaff last week we watched best bit clips, but without the juxtaposition of Tony's two families - his cosa nostra and his blood relations - the drama was merely dramatic.

The show’s greatness lies in this family man, who sits at his kitchen table, like any other loving father, trying to raise his children to be clever and benevolent, who then leaves the house to become a violent brutal killer.

After my father died I lay on the sofa for weeks, watching Euro 2008 and The Sopranos. This will be the third time I've watched the entirety of this seminal series, and each time, at some stage, Tony Soprano infects my dreams.

I suspect absorbing all that machismo increases my testosterone levels, which to be honest would be no bad thing right now.

Time to rest; to heal; to rebuild and create new strengths.

This is house will be my chrysalis.

Just the peace of the Irish countryside, the sound of the wind in the trees, birdsong and American mafiosi shoe leather breaking wiseguys' cheekbones.

Sitting by the fire I watch branches waving, reflected on the glass doors of the dresser.
 

Once the unpacking is done I’ll embrace the chance of routine for the first time in 9 months.

Does the scent of future beckon?
Bring it on.

Right after a wee nap.


©Charlie Adley
12.10.2019.

Monday 11 February 2019

HAPPY 90TH BIRTHDAY TO MY MUM, A WOMAN OF CHARM AND GRACE!


“Anyway, I’ve been thinking about what to get you for your birthday, and -”

“Oh I don’t want you worrying about -”

“No mum, I’m not worrying. I was just wondering what you get for the 90 year-old woman who has -”

“No really, you’ve so much on your mind at the moment, and -”

“Don’t be ridiculous! Of course I’m getting you something, and I had an idea which I want to run past you.”

“Oh well, that’s very kind of you.”

“Well, the reason I want to tell you about it is ‘cos you might think it’s in poor taste.”

“Well I’m sure I won’t.”

“Okay, here’s the story. Recently we’ve lost a lot of very good middle-aged men here in Galway. Some took their own lives, others fell over on the prom, crazy horrible stuff. I’ve written far too many obituaries, mum, and this is where it gets tricky. Y’see, the only thing I could think of to give you for your 90th was a column that celebrates your life. It’ll be so great to enjoy someone who’s still living life to the full, but I also want to pay tribute to those men in the introduction.”

“Well that sounds lovely.”

“So you’re not offended?”

“Why would I be offended?”

“Well, because y’know, mentioning obituaries in the context of a 90th birthday, well, it might not look -”

“Don’t be silly, that’s fine.”

“Really?”

“Of course.”

“I’m going to show how fun and easy our relationship is, by writing up this conversation, and then I’ll include the speech I’m making at your lunch. I’ll frame it and give it to you. Feels like the most personal and, well, meaningful thing I can give you.”

“Well I think that sounds lovely, but I don’t want you to go to any trouble. Oh, I remember what it was I wanted to say to you. Did you watch Andrew Marr this morning? Very good for once. You’d have liked it. That Caroline Lucas, the awful Green woman you like so much, she was on.”

If you sit in the front window of St. James restaurant, in the tiny London suburb of Bushey, you can look out to a village green and a pond, and for a moment believe you’re not within a megatropolis.

Our family has known Alfonso, the restaurant’s owner, for decades. Long before he owned this place, he worked and we ate at the Alpine down the road; now a block of flats.

Yesterday, on Mum’s birthday, we were in the back room, around 45 of us, and this is the bit when I stood up, clunked cutlery off the side of a glass and drew attention to myself:

“Hello everyone, and thanks for coming. It’s great to see you all here. Well then, what to say about Elizabeth Adley?

There’s a couple of things I’m sure of. Looking round this room, I feel safe assuming that there’s not one person here who would have a single bad thing to say about her.

It takes some doing, to live a long and full life, being extremely socially active and involved, yet upset nobody.

When we add to that the certain fact that mum would not say a single bad word about any of us here, we find a splendid human being.

I’m not saying she doesn’t think them - she is human! But when something upsets her she either deals with it head on or, far more often, lets it go. In that way, she’s a far better person than I could ever dream of being.

It is possible that her exceptional ability to let the proverbial water wash off the duck’s back might have evolved as something of a survival mechanism during her marriage.

I loved and still miss my father, but he was not an undemanding man. He’d sit in his chair and announce that he’d like a cup of tea, and a small part of me was always astonished to see mum rise to her feet and make and bring him one.

She loved him throughout, cared for him for 10 years, and after he died she built a new life on four ancient foundations: family, friends, Bridge and the Conservative Party.

Our family bonds are stronger than ever, and around me here I see friends from mum’s childhood, names I’ve heard all my life, from her schooldays.

It’s no accident that all of us, my brother, sister and I, enjoy many strong lifelong friendships.

We were inspired to do so.

How lovely it is for me to say that my nightly phone calls to mum are a pure pleasure. She is constantly my advocate and friend, as well as critic when she needs to be.

Even though our visions are far apart, we can and regularly do debate politics, although I avoid use of the ‘I’ word - immigration - because if I press that button she’ll be off talking about “only being a small island”, and from there it’s all downhill!

Mum is a woman of strong opinions, about many things. I remember standing in her back garden on a Summer’s evening, watching her give a dribble of water to her containers.
 

'You’d be better off just giving them a really good watering once a week, mum. A proper soaking, until the water comes out the bottom.'
 

'Yes, I know, you always say that. Monty Don says it too, but I really don’t know!'

Well, mum, Elizabeth Adley, you’re 90 today and honestly - and this is not just another Jewish son praising his momma, this comes from everyone in your life: you’re utterly amazing; a force of nature universally loved and admired; a charming woman who holds that rarest and most precious of qualities: you possess grace.

So many many happy returns mum, thanks for being such an incredible mother. To Elizabeth Adley! Happy 90th Birthday!



©Charlie Adley
11.10.2019.