Friday 24 May 2024

Staying at a good hotel feels like visiting a friend!



It will come as no surprise to several hoteliers when I reveal that for the best part of a couple of decades, I've been writing hotel reviews for various Irish and UK publications, under a scattering of noms de plume. 

The reason I’m breaking cover from this obsolete secret is that I’ve recently chosen to cancel a commission to review a London Premier Inn.

An Irish paper noticed I often go back to my native city, so they asked me to write up a weekend visit to London.

The reason you're reading this now is that it all went wrong, weeks before I left home.

Whenever I review a place I ask for a top floor room, and if there’s a noisy road nearby, I ask to be at the back of the hotel.

I do this both because it’s what I want, and to find out how the place deals with simple requests.

Premier Inn turned the everyday task of adding a request to a booking into a nightmare. I ended up emailing their Press Office and a Media person (with a capital 'M'), but each time was forwarded to an Escalation process, where I was patronised and reminded what I already knew.

Point being, I’m not going to review a place that has managed to annoy me before I get on the plane.

I will never write a purely negative review, because wherever it is and whatever has happened, there’s a good human in there somewhere, underpaid, working long and inconvenient hours.

Hopefully when I stay at this Premier Inn, all will be wonderful, but I’m no longer able to arrive as an open-minded guest. 

Left to my own devices I very rarely book a room in a corporate plastic menu hotel. I’ll always aim for the independent family-run outfit, because they are invariably the best.

My two favourite Irish hotels - Flannery’s in Galway City and Rosleague Manor in Connemara - are both independent and family run.

As different in style and status as they are in location, I feel part of both whenever I stay.

 

Flannery's hotel in Galway City

Flannery’s is my city home from home. Utterly unpretentious while offering every comfort, I’m greeted by a ‘Welcome Back Mr. Adley!’ box of chocs in my room, a bit of football banter with the Duty Manager who calls me Charlie, and last Christmas they sent me a card with a voucher for a night’s B&B inside.

Life feels lovely when loyalty is rewarded with more than spammy e-mails.

Rosleague is my otherworldly escape. Truth be told, I’m a victim of its well-deserved success, as proprietor Mark Foyle’s excellent instincts and superb team have combined to guarantee the hotel is always full.

  

 

 

 

 

I try to stay at the beginning or end of the season, when the price is lower. One night at Rosleague Manor leaves me as relaxed as a week by the Med. Two nights and I have to buy a bigger belt.

Flannery’s Hotel and Rosleague Manor offer me sanctuary, in different and vital areas of my life, for which I thank them.

Sounds like I’m thanking a friend?
Exactly.

Good hotels are not about how many stars they wear.

Staying at a good hotel feels like visiting a friend.

I made a new friend in April. Last year I went to Bordeaux, ostensibly for the Rugby World Cup, with three others from my school posse. We rented a house with a pool and it was tremendous fun, great craic; relaxing it was not.

The last time I went on a chill-time holiday was way back in 2017, before the marriage collapse and that mystery illness which almost killed me.

This Spring my confidence finally reached a level sufficient for me to try a solo holiday. I had trouble reconciling in my head the apprehension I felt.

After all, I’d travelled the world on my own, hitching with Blue Bag in the 80s, and in my early 30s went round again, ending up somehow in the country next door.

But travelling is different to being a tourist, and I definitely didn’t want to be in a vast resort hotel, surrounded by families with kids and couples on honeymoon.

It'd be no fun playing the part of a morbidly obese Billy-No-Mates by the pool.

I’m way too anti-social to go on a 'singles’ holiday. Even typing that sends a fearful shiver through me, but I remembered visiting the town of Tavira, in the East Algarve, a few times.

Liking its vibe and taking note.

  

Away from the thumping great resorts of the Algarve, Tavira lies on a river between Faro and the Spanish border.

Free from fast food outlets, hi-rise hotels and skyscrapers, Tavira is a place of beautifully tiled houses lining tiny cobbled streets.


After countless hours online I found the Authentic Hotel, which despite its name is more boutique than traditional. Usually I run a mile from anything that describes itself as  ‘boutique’, but the reviews for this little 2 star hotel were through the roof.

 

Located on what might be described as Tavira’s Left Bank, it was within stumbling distance of several excellent neighbourhood bars and tiny family restaurants, filled with locals as well as tourists, where no photographs of food adorned the menu.

I had the most excellent time, partly because Tavira is such a wonderful place, but also because the Authentic Hotel was so lovely, staffed by three or four friendly faces, who always go the extra mile to make you happy.

Hotel stars mostly just reflect services and facilities, and as the Authentic has no bar, no restaurant and no room service, it only qualifies for 2 stars.

However the bathrooms are five star, the breakfasts are quirky and excellent, with a freshly squeezed orange juice that sends a smile guaranteed to shatter your hangover.


The rooms are serviced my midday, and the rooftop terrace has a plunge pool with view of the town’s traditional rooftops.

 

I loved it, had a magnificent time, never once in any bar or restaurant feeling self-conscious about being alone.

In fact I found the opposite: it was pure luxury to do whatever I wanted whenever I felt like it.

If ever there was a definition of a holiday…

I will be back there next Spring. Checking into the Authentic Hotel will feel like visiting a friend.

As for the Premier Inn, well, you’ll never know.

I’ve cancelled the commission for the review, and will hope that the booking process does not mirror the hotel itself.



©Charlie Adley

24.05.2024



 

Friday 19 April 2024

Overbearing and ebullient, English Pete will be missed!

(Pic: Noel Barbour)

“I know what I am, Charlie!”

“And what are you, Pete?”

“I’m overbearing and ebullient, mate. That’s what I am!

“Well, ebullient is good. But if you know that you’re overbearing, did you ever think of maybe, I dunno, being less overbearing?”

“No, Charlie. Not really. No. Never.”

A wise man from Caltra once told me that self-knowledge is utterly useless, unless you do something about it.

Tragically it’s too late for Peter ‘English Pete’ Ryan to act on his self-knowledge, as he died a few days ago.

I know little of the circumstances, apart from the fact that he was found in his gaff, but to be honest, I don’t care.

I’m not being a hypocrite when I say that I’m sad Pete has gone. Many, myself included, often found his overbearing ebullience hard to take.

But he was a character, of the Old School Galwegian Blow-in variety, and his spirit will be missed.

I first encountered Pete when interviewing potential housemates for my semi-slum in Flea Lane, Salthill, back in 1993. Pete arrived half cut, with bodhrán in hand.

Despite the traditional instrument there came out his mouth a raw cockney accent, and I sat back as he told a great story.

Several minutes later, when he was into his third great story, I started to think back to Orla, that nice young woman who’d been up for the room herself a few minutes before Pete.

Pete had an inexhaustible supply of great anecdotes, which is a wondrous thing. Trouble was though that he felt it his duty to share as many of those great anecdotes with you as possible, at any given and all other times.

As he moved onto the fourth, in the manner of a runaway train gathering momentum rolling down a steep hill, I wept a tiny bit inside:

‘Will he ever shut up? I can’t live with this bloke. I’ll call back that Orla and offer her the room.’

Over the next few years Pete and I developed a friendship that was primarily based on his reading of Double Vision, back when this blog appeared weekly in its original newspaper colyoom form.

It’s safe to say that apart from a manic Texan who operates on the power of new-found sobriety, Pete became this colyoom’s #1 fan, so when I bumped into him - no, let me re-frame that - when he caught me off-guard by Johnny Massacre Corner, he flattered me something rotten by recounting what he’d enjoyed about that week’s piece. 

To protect friends in a small city I gave everyone I wrote about in DV a moniker, as a disguise, and when Pete was anointed The Waistcoat I think he felt a level of acceptance quite alien to him.

I know that sounds harsh but the man was - I think we asserted - overbearing, and sometimes you just didn’t have the energy for him.

When you heard his penny whistle playing half way down Buttermilk Lane you chose Druid Lane, and when he played in Druid Lane you might cut through by Healy’s barbers.

During Chelsea games in the pub, he would choose the ear on the head nearest him, and talk into it throughout the entire match, expounding on the finer points of football and illustrating his unique and frankly scary memory for details.

“Yeh, that’d be Saturday March 23rd, 1972, sunny and hot it was, when Barnet were beaten 0-3 at home.”

Back when I lived in or near Galway City, I’d always encounter Pete on one of my Organic Rambles around the early evening pubs, yet to his credit Pete let me speak frankly and straightforwardly to him:

“Look mate, gotta be honest. Great to share a pint with you ’n’ all that, but I’m on one of my rambles, and I’ve got to ramble alone.”

“Understood Charlie. No problem.”

And he walked off, leaving me alone.

At some point during each Galway Summer, I’d find Pete escorting a young middle-aged tourist around the city. He could be thoroughly charming, and he’d even be attractive if he’d ever washed his filthy T-shirts, but for some reason he managed to entrance many a Canadian 40 year-old, to whom I’d be introduced as one of his best friends.

Humbling and meaningful now, as I’ll never see him, be bumped into by him or try to avoid him again.

It matters not whether someone was the most popular man in town or a social pariah: we miss them all when they‘re gone: the rascals, the raconteurs and the ruined.

Yes, I will miss Pete. To his credit he managed to be all three of the above, and he constantly told me how much he enjoyed my scribbling, so it was through both vanity and humanity I saw him as my friend.




808 words
©Charlie Adley
19.04.2024

Monday 1 April 2024

Hooh mumma - those Vernal Surges are strong!


 

April 1st and all my seeds are in. Feels good. I can now focus wholeheartedly on the much less attractive task of Spring Cleaning.

My gaff has no foundations, so I share it with a plethora of leggybugs and wrigglesomes who crawl up from below and colonise my books; photo frames; everything.

I’m something of a swallow in this gaff. During the Winter months I sleep in what will be my guest quarters, once the cleaning and migration have taken place. It’s a separate little dingly dell of a room, but its walls are thick and it’s warmer.

The bedrooms in the main place are prone to mould, flooding, gordknowswhat, so I steer well clear and keep the dehumidifiers going 24/7.

Anyway, by the time I head to London in mid-May the place will be as spotless as I can make it, and I will be back in the summer bedroom, which means I can once again enjoy the company of houseguests.

Something strange and wonderful comes over me around the Vernal Equinox. I’m not sure if those words should be capitalised, but I do it because to me they are That Important.

As soon as the days become longer than the nights, the nurturer in me experiences an explosive surge of growing energy.

Plants are like us mammals: they need to rest over the cold dark months.

But while we survive the Winter by stuffing our cold achy bodies with high fat foods, and drinking enough alcohol to imagine the world beyond the front door is not really miserable and hostile, plants profit from serious downtime.

So the houseplants get watered fortnightly instead of weekly, and everything outside is mulched with leaves, and left unwatered for months.


Come March 21st the Baby Bio comes out and those houseplants that like a feed get a capful in their water, which delivers an instant pick-me-up.


The aloes and bromeliads live in rough tough locations in the wild, so no feed for them, but all the pots will be given what’s called a ‘top dressing’ of an inch or two of fresh potting compost, which perks them up way more than you’d ever imagine.

Time too to snip a few babies from the Spider plant and fresh shoots from the Tradescantia, or Wandering Jew, and drop ‘em into water to see if we can make new plants.


Outside, I remove the leafy mulch off all the containers, and they too get a top dressing. I find it fascinating to see what survives the Winter.

There’s this idea of all plants being divided into annuals and perennials, either living one year or several, but given mulch and a bit of care, those terms become irrelevant.

In the gravel beds out the front of my gaff the calendula (marigold) and Californian Poppies have survived well through the Winter, and the lupins in pots have thrived too, showing new life from January onwards.


In February I pruned the orchard, a job I love ‘cos it lets this space cadet disappear into a world of his own for a few weeks.


The trees hadn’t been snipped for three years, so they needed a lot cut off, and I spent hours, days, weeks walking around them, loppers in hand, looking up at their leafless canopies, trying to design in my head a bowl shape where air could circulate and no branch would grow into another.

Throughout the dark months I fed the birdies outside, and ended up with a mountain of empty plastic birdseed tubs. Along with a load of the little plastic bowls that used to have the Centra’s fruit salad in them, those placcy tubs made their way to the potting shed.


I banged a hole or three into each container’s bottom and the tubs have become home to my lettuce and tomato seeds, with the fruit salad bowls serving as incubators for starting new babies from old seeds.

Apart from the lettuce and tomato, the only seeds I buy are bags and bags of Virginia Stock. I buy loads of them ‘cos they just love the climate here in the west of Ireland.

They will germinate and flower in a few weeks, any time from February to November, and they’re simply lovely. Cabbage white caterpillars seem to agree with me, and can demolish yards of their flowers in a few days, so if you grow ‘em, keep your eyes peeled.

  

I sow them at the edges of containers where they fringe with delicate beauty, and drop their seeds into cracks on the patio, where they grow out of bare stone and transform an ugly oopsy into a spot of pure delight.

Next up was buying several bags of ornamental grit and compost, and replenishing the herb garden I built last year. Most of it survived the Winter well, with the sage especially happy, but the thyme plants took a hit, so I’ve got three new ones 'growing on' in the potting shed, almost ready to join their aromatic mates.


Then there was the weeding, re-membrane laying and sowing of the bed out front on the roadside, and finally the scattering of all last years seeds onto the two areas in front of my gaff.

 

Right now it might look pretty sorry and messy, but hopefully it will once again transform, as it did last year.

This year’s main competitor to all new growth comes in the form of those childhood helicopters. Last Autumn I was sitting in my living room when a huge THUMP came from outside.

I went to investigate and found the entire garden blanketed by a zillion billion sycamore seeds, or helicopters as we knew them.

After doing a wee bit of research I now know that, like oak trees with their acorns, sycamores also have what they call Mast years, when given the right climatic conditions, they produce hundreds of times the seeds they normally do.

They are now taking root just everywhere, all over the beds, containers and grasses, where they almost outnumber the blades.

  

Bad news if you’re a horse, as chowing down on too many of those babies can make you very sick indeed. Bad news too if you’re a gardener’s back, as I’m bending over every other step to try and diminish their occupation.

Little bastards.

Maybe, but clever tree. Mast years pretty much guarantee survival of the species.

Apologies for what are possibly the most boring photos Double Vision has ever offered, but all being well we’ll be able to do a Before/After display in a few months.

Something like this, I’m thinking. 

 

 

©Charlie Adley 

01.04.2024





Sunday 3 March 2024

What about individual citizens?


Referendums in this country used to scare the pants off me.

Can a pregnant woman leave the country?
Should a phone number remain illegal?
Is the life of a woman as important as the baby she’s carrying in her womb?

Within two decades of those referendum questions, you’d voted through the world’s first plebiscite on Marriage Equality.

It’s been an exciting privilege to live here over the last 32 years, experiencing this country’s emergence from an oppressed and oppressive past into a modern liberal democracy.

However sometimes it takes an outsider to see what’s going on, and now that Ireland has caught up with the First World on economic and demographic matters, it’s so important that the Irish grasp this chance to change these two Amendments.

They represent anachronistic evidence of how the Church of Rome played midwife to the birth of Ireland’s republic. They have no place in any country’s constitution.

Why on God’s good earth are we asking if a woman’s place is in the home?

Why is the Family with a capital F defined as Ireland’s “… natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society … a moral institution … superior to all positive law...”?

Because that’s the template the Catholic Church traced over Ireland’s nascent constitution.

This is where some of you will write me off as being anti-Catholic Church, and you couldn’t be more wrong.

I’m delighted that you have your faith, and hope it brings you comfort, but the Church belongs in a church, and not in a nation’s constitution.

Tragically, women, carers and lone parents of all genders will continue to serve their families and society with unpaid work, regardless of any so-called protections written into the constitution.

They must be paid for their work and protected by law, with rights imposed by legislation, constantly updated to be economically relevant and viable, by this and every subsequent government.

What of those like me who do not fit into these parameters of protection? I’m divorced, single, childless, with my non-Irish family living in England.

If the family remains natural, primary and fundamental, then that’ll leave me and a whole lot of Irish citizens feeling unnatural, secondary and inconsequential.

Is it too much to ask that our constitution sees us all as equal individuals? In the 21st century every citizen must matter. Each of us is individually primary, a fundamental and unique part of this nation.

During the Tiger years I was a Youth Worker in Ballybane, one of the more socioeconomically challenged areas of Galway City.

Our project was based in what was then called the Family Resource Centre, a title that left
me feeling uneasy.

Ballybane was the early recipient of immigrants from Africa, many of whom were single.

How would they feel when they saw the wording on the exterior of the building?

Why might they feel we were there for them too?

I suggested to the centre director that we change the name, and it became the Community Resource Centre.

I then went door to door, canvassing the local single population, making sure they were made aware that many of the organisations housed under our one roof were there to support them too.

I’m proud to say I’m now an Irish citizen, so I can vote in this referendum, but where a simple YES and YES should be the order of the day, I wonder if I might just abstain.

All of us single souls with no family are invisible in this debate, and it’s quite difficult to feel involved. Many immigrants must feel the same.

It’s such a shame that, just as we have in past referendums, so many rationalise reasons to not vote for positive and necessary change.

Our relationships and family have nothing to do with anyone except us.

Having grown up in England as a mere subject, in a constitutional monarchy with no written constitution, I rather hoped that a modern republic would care primarily for the rights of each citizen.

It’s time to cast off the last of these ancient shackles, and allow Ireland to be as unique as its people have always been.

Hence yes, I will vote YES and YES, because both changes offer less offence than the previous arcane options.


 

©Charlie Adley
03.03.2024


Sunday 18 February 2024

Less Top Gun - more Top Bum!


 
One white smear on the ground outside my front door. A few small grey splashes on Joey SX’s windscreen.

Small time poopers but sure signs: Shitting Season has begun.

On census night in 2022 I decided to do my own survey of the local population. Walking around this patch of land I counted seventy two rook nests; magnificent creations, huge and sturdy, swaying high in the soaring old ash trees.

Years ago, when I lived on the shores of Lough Corrib, there was a house a mile away, surrounded by crows nest. As I drove past each day I felt a macabre shiver run through me, and gave thanks that I didn’t live so close to that constant cacophonous crawking.

‘Couldn’t live there.’ I thought to myself. ‘It’d just be way too depressing.’

Life is constantly surprising, and clichés such as ‘Needs must, when the devil drives’ exist for a reason.

In the Spring of 2021, recovering from a life-threatening illness, major surgery and my second house eviction in three years, I had no savings, was too unwell to work, and even if I’d had money, there were no places to rent post-Covid anyway.

It was one of my darkest hours, yet the universe provided: I was rescued by a friend who offered me this place as a refuge.

As I moved my boxes into my new home I stopped to look up at the rook-ridden trees. An excellent friend who was helping me move gave wise counsel:

“You’ll have to either phase ‘em out or get into ‘em, because they’re going nowhere.”

Between March and June, when Shitting Season is at full splat, you cannot help but feel besieged. By then the birds have built their stupendous nests and hatched their babies, and any feeble-minded notion of sharing the patch with feathery friends disappears.

Any hippyish souls who insist the cwooty wooty birdies are not attacking on purpose, I challenge to stand out there for five minutes.

It’s made extremely clear that humans who live here are nothing but invaders in their territory. We are not welcome, so near to their chicks.

Both our cars become covered in guano, to the point where windscreen washers and wipers do not suffice. Truly Disgusting with a capital D. My front door and windows are splattered and squelched with shit.

In order to hit the exterior of my gaff, deliberate and highly skilful feats of dive-bombing are performed.

Last year the Tom Cruise of the local rook community managed to score a direct lumpy gooey hit on the little square window in my front door. To achieve this, they’d have had to fly low and then shoot up vertically at the very last minute.

Not so much Top Gun as Top Bum.

During Shitting Season we are considered Legitimate Targets if we dare walk anywhere in the vicinity, which proves problematic as I pay my rent by gardening.

On rare and wondrous blue sky Spring days, I am to be found with the hood up on an old anorak, watering or weeding as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Hurrying inside feeling relieved that I escaped their pooh, I discover - in a thoroughly unhygienic and squelchy way - the vile goo on the back lower leg of my jeans.

How the hell did they manage that?
Yuk yuk bloody yuk.
And Grrrr.

Phase ‘em out or get in to ‘em, eh? I dare you to achieve either during Peak Shit, but when their babies have fully fledged, sometime around the end of July, they shut the fuck up.

 

Oh.

 

Shit free silence.

 

A few weeks of dozing off in my chair outside, delirious in the afternoon sunshine, bewitched only by the buzz of bees.

From Autumnal to Vernal equinox, Chas’ Caff is open for business. A restaurant that pops-up wherever I live, it supplies seed each morning to the local bird community.

I tried the bird-feeder tree hangers, but within minutes the seed was all spilled out by clever crows, so I gauge how much seed my local gang can chow daily, and throw less on the ground, leaving nothing for the rats.

A constant throughout my life,I glean such joy from this simple activity. I’ve about fifteen hedge sparrows, some blue tits, yellow tits (no great or crested though) and two redbreast robins, who both fly in to my call:

“Mister Robiiiiiiiin….”

 There are finches of many colours, and Mr and Mrs. Blackbird, who delight in taking a bath in the water bowls I put out.  On occasion my group is joined by a plump pheasant, stunning in his rainbow finery.

Last Spring a pair of collared doves visited daily, and in Autumn there appeared five more, the image of the adult collareds, save for a lack of collars.

My wise friend explained that these were juveniles; maybe even one or two broods fed by the pair of adults who’d dined at my caff. Indeed, as this Winter progressed into Spring, I saw the gradual arrival of greeny-black collars growing on the young ones, so that they were becoming hard to tell apart from their parents.

Late arrivals at Chas' Caff: adult collared dove, young 'un with only a tiny bit of collar, a few sparrows and a rook...

They show their auld folks no respect. There is mayhem aplenty as all seven fight over the food. The sparrows seems more placid and peace-loving, while the tits and robins are vicious, often spending more time attacking each other than eating the seed.

The whole bunch have developed some kind of pavlovian response to the sound of my kitchen tap. They know I will go outside a few times as I clean out the fire and empty the ash, so they wait until I start the dishes to plunge down and feast.

Recently I’ve noticed that they’re all waiting in the shrubs as I emerge in the morning. Now that it’s light by eight, it appears to them that breakfast is late, their circadian rhythms frustrated by my adherence to human time.

Much as I love my birdy crew, I’m not sure that I’d choose to live surrounded by seventy two rook nests.

However, doing that has been a revelation. I’ve happily adapted to a situation that, in the past, I’d sworn I couldn’t cope with.

Life is constantly surprising. At the tender range of 63, I’m delighted to discover I’m capable of far greater acceptance than I ever imagined.

Where other creatures’ lives interact with my own, I now know that all is possible, as long as you don’t try to rule the roost.



©Charlie Adley
18.02.2024