Tuesday, 15 December 2020

Christmas alone can be perfect!

Another oldie from my Christmas archive. This one was written in 2002, when I lived in a farmhouse near Killala, Co. Mayo, and felt very happy to be spending Christmas on my own...

It’s the look in their eyes that gets me. They’ve asked you what you’re going to do for Christmas, and you’ve said you don’t know. You might go to friends, but you might just stay in and do it on your own.

Then there’s the look. The staring down the nose dewey-eyed 'you-don’t-really-know-what-you’re-saying-do-you-you-poor-sad-lonely-little-loser' look. 

Drives me crazy every time.

Of course it is tragic that some people will be lonely and alone on Christmas Day.
 
But the time has come for me to stand up and be counted, on behalf of the multitude out here who will be alone and doing just fine, thanks very much.
 
Well, I wanted to be counted but there’s just me, so I’ll do it myself: one.

One person who will wake up when he wants to on Christmas morning. It’s a special day, so I’ll make sure to leave a few cards and pressies to open, at my leisure, whilst lying in bed.

Then I’ll take a wonderfully peaceful walk along a deserted beach and return home to build a massive fire. 
 
Once the coal is crackling and hissing in the hearth, I’ll phone my family back in London, and chat to my nieces, sister, brother and parents as the phone is passed around their living room. Once again, I’ll reassure my folks that I am fine and happy.

Time to have a little snifter. Crack open the Jameson 12, feel the dark chewy whiskey flowing all over my far-flung bodily extremities, warming my heart while cheering my soul.

Now it really feels like Christmas: time to play some music. I’m partial to the Vienna Boys Choir on Christmas morning (and they speak very highly of me too!), but I might just be tempted by my very dodgy ‘The Chieftains - The Bells of Dublin’ Christmas album.

Shocking behaviour.

I’ll play my music as loud as I want to, very probably do a silly little dance and nobody will complain or mock my natural sense of rhythm.

Time to warm up the oven, but what does a man cook to eat on his own for Christmas dinner? Well, exactly whatever he feels like, to be eaten whenever he wants.
 
All I know for sure at this moment is that the meal will consist solely of the most magnificently self-indulgent ingredients. 
 
Possibly a roast shank of lamb, larded with garlic, wrapped in rosemary and honey; crispy roast shpuds; steamed carrots and leeks; a braised onion and a sweet roasted parsnip.

Sound good? 
Oh, you don’t care for lamb? 
 
I don’t care. 
I’m cooking for one.

Such a feast requires a splendid bottle of French red, perchance a Grand Cru of velvet depth and sublime body - much like myself!

As the smells of the roasting meat inveigle their way around the house, I’ll make a few more phone calls, spreading love and good wishes to my friends, scattered around the globe.

Then it’s out the door, and up to visit the landlord farmer and his wife, drop off a bottle of whiskey and a message of thanks to them for housing me in such a happy home.

Oh, and donkeys celebrate Christmas too, so the usual carrots are out, and today it’s nothing but choccy biccies and Golden Delicious apples for my closest ‘neigh-bours’, Kitty and her foal Molly.

Even an atheist Jew such as myself can be a hoary old Christmas traditionalist, so I put the Christmas pud on the steamer and glaze my home-made mince pies, to be snarfed later with brandy butter and burps.

Most important of all, I take the cheese out of the fridge, and let it breathe. I am a self-avowed pathetic slave to cheese, and this year I have had to cut it from my diet at home, in an effort to cut down on the cholesterol. 

But hey, it’s Christmas, so it’s got to be stinky creamy Stilton on digestive biscuits, and a pungent nutty cheddar on oatcakes, washed down with a healthy dose of vintage port, of which I will purchase a half bottle for my own consumption. 

After the meal, a stroll down by the river, enjoying the utter tranquility of the day that’s in it, and back home to watch a movie.  
 
As a child in England, there was comfort to be found in the Christmas morning Beatles film on the box, and in the afternoon the Beeb always used to run Bridge Over The River Kwai
 
Some traditions are best left unwrapped, so to be on the safe side I’ll make sure to rent a couple of vids - one new release and one old fave ,something epic like Goodfellas or Dr. Zhivago.

By the time darkness has fallen on my solitary Christmas Day, I will have exercised twice, been well fed and over-watered, ready to snooze a while in front of the fire. 
 
I will not be woken up by any upsetting family rows, or Uncle George needing urgent medical attention after overdoing the brandy.

After my snooze, there’ll be an energetic walk to the bathroom, followed by a disgustingly long soak, and then a bit of a wash and brush up to see if I feel like visiting friends, or prefer simply to stare at the goggle box and drift off into my own private Yuletide nirvana.

How bad does that sound?

To be completely honest, I’m not even sure that I really will spend Christmas Day alone this year. I have two friends in Galway City who are also planning to spend the day alone, so I made a suggestion that if they felt the urge, so to speak, they might come up and share a country Christmas with me.

If they come I will be delighted to see them, certain in the knowledge that we will still have exactly the day we all want, under no pressure to do, be or say anything that crosses the border from our Happy World of Indulgence into the dark dreary land of Duty.

Either way, alone or with my fellow Lost Boys, I will be spending money I don’t have; eating and drinking as if I were immortal; enjoying my own company, and equally eager to step into the pub at noon on Stephen’s Day and quaff pints of black, whilst listening to the horrific tales of woe emanating from all those poor sad souls who had to endure the Christmas that everyone else wanted.

Whether on your own or in the company of others, enjoy a peaceful happy Christmas, and whatever your faith, may your god go with you.
 
©Charlie Adley
17.12.2002
 

Thursday, 2 January 2020

Time to say goodbye to Double Vision!




After 27 years (and breaks for emigration and economic collapse) the time has come to say goodbye to Double Vision.
 

It has been a pleasure and a privilege to engage, amuse, annoy and confuse you - my colyoomistas -  over the decades. 

Now for reasons personal, professional and political I’m moving on to ventures new.
 

You will still regularly be subjected to my scribblings, opinions and blathering nonsense, in a fresh style and fashion that will be revealed as soon as I fully recover from this pesky pneumonia.
 

In the meantime, I’d like to thank the inestimable Allan Cavanagh of Caricatures Ireland for all his excellent illustrations and you, my readers, for your loyalty and taste.
 

Don’t watch this space - look out for a new one, coming soon…

Sunday, 1 December 2019

DON’T DISGUISE RACISM AS SOCIAL JUSTICE!


For weeks I couldn’t write about it. Why did I feel so screwed up about Oughterard’s Direct Provision protest?

What exactly was it that was burning me up and twisting my guts?

Was it the cowardly local liberals, unfamiliar with bigotry yet suddenly conjoined with it?

Was it their clutching ‘Homes Not Hotels’ placards while pretending, in stomach-churningly disingenuous fashion, that they’re not racists, not at all; that they weren’t against the idea of people with dark skins moving to their town; that it was only the system of Direct Provision they were protesting against?

Did they really convince themselves that their cause was just?

Middle class racism is sometimes sprinkled with the fairy dust of NIMBYISM (Not In My Back Yard) 

Don’t be fooled. NIMBYs are just racists with PR.

Was it the hypocrisy of some locals, opining they’re only a small village, with not many cafés or restaurants?

Disregarding the utter absurdity of asylum seekers living on €38.80 a week worrying about the local shortage of skinny cappuccinos, it’s quite astounding how all these feeble villages suddenly become mighty tiny towns, when trying to attract tourists.

If 38 tourists arrived in Achill Island today, nobody would worry about local resources.
 

Everyone would be delighted, yet silent vigils have been held at the prospect of 38 asylum seekers.

Direct Provision is a despicable system, designed to be nothing more than a deterrent.

There are plenty of jobs to be had in this country, yet the number of asylum seekers granted protection in Ireland last year represented 265 per million population, less than half the EU average of 650 per million.

This country loves nothing better than a good dose of self-flagellation, and in Direct Provision you’re storing up scandals that will shock and appall this nation in decades to come.

You’ll be calling Joe Duffy’s grandson, asking how on earth this country allowed children to be raised in such terrible conditions, all over again, and is it any wonder they've all grown up into Post-Traumatic troubled adults, struggling to integrate with wider Irish society?

Finally I realised it was neither the cowardice nor the hypocrisy that left me speechless.

What filled me with fear for the future was the way the Oughterard model was seen as a socially-acceptable tactic, and swiftly adopted by other communities.

In a very Irish exploitation of the truth, it condemns Direct Provision as it simultaneously legitimises racism.

Like a vile virus, all racism ever wants is an effective way of spreading.

Immediately others thought that if you can say that and get away with it, they might spout some hate themselves.

If those arson lads in Roscommon got away with it, why not set fire to hotels earmarked for Direct Provision, as you’ll get away with that too?

Why wouldn’t you share your hate, when there’s Grealish stirring up seven levels of vile bile, and he’s a politician, and he gets away with it?

That’s why I was speechless. My people are only two generations from the holocaust. I feel racism as you feel the cold night air.

The Irish have suffered immeasurable racism over the centuries, yet it’s spreading, here, now, and we must stop it.

If you’re going to be racist: be racist.  Don’t you dare disguise your racism inside the shiny wrapping paper of social justice. Don’t pretend you care when in fact you discriminate.

Ireland has seen a social revolution in the last 30 years, where social change was driven by a groundswell of public opinion, creating the need for new laws.

In London during the 1970s I saw how racism works the other way around.

There have to be strong laws against hate crime and hate speech, which are then fully enforced. 


Back then, Grealish would have been arrested for incitement to racial hatred after his town hall speech.

Once an entire generation grows up, seeing racists put in jail, society becomes more accepting. 


Aspire beyond tolerance, an unhappy state, implying you’re putting up with a situation.

Acceptance is what the Irish need right now, along with strong laws, aggressively enforced.

Throughout my youth I saw racism become increasingly unacceptable on English streets, because it was illegal.

Sadly, the converse appears to be true. As soon as Brexit legitimised the ideal of isolation, the numbers of hate attacks in England rose at a shocking rate.

Back here there’s been a woeful lack of consultation with local communities, about proposed Direct Provision Centres. 


Numbers of arrivals and the size of the local population need to be taken into account, as successfully proven by the recent compromise in Ballinamore.

Much can be improved, but first let’s all just take a step back and ask: who the hell have we become?


We are so lucky.

None of us have had to fight a war.
Our mothers, sisters and daughters have not been forced into prostitution.
We live without the threat of earthquake, fire and hurricane.
Most of us go to bed with full bellies, in warm houses.
Nobody we love will be taken by force in the night.

This country was weaned on money sent home from abroad. The Irish have no right to create distinctions between those who flee poverty or war.

We live in a calm, peaceful country that has many faults, but our lives are not threatened on a daily basis.

There used to be 8 million people living in this country.
 

We’ve plenty of room.

Time to open our minds, hearts and doors.

 





©Charlie Adley
01.12.2019.

Monday, 25 November 2019

WINTER ARRIVED AS A LATE NIGHT KNOCK ON THE DOOR!


Sometimes seasons ease from one to t’other, dissolving gradually, as water through limestone.

There’ll be a few seconds of welcome heat from a March sun, making a brief appearance between dark lashing rainclouds, or the sense in August that hedgerows are neither fading nor pumping verdant.

Sometimes seasons arrive like a shocking late night knock at the door.

A couple of weeks ago I left Ireland in Autumn, crisp amber leaves catching the light of the glaring sun, as they clung to branches under clear blue skies.

Three days later I returned from London to find Winter ensconced.

At first I didn’t notice the gale howling around Shannon Airport, as instead of walking across the tarmac, we were awarded a covered walkway from the plane.

Then came that most bizarre of rituals: the journey to Shannon Airport’s immigration and baggage hall. 


Up you go, 
up several flights of stairs and escalators, 
and then straight away down you go,  
down several flight of stairs, and then 
without walking any distance on flat surfaces,
up you go, climbing several flights of stairs
and then, yes, down again, and
down a little further, 

until every cell in your body 
feels sure you’ve just returned 
to where you started.
 

Each time I take this epic airport trek, I wonder whether we could have just turned left as we entered the building, taken five steps and arrived at Immigration.

What’s with all the up and down?

Are our minds being subliminally dissembled, so that we might better appreciate the subtle ironies of Irish wit, or is it Fáilte Ireland’s way of preparing tourists for a land of mystic paradox?

Don’t get me wrong - I love Shannon Airport. Compared to the kettling experienced at other international airports, Shannon feels calm, friendly and intimate.

Wish they didn’t make everyone take their shoes off, though. They don’t even do that at UK airports.

Over-eager to get home, I started to drive like a bit of madman on the M18, until I realised through the darkness that the tarmac was flooded.

Like Mike Tyson stomach punches, gusts of wind slammed broadside into my car Joey SX.
 

Joey’s digital doodaa displayed the outside temperature as 3 degrees.

It was only six in the evening.
Winter had arrived in two days.

Further north I saw leaf and branch debris scattered all over the country roads. Must’ve been a northerly wind, as my little house felt freezing.

I’d left the heating on for an hour each end of the day while I was away, which is usually more than enough, given the three feet of stone wall between inside and out.

Not that night. Brrr! Light a fire pronto (control freak here had built one before I left), and let that back boiler get the rads singing their song of comfort.

Next morning, as my kettle boiled, I looked beyond my kitchen window, taking in the sudden change of season.

Bare trees, stark and wondrous upturned lungs, swaying in a brutally cold wind that pierces bone.

Cattle in the field grouped close together, to keep each other warm.

Right Adley, time to switch into Winter mode, inside and out.

Being a bloke it’s incredibly easy to sort my Winter wardrobe. Out with all the cotton jumpers, replaced by two piles of woollen sweaters: one mankier pile for wearing alone at home; the other finer, worthy of public consumption.

Switch notebook from three season anorak to trusty tweed coat, my second skin through the cold months.

Polish and beeswax my walking country boots and black town boots.

Wellies by the back door, ready for the morning walk across the lawn to empty the ash bucket.

Inside sorted.

Outside now, mulching the shrubs and herbs; sweeping up bags and bags of leaves; taking seeds from cornflowers, poppies, nigella and corncockle and sprinkling them all over the patch; choosing which plants to save seeds from for next year.

At the far end of the lawn lies a ridge of gooey rotted lawn cuttings and mashed up leaves, which I want to use to mulch the tiny bed outside my office window.

Barely a foot across, this strip bed runs only a few yards, but last year produced a constant conveyor belt of colour.

When I moved in, bluebells were just coming up. They were splendid, and followed by daffodils. Then I sowed Virginia Stock and sunflowers, and planted Crocosmia, all of which thrived in the tiny patch of soil.

Later in the Summer I dropped some corncockle and nigella seed in there, and still to this day they flower. Despite the glory of November colour, it’s a weeny bit frustrating, as I’ve a soft git rule that says if a plant offers a single bloom, it cannot be pulled.

I’ll have to wait to restore this tiny exhausted miracle of a bed with the protection, nutrients and goodness of that mulchy muck.

Finally I sit outside with a cuppa and sunglasses, admiring my clean leafless patio. Several years back, my landlord up in North Mayo paid me a huge compliment.

One night he declared in the pub: “You keep a tidy patch, you do.”

My chest swelled with pride, as I’d watched this farmer for years in his labours of animal and land husbandry, painting gates, rescuing ewes, nurturing foals and rebuilding fences.

Next I need to clean out the gutters and wash down the drains, but not now.

Now I‘m just going sit here, dazzled by the low sun, listening to Winter’s bliss-inducing absence of noise.




©Charlie Adley
25.11.2019

Sunday, 17 November 2019

FRIENDS FORM THE FLESH AND BONES OF LIFE!



“I’ll meet you under the clock in Marylebone station at midday on Saturday.”

“Brilliant mate. That’s perfect. Chelsea kick off at 12:30, so we’ll find a pub, watch the game and then go somewhere plush and comfy to sit and talk properly.”

Being prone to romantic notions, I’d envisaged the clock at Marylebone Station being similar to the legendary 4-faced clock, which forms the focal point of Waterloo Station.

I was also nurturing memories, only two years old, of Marylebone Station being a relatively quiet and gentle place, compared to London’s major compass point terminals.

Turned out I was wrong on both counts.

The District Line train I’d taken from Putney Bridge to Edgware Road had been wedged. I grew up in London, and it never crossed my mind that I might not get a seat and some space during Saturday’s off-peak hours.

Instead I was reacquainted with the essential London skill of tube surfing, which involves looking as nonchalant as possible, while gripping the leather straps that hang to hold you up, as your body sways, dips and jolts with the train.

Slightly unnerved by the way my native city had changed so much, I stepped out of Edgware Road Station, unsure of my route to Marylebone.

Ah but there’s the Euston Road! Instantly I became a local once more.
Spring in step, right down Lisson Street, and boomph, there’s Marylebone Station.

Even better, attached to the station shone the bright signage of the Marylebone Sports Bar and Grill.

“Luvvly jubbly Batman! Well ‘andy!” as they say … here!

Before I even enter the station I see rivers of people flowing in and out of each portal, and inside it’s not far from mayhem.

Well, actually, that’s not true. I live in such a ridiculously quiet spot that a pair of finches feuding over birdseed can seem chaotic. Suffice to say the station was bustling, noisy and there was no clock.

Up and down I paced, searching for a dial, and as 11:59 beckoned, aha! Over there! A digital strip, declaring platforms, trains and the time.

Underneath, my mate waiting

We hugged and headed straight to the Sports Bar, where a boisterous bunch of large lads down the far end were watching Nottingham Forest v Derby, collectively contributing decibel levels that’d make Lemmy’s ears bleed.

It was fantastic to see English football’s second tier creating such fervent support. Trouble was, along with the cries of all those watching gordknows what on who knows how many big screens, it would have been great if the lads from the East Midlands calmed down a bit.

Not like I was going to ask them.
Kidding?

Let ‘em roar.

We slid along the seating of a freshly empty booth, with a TV screen at the end of the table where the jukebox used to be. Then, as I headed to the loo, my mate gave me a most enigmatic order.

“Think 40 years.”

Distracted only by the hysterical mosaic in the Gents, portraying Messi peeing into the pan over someone's head, Ronaldo curving his effort in from far away and Neymar laying in a puddle of his own making, I subtracted 40 from 2019 and realised where my friend was coming from.

Back in our booth I smiled and declared: “Jerusalem!”

“David’s Gate!” he smiled back.

“Jaffa Gate!” I replied, tempted to burst suddenly and completely inappropriately into song:

“Ahhh yeeeessss, ahh remember it weeell!”

In May 1979 we’d arranged to meet in Jerusalem, at midday on August 5th. We both then left London, to hitch and travel separate summers, and as today, 40 years later, we met at midday.

We clinked glasses and ordered something called the Matchday Combo. As we tucked in to our decadent platter of Southern-fried chicken, garlic bread, onion rings, potato-wrapped hot dog, corn-on-the-cob, spicy wings, skinny fries and dips, I reflected on the conversations I’d heard each night, where Londoners discussed their 5:2, paleo and vegan diets.

That day we didn’t care about high fat foods, salt or anything really, because we were being boys, enjoying the occasion, the food and footie, and each other’s company.

After the game (which Chelsea won, thanks for asking) we walked under the covered concourse to the Landmark Hotel where, just 20 yards from the footie fanatics, others ate and drank in a grand marble pillared ballroom, under towering indoor palm trees, at tables covered by crisp white linen.

’Twas ever thus. There will always be rich people, and for us it provided the prefect venue for a long catch-up conversation.

We drank coffee and then the waitress bought us a bill.

I explained to her how I hadn’t asked for one yet, because we might be ordering something else.

“Ah yes sir, but we have to bring a bill after each drink, as so many people run away without paying.”

My friend and I both physically flinched. I suppressed my anger, suggesting to the waitress that she discuss with her boss a better way of dealing with their problem, so that customers don’t feel accused of being criminals.

We upped and left, mildly offended, yet delighted to have spent good time together.

I smiled gently to myself. That day we were clean shaven and well dressed.

How might the staff here have reacted if we’d arrived wearing the tattered denim shorts, dust-dried skin and variety of body odours that accompanied our 40 year-old reunion in Jerusalem?

If family forms the blood of life, friendships are the flesh and bones.



©Charlie Adley
17.11.2019.