Tuesday 26 November 2013

You think you've lost touch until life happens!

 ...back in the days when men were boys and hair was Hair!

Got a text from my mate in Yorkshire. “Call me.”

We’d almost lost touch. Back in the mid-80s, we’d been fairly inseparable, in what today they’d call a ‘bromance’. Not easy to be a fella. Either we’ve lost touch with our feminine sides or when we display emotion, we’re prey to mockery. There was no ‘bromance’, no romance to our friendship. However it was full on, and it was great.

In 1986 I was living in Golders Green when I found out he was living in Kentish Town, just a few stops away on the other branch of the Northern Line.

So I nipped over to see him and we crossed the road from his house, sat in the concrete beer garden of the Duke of Gloucester pub and drank pints. It was one of those moments in life when you instantaneously know something good is happening. Your world isn’t rocked, yet there’s a gentle zephyr blowing through your soul, letting you feel that you and this person are going to get on really well.

He was an aspiring actor, his career leaps and bounds ahead of mine, doing world tours with both the English National Theatre and Kenneth Branagh’s Renaissance Theatre Company. With the likes of Richard Briers and Emma Thompson playing the leads, it was a great achievement for a lad in his 20s. I was dead excited for him, and shamelessly ligged backstage with his famous actor pals.

Wherever we went, whatever we did, evenings seemed to end up back at his gaff, where he’d press the cafetière, I’d shuffle the cards, Miles Davis would blow his horn and we’d play poker through the early hours. We smoked and talked, enjoying the pure strong energy of youth before it was tempered by experience.

We were the Likely Lads. We aired our troubled angst, paraded our curious souls and vented our volatile spleens at the result of the photo finish of the 3.40 race at Ripon. Then we’d drink lots of beer and whisky (Scotch in those days it was: White Horse, as I recall) and eat curry.

Turned out that he wasn’t at the National Theatre to become an actor, but rather to meet his lovely wife, who was working there too. He was my best man in California and I then had the honour of being his best man back in Yorkshire.

I flew in with my suit intact after the 6,000 mile trip, but then discovered on his wedding morning that I had no shirt with me.

My neck has the girth of a 200 year-old Sequoia tree, so with much urgency and quite a bit of giggling, myself himself and the bride's father headed off at great speed along the M62 in search of a shirt shop, any shirt shop that went all the way to18 necks. Quickly, time’s running out!

Apart from the fact that I took a lot of well-earned flak from father and son alike, the frantic expedition proved a perfect distraction to the upcoming events of the day. We found a shirt, so I wasn’t half naked at his wedding ceremony.

Just one of a plethora of memories, that became such as we drifted apart. Life does that. He couldn’t make it when the Snapper and I got married and we haven’t been to Yorkshire. 

Friendship can be a messy untidy affair, uncluttered by boundaries. Strewn all over my life lie the hurdles we crossed together. We were there for and with each other, although, to be honest, he had to be there a lot more for me than the other way round!

So we sort of gently imperceptibly lost touch. I sent a Christmas card each year, but that’s ‘cos I’m like that, and then I got this text. Call me. So I did, to find out he’s got leukaemia.

On reflection, I’ve decided that we assess and settle on the strength of words when we first hear them. Back in the 60s when you heard the word ‘leukaemia’, you thought somebody was going to die. In just the same way, in the 80s the word ‘chemotherapy’ carried such dark bombast that it spawned its own maxim:

‘If the cancer doesn’t kill you, the chemo will!’

Upon hearing my reaction down the phone, my mate reassured me that these days neither word carries the same vile cachet. They know so much more now. Apparently his particular type of leukaemia is eminently treatable, and now that he and his lovely missis are past the initial shock, they're doing well.

Telephones are great for blokes, ‘cos when we’re doing the man to man stuff we’re not really supposed to get all bleary teary. Admittedly, many of us lads these days are sensitive listeners and cooks, who hoover and shop, but hombre to hombre, the manhug still rules.

Nevertheless I was fighting back the tears when he told me how he’d had to ask the oncologist if he’d live to see his son grow up, but then laughed and felt relieved to hear that his numbers have dropped from hugely bad to really acceptable levels; that the chemo is working; that the worst he feels at the moment is a bit shitty, tired and grumpy after he’s stopped taking the pills that deal with the side-effects of the chemo.

Being a loving empathetic individual, I took the opportunity to ask him what the hell he was going on about, pointing out that he’s always been a bit shitty, tired and grumpy.

After all, that’s what friends are for, isn’t it?

So he’s doing well, and tomorrow I’m driving down to Cork and jumping on a plane to Manchester, where he’ll drive to meet me at the airport, where it’ll be bloomin’ brilliant to see him, as well as his lovely wife and son.

That’s the deal with friendship. You think you’ve lost touch, then life happens and you realise who matters.

I’m on my way mate.

©Charlie Adley


Monday 18 November 2013


If you’re lucky enough to have a job, chances are you’re unlucky enough to have a boss who drives you just a little crazy.

For me the hardest thing about having bosses was their inability or unwillingness to admit they were wrong. For some reason they seemed to feel that if they owned up to making a mistake, they might be perceived as being weak.

This stupidity arises from either plain ignorance or various insecurities clustered around each other, like broken crisps at the bottom of the packet.

So then you find yourself doing what the Americans coined as ‘managing up’: using all your social skills and workplace experience, you try to find a way to explain to this person who’s making your life a misery by dumping all their error-streaked pooh on your desk, ladder, van, whatever it is you work at, that it’s okay to be wrong. 

It’s okay to have made a mistake. 

If you just admitted that you’ve made a mistake, we won’t suddenly think you an incapable fool. We won’t think ‘Aha this person is able to make mistakes, when I had previously believed them to be infallible. Now I cannot trust them to do their job, or advise me of anything.’

What we might think is that you’ve suddenly grown up a bit. Once you’ve admitted to making a mistake, you’ll have less to hide, so you’ll be more able to do your job, not dump the extra work your wee booboo created on us, like you have been doing, because you couldn’t admit it was your fault.

Now we can feel at last that you’re worthy of respect, because the absolute truth is that admitting errors is a sign of great strength. All those years you thought you were doing so well, working so hard to hide from us the fact that you might be weak and drop the odd clanger, all those years wasted because all we felt was a growing contempt for your lack of understanding.

Given that we all accept and respect each other’s errors on a daily basis, I've always been fascinated by the terror that authority has of admitting mistakes. From a pretty early age we realise that everyone screws up; that the issue is not so much about whether you make a mistake, but rather how you deal with it. It’s pretty basic stuff, Life 101, yet world leaders aren’t fond of saying ‘Oops, sorry!’

To be fair to politicians - sorry, just have to take a breath after typing that - the media have made it almost impossible for people to admit they were wrong. By pursuing both the innocent and guilty with equally eager vigour, the exhausted journalists of rolling 24/7 TV news have to come up with stories, never-ending stories, rolling stories that generate other story strands, until it doesn’t matter who said or did what to whom, whatever happened or why, because facts are the least important issue between each commercial break. So in the context of cable newsrooms, it doesn’t matter if somebody did or did not admit to making a mistake. All that matters is the story.

When the story itself is about the admitting of a mistake in policy, the media whip themselves into an unhelpful and frankly childish frenzy, chucking around terms such as ‘U-Turn’ and ‘Flip-Flop’. When they treat us as idiots, we behave accordingly, chuckling along with the story: ‘Aha, see there, that useless bunch of twats had to ‘fess up and finally admit that was a rubbish idea, har har!’

Away from such mindless rhetoric, the sad fact missing is that people would and should admire politicians who change their minds. As with your boss, showing the self-knowledge to be aware of your own fallibility is a sign of emotional sturdiness. You don’t have to abandon an ideology to change your mind on one single issue. It actually makes me feel tense inside when I try to imagine why on earth they think we expect them to be perfect.

Could they be any less so?

While we're on the subject of those just a smidgeon less than perfect, you have to be wary of those politicians who apologise for somebody else’s mistake. Micheál Martin made my skin crawl as he made a very well-crafted and measured apology to us all for the mistakes of the previous government. After all, he wasn’t anything to do with it, was he? It brought bile upon my tongue, this foul remorse through a glass darkly. Fitting, as today’s leader of Fianna Fail has about him, as Tory Michael Howard was famously described, ‘...Something of the night.’

Were it not for a rabid media, vacuous politicians, insecure bosses and what appears to be a species-wide fear of admitting failure, we’d all be a lot better off.

While our egos might be flattered by being told we’ve done well, we’re only going to learn and improve by understanding what we've done wrong. I’ve made some dreadful choices in my life. I’ve done stupid irresponsible ignorant and selfish things. So have you. And you over there, cowering under the kitchen table.

People always talk of regrets. All that ‘If you had your time over, would do it it different?’ type of thing. I find this perspective just a little wearisome. They believe that if we fail we must have made a poor choice. I disagree. I make my choices based on what feels right at the time. Whether it works out well or not has nothing to do with the reasons I made my initial choice.

Humans are always going to make mistakes, so the choice is ours: do we punish ourselves and by proxy everyone around us, as we try to disguise our errors, or do we admit them, learn from them, absorb the knowledge that these opportunities give us and walk on?

993 words
©Charlie Adley

Monday 11 November 2013


I’m back in London, the city of my birth, trying to be a tourist. Considering my day out has only just started, I’m doing pretty well at looking like an outsider.

As I head up the platform in Stanmore Station towards the waiting train, the voice on the tannoy announces

“The next train to Stratford will leave from Platform 3 in 2 minutes.”

I stop in my tracks. The train I’m just about to board is on what used to be Platform 2. To be honest, even though I grew up down the road, I never knew which platform was which, because there were only two. There was this one and that one, and as Stanmore is the end of the line, you just jumped on whichever train was there.

Platform 3?

I turn around and oh look, wow, they’ve built another one over there. I may not be a mathematical genius, but I can tell pretty quickly that if there’s 3 platforms, the one in the middle cannot be Platform 3, so I leg it back up to the top and sprint down the new platform and jump onto the train, whereupon apathetic heads turn to focus cold London eyes, silently scornful of my jumpy thumping arrival, my heavy breathing and my far too enthusiastic smile.

Couldn’t feel more touristy if I tried. I fell at the first fence, my home town station.

The train eases out, purring along in relative silence compared to the raucous clatter-bang of those old carriages that used to take me to school. They felt as if they were made of nails and wood, held together with strips of metal. These days the Tube is slick, air-conditioned, perfectly lit and spotless.

Each time I come back I notice something different in Tube behaviour. Last time it was that absolutely every passenger had a smartphone; now it’s that they all have a single earplug linked to their smartphones. Some of them are listening to music, some are talking out loud to themselves. A decade ago they’d have been dumped into the barrel marked ‘nutter’. Now they’re just on the phone. 

Or maybe they're still nuts and merely pretending to be on the phone.

I have to make a call, but my own phone is a dinosaur Nokia, sporting a long crack on the screen, held together by Sellotape. Ah sure, what can you do, and there’s another problem. Last night my niece took the piss out of me for sounding Irish, and as I chat to my friend I have to dig a little deeper than I’d like to make sure I don’t sound like some dreadful plastic Paddy. I don’t mind pretending to be a tourist in my old town, but I don't want to pretend to be someone I’m not.

You know the way you never appreciate what's on your doorstep? Well, I didn’t see St. Paul’s Cathedral until I was 24, when a friend visiting from Australia asked for the touristy tour. So my first stop today is the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square because, I’m ashamed to admit, I’ve never been there either.

The Londoner in me expects to greet Trafalgar Square as an old friend. I’ve seen it in so many lights. In my hotheaded political youth, I shouted and protested there at the end of countless CND and Anti-Apartheid marches. You know the sort of thing. Gay Whales Against Racism. Life wasn’t always so serious. On a far-distant New Year’s Eve, I got stocious in this square, as Martin jumped into the fountain and onto the BBC news.

But today Trafalgar Square has been hijacked by the USA’s NFL. Jacksonville Jaguars are running around in full sporting regalia, blowing loudly on their whistles. Nelson’s Column is obscured by tents and a stage, upon which somebody is breakdancing. To both my tourist and local, the place doesn’t feel right, so I embrace the gallery, marvel at the beauty of the collection, and then find myself back on the streets, with several hours to kill before I meet my friends.

The pubs aren’t open yet, and the endless houses of Costa Coffee and Starbucks are full, noisy and bland. What a wonderful yet lonely place London can be. Oh for Quay Street right now, just to hang for half an hour, to watch Galway TV floating by.

Reverting to type, I decide to seek refuge in a cinema, and just for a few minutes the Londoner in me erases the tourist, as I dive in and out of remembered alleyways and shortcuts, making the job of checking out all the cinemas a lot easier.

Gone are the awesome caverns that once bordered Leicester Square, where my jaw dropped at the sight of the mother ship in Close Encounters; I jumped out of my skin at the falling head in Jaws; rocked with the Who’s Tommy and tried to look cool at Led Zeppelin's ‘Song Remains The Same’. 

Instead I watch Woody Allen’s ‘Blue Jasmine’ in a poky little studio cinema, which wanted to charge me £2.75 for a bottle of water.

Locals rarely socialise in the city centre. They stick to their neighbourhoods, not only because London is so vast, but also because the West End is a touristic rip-off zone.

Finally it’s time to see my friends, these people I have known for over 35 years. We’re a curious bunch, all heading different ways in life after school, yet never losing touch, never forgetting how to have a blinding night out together. I both laugh and drink to excess as I realise how foolish I’ve been, trying to be a tourist. With friends like this, I’m never going to feel anything but at home.

The onboard computer on the late night Tube has gone bananas, announcing stations randomly:

“The next stop is Dollis Hill, Baker Street, Baker Street. The next stop is the next stop is stop is Wembley Park.”

Do Tubes dream in alcohol?

1000 words
©Charlie Adley

Monday 4 November 2013


It’s never good when a passion becomes an obsession, so I gave myself a double take the other day. I was reading Eamon Dunphy writing in his recently-released autobiography ‘Rocky Road’ about Bill Shankly’s Liverpool, on the way up from Division Two.

Thing is, I’d just stopped reading David Peace’s ‘Red or Dead’ about Shankly’s Liverpool to read this, another football-related book, which was now showing me a different side of the same events of a football club and its manager, several decades ago.

Was I maybe just possibly losing it in the noodle a little with all the football?

While I’ve over-boiled a lot of my mental spaghetti over the years, thankfully football is not a problem. It’s under control, y’know what I mean, like like like I can live with it and I can live without it. Like, last week, y’know, I went a couple of days without watching it or reading about it. Well, more like one day really. But it’s under control. Honest.

Anyway, the reason I need to read Dunphy’s book in such a hurry is that I’m going to be interviewing the man himself, in Dubray’s Bookshop, Shop Street, Galway, on November 7th. I’ll be asking him questions for 20 minutes or so, there’ll be a couple of questions from the floor (that’s you if you come, not the laminate strips) and then he’ll read from his new book.

So while thinking back to the book I’d just relinquished about Shankly, I was reading Dunphy writing about Shankly. He couldn’t recall why he turned down the chance to play for Shankly’s Liverpool. Back then they were in Division Two, which we now call the Championship.

Actually, the difference between those two league titles sums up perfectly why I’m (maybe just a squidgem) obsessed with the game.

You see, in them there far off days, when men was men and refs waved play on, the four top leagues in England had no nonsense to ‘em: 1,2,3, and 4. There was no need for the liberal wrapping and fancy tinsel of today’s Premiership, Championship and the Less Wonderful But Still Worthy Of Corporate Sponsorship-Ships, now optimistically called Leagues 1 and 2.

When you won League Division One in the 60 and 70s, you knew well enough you were the best team. No rockets, no exploding multicoloured glitter balls. Each team had eleven players on the field (12 if your manager was into bungs), and there was one named substitute, who came on only if somebody’s head was broken off. The game was played with vigour and violence, more akin to today’s ice hockey and the GAA/Aussie Mish-Mash Rules.

Being a Chelsea fan, I was at Wembley to watch the legendary 1970 Chelsea-Leeds FA Cup Final, and now, when I watch the same game again on DVD, I roar out loud with laughter. The Snapper has grown to love the Beautiful Game during the Premiership years, so she’s mystified to see Leeds’ captain Billy Bremner deliver an excellent and completely unprovoked left hook to Chelsea’s Peter Housman, off the ball, right in front of the ref, who then waves play on.

Chelsea’s captain was nicknamed ‘Chopper’. Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris, who could do you harm. Norman Hunter bit your legs, so they said. These days, tap your TV, see the strikers all fall over.

I’m not saying that the old game was better. Today’s players are overpaid prima donnas who prostrate themselves upon reaching the penalty area with such enthusiasm, you’d think they’d just finished the Camino de Santiago. Yet they are far more athletic than those 1970s hunks of manhood. They are incredibly skilful and fast, covering far more ground than their predecessors.

I’d like to say I had the pleasure of watching Johnny Giles play, but this Chelsea fan finds it hard. Leeds and Chelsea were intense rivals in those days, so I watched the Irish magician’s skills more with fear than the respect they deserved. The same goes sadly for Liam Brady, who was a wonderful footballer, despite the fact that he was a Gooner.

Tragically for us viewers, Brady was equally as exciting to watch as a footballer as he is crushingly dull to watch in the RTE Studio. His observations are insightful and interesting, but his delivery leaves me feeling I’ve stuffed dried cardboard into my mouth. On his right flank, John Giles is smart, dependable yet unexciting. Inevitably, it’s 'Dunpho' who makes the show come alive.

I’d never heard of Eamon Dunphy before I came to Ireland, and don’t buy into this idea that he’s the marmite of Irish football. You can’t pin him down enough to really hate him. His opinions are as unpredictable as they are challenging. The man is rarely boring, as presenter or writer. He has charisma, which makes a rare outing naked of authority, because of his propensity to be outrageous.

Despite many of your best wishes, Eamon Dunphy holds an important place in today’s Ireland. Everyone I’ve told about the upcoming interview has given a far greater reaction than I anticipated. Evidently, people are eager to see him, talk of him, listen to him and inevitably disparage and disagree with him.

The only Ireland matches I’ve missed on TV since moving here were played at the same time as an England game. After many fairly gruesome Irish displays, I’ve been both amused and infuriated by Eamon Dunphy’s punditry, but would rather watch him than the anodyne BBC alternative of Lineker and Shearer.

I reckon the man’s probably talked enough about Saipan, so I’m working on some questions he might not have been asked before. Ah sure, mind you, I can’t imagine we’ll get through the night without the words ‘Roy’ and ‘Keane’ being spoken in tandem, and suggest that you arrive promptly at DuBray’s, as it is a relatively small area in which to house such an expansive personality (and that Dunphy fella too!). See you there.

Interview and reading with Eamon Dunphy,
Dubray’s Bookshop
Shop Street, Galway City
Thursday November 7th, 5:30pm

©Charlie Adley