Saturday, 4 February 2023

But This Now?


This weekend I’m posting two tales from my new collection of autobiographical short stories:  

Hoovering Ceilings - Life Upside Down.

In one life could not be better; in the other, everything, including my life, is under threat. charlieadley1@gmail.com
 

 

But This Now?

You sit in the waiting room of Galway Hospital’s chest clinic.

Due to Covid it has moved out of the central building. Beyond tall glass windows the July sun burns high, in an ocean blue midsummer sky.

Today you expect to meet the lung consultant, with whom you’ve dealt for the last seven months, and meet the surgeon, to discuss plans.

These appointments are usually punctual affairs, but the surgeon is late because he’s performing an emergency operation.

Your phone vibrates in your pocket. It’s a text from your landlord. He asks you to call him at your earliest opportunity.

That doesn’t sound good.
In fact that sounds desperately worrying.

At other times in your life you might not react with instant despair to that text, but after the past four years your reflex now lurches towards the negative.

You’re sick, weak beyond exhausted, nerves in tatters.

Please, not your home.
Not now.

You text him back:

‘Hi. In UHG Chest Clinic, waiting to find out if they’re going to cut off a chunk of my lung. Will call you when I’m back home. Hope all good with you. Cheers.’

Your physical health has finally collapsed under emotional and mental stress: the loss of your marriage; your house; your dog; both of your income strands; three of your best friends.

You’ve been in hospital three times in the last seven months. First there came pneumonia and pleurisy, creating pain that made smashing your femur at 17 feel like a splinter in your finger.

Then after a Winter at home coughing up vile mucus for twenty hours a day, they admitted you with a massive empyema, and over ten days drained a litre and a half of pus from your chest cavity.

Since Spring, whenever faced with even the minutest of emotional pressures, you cough up blood.

There comes a gurgle, like a tap that’s been turned on inside your chest, and you rush for the kitchen sink, and splatter it scarlet.

A friend of thirty years is upset with you for reasons unknown. He wants to meet and talk about it, but you can’t cope with that.

After that phone call you drench a patch of lawn red.

An email from your wife about the divorce puts you on the toilet, painting the bathroom basin bloody for seven long demoralising hours.

You’ve seen so many movies when blood appears on a handkerchief, the soundtrack shifts from major to minor, and the character is dead minutes later.

However, because your present life is an unrecognisable horror, you look at the blood and think

Okay, so I do that now too.

What does scare you is the way the experts don’t know what’s wrong with you.
That means they don’t know how to treat you.

You have countless X-rays and CT scans. You have bronchoscopies and inconclusive biopsies. They send you to the posh private clinic for a PET Scan, which seeks out cancer.

The level of care you receive shows the medical types perceive your condition as extremely serious.

Finally you’re shown into the consulting room.

You’re nervous. You’ve never met this surgeon before.

Despite saying he’d be here, your lung consultant, who’s a great guy with a calming manner, is not around.

Months later, after the surgeon has performed his magic on you, you see him in fine form.

Unfortunately, today he is exhausted.

You remember your lung consultant said something about the possibility of foreign bodies in your lung.

“Do you think it might be caused by a foreign body?” you ask.

“Foreign body? No foreign body!” shouts the surgeon, “You don’t breathe in foreign bodies. You not a child.”

Well neither are you, but you’re behaving like one! you think to yourself.

“Three possible causes.” he explains. “One: infection.”

“Hmm, antibiotics don’t seem to clear it up so - ”

“Two: inflammation.”

“But my CRP markers are down to fourteen from over eighty, so what’s the third?”

“Cancer. We have talked and want to cut off half your left lung. You okay with that?”

Half?
Half of it?

Up to that moment you imagined surgery will involve the removal of the atelectasis, a golf ball-sized inverted collapse, down the very bottom of the lung, which the lung consultant showed you on a CT scan.

Half a lung?

“Do you agree to the surgery?”

Half your lung?
Your spirit drains from your toes.

“Er, of course. You’re the expert. Whatever it takes. After surgery you do a biopsy?”

“Yes. Then we do biopsy.”

You sign a consent form, stumble out of the room and head for your car, where you have a little cry.

You call your sister, because you know your mum's round there. Saves saying it all twice.

“They want to cut half my lung off. They still think I might have lung cancer.”

When you hear yourself saying it, everything becomes real.

Drive.
Get outa Dodge.

You need to be the other side of your hour’s journey, so you can take a valium.

Back home, before you even call your brother, you speak to the landlord. You explain that you’ve just found out you’re losing half a lung, and you might have lung cancer.

He says he’s sorry to hear that. He won’t be renewing the lease. You've until December to move out.

Afterwards you sit in your chair and try to make sense of it.

You’ve very possibly got lung cancer, although you’re still a fat bastard, and there’s not many fat bastard cancer patients.

You’ve got a divorce coming up; a messy affair: shouldn't be, but it is.

You’ve been unable to earn anything for seven months, due to your illness and Covid. Your savings are almost gone. You have only enough left for a couple of months’ rent.

A brutal illness, no money and a divorce.
That would be enough.

But this now?

Now a house move, that shoves the global pandemic down into fourth place.

How will you find another new home, if you have no way of paying rent.

Your landlord wants you out, but you aren’t physically able to execute a house move.

After surgery you will be debilitated for several months.

For months your lung consultant has told you he feels strongly it’s some kind of infection.

Now cancer is very much back on the menu.

If you have cancer you cannot stay in this house.
You're too isolated; too far from the hospital.

In fact, if you’ve got lung cancer, you might even want to go back to London, to be surrounded by friends and family.

Back to London?
Have you gone insane?

You love the West of Ireland and never want to live anywhere else.

Yeh but that’s it.
You want to live in the west of Ireland.
Maybe you’d rather die in London.

Well, not really.

You'd rather not die, but in the meantime, you have to make decisions.

Too much stuff.

Cruel.
Fuck.

Too much big stuff.

Do you have lung cancer?
Where will you be living come December?
How bad will you be after surgery? 

Breeathe in

Breeeeeeeathe out

Breeeeeeathe in

Breeeeeeeeeeeeeeeathe out 

What feels right to you?

If you don’t know the answer, you’re asking the wrong question.

Distract yourself to avoid a panic attack.

Build a fire.

It may be July but you can still build a fire. Do something that makes sense. Sweep out the ashes and put them in the metal bucket.

Wait.

You can’t decide where to live until you know if you’ve got lung cancer.

That will define everything.

Firelighters. Break one into two and lay them on the grate.

Use the axe to chop a turf briquette into kindling.
Careful.

Keep your mind in the moment.
Eyes on the job.

Good.

Wait for the biopsy. Find out if you’ve got cancer, and then decide where you live.

Strike a match and hold it to the firelighters.

Yes, of course.
Sit back in the chair and breathe.

In the meantime do something that makes you feel better.

Do some work. Be a writer. Finish these stories. That makes all the shite easier to deal with.

Life should not be a senseless charge from confusion toward pain.
It’s for living, walking, fireside talking. Writing makes you whole. 

Throughout all this shit, you don’t indulge misery. You battle on, praying to your atheist god for a change of luck.

Never do you waste time wondering what you’ve done to deserve it.

You joke that if reincarnation is real, you must’ve been some kind of special arsehole in a previous existence.

But this now?
The house.
Your home.

Breathe.

Take it all on board, and decide only what feels right.
More nuanced and subtle decisions can follow in time.

You do the exercises they give you, to prepare your body for major surgery.

The operation goes well.

The biopsy shows that while you don’t have lung cancer, you do have Actinomycosis: a very rare, potentially lethal, often indomitable bacterial infection.

This bug has been causing all your illnesses, and created the abscess that made you cough up blood.

Now you will be fitted with a plastic line that runs into your arm and across the inside of  your chest.

Through it you will administer intravenous antibiotics to yourself at home for 6 weeks, followed by a year of oral antibiotics, with no guarantee that’ll wipe the bug out.

Antibiotics for a year?

If the treatment fails, this infection creates abscesses and fistulas, gradually dissolving your insides into lumpy pus.

Take your pills.
Get on with life.


©Charlie Adley
04.02.2023

Sunday, 29 January 2023

Sometimes They Die

 

In 1987 a close friend of mine died in police custody. This is his story. I’ve changed his name to protect the privacy of his family.  It's part of my new collection of 20 autobiographical short stories:
 

Hoovering Ceilings - Life Upside Down.

Enquiries to: charlieadley1@gmail.com

***

Sometimes They Die.

 

You’re on the third bus of your journey across London, looking forward to seeing Jimmy feeling happy.

At last, after years of trying, he’s finally got his council flat swap sorted.

The small middle-aged woman in the seat next to you suddenly pipes up:

“On your way to work?”

“No, visiting a friend.”

“Who’s that then?”

“Oh, I shouldn’t think you’d know him. Bloke called Jimmy Williams.”

“ ‘Course I know him. Jimmy Williams, as in Tom’s brother? Him who just got his council swap?”

“Yeh, that’s him.”

“Oh, he’s dead, that one is. Jimmy Williams, Tom’s brother who just got his council swap. He’s dead.”

“No, he’s not dead. He’s my mate.”

“Oh sorry but he is you know. Don’t know much, but I do know he’s dead. Seems he got pissed and wrecked a pub. Whizz-head, weren’t he? Snaps your bloody brain that stuff does. Yeh, wrecked this pub, then next day he never knew he’d done it, so off he goes, back down the same pub. Walks in, bold as bloody brass, asks what the hell happened here. Plain didn’t remember. They reckoned he’s taking the piss. You would, wouldn’t ya. Anyways, The Boys arrive down and before you can say shit, he’s banged up. Everyone knew he shouldn’t have gone for that council swap. The Boys was wetting themselves about him. Never made it to the hearing, he didn’t. Still, like I say, don’t know much.”

No.
Not possible.

Jimmy is a common name.

He’s a tall blond lad, with kind eyes that suppress a wildness, which often appears in his behaviour.

With plants and animals, though, Jimmy is exceptionally gentle.

At first you go round to his gaff, buy some of his newspaper-wrapped homegrown and bugger off.

After a few visits, you find yourself playing cards with him.

The way Jimmy talks about life is admirably crazy, and his stories of the road are strong and hard.

Jimmy knows all there is to know about growing marijuana in north-west London. You sit for hours, peering into the cupboard where he’s rigged up lights for his plants, while he talks of trace elements and humidity.

He nurtures those plants with the utmost care, looking to far-off November, when they will offer fully mature sticky flowers, devoid of seeds.

The next time you go to see him the plants are gone. The distinctive minty aroma of immature homegrown fills the flat.

“Where are the plants, Jimmy?”

“Smoked ‘em, Charlie.”

His oval furrowed face spreads into a charismatic childish grin.

“They weren’t that strong, Charlie. Would’ve been better to leave ‘em, s’pose, but got bored, didn’t I, so I pulled ‘em, dried ‘em and smoked ‘em. Got a buzz, y’know, but nothing special.”

Jimmy takes you to a pub where you can buy anything you want. You get some whizz, but Jimmy doesn’t seem happy.

“Dunno, Charlie, ‘s funny stuff, the old fast one. Don’t do nothing for me no more, not unless I put it into me arm, y’know.”

This comes as a shock to you. Half a gram of the powder dropped into a vodka on a Friday evening sends you righteously doolally for the rest of the weekend. 

“Used to do it a lot, see,” explains Jimmy, “but it don’t seem to agree with me. I try to stay off it, mostly.”

Through the Winter months you sit on his ragged grey carpet, near his tiny electric heater, playing Gin Rummy.

“Dunno Charlie, someone like you shouldn’t be hanging around with someone like me.”

“Why not, Jimmy?”

“ 'Cos you’re cleverer than me, Charlie.”

“Ah, but you know more than I do, Jimmy.”

“Maybe I do, but that don't mean you’re not cleverer than me. Deal the cards Charlie, I can feel a Gin coming on.”

One day you find a belt tied in a loop on Jimmy’s bathroom floor.

“ ‘Ello ‘ello, what’s all this then?”

“Yeh, been a bit stupid, ain’t I? Got this here, didn’t I, see?”

He reaches under his mattress and produces a crumpled letter. It’s an injunction, forbidding Jimmy from seeing his children.

You know he has two kids, but you never ask, ‘cos he never offers to talk about them.

“Oh Jimmy, why? Why now?”

“It’s her, innit! She’s got herself a new man and she don’t want wild-boy Jimmy getting in the way. I used to go down and hide in the bushes, see, and watch ‘em leaving school, yeh, but they knew I was there. Bloody bush wasn’t big enough, was it! Never spoke to ‘em or nothing, just wanted to look, y’know? Got herself a new bloody man now, hasn’t she. Don’t want me to be their father no more.”

Your middle-class liberality is offended.

“But you are their father, Jimmy! You’ve got rights like she has. You can fight this! Surely this isn’t the end of the road.”

“Nah, Charlie, got form, ain’t I, see. Nothing spectacular but it’s enough. A bit of a punch-up when I was 19, and then I got done for the lead off’ve the church roof too. Trying to be Jack-the-bloody-Lad weren’t I. Done me time, but oh they got my file, and, here, look, here’s a picture of 'em. It’s from about three years ago now, but see, that one’s me daughter and that one’s me little boy. Well, he was, like, ‘til that bloody letter come."

“No Jimmy. They’ll always be your kids.”

“Yeh, well tell me this, Charlie, eh. What bloody use is it having bloody kids you can’t bloody see? Eh? So Steve come round and we mainlined some whizz. Ain’t proud of it Charlie, but that’s the way it is, y’know. That’s the way it bloody is.”

Jimmy can’t get a job or see his kids because of his form. Trapped in a council flat in a wealthy London suburb, he dreams of a house transfer back to Hayes, where his family lives.

Sadly nobody wants to swap their affordable life in Hayes to live in Jimmy’s pricey neighbourhood.

Jimmy has a big addictive hole, which he tries to fill by exploiting his garden to its full potential.

Onions.

Jimmy says he’s going to grow onions, and the next time you see him the whole garden has been turned over to onions. Hundreds of them.

“Lovely, Charlie. Build up the liver, onions do. Build the liver and clean the blood.”

Like everything that Jimmy grows, the onions flourish, and then he eats them all, every single one, by the plateful.

My god his breath stinks, but his skin glows.

Potatoes.

Jimmy says he’s going to grow potatoes, and the next time you see him the whole garden is turned over potatoes. Hundreds of them.

“Lovely, Charlie. Vitamin C in the skins, roughage and carbs. And they’ll taste a bloody sight better than them onions!”

The potatoes grow, large and prolific, and Jimmy eats every single one.

Next you find him digging a deep round hole.

“Ducks, Charlie. Know someone who’s got ducks. This is going to be their pond, see?”

Off you go together to visit one of Jimmy’s many mates, Comic scenes ensue as you both career around, trying to catch a pair of ducks. Eventually you manage and Jimmy puts them in a VCR’s cardboard box.

Jimmy is over the moon, striding along the street with the ducks thrashing about in their box.

He has recently read several books about ducks.

“As it ‘appens I know quite a lot about ducks, Charlie.”

“Tell you what though, Jimmy boy. Be bloody funny if The Boys pulled up now and asked us what we had in the box. ‘Oh no, Officer, it’s not a VCR, it’s actually a couple of ducks, on my mother’s life!’

Jimmy roars with laughter.

Through plane tree Autumn leaves the late afternoon sun shines dappled gold.

It’s a gentle moment of joy shared with Jimmy that you treasure.

By November Jimmy’s ducks have flown and he is out in his garden, a blur of hammer and nails, building a wire fence.

“Lop-eared rabbits, Charlie. Brilliant they are. A mate of mine’s got seven. Bloody great they are, lop-eared rabbits, Charlie. You’ll love ‘em.”

The rabbits arrive and thrive. Jimmy knows them all by name, even when their numbers grow, but soon there arises a conflict of interests.

Jimmy’s built their wire run around the edges of the garden, and in the middle built a greenhouse.

He sits feeding his beloved rabbits by hand.

“Now look here, you lot, this is the deal, see. You listening? Right, now see that greenhouse over there? That’s out of bounds, right? You can go anywhere you like, but you stay out of there, right? Deal is, stay out here and I feed you. Get in there and you feed me. Right? Fair enough?”

Rabbits are notoriously disobedient. They burrow into the greenhouse, and devour all the marijuana plants.

Always a man of his word, Jimmy offers you a plate of rabbit stew.

“Sorry mate. Never eat anything that had a name.”

“Fair enough, Charlie, I respect that, but it’s your loss. With all that gear in ‘em, you get a fair buzz off’ve eating the little perishers. Stupid bloody things.”

Years pass and Jimmy tires of trying to find benign ways to feed his addictive cravings.

There is always the whizz and, more and more, there is always the whizz.

Then one day, when all seems hopeless, he ushers you in with a fabulous smile on his face.

“Bloody got it, didn’t I Charlie! Got my transfer through, didn’t I? Geezer come round yesterday, says he wants to swap! Lives just round the corner from me old Mum, don’t he! Just round the corner, Charlie. Bloody fantastic, eh? I’ll be right there, with all me family and all me mates. You’ll still come round and see me though, won’t you Charlie?”

“Course I will mate. Brilliant. Can’t believe it!”

Off the bus, you wander the labyrinthine lines and circles of identical houses.

Eventually you find his new flat.
Swallow from a dry mouth.
Knock on the door.

He’s out, probably visiting his mum.

You start talking out loud to yourself, alone on the streets of this sprawling housing estate.

“Right Chas. What you’ve got to do is go down the Nick and find out.”

The copshop air reeks of cheap pine disinfectant.

The Duty Sergeant looks up Jimmy in his book.

“Oh yes, Jimmy Williams. Died on his way to hospital.”

“Why was he on his way to hospital?”

“I wasn’t on duty that night … sir.”

“Please go and find someone who was.”

He looks at you with profound contempt and goes out the back.

Another one comes out.

“What exactly seems to be the problem, sir?”

“My mate, Jimmy Williams. Trying to find out if he’s dead, and if so, what happened. Jimmy Williams. Tell me. Tell me what happened.”

“Oh, Jimmy Williams? Yes, found dead in his cell. Terrible shame.”

“But the other one said he died on his way to hospital.”

“Ah, did he? There you are, then. Now, is there anything else, sir?”

You beat the counter-top, weeping, yelling for someone to tell you what happened.

An older one comes out and the others leave.

“Now then, sir, what’s seems to be the problem? Calm down sir. Can I get you a cup of tea?”

“I don’t want tea. I want to know what happened to my mate.”

“Not a lot to know really. Shame, young bloke like that. We got him into an ambulance, quickly as possible, but he died at Uxbridge General Hospital. Such a waste.”

Back outside on the grey damp drizzly streets, you whimper and sob.

You have to call Dave, up in Yorkshire.

Oh god.

Over the road.

Red phone kiosk.

He needs to know and you need to stop feeling so bloody alone.

“Dave mate. Charlie. Got some bad news.”



©Charlie Adley
29.01.2023

Saturday, 28 January 2023

With The Lifts

Another of my new collection of 20 autobiographical short stories entitled
 

'Hoovering Ceilings - Life Upside Down.'

If you’d like to read another, leave a comment.
Enquiries to: charlieadley1@gmail.com

Thanks to Allan Cavanagh (at allancavanagh.com) for his fantastic artwork.

 ***

With The Lifts. 

The art of Going With The Lifts relies on the first exchange of words.

When a car stops, it’s vital to keep your message simple.

The driver asks where you’re going.

Now you must respond in a calm and assured way, that sends out no dodgy signals.

“Wherever you’re going, if that’s okay.”

They will, quite naturally, be suspicious; maybe shocked and confused.

It’s your job to convince them you are neither a psychotic killer nor an obsessive stalker.

You’re simply enjoying an overdose of freedom.

Trying to reassure by enthusiastically exclaiming

“Don’t worry! I’m not a dangerous weirdo!” tends to prove counterproductive.

Some, driven by fear, make swift their escape, yet astonishingly many trust you and take you with them.

Right now you’re on a deserted road on New Zealand’s North Island.

Route 2 from Tauranga in the north to Gisborne in the south dissects the East Cape, cutting out the need to travel all the way around.

Anyone on the cape is here for a reason.
Your reason is to be here.

Blue bag - your loyal lifelong companion

You stand alone in a magnificent wilderness. From Tikitiki to Te Araroa steep gorges and lush valleys are lit up by the exploding yellows of flowering gorse.

Then you’re by the gentle sweep of azure coast to Hicks Bay, where once again you plunge inland, into the crumbling grandeur of this cascading landscape.

Now you’re somewhere between Potaka and Cape Runaway.

There’s not been a single car for half an hour.

You walk a few paces up the road, stop to look at the view from a new perspective, and wonder whether anyone ever saw that view from there.

You wait for your ears, heart and mind to calm to the sound of silence.
Then you take another look, and see much more.

For you hitching is about way more than moving from A to B.

Some drivers are happy with silence.
Others need to pour their hearts out to a stranger who they know they’ll never see again.

Some want to convert you to their belief system, be it religion or racism. You learn to spot their mildly crazed evangelical eyes, and wait for them to start their spiel. They used to mainline heroin and then the Baby Jesus came into their hearts.

Sometimes, when the car you climb out of disappears down a tiny side road, you find you’ve been dropped off in the middle of nowhere.

That you love.

From the age of fifteen you feel a strong desire to stick out your thumb at the side of the road. You quickly discover that you are good at getting lifts.

Over the next decade you hitch to school, pubs, jobs, and all over Europe. In the Summer of ’79 you hitch to Israel.

In the ‘70s hitchhikers are still a common sight; groups of longhairs clumped around motorway service stations, lounging on top of guitar cases, relaxedly unperturbed by inertia.

While they sit, passively waiting hours for someone to stop, you walk a little further up the slip road.

A minute later you climb into a Jag, accompanied by distant hippy wails.

Like much in life, empathy is the name of the hitching game: if you want a lift think like a driver.

Stand still, where drivers can see you from far away. Give drivers somewhere safe and easy to pull in.

You'll never understand why some people hitch while walking along the edge of the road. If they can walk to where they’re going, why are they hitching?

What good will walking do them? Drivers won’t stop because the walkers’ faces are hidden from them. The car that passes them on that tight bend, that’s the one which stops for you, because you’re standing in a good spot.

Always make an early start and then walk out of town. Walk and walk until buildings are far behind you, yet the traffic’s not speeding up too fast. Find a good place and stand there until you get a lift.

Carry no signs, because you’ll miss out on the shorter lifts that might bring you somewhere better.

Often people ask if you’ve ever been stuck. If you were stuck, you’d still be there.

Faith is an essential ingredient of hitching. Every time you put out your thumb you enjoy a thrill of excitement, born out of the assured knowledge that you will reach your destination. 

A friend of yours used to try hitching up the M1 to Yorkshire from Brent Cross.When he left your Golders Green flat he told you he’d give it three hours, and then go to the station and get the 3:30 bus. 

With that doubt in his heart he was doomed to failure.

After a lifetime of hitching you can spot the rides as they approach.
You know this huge Holden saloon will stop.

Crawling along with ancient rusty sills scraping the road, it’s crammed with an extended Maori family.

The old Holden creaks to a halt just past you. Children of all ages, parents, babies and grandparents empty out from the back seat, carrying crates of tomatoes, bags of fish and boxes of beer.

The sides of the saloon car visibly lift several inches. You climb in and find yourself wedged between smiling chilled-out Maori generations.

The salt and pepper haired male driver reaches across, flips open the glove compartment, and hands you a bag of green.

“S’only cabbage, yih, but hilp yoursilf mate, eh. Where ya hiddin?”

“Dunno. Wherever you’re going.”

“Okay, ya wanna come home with us, eh?”

“That’d be great. Wow, thanks! Yeh, great."

You spend a week with the local crew, drinking jugs of beer each night beside fires on the beach. They play guitars and sing and fool around with pretend drunken brawls that end up in giggling fits.

On your last night they cook a Hāngi, to honour your visit; by god you feel special.

Over the next several weeks, all over New Zealand, you achieve a rare and blissful state of hitching nirvana.

Going with the lifts allows a profound state of calm.

You let go of everything.

Stress becomes a stranger.

You develop a deep trust in humanity, alongside a faith in the process that influences you still.

North of Opotiki you’re picked up by a woman in a white cotton dress, that contrasts with her mahogany tan. She has silky long brown hair, so dark it’s almost black. Her skin exudes scents of jasmine and sandalwood.

Turning off the main road she drives to a long white sandy beach, where she dances, alone, with a white silk scarf flying from her hand.

She whirls her body, and twirls her arms around with pure joy.

You know she doesn’t dance for you. She dances for herself, paying homage to life and joy.

It’s a moment that stays with you all your life.

Months before, when you arrived in Tahiti you were shocked to find the French still operating an empire all over the South Pacific. They are furious when David Lange, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, offers a berth in Aukland harbour to the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior.

The ship is on its way to protest France’s nuclear weapons testing. When it blows up, two French secret service agents are caught, convicted of the manslaughter of a Greenpeace activist, and sentenced to 10 years in prison. 

For the first - and last - time in your life, you watch local demonstrators marching outside their parliament in favour of their government. 

“Go David! Yeah!” they cry with pride.

For months you sleep rough, two nights out of three. On the third night you enjoy the comfort of a Kiwi motel room, with a waterbed, power shower, TV and little kitchenette.

That way you avoid hostels and other travellers. You don’t travel to listen to other travellers.

You travel to listen to silence, or locals in their cars and trucks. 

Over the decades, on three continents, you share innumerable one-to-one talks with drivers from every walk of life. 

After the Bahamas, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco, LA and Polynesia, you fly into Auckland, accompanied by the lovely Cory, a Californian Amazonian Space Cadet, who you met in a dank thatch Tahitian shack, infested with mosquitos the size of tennis balls.

She has legs the length of Chile and skin of hazel brown, but her beauty is tempered by her need to share inane observations. 

In the lobby of an Auckland Youth Hostel, Cory attracts a retired local school teacher, who invites you both out on Celeste, his self-built 38 foot yacht.

Cory and Maurice onboard 'Celeste'

You enjoy a blissful fortnight of yachting wonder, for which rich people would fork out fortunes. Sailing around the Hauraki Gulf, your host shows you how to forage and fish for your food, sharing his vast knowledge of local flora and fauna.

 

Catch fish, cook 'em, Maurice foraging veg before we'd ever heard the word 'forage'.

Back in the city, it’s time to part. You want to hitch, see where the winds send you. Cory analyses aloud your desire, using much psychobabbly crap.

You are, apparently, egocentric, selfish and self-destructive, ‘cos, like, she wants to take the bus.

Everyone at the hostel insists you must go to Rotorua and Queenstown. Now you know two places to avoid.

Instead you spend three months going with the lifts.

After New Zealand you fly to Noumea where you’re placed under house arrest. There’s a crazy three-way civil war raging.

After five days they let you fly to Sydney, where you enjoy time with your good friend Catherine.

Everywhere you go in the world, people tell you it’s unsafe to hitch, so you ignore Catherine’s emphatic advice to take the bus, and insist on hitching to Melbourne.

Turns out Australia is not New Zealand.
Who knew?

Every Australian creature that crawls or flies bites or stings. While waiting for your first lift out of Sydney, Blue Bag is assaulted by bull ants, and as you try to slap them off it, your arms are bitten to buggery and back.

Pathetically unprepared for sleeping out in Australia, you hitch night and day.

This road that has brought you half way round the planet ends here, in this plush leafy Melbourne suburb.

You're a few yards from Tony’s doorstep.

At last you see your old friend’s family home. It looks huge and altogether luxurious, which is fine by you.

You hope he's not away somewhere.

The year you both left school, he returned to Melbourne with his family. You told him that one day you’d turn up on his doorstep.

Now, seven years later, you’re about to turn up on his doorstep.
He has no idea you’re on the way. 

Over the next few months you learn how incredibly unlikely it is that Tony is home that day. His job in TV has him working shifts long and many.

Yet that day your journey ends perfectly.

You ring the bell.
Tony opens the door.

The last time you saw each other, you looked like an anaemic beached whale.

Now, after nine months on the road, your skin is the colour of a fine cigar.

After three months living rough and healthy in New Zealand

You are as slim as you’ve ever been, and ever will be, so he takes a few seconds to realise you are indeed his mate Charlie.

He looks almost exactly the same as he used to: lanky, with long straw blond hair and a dry grin, stretched by pronounced cheekbones.

“Fuck me. Wouldja look who it is.”

Tony and myself when he visited Galway 12 years ago


©Charlie Adley

28.01.2023


Friday, 27 January 2023

He Knew

One of my new collection of 20 autobiographical short stories entitled

'Hoovering Ceilings - Life Upside Down.' 

If you’d like to read another, leave a comment. 

Enquiries to: charlieadley1@gmail.com


He Knew

In glorious rural Berkshire, jugs of Pimm’s are topped with mint and cucumber.

There is laughter and lunch at the French Horn in Sonning.

Your entire family and many friends gather to celebrate your father’s 70th birthday.

The sun shines on the beautiful old coaching inn, nestled between ancient weeping willows on the banks of the Thames.

Your father stands to make his speech.

The masses hush.

After pursing his lips, there comes from this most lucid of men a long terrifying silence.

A crushing compassion falls upon you, as you watch him struggle to move his mouth. Your father remains stoic in expression, while hearts break all around the room.

After a while he regains control, and void of the cheeky aplomb you love so much, he delivers his words.

Since that most unwelcome arrival, you now know all about TIAs, these mini strokes that your father recovers from, over and over again. 

Each one robs him temporarily of the ability to control something: the movement of his jaw, which for a while viciously and spontaneously chews his own cheek; his right arm, which suddenly shoots up in the air and waves around, as if he were a schoolboy desperate to attract teacher’s attention.

Each time a new behaviour appears, you long for the day when that symptom eases, not only for him, but also because of the pain you suffer by seeing him out of control.

Living in Ireland, you have developed a phobia of the phone. As soon as you hear your sister’s voice, you know that for who knows how long, your life must be put on hold.

You’re going to England on a flex-ticket, packing your bag with practiced precision and speed, desperate to arrive before Dad dies.

Despite the fact you’ve felt this so many times, each hits you like the first.

You’ve slept on family sofas, in your mum’s spare room, in cheap hotels, and spent long terrible days with your mother and siblings, sitting vigil in his private hospital rooms.

Over these 12 years of your father’s decline, there have been moments of humour, like when he regains consciousness after surgery, and oblivious to the presence of his loved ones, appears excited, only because the Chelsea manager is on the TV.

“Moo - Moo- Mourinho!” he splutters.

You laugh in relief, possibly privately hurt in a small yet personal way, because he notices Jose before you.

Other times you laugh out of embarrassment, because your father’s pain threshold is the lowest of any human who ever walked the Earth.

You want your father to be a hero, but it proves impossible not to squirm when he responds to a kindly nurse, gently cleaning his face with a warm flannel:

“Torture! She’s torturing me!”

 

All he ever wants is to go home, yet each time he does the challenges become greater, more testing for your mum, so back he goes to hospital, where you watch him close his eyes tightly, as if in complaint to the universe, and drop his chin onto his chest.

Arriving at the door of his hospital room on any given morning, in who knows which of so many hospitals, you and your mother are confronted by the saddest of sights.

This bombastic, jocular and opinionated man sits in the chair beside his bed. 

Instead of looking out of the window or reading a book, he chooses to bow his upper body so far forward, that the crown of his head presses down on the trolley-table in front of him.

His eyes are locked shut, his face wearing three hundred and forty seven varieties of angst.

You put your arm around your Mum and give her a reassuring hug, because if you find this sight sad, you cannot imagine how it must be hurting her.

A kidney specialist tells you two years ago that you should arrange for Dad to move to a hospice.

“It’s only going to be a matter of days.” says the consultant, but still he survives.

Looking at this man who made your life possible, you wonder why he hangs on.

For you, the moment your father lost his joie de vie, he was gone. Without that sparkly glint in his eye, which reassures you he loves you, (your parents only award the ‘L’ word to pets) this tragically wrung-out figure appears to have no desire to live.

You assume he must be driven to survive purely by terror of the alternative.

You decide you absolutely never want children: not if your dotage will force them to endure this horror.

You hope that when your time is up, you will not hang on through mere fear, and then you mock yourself, because you have been taunted by your own mortality ever since your first pubic hair.

The most painful part of Dad dying slowly is that you have to keep on leaving.

You've given up your job back in Ireland, so that you can come whenever you need to, and stay as long as possible.

Yet eventually you always have to go home, and it is these times that test your heart.

Will you ever see him again?

Will he be dead before you return?

On a Friday night 18 months ago you decide to deal with this trial.

Before you drive your rental car through the snowy night darkness to Luton Airport, you decide to say a last goodbye.

You know of course that you might well see him again.

You also understand that you cannot continue to torment your heart and twist your soul, by repeatedly arriving home in dread of missing his death.

You go up to your father in his bed, and throw your arms over his chest, forcing your right hand around and under his neck.

He awakes and you whisper

“I’m going now, Dad. Good bye. Shabbat Shalom.” 

and he replies

“Shabbat Shalom. Thanks for coming. Drive carefully.”

and you hug him tightly and then climb off the bed.

You hold your breath along the hospital corridor, in the lift, and as you briskly walk through reception. Outside, the cold air freezes your lungs.

You find your rental car, close the door, sit in front of the steering wheel and let out a wail; a crescendo howling cry of pain.

For ten minutes, twenty minutes, who knows or cares, you sit in your car and cry, heaving with loss and misery.

You’ve just said goodbye to your father, and although you see him many times after that, there is wisdom in that move.

It eases your pain, but now the time has come for the final farewell.

 

The nursing home gardens are truly splendid. Gravel paths surround trimmed lawns, gently sloping towards crescent flower beds, flush with roses, crimson and pink.

You’re unable to see beauty.

In the grey Victorian mansion above, your father is drifting lethewards, floating in and out of a morphine coma.

You struggle to move your aching legs through the stifling London heat. The humid still air is a rich soup of lavender.

You breathe deep its comforting scent.

You’re taking a break, doing a few laps of the garden, because you can’t sit there beside him forever.

Turning at the edge of the lawn, you head up the gravel path, back towards this halfway house.

You go to the Gents and wash your face with cold water. Staring at yourself in the mirror you contemplate what you’re about to do.

Tomorrow you must leave once more for Ireland.
In two weeks you’re getting married.

You feel sure this will be the last time you see Dad alive.
You steel yourself and enter his small quiet room.

Beyond the tall sash windows the garden glows golden.

You move a chair to sit parallel with your father. Your back is against the wall beside his head.

You reach down with your left hand and lift his limp warm right hand, intertwining your fingers with his, hoping he might wake, respond in some way, acknowledge your presence and thereby give you the chance to say goodbye one final time.

But he doesn’t.

He sleeps on, lost to consciousness.

His lips part like a baby’s kiss as he exhales gently

... pwaaaahh...

You sit, hold his hand and find comfort in the peace and privilege of being there at his side.

In the midst of the turbulence of weddings, illness, life and death, you appreciate these calm minutes.

You wish your father knew you were there, but he doesn’t. The nurse told you that he was on such a heavy dose he could barely keep breathing.

You accept that being beside him is enough.

Finally the hour comes when you must meet others, leave your father forever and return to the brash world.

“Dad, it’s Charlie. I’ve got to go now. I’m heading back to Galway tomorrow, to organise our wedding party. I love you, Dad.”

As you rise out of your seat, your father suddenly grips your intermingled fingers, holding them tight to his.

You look straight away into his eyes, but they are still clamped shut.

Nothing stirs, yet he has heard you.

He has heard your words and knows you are there. He continues to grip your hand with such force it slightly unsettles you.

Reaching across his body you plant a long, lingering and most loving kiss on his forehead.

He feels your lips on his skin. 

He exhales. 

His hand relaxes and lowers to his side.


©Charlie Adley
27.01.2023

 From Hoovering Ceilings - Life Upside Down. 

Enquiries to charlieadley1@gmail.com

Wednesday, 25 January 2023

The West will fight to the last Ukrainian!


Do I think Putin is a dangerous megalomaniac?
I do.

Do I see his invasion of Ukraine as wholly wrong?
I do.

So why do I have unsettling feelings about the way this war is taking shape?

Why do I feel deeply cynical about the tactics employed by the EU, UK, USA and NATO?

Do you see any day ever when Putin will raise his arms high in the sky and declare he surrenders?

Do you really believe that, however much fire power the West injects into Ukraine, brave and inspiring Volodymyr Zelenskyy will ever win a famous victory?

I don’t.

Do you see an endgame?
Can you imagine any kind of way out of this conflict?

I’m asking many questions but offering very few answers. What I do believe is that there were possible endgames to be negotiated, through the regions now under Russian occupation: Crimea, Luhansk and Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.

These regions have significant Russian populations, and if the West truly wanted to make peace, they would have acted swiftly, years ago, with the annexation of Crimea.

A negotiation of possibly a Demilitarised Zone, or a shared access to ports: who knows. I am not an international negotiator.

Just a scribbler with a fearful heart.

It’s no secret that Putin wants complete access to the Black Sea ports.
Yet earlier on in the war, as a bizarre softener, he agreed to the Black Sea Grain Initiative 

Since then, over 500 ships full of grain and other foodstuffs have left three Ukrainian ports: Chornomorsk, Odesa and Yuzhny/Pivdennyi.

It was almost as if he was asking for negotiations.

The raw hard truth is that this war suits the USA, EU and UK down to the ground.

In this utterly ridiculous paradigm, just because Ukraine doesn’t wear the right badges, foreign soldiers will not commit to the battlefield.

If it were a member of the EU or NATO, things would be different, but it’s not.

Hence the Western powers have what some might consider the perfect war: no bodybags flying home; no coffins draped with our flags; an evil enemy to blame for every single domestic political failure; a shop window for the West’s latest military hardware.

None of ‘our’ troops or civilians die; inflation and energy prices can be blamed on Putin, while each night on the news, the tragedy of Ukraine’s continued and inevitable destruction plays out in front of our increasingly disinterested eyes.

Again I state I am no fan of Putin, but consider the Russian perspective. In 2014, former German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that France and Germany had delayed a peace agreement with Russia so that Ukrainian forces could be trained to NATO standards.

Ukraine then provoked Putin by unleashing a wave of sectarian violence against Russians in the Donbas region.

Despite the presence of a significant Russian population in the areas now annexed, Zelenskyy’s regime has outlawed the Russian language and the Russian Orthodox Church.

It is not difficult to understand why the loyalty of Ukraine’s Russian population leans towards Russia.

If you ever wonder why none of the liberal media have spoken out about these concerns, I suggest you look to Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, a  book by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky.

They theorise that when all sides of a nation’s political executive are in agreement, the media will not challenge that position. Apart from a couple of Irish Putin apologist MEPs, nobody has spoken out against this war, and nobody dares to challenge this status quo.

On a macro scale, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the EU and NATO have expanded closer and closer towards Russia. 

While this phenomenon was legitimate and democratically engineered, the security barrier afforded by the old Eastern European nations of the Soviet Bloc are now gone.  

The West is knocking on Russia’s door, and if you were a lot more sympathetic to Putin than I am, you might contrive to say his invasion of Ukraine was predictable.

I remember years ago listening to Putin making a speech about how Kyiv is the birth place of Mother Russia.

Even back then I said
“Uhoh!”
to myself, so don’t tell me nobody else saw this coming.

Personally I abhor everything about his invasion of a sovereign nation, but I profoundly fear that there is no Ukrainian victory out there; that this terrible war will escalate, with more high-powered weaponry and technology supplied by the West, until there comes a catastrophe that involves us all. 

Let us all pray that I am wrong.

 

©Charlie Adley
25.01.2023