Tuesday 29 May 2007

We English are a polite bunch of pirates!

Charlie Adley
As time goes by, my relationship with the land of my birth becomes ever more complicated.
I'm sitting in a service station car park, off England's M11 motorway, a couple of miles away from London's Stansted Airport.
In a little while I'll drive off to meet the Snapper, who is flying in from Knock, so that we can attend her brother's 40th birthday party.
All around me there wails howls and cries a cacophony of sirens from the many fire engines, police cars and ambulances making their way towards the petrol station forecourt not 200 metres away.
The English blithely go about their business. Having happily lived in Ireland for many years, I now twitch and react to the sound of sirens, but I never used to.
When you're born into a city that has more than double the population of Ireland, you can't afford to worry about strangers that much.
England is not so much a country of 70 million people, but a collection of a million villages of 70 people.
That's how you survive.
To be fair, I'm probably a little sensitive to the sound of sirens at the moment as my father is once more in hospital. Originally herself and I were due to take this flight together, but I've already been here for a week, and a hard week at that.
Aye, a hard week.
The sunshine is baking the interior of my rental car, and I'm having trouble staying awake, so as soon as I'm inside the aiport I head off to buy a bucket of coffee.
The guy on the coffee station is having a terrible time, As his colleague yells constant and complex orders, ("Double skinny latte no foam! Medium double house blend non fat choccomochacino! Blend with a shot, caramel. Cappuccino nutmeg no choc grande to go!) he struggles to keep up.
He spills an entire jug of foamed milk. He runs out of beans and has to abandon his post to grind a new pack. None of his orders are written down, and all of us in the ever-lengthening queue know he has lost the plot.
As he hands me the wrong drink I thank him profusely, aware that on another day I'd dedicate the whole colyoom to an angry tirade about the entire debacle, but right now, in the order of things, I couldn't give a damn.
Evidently Grumpy Charlie Bear is the creation of easier times.
Collapsing into a chair that feels far to small, I finally breathe out.
Opening my eyes, I realise that I am part of a world full of people. The life and death decisions we have collectively made this week sucked me out of your universe, down into a wormhole of family intensity, and now I've been spat out, into the seating area of Costa Coffee in Stansted's International Arrivals Hall on Friday at 5 o'clock on a Bank Holiday weekend.
I smile at the little boy sitting at the table in front of me. He smiles back and we launch into a happy exchange. I wiggle my eyebrows and he roars with laughter.
I do it again and he laughs again.
His mummy stares at me with cold hatred as she assertively says
"Face this way Charlie! Look this way!"
My young namesake turns his happy head away from me as I feel overwhelmed with more sadness.
Forgot that strangers aren't allowed to make children laugh any more, especially if they are men.
Even though the place is packed, it is quiet and calm.
This is another side of the English. Away from the violent abrasive multi-siren-inducing thugs, enslavers and criminals, we are an attractive and amazing bunch.
We ooze poise and patience, and when not off invading countries and massacring and enslaving entire populations, we're exceptionally polite people.
All of a sudden young Charlie falls off his seat, landing headfirst with a loud and nauseating 'clunk'.
Just a tad selfish, I immediately think 'All I need! Now there's gonna be a screaming child at the next table!' but his mummy calmly picks him up and puts him back on his seat, wonderfully embarrassed at how we must all think her the most terrible mother on the planet, her head twitching in peer pressure agony from side to side.
Charlie is smiling, bouncing with joy, his rosy cheeks, blond hair and blue eyes so very English; just as his mummy is also perfectly English, with her dark brown hair, pale skin and hazel eyes; just as his daddy is also perfectly English with his dark skin, green eyes and curly black hair.
Yes, all so English, and for a moment, already brittle with emotion and exhaustion, I worry I might cry with a collective love of the English.
As I fight back the tears, I hear a deep male South African voice behind me mutter
"Yeh, Britain sure does get the lot!"
'Yeh!' think I, 'that is what I love about it!'
Before you get the hump, I love Ireland and the Irish too, and even though English extremists wallow in fascism, I long for the day when the Irish learn to love all our differences as much as the English have.
A couple of days later I'm once again immersed into my little self-indulgent debate about what it is to be English. The Snapper's friends have brought us out into the Essex countryside, where the leaves of ancient oak and majestic poplar glisten fresh green and silver. We are ensconced in a sixteenth century pub, which famously serves a traditional steak and kidney pudding.
The romance of my surrounding is just about to get me feeling all gooey about being English again, when behind me there once more rings out a deep guttural male voice;this time unmistakably Essex-London English (think drunk Ray Winstone at 3 in the morning):
" 'E's a prick, 'e is! 'E's a prick, 'e's a criminalŠ and 'e's a Spaniard!"
I almost choke with laughter. A Spaniard? Did that bloke just call someone a Spaniard! Okay, that's good enough for me. Mr. Essex wins this week's Award for Quintessential English Behaviour.
Whoever yer man's subject was, to you and me he would be Spanish.
But to that Englishman he's a Spaniard, with enough Francis Drake historical piratical baggage to make any Englishman stand proud, or cringe wincing.


Monday 21 May 2007

I'm leaving my job and going back to work!

"Oh you are so lucky!" they say, "You know what you want to do! I have no idea what I want to do!"
Yes, I know what I want to do, but I'm not sure how lucky I feel.
I've always known that I wanted to write, and at times such as this, I know that I need to.
Sounds a tad dramatic, doesn't it, especially in the context of this colyoom. Much as I love writing 'Double Vision', and inflicting upon you my weekly dose of neurotic outpourings, the scribbling of non-fiction does not keep me sane.
Sure, it pays the bills, and the discipline involved within writing a colyoom of a certain length, week in week out, year in year out, has helped me to hone my editing skills, but as regular readers know only too well, I am still prone to plunging into the mental abyss, appearing disturbed, deranged and depressed, whilst producing this 1000 words a week.
No, what keeps me sane is the creation of fiction.
Well, even that is not wholly true, but as is often the case, the converse is an absolute certainty.
If I do not write fiction, I eventually become depressed, and all of the aforementioned 'd's above.
Were I sculptor, (but then again no?) or a man standing at an easel clutching a palette, my apron smeared with the oily colours of the painting rainbow, you might well expect an artistic temperament, but in my experience, writers are somehow perceived as less artistic and more artisanal.
Well, let me tell ya, it makes no difference how you see us, because speaking personally, I know how mad it feels on the inside.
Throughout my adult life I have struggled to balance what we might as well call 'normality' with this preposterous need to create. Given that 'normal' is a pointless and irrelevant definition, I can admit to being able to pass myself off as 'normal' pretty well, for a while anyway.
I can keep the day job going, and make sure all the rent, bills and financial blah-de-blah holes are covered. I can take my two week holiday in Portugal and have a lovely time, appearing to most people as if I am just a regular kind of guy.
Well anyway, that's how it seems to me. Those close to me might tell me that I am deluding myself.
Point is, I can perform all the traditional roles of a functioning and contributing member of society, but alongside that lifestyle there plays an internal game of Chinese Water Torture: within my soul there runs an incessant drip-drip-drip of resentment and confusion, because all the while I'm doing the 'normal' thing, I am denying my own needs.
Hence, you poor colyoomistas had to suffer a long Winter of depression and discontent, until, come the Spring, I realise for the umpteenth time in my life that the writing of fiction is not a luxury item, it is a need; a prerequisite for sanity, and unfortunately here, as they say, is the rub: my creative process is disgustingly fragile.
Hats off to Kafka and T.S. Eliot, who managed to produce works of creative genius whilst holding down day jobs (in insurance and at Lloyds Bank, respectively). I wish I was able to do similar, but I am not.
Hence I am now leaving a most excellent job that I have very much enjoyed working at for 2 years, and choosing to go for broke by working on a fourth novel that has been an elusive work-in-progress for 12 long years.
Why now? Because I realise that I have to.
It is as simple as that.
Since 1985, I have completed three novels and three little plays, each of which was performed and one of which one a prize.
Prizes are all well and good, but what I seek is far more elusive that external recognition. Even though none of my novels were published, I can happily say with confidence, yet without conceit or bravado, that each of them is good enough.
Of course I will be delighted when my current novel is published, and my back catalogue released thereafter, but I know, as a writer, as an editor and as a reader that their unpublished state is neither a reflection of how well they were written, nor a judgement cast upon my skills, style or abilities.
Having grown up in marketing, I know how fickle are the choices of publishers, agents and their ilk. My first novel, a passionate low-life rant called 'Look Again' was read by the manuscript committee at the estimable publishing house of Faber, and was declined by a vote of 6-7.
Did I feel crushed? Absolutely not.
My only ambition as far as my writing is concerned is to improve: become more skilful, wiser, more able. Each novel, although a complete entity unto itself, is really nothing more than a stepping stone along the path to greater writing.
If all this sounds rather bombastic and melodramatic, so be it. My creative process might have been better served left hidden, but I am excited, and want to share my news.
I am going back to my work, people!
Facing the prospect of penury does not wilt me. Sure, a few weeks hence my lack of money might well surface in this space in a bit of an auld whinge, but right now, I am exhilarated, excited and just a little nervous.
Why? Well, because after all this high fallutin'-rootin'-tootin' rhetoric about creativity, if all I come up with is a big pile of stinky boring prose, I'll deserve whatever punishment is most appropriate.
There have been times when I have had plenty of money and no time.
Looking back at those periods all I can recall is constantly plotting my escape.
Equally, there have been plenty of times when I have been broke and had all the time I needed.
Sometimes these were days of desperation, when I was idle, frustrated and unable to write; at my most wretched.
Most of the time however, given time and peace, I filled those days with the creation of fictional scribbling.
I'll always choose time over cash, and peace over rushing around. There may not be roast beef on the Adley dinner table for a good while, but my soul will feel sustained.

cadley1 at eircom.net



Monday 14 May 2007

They call it 'comfort eating' for a reason!

My folks must have been pretty clued-in back in the early 1970s. At the age of 12 I was flying high at my prep school. A straight 'A' student with loads of friends, I was made a Prefect and Patrol Leader, which was like being a House Captain, but more British Empire altogether.
Whilst never slim, I was at that age chubby more than fat. The First and Second Eleven rugby and cricket teams were packed with my friends, while I and the other physical noodles who hadn't made the grade pootled about with balls, and went home
Those straight 'A's in my Common Entrance examinations meant I was heading for Merchant Taylors School, a lesser yet still majestic Public School.
To truly understand the English Public School, one must not see a school at all; but rather, a business.
Instead of producing educated children, this business is designed solely to create candidates who will be accepted into Oxford or Cambridge Universities; 'Oxbridge' as it is known.
The more Oxbridge candidates a Public School can score, the more applications from prospective students it will receive. Once supply outruns demand, élitism can establish itself. Only the 'best' students are accepted, producing better Oxbridge results, allowing the charging of higher fees, until finally you end up with what is known as a 'good school'.
Taylor's decided that my grades were good enough to rush me along. So they put me in a class that was called 'Divisions', filled as it was with newly-arrived scholarship students, and a scruffy bunch of lesser Taylors beings who had been held back a year.
Looking back it could so easily have been a rewrite of A Star Is Born, wherein bright young things come into contact with falling jaded stars.
But it wasn't. Not for me anyway.
For me it was hell. From being a popular clever little boy I was suddenly the dumbest kid in the class. It was impossible for me to keep up with the scholarship lads, because they had specialised for a year in Classics and wotnot, and worse, I couldn't cut the mustard with the Apeneck Sweeney's who had already been weeded from the Public School system as Oxbridge no-hopers, henceforth irrelevant as human beings, unless they played sport, in which case recruit, humiliate, crush the buggers to tiny pieces and then rebuild them in your own image. 'Training' they called it.
My mates had gone elsewhere. I was alone, and for the first time the thicko of the class, a figure of fun and mockery. Hand in hand ('scuse me) with all that came something as fundamental as the shape and size of my bits changing, and insanely powerful adolescent urges flooding through me.
So I did what any good Jewish boy does given the opportunity and a wall to feel hard up against.
I ate. I ate and ate, not like bingey carrier bags of chocolate bars hidden under the bed, but just a lot of stuff that made me feel better. Naturally I got fat, which was a perfect match for my being suddenly stupid, still unsporting and having an absolute lack of Chick Magnetivity.
Clearly in touch with modern trends, my parents did what they thought was right. As an act of love they saw my size, and understood that it came from a pain within.
Unfortunately they concluded that they were unqualified to know what it might be, and so they took me up to Harley Street, to see some guy in a white coat who was essentially a Specialist For Fat Boys.
Funny they never wondered whether my increase in weight might be linked in some way to the collapse of my old world; that maybe a selfish school had rushed me at my own expense, in the hope of scoring an early Oxbridge hit.
Point is, after that visit I felt branded though like Brighton Rock - Fat Boy was part of every (lipid) cell in my body.
By the time I was sixteen I weighed sixteen stone. It wasn't until I left school and abandoned the future that others had mapped out for me that I started to feel better, and to this day I relish my freedom from that tyranny.
At no point did I need a shrink to point out to me the link between size, self-image and self-confidence. Just wish some adults had copped on, that's all.
Sadly, we continue to develop more and more unhealthy obsessions with looking good and feeling healthy. There now exists an extreme disorder called 'Orthorexia', an obsessive condition in which the subject tries to eat only what they perceive is absolutely safe and healthy.
As there is no longer a single authority that offers definitive truths about such matters, it becomes for orthorexics almost impossible to choose an ethical, healthy and nutritious diet. One day you drink soy milk, and the next you find out that the phyto-oestrogens in soya might be dangerous.
Orthorexics become anorexic, because they have to settle for a diet less than vegan.
Poor sods. My heart goes out to them, and my heart might well give out and go pop long before them, but I do enjoy my diet.
And strangely, as the years go by, I become less enamoured with the unhealthy stuff. Last week I ordered a pizza and didn't enjoy it at all, which is only remarkable in that the same thing happened two weeks ago. Hmmm...
Some might suggest that I've just sighted my mortality on the horizon and am reining in my hedonism, but I don't think so.
These days I simply enjoy being in my body, even though I am well aware that there is far too much of it,and enjoy trying to put good food into it, whilst walking and throwing myself around enough to sweat and puff and feel all endorphinny buzzy and good.
Aye, despite the cruel efforts of a sadistic school system and a well-meant yet misguided piece of parenting, my body truly loves feeling alive.


Tuesday 8 May 2007

'Gone With The Rain' - how YPS stole Ireland from the Irish !


Sure, 'tis mighty the way we're hitting the headlines nationwide! 

Galway Galway Galway, that's the news these days. 

If it weren't for that microscopic parasite burrowing into our guts, there'd be rakes of tourists cluttering up the place, making it impossible to get things done. 

Now that they are staying away in their droves,

(and let's be honest, who can blame them? Who wants to be the Daddy that little six year-old Seany looks up to, as he agonisingly twists his tiny body in contortions of dry retching: "Daddy, Mummy says you huhuhukakakakfleeaaarrrgghhhhhh you you knew the water was bad in in in Gaaaaaaaaaaaalwweeeeeeeey, ga gaGalway. Did you know Daddy? Did you? Did you?" )

there is plenty of time to paint the entire city and county yellow. 

Yes folks, our old adversary Yellow Paint Syndrome is back with a bubonic vengeance. 

From what I understand, the 'crypto' bit of cryptosplitsoredabum means 'hidden' or 'obscure', and although little could be less obscure than the colour in which you paint your buildings, the insidious effect of diseases like YPS is that they remove elements of your country's culture that might never return. 

Even though I have spent 15 years going on and on about what I, as English Yiddish Atheist do and do not love about Ireland, I am as wary as the Irish about outsiders who tell you what your own culture is really like. 

So when I recall arriving in an Ireland where pink and blue farmhouses dotted the land, it might well come over a tad too Chocolatey Boxey, but there were and are whitewashed cottages with red, green or sometimes yellow trim. 

Now Ireland is yellow, and the only damage limitation left available is which shade of yellow. 

YPS has hit Salthill hard, and recently the Waterfront Bar was smothered with a yellow so disgusting that it sears the retinas off my eyes and sends me on my way

Hang on in there Lonergan's Atlantic Bar, and your neighbours Killoran's bar, which is immune to attacks of YPS because it's real and right and already yellow.

I am mourning the loss of part of traditional Irish culture which is not mine to mourn, but also as a bipolar freak I am a blue person inside a red person inside a nutter, and yellow is where everyone else lives. 

Yellow is a nice colour, (and this yellow of which we speak is pretty close to 'magnolia' - oh yeh baby I know you know it is) and 'nice' is a word that my schoolteachers told us meant nothing. 

Another word was always better, and yellow is that to me. 

A harmless, safe, anodyne and completely boring colour, unless natural, on primrose or sunflower or flag iris: anything, in fact, but an Irish wall. 

Maybe YPS, this need to homogeonise, is deep-rooted in colonial fear, from not wanting to stand out from the crowd, and maybe that is hogwash. I just wish it would stop. 

We do not know what we have lost to YPS. This might seem a strange bugbear, a somewhat neurotic bête noir, but YPS is a crypto-cultural disaster. 

Before we notice, in front of our eyes the changes to blandness continue apace, and pretty damn soon all we'll have is hundreds of Subway takeaways inside yellow buildings.

Tuesday 1 May 2007

She's harmless and innocent, so why do I want to kill her?

Ryanair cutbacks
It's just as well that security is so tight at airports these days. The bloke at the baggage X-ray machine told me my Olbas Oil and Anti-Snoring spray had to go.
I shrugged and didn't bother to ask how eucalyptus oil in two differing forms might constitute a threat to mankind, while my snoring might well do just that.
Anyway, in retrospect, I am pleased that he was on the case, and I am delighted that I do not at this moment have a gun in my possession.
Because if I did I would most certainly use it. A pistol would do, but ideally a nice Uzi would be more pleasing. Seeing her shplattered with bullets and riddled with holes.
Then again, probably not such a good idea to shoot too many rounds when you're 33,000 feet up in a pressurised metal box.
One good shot to the head. A deadly blow delivered with cold-blooded venom. That'd do it.
The worst thing is, I'm sure she's a really lovely woman. She absolutely does not deserve to be ruthlessly murdered for anything she has done in the last hour. But I can't help it. I want her dead, gone out of the Universe.
I was the first person to board this Ryanair flight. As a passenger carrying only hand luggage, I had scored the right to check-in online, when I booked my ticket, and printed my own boarding pass at home.
This meant that not only could I go straight through to security and my departure gate, avoiding long queues in the main Departures Hall, but also I was able to join the Priority Boarding queue for the plane.
Mind you, as you might imagine, I didn't feel too great when a young woman with three tiny kids was told she could not join the Priority Boarding queue. She protested that people with small children could always board early.
The sad, embarrassed and harassed ServisAir worker explained that it was not up to her; it was Ryanair's choice; there was nothing she could do; contact the airline; sorry.
Ryanair changed everything about flying.
What was once an expensive and special treat has now become a cheap and dehumanising chore.
Last week on the radio I listened to a mother giving out about how Ryanair had taken her off a flight because she refused to pay ¤75.00 for a wheelchair and helper for her son to board the plane.
Despite explaining to ground crew that she had her own wheelchair, and that she could carry her six year-old cerebral palsied son herself, they told her neither was possible.
Ryanair owner Michael O'Leary has performed miracles. This year his airline will carry over 50 million passengers (more than British Airways) on 454 routes over 24 countries. In tandem, his airline regularly scores humanitarian own-goals, and often makes its passengers feel like miserable cattle.
O'Leary takes the stand declaring that you get what you pay for. On this particular occasion, I have secured a return flight to London for only 85 quid all-in, and now, because my only bag is on my shoulder, I fit Ryanair's' Perfect Passenger profile, and get to board early.
So there I am, sitting smug and sound at my window seat when she comes along, tapping me on the shoulder, asking if there is anyone sitting in the other two seats.
An innocent and perfectly reasonable request, but her tone and style make me want to throw my hands up in the air and declare
"Ja! Ich bin Jude! Ich bin Jude! Point me to your death camp! I'll come quietly!"
As to exactly why she elicits this reaction I cannot tell you. She's in her fifties, of medium height and build, with grey hair, a white blouse and brown trousers. She's a completely typical west of Ireland farmer's wife. Abrupt she was, but nasty, no. Not a bone of her body was evil, and yet, a hour later, I wanted to kill her.
Having secured permission to sit, she brought along her slightly larger friend, who sat next to me, and placed herself on the aisle seat.
She could have been one of those souls you see on RTE when the Angelus sounds, hesitating whilst doing some kind of inane task to look contemplative and heavenward as the bells rang out over the Haemorrhoid Isle.
From the moment the plane's wheels left the ground her mouth did not stop farting words.
When she talked, every single sentence was prefixed with that stalwart of Joe Duffy listeners
'Wayll ennyweh...'
and when I say every sentence I mean every single sentence.
'Wayll ennyweh...''Wayll ennyweh...''Wayll ennyweh...''Wayll ennyweh...''Wayll ennyweh...'
Thankfully she was polite and respectful enough to allow her friend to do most of the talking, but even then she managed to turn your friendly neighbourhood colyoomist from an accepting and liberal human into a nascent insane killer.
Every two words, not three, not five, but every two words spoken by her companion were accompanied by
'Yes yes yes.'
Sometimes she gave in to the rebellious nonconformist nutter insider her, and varied her song to sing
'Yes yes yeh.'
Hence the soundtrack ran something like this: 'So Bridget-'
'Yes yes yes.'
'-told Tom-'
'Yes yes yeh.'
'-that she-'
'Yes yes yes.'
'-was cooking-'
'Yes yes yeh.'
And so it went. The two harmless women chatted away in easy patter, of topics jam and Am-Dram, while the bloke to their right went silently and seriously apoplectic.
Was she like this all the time? Did she not realise how annoying, and indeed rude it was?
Had not one person in her life admonished her, or ever pointed out that it really kind of helps to be able to get at least half a sentence out of your mouth without the person you are speaking to doubling your words for theirs.
Or maybe it's just me. Maybe somebody should accuse me of being an intolerant grumpy old bastard from wayback, who has lost the ability to enjoy the company of his fellow human.
'Yes yes yeh.'