Sunday 24 March 2019

WHAT DO WE EVER TRULY WHOLLY OWN?



There are three cracks running from top to bottom on the inside of my Chelsea mug. Against the white they look like long thick dark strands of hair.

The base still appears sound, but I’d look a right plonker if it fell apart and scorched me with boiling hot tea.

Binned. It’s a goner.
 

The mug that presently qualifies as my mug is emblazoned with photos of the 2010 Double Winning team. 

A gift from another True Blue, it reminds me of the day I turned 50, stomping exuberant and ebullient around a bar in Greece, swigging a bottle of Jameson from the neck, watching Chelsea win at Wembley.

In proper Chelsea tradition, this mug is also strangely defective. It seeps from the bottom.
 

Always has. Pick it up and there’s a little ring of dampness on the surface left behind.

Votcha gonna do?

My this, my that. Does it matter?

Mugs come and go, part of our lifetime conveyor belt of fading ephemera. Worn out, broken, lost or discarded, we no longer even possess much of what we once felt we owned.

Unless there’s a history or a personal significance to an object, I see no value in owning it.
 

Ironically, the things that matter most to me are not mine at all. In the eyes of the law (and family members!) everything I have is rightfully mine. Yet I’m only their caretaker. They’ll survive beyond me, in the family.

There are a few possessions I care about that aren’t heirlooms. I love the tiny mini sea stack I was given by a dear friend on Omey Island. 


Then there's the two neolithic stones I found in a flower bed in my back garden. One is a cutting tool, worked well to a sharp three inch blade, the other a simple hand axe.
 

These are not mine either. I have them, but they belong to the soil, and will doubtless be returned there at some stage.

It’s okay for me to feel I own them for a while. Their original owners no longer miss them.

There is Blue Bag, my 35 year-old travelling companion, and even higher in the longevity league, my gold Parker pen, which I was given as a bar mitzvah present.

This pleases me, as gifts given to the boy becoming a man are supposed to last a lifetime.

There’s a sentimental corner of me that loves the memory of using that pen to start writing my daily diary at the age of 15, while there it is, sitting beside me now, and here I am, still scribbling.

Hallelujah.

Is it that kind of continuity we seek, when we try to own things?

Does the idea of owning something delude us into believing we have cheated death for a weak beguiling minute?

Maybe, but there’s more to it than that.

I have objects around me in this house that long ago travelled from London and Brighton to the west of Ireland. 


Far from my family in the UK, I take great comfort in seeing Gran’s tiny chest of drawers in its rightful spot, beside my desk, wherever I work.

Dark oak, with carved acorn drawer handles and perfect dovetail joints, it was handmade by a craftsman, where today a stud, some glue or a weak nail would do.

Much more than that, it’s Gran’s. My mother’s mother was a wonderful woman: eccentric, kind and always interested. Along with her magnifying glass, which sits atop my fireplace, her presence is here with me.

My Dad’s parents are here too. I found them both difficult people, yet truly appreciate the two paintings I have from their Hove flat. They bring me much pleasure.

Do I own them?

Here once again ownership feels contentious. Both artists have respected reputations, but what fascinates me most is not what they might be worth, although naturally I’d like to know, but more whether those who care for and curate the artists’ collections know these paintings even exist.

Do I have some kind of moral obligation to let their estates know about these works, hung in private homes since who knows when?

Do they, in some way belong to those others, as well as me?

What’s he bloomin’ on about?” I hear you cry. “Get the paintings valued, pronto Tonto! Then we’ll see how much he still wants to own his precious paintings!

Sorry if my musings seem otherworldly and crass, but I’m allowed to wonder with such naivety, as I don’t feel I own these paintings.

I’ve no children, so one day they will pass to my nieces and their children, and so it goes.

Also treasured are my father’s father’s long lens field glasses. They sit by my back door in their sturdy old leather case, strung all over with romantic little silver, blue and scarlet tags, telling stories of decades ago, when Pops had access to the Members Enclosures and Private Clubs of the racecourses at Newbury, York, Sandown Park and Ascot.

Electric Ireland sent a note last week to say that the power would be off in my house from 9am-5pm yesterday, so I drove to Galway, spent good time with valuable friends and arrived back home around 4pm.

At 4:53pm the power returned.

7 minutes early. 

Early? 

What’s Ireland become?
Are we Scandinavians now or something?

“View me! Join me!” implored my Sky box, as it hummed and whirred into life. “Vital vote, you know you want to know, Brexit Brexit Brexit!” it whispered, but I ignored it.

After resetting the heating and oven clock, I sat in my armchair, draping my old family picnic blanket over my legs, and returned to my crossword.

Sitting by the fire.

Warm, fed and housed.
 

I don’t own any of that, but it’s all I need.


©Charlie Adley
23.03.2019

Sunday 17 March 2019

YOUR MISSION: FIND THE NUN WITH A SCYTHE!




The bloke on the radio is all excited about the EU decision to do away with moving the clocks twice a year. When he’s told that each country will choose which time to be in, he gasps and gabbles about how he hopes we stay in Summertime.

Of course he does. It’s Spring and one of the benefits of living on the western edge of a whopping great time zone is that we enjoy ridiculously long summer evenings.

At the risk of being predictably contrary, I have issues with late dusk. Around 10 I’m ready for darkness to fall.

Call me crazy but I like to greet the day when it’s light and go to bed when it’s dark.

Along with just about every Irish person I’ve spoken to, yer man has idealised a romantic midge-free Irish Summer soirĂ©e that very rarely happens.

It’s only natural that as we emerge from darkness we dream of light, but how about looking beyond the next season, and thinking how we’ll feel in January?

If he and the rest of you have your way, those Winter mornings will be so dark for so long, well, b’ain’t natural, s’all I’m sayin’.

All bets are off after last Summer’s months of fierce heat. We all need something to look forward to, and what better than days of sunshine and seaside frolics?

My mind ambles off to the beach, arriving on the sublime sandy shores of Inverin, and the memory of one very strange day.

Back in 2006, when I was a youth worker, we took a group of teenage boys from the estates of Galway City to a community house just off Inverin beach. 


It was a busy place, used by many youth groups, and the idea was that if you visited, you also contributed to the upkeep of the house.

I suggested to my boss that our lads could mow the small patch of lawn and clear up the the long grasses. Was there a mower or a strimmer available?

“That’d be too easy for them, Charlie.” he said calmly, as a smile grew on his lips, “Let’s find them a scythe.”

“Right, a scythe. No bother chief. I’ll just nip down to Scythes’r’Us and pick up a few.”

Behind me a leader of another youth group piped up.

“A scythe you’re after, is it? I live in Spiddal, and there’s a nun who lives behind the church there, and I know she has a scythe.”

My boss looked at me with a clear and simple message in his eyes, so off I went to Spiddal, somewhat tickled by my mission: track down the nun with the scythe.

She was a hard woman to find. At the church I accidentally gatecrashed a christening, and then became lost wandering the backrooms of holy places in which I did not belong.

Eventually I stumbled upon the nun by a vegetable patch, behind a neighbouring house.
 

She lent me her scythe, which I took back and introduced to the lads, who moaned and complained when they realised there was no motor.

“No lads. You’re going to be both the petrol and the engine.”

Walking away from a chorus of muttered curses, I left them to master ancient farming ways, and help out in the kitchen, where a gigantic communal lunch being was prepared for all the groups.

A couple of hours later, while fifty kids sat and chowed down, I was doing dishes at the sink when one of my lads poked his head through the serving hatch.

“Charlie! Charlie! Can I have some more cereal? Please Charlie! Please?”

“Hello Thomas. Here’s what we’ll do. You go and sit down and wait until everyone has eaten their cereal, and then, if there’s any left, you can come back and ask me again.”

“Sound.”

The woman standing next to me, drying the dishes, turned to look at me and in a sheepish whisper asked:

“Oh! Oh! Hope you don’t mind me askin’, but are you a priest?”

I looked at myself through her eyes, dressed in my black T-shirt and black jeans, looking after kids and borrowing scythes from nuns, but all I could do was splutter with laughter.

“No. No, I am not a priest. I’m just a Northwest London Jewish boy!”

“Oh! Ah, oh, I see! Oh, Jewish, did you say? Oh, well, I mean ah, that’s wonderful.”

She appeared to be adrift in surprise.
For some reason I felt mildly irritated

“No, not wonderful. It just is. He was one too, remember. Himself over there in the picture, with the heart?”

My life is strange enough, without having to mess with the clocks twice a year.

Whichever they choose, one thing we know: here in the West of Ireland, on 300 days each year, we’ll experience all of the seasons together.

I’ve been in this house for just 5 weeks now, yet in that time I’ve sat outside in shorts and a T-shirt, soaking up the heat of the afternoon sun. I’ve watched a blizzard rage beyond these windows and shovelled snow off my car.

I’ve seen that disturbing yellow-green baby pooh glow on western clouds, which heralds something odd heading in from the east.


I’ve viscerally felt the approach of those familiar purple-black cloud towers, which bring powerful storms off the Atlantic.

There have been perfectly silent foggy mornings, with muffled sunlight dispersed over hills that have disappeared, and screaming windy nights, when the ancient trees that surround this house have bent and roared and stood defiant.

I have tried and failed to sit outside on windless warm evenings that cook up a midge storm. Nobody’s told the little buggers they’re not meant to be biting yet.

Maybe it’s Global Warming.

Maybe it was ever thus.

Whichever hours are daylight or dark, we'll revel in the wonder and be at the mercy of Connacht’s climate.



©Charlie Adley
17.03.2019.

Monday 11 March 2019

I FEEL FEAR AND WAIT FOR IT TO DISAPPEAR!


(This will be the last time I write here about the last 9 months. At all times I tried to preserve the dignity and privacy of everyone concerned. Enough is enough. I wanted to write this piece, for those of you who have felt the same and may not undertand why, and I needed to write it as a form of catharsis.)
 


A couple of weeks ago I described myself here as “twitching around like a post-traumatic fart in a colander.”

I wish I hadn’t.

Those souls who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) do not deserve to be the butts of cheap one liners.

Especially as right now I’m suffering many of the symptoms of the condition.

I’ve not got the whole megillah, as thankfully I’ve had no nightmares yet, and if you met me out and about, you’d say I’m in blinding form.

Unlike others with PTSD, I’m positively enjoying my public and social life, until something triggers another unexpected nadir, creating a fear-driven compulsion to rush back home and feel safe.

That I do, and then I don’t feel safe.

Between my ears there’s a particular madness going on.
 

Thankfully I recognise it.
 

We’ve met before.

I still feel the fear it creates, but I’m able to understand it, which is incredibly helpful.

I was lucky, because the first time I experienced this fear, a supremely qualified friend of mine explained what was wrong with me.

He fought in the Falklands War, and has seen and done things nobody ever should. His life has been ripped apart by PTSD.

Back in 2001 we sat smoking rollies, drinking strong sweet mugs of tea, dunking chocolate biscuits.

“Yeh, well, it’s like I sit at my kitchen table, mate, and I know I’m incredibly perfectly safe, rural west of Ireland, y’know, but I don’t trust it. It feels like someone or something’s going to come along and take it away from me … or take me away.”

“Oh yeh. Post-traumatic to fuck, mate.”

“Nah! I’ve not been in a war or a crash or anything.”

“You’ve just sat there and told me about four years of rage and depression in California. That’d do it.”

“Really?”

“Bloody right.”

“Woh! Okay. Bloody hell.”

“Yeh.”

I am a patient man.

Thanks to my friend’s tragedy, I know that in time this feeling will diminish and disappear.

That’s what I keep telling myself.

It occurs to me that If I’ve experienced this mental state twice, many of you must be feeling it too.

How could you not, in this world where children die; where tragedy stalks?

Now I feel those same fears again. I’m not suffering as my friend does, yet the fact that my symptoms don’t tick all the PTSD boxes doesn’t make the fear feel less real.

The shock is there. I’ve been in crashes. I know how shock feels: that detachment and cocoonedness.

After a month without TV channels, this news junky turned on Channel 4 News to find Krishnan Guru-Murthy appearing to talk through several layers of bubble wrap.

I’ve had the trauma. Now I’m in shock, and know that in time this feeling will diminish and disappear.

I fear what the mail woman is putting in my box.
More bombardment? No, just a phone bill.

I’m nervous at the thought of a friend coming, although his visit turns out to be a delight.

Two voicemails appear on my phone, from two unknown numbers. In saner times I’d wonder what bright new opportunities these callers might represent.

Now I am gripped by fear.

Not anxiety: I know how that feels, and this is not that.

This is fear; fear of more incoming fire.

Turns out one message was from a phone company, offering fab new deals, and the other was a misdirected fax machine screaming at me from England.

Glad I didn’t take that pill and wipe out an afternoon.

Don’t like medicating myself to get through a day, because I know intellectually and experientially that I’m safe in this house.

This fear is just an irrational and unfounded feeling.
I look at it and wish it would leave me.

More than anything I know that in time this feeling will diminish and disappear.
 

That is all that matters.

For 8 months I felt I was under bombardment from three directions. The landscape of my life was demolished, my income suffering too, as I was emotionally unable to deliver my Autumn writing course.

Thankfully I’m now excited at the prospect of teaching again, and taking bookings for my Spring Craft of Writing Course (details below), and yes, I know, what chutzpah, writing about being all Looney Toons, at the same time as suggesting you pay to learn from me.

Charming.
 

You decide!

Those 8 months were not the time to deal with emotions. Blinkered, getting through, I recognised each as it rose up, and then put it on the back burner with all the others.
 

At certain points I felt secretly and utterly desperate, but a new way of life had to be created.

I just had to keep going.
You know that one: when you have to keep going.
 

I know you do.

Two of the three conflicts have yet to be finally resolved, but now I have a new home, where I am safe, even if I don’t feel it.

Here the fear will pass and then I’ll be ready to face those emotions cast aside.

Next week the post woman will bring good news, in the shape of readers signing up for my Craft of Writing Course - did I mention that details were below?

If you are feeling unfounded fear, please tell a trusted friend, a doctor or a counsellor.

It helps so much to understand why you’re suffering, and know that in time these feelings will diminish and hopefully disappear.



©Charlie Adley
11.03.2019.

***



Charlie Adley’s Craft of Writing Course
Westside Resource Centre, 
8 weeks, April 4th - May 23rd, 
every Thursday, 7:15-9:00.

€120/110. Deposit or pre-payment essential. 

To reserve your place
call: 085 729 4204, 
email: charlieadley1@gmail.com



Sunday 3 March 2019

I REFUSE TO CHOOSE IN GALWAY’S IMMORAL DILEMMA!





What foul modern skulduggery is this?

I enter the hotel room to find myself confronted by a miniature model of an alien spacecraft.

This sleek chrome and black construction is nothing more than one of those pod coffee machines that millions use every day, all over the world, but to this ageing scribbler, it presents two challenges.

First I’ll have to suss out how to use the damn thing, while also trying not to feel like that old bloke on social media, filmed trying to start his hoover by repeatedly yanking the electric lead, thinking it worked like a lawnmower.

I laughed my socks off watching him, but now I’m the no fool like an old fool; incompetent; worthy of mockery.

Paranoid and thirsty, I try to make a cup of tea.

Alongside the rows of multi-coloured sachets of fancy shmancy coffees on the tray below sits a pile of teabags on strings in packets.

Surely they’d not be so cruel as to taunt me, were a cuppa not possible?

How hard can it be?

Take off this plastic jug on the back and fill it with water. It doesn’t really click back in place quite right, but it’ll do, I hope.

Now take the teabag and what? Put it into the mug, Adley. Keep it simple. Then place the mug on the little metal platform and just run hot water into it.

At the back I find the power button and the machine comes alive. An under-lit glow of 90s Nightclub Blue appears, while in front of me three flashing white lights offer a tiny, a medium and a big cup.

How big is their big cup?
Is that bigger than this mug?
Is there now a universal size of coffee?

A Grandee Tallee Muchico, or somesuch?

Will the water overflow the mug?

I press the big cup light and nothing happens. All lights continue to flash.
 

Okay, so maybe it’s waiting for something to be put in its slot.

I slide the teabag inside where the coffee sachets are meant to go and press the mug button again.

Nothing happens, but then I notice a swivel handle that runs around the outside of the machine. It lifts from the back, just like a detonator handle in a cartoon.

I raise it over the whole machine until it rests flat, facing me.

All of a sudden lights stop flashing, the big mug light stays on, and water begins to hiss and gurgle at what sounds like great pressure.

I look at the coffee sachets below, thinking how robust they look, compared to a teabag.

Oh bugger! What have I done?

That teabag’s going to get mashed to a papery meshy stringy pulp and no, ye eedjit, of course you don’t put teabags in there!

With imaginary Star Trek emergency klaxons ringing in my ears, my mind cries ‘Abort! Abort!’

Switching off the machine, I reach to save the teabag, which promptly drops down and disappears into the machine itself, apparently lost forever.

Damn and blast and how do I get that out now?

Down on my knees I search for an opening but find none, and then realise the sachets must drop somewhere. The teabag has simply fallen down to the place of dead sachets.

‘That’s a relief!’ I think, slumping onto the edge of the bed, contemplating the ecological disaster caused by used coffee pods.

3g of coffee comes in roughly 2g of packaging, each taking between 150-500 years to break down, dumped several million times, every single day.

This catastrophe of consumerism ruins my walks, where I see the detritus of life left everywhere.

Every five steps there’ll be a can or bottle thrown from a car, while the ditches below are swamped with split bags of domestic waste.

I’m lucky to have the time and space to sort my rubbish and recycling, because bin trucks will not come here. I pay 6 quid for each bin bag and €3.50 for a ticket for recycling, and then drive 20km to the Civic Amenity and 20km back.

Driving with a carload of month-old crap is, well, smelly, and I resent having to pay to recycle.

Where’s the incentive?
Well, apart from the Polar Bears and our own mass extinction.

Yeh, I know.

What I resent even more are the dilemmas modern society forces upon us.

Some questions should never be asked. Galwegians are presently gripped by an immoral dilemma: should we care for our dying or the environment?

If this is the answer we seek, we are asking the wrong question.

Watching RTE 6.1 news I find myself torn, both morally and personally, because Galway is still a community.

I’ve known Caroline Stanley, of Friends of Merlin Woods, ever since I arrived here in 1992. She was my first next door neighbour, and now makes clear that their fight is not against the Hospice, but for the environment.

Speaking on behalf of the Hospice, there’s Keith Finnegan, who recently showed me private kindness, while my Craft of Writing Course students enjoy the opportunity to read on his show.

I flinch when others pour scorn on birds and butterflies. I know we need bees and biodiversity to survive, and equally I love the Galway Hospice and respect everyone who works there.

I refuse to make this choice between life and death.

Anyway all I want right now is a cup of tea

One last attempt: put the bag in the mug, hit the power, lower the mad handle, lights flash and hey, happy days, here comes hot water!

Hours later I notice a plastic strip card right above the coffee machine. “Six Tips To The Perfect Cup Of Coffee!” it says, with six photos for idiots like me.

Okay, I’m not an old fool.

I’m just a regular everyday fool, who looks but does not see.



©Charlie Adley
03.04.2019.