Monday 29 September 2014

We drove to Scotland in a Plastic Pig!

Martin and 'Kitten Kong' a.k.a. 'The Plastic Pig'

On May 1st 1707, ignoring strong opposition voiced by the Scottish people, Scottish politicians entered a union with England for pragmatic financial reasons. After 300 years of complaining about that union, the Scottish people have now voted for the same union, for pragmatic financial reasons.

The referendum was a thrilling race, which the SNP’s visionary leader Alex Salmond might have won, were it not for that ubiquitous political trope: “It’s the economy, stupid!”

The dreadfully named ‘Better Together’ team had to wheel out Gordon Brown to fill the charisma black hole left by Alisdair Darling and Ed Miliband, but who knew the old grouch would morph into such a passionate and exciting orator?
His years away from Tony Blair’s radiation fallout have served him well.

But it wasn’t Gordon who won the day. It is brutally ironic that after such a display of pure democracy, the true winners of this referendum are the Conservative Party, despite there being no collective more overtly detested by the Scottish people.

So deep is the Scottish loathing of the Conservatives that for many traditional Labour voters, independence became less important than the chance to rid themselves of the Tories forever. Feeling completely detached from Miliband’s Labour leadership they joined up with the SNP to recover some old-fashioned Socialist ideals.

Much as I admire the Scottish people’s compassion and sense of social justice, what I really love about them is this abhorrence of the political party once described by Aneurin Bevan as “Lower than vermin.”

So what a tragedy it is that now David Cameron can deliberately thrust Britain into a constitutional minefield, for which only he has the map. Suddenly he espouses English laws for English people, snatching words out of UKIP’s mouth, wrenching his recently-lost voters from the arms of Farage, while the Labour Party, which signed up to the vow for greater devolution, is now staring at its own corpse. Of the 58 MPs representing Scotland in Westminster today, 41 are Labour.

In a devolved union, Labour will lose all those seats from Westminster. It might never form a government again. So those Scots who feel they’ve lost independence can console themselves that they’ve very probably condemned the English to perpetual Conservative rule!

Great times for the Tories indeed, so let’s move away from them and celebrate Scotland instead.

It says something for Scotland that each of the three occasions I’ve visited the country were outright adventures. The fact that all three trips involved the copious consumption of alcohol says as much about me as it does about Scotland.

In August 1978, on the day my good friend the satirist Martin Rowson passed his driving test, he arrived at  my home.

“We’re driving to John O’Groats for Sunday lunch. Just backroads. I’ve asked Neil and he’s in. You coming?”
“Now. This instant. Pack a bag pronto and we’re out of here!”
“Where we gonna sleep?”
“Who cares? In the car? In a tent? Who cares?”

Most of you are familiar with the Reliant Robin, the 3-wheeled homicidal monstrosity that Del Boy drives around on ‘Only Fools and Horses.’

Unbeknownst to many however is the Reliant Kitten, a 4-wheeled version of this abominable car. Just like it’s funky stablemate, ‘The Plastic Pig’ as we called it was a fibreglass impostor posing as a car.

So off we went, three fully-grown young men inside a space barely large enough for both a grannie and her thermos.

Two days later we crossed the border into Scotland, only to discover the petrol tank had a hole in it. Brilliant - you design a rust-proof car and then its only metal part rusts, leaking fuel onto Caledonian tarmac.

Petrol stations were few and far between in the Highlands, so in a bid to save fuel we only used the accelerator to climb hills, freewheeling downwards.

“Right! That’s it!” grumped Martin, impatient about yielding to others at passing places on the narrow roads. “I’m not giving way to any more rich bastards! The next one’ll pull over for us!”

Inevitably this game of Road Russian Roulette proved unlucky. Ten minutes later a van driver’s chin dropped as he watched myself and Martin effortlessly lifting ‘Plastic Pig’ out of a ditch.

Did these Sassenachs possess mighty strength?
No, just a fibreglass car!

That night, in a very friendly pub in Drumnadrochit I hit the whisky hard, it hit me hard and then a policeman was waking me up by shining a torch on the car window, into my bleary beetroot eyes.

“You alright in there?”
I explained that we were sleeping in the pub car park, so as not to drink and drive.
“We? Who’s we?”

The lads, both comatose in the back of the car earlier, had disappeared. The copper swung his torch around, illuminating a completely collapsed tent. Under the Turin shroud-like flysheet, two human forms were visible.

“Would that be the ‘we’, sir?”
“That would be them, er us, er we, yes, officer.”
“I’ll let you get back to sleep now, but don’t go driving until your breath smells a lot sweeter than that!”

Eventually we made Sunday lunch at the John O’Groats Hotel, where we celebrated with roast beef and fat cigars.

Three years later, during a miserable night on the ferry from Hook of Holland to Harwich, I met a beautiful lass from Dundee. She had eyes that sparkled like beacons of hope through that hot diesel-infested air and she drank me under the table, pint for pint.

A month later we enjoyed a bawdy night of beer and bacchanalia in Dundee, brief but blissful.

My last adventure in Scotland occurred just before leaving England. By way of farewell, my friends Malcolm and Liz took me off to stay at an Outer Hebridean lighthouse, off an island, off an island, off an island.

I fear this noble rag would not carry the debauched details of our lighthouse sojourn, several miles from the nearest humans.
It was extraordinary, as is Scotland.

©Charlie Adley

Monday 22 September 2014


Thanks to Nerilicon,, Mexico City

As if someone had clapped their hands an inch above my face, I wake up fast, my back arched, muscles gripped.

I’m alone in a small single bed, tucked in tight by a dark brown hessian blanket. The room is sparse and tiny, dusty bare floorboards leading to a door not two foot from the end of the bed.

My first waking breath brings the stench of death. Gripped by terror, with no idea where I am, I feel a primal need to locate the Snapper; make sure she’s safe. 
Trouble is, I can’t get out of bed. This heavy hairy blanket is holding me down as if it has a life of its own.

Taking a deep breath I rip the bedclothes off me and in one movement rise from the bed and open the door.

A vile cocktail of putrid smells engulfs me. There’s a short landing leading to a staircase, all dusty bare floorboards, ingrained with faded white paint stains.

So profound is my fear my legs fail to move. I call out for help.
Louder, again. Help!
Again. Somebody! Help me, please!

I wake up.
Phew. That was a nasty one. Hope I don’t go back to that little number.

Generally I dream three about times a night, often revisiting the last dream after waking, which can be lovely, but after a nightmare like that, well, I hope it’s nearly dawn.


Going off to the loo I find the house still awake. The Snapper’s watching TV, Lady is getting belly tickles beside her. All is well with the world.

“Blimey love, nasty nightmare!”
“Oh you poor thing!”

In much the same way that suppressed memories of childhood horrors filter up through more confident adult psyches, I’ve noticed over the years that nightmares visit me when my brain feels safe, and we’d just returned from a three day holiday that was several days too short.

“It’s probably my brain dumping pooh on me because it thinks I’m still on holiday.”

Back to bed, straight to sleep.

I’m standing in the rambling overgrown garden of a huge white house. Although it’s in the countryside, it resembles a dilapidated and shabby version of Washington DC’s own, marbled by swathes of dark green ivy.

On the gravel driveway is parked an old Bedford van, the like which of I haven’t seen since Ford introduced the Transit.

The huge black front door of the house opens and a couple of 1960s Disney/Enid Blyton criminals run out carrying sacks, jump into the van, and drive off at high speed, rear wheels spinning a cloud of grit and gravel.

Walking into the house I realise it’s my home. Everywhere I look there are people lounging on sofas and chairs but I don’t know any of them, so I go to my office, only to find the shelves broken: books, files and scraps of paper strewn as vomit.

Rage builds within me, fuelled by the discovery that my office chair has been dismantled. The Snapper walks in and we have a blazing row, which even though I know I’m dreaming, I watch with interest, as it’s something we’re not very good at in normal waking hours.

She turns to me.
“Where’s the van?”
“It’s gone.”
“Gone? But don’t you see, those blokes put Lady in a sack and now they’ve scarpered!”

Before I have the time to ask her why she’s talking like somebody from 1957, I’m dashing out the door, only to find myself back in my Townland.

Running up the road stark bollock naked, I’m chasing the van, my exposed flesh feeling the heat of a strong sun under a ridiculously blue Irish sky, not particularly giving a damn about the neighbours who stand outside their houses, jaws dropping in unison, tutting and nodding and muttering didn’t they always say how that English fella was a quare one and just look at him now.

Having failed to outrun an internal combustion engine, I return home to find Kevin Healy has popped in for a cuppa. For the second time that night I think lucidly while dreaming, wondering how strange this is, given that I rarely see my friend. He plays no further part in my dreamly proceedings

The Snapper holds a perfect white geranium in a pot up to my chin.
“It’s dying!” she wails. “They’ve taken the dog and now perfect white geranium is DYING!”

She screams the last word so loudly it wakes me up.

06:58. Thank god. Slipping into trackies and a T-shirt I take Lady out for her morning peeper. Had enough of nightmares now. As the dog eats grass I chuckle, realising why my mind is so addled.

After my last Craft of Writing Course at The Galway Arts Centre, some of my students asked if I’d run a follow-up course, so I’ll be teaching them the art of editing, through the writing of a short story each. I always write alongside my students, so to reacquaint myself with this most demanding of forms, I’ve been revisiting the short stories of Bukowski, O’Connor and Macken, a cocktail of talent and darkness well able to mess up any mind.

(By the way, if you’d like to have fun while improving your writing skills, I’m running another Craft of Writing Course at The Galway Arts Centre, from Wednesday 1st October for 8 weeks, 7:30 - 9:00pm. €110/100 concessions. Numbers are limited, so please contact The Galway Arts Centre now to book your place: Phone: 091-565886; email:

Doggie’s done her doings and I’m back in bed by 07:20. It’s Sunday, so I’ll read a while, doze and -

My brother’s arm is reaching out of the helicopter. He’s yelling at me to grab his hand, but I can’t leave. The world is filled with noise, dust and turbulence and ... and here we go once more.

Freud shmoyed: eat your heart out, Sigmund.
It has been a long night.

Monday 15 September 2014


So a while back one of the contestants on Frank Skinner’s ‘Room 101’ chose the word ‘so’ as her pet hate. She didn’t mean the word ‘so’ in every use and context, only the way that people had started to use it at the beginning of a sentence, in response to a question.

By adding ‘so’ in this fashion she reckoned they sounded incredibly patronising.

Unfortunately I can’t for the life of me remember who that contestant was but being a boring old scribbler from way back who’s just a trifle on the sad side of obsessive about words, I recall perking up like cats ears after a clatter in the kitchen when alerted to the word’s new usage.

So ever since then all I can hear is people answering questions with sentences starting with ‘so’. It’s driving me crazy. At first I tried to put it down to being simply that phenomenon when you think of something and then can’t stop spotting it.

Trouble is, I know it’s not that. This new ‘so’ is almost pandemic. Everybody on the radio and TV who believes they possess a tiny piece of knowledge that the audience might not understand, thinks that if they start their answer with ‘so’, it will for some bizarre reason make their answer clearer while preserving their image as some kind of superior being with esoteric knowledge that they are deigning to share with us.

“So it’s an airborne virus, which means it’s carried on the air.”
“So the cow eats the grass and then we milk the cow and make the cheese from the milk.”

So yes, dear Colyoomistas, it’s getting to me. It’s not the word ‘so’ that irks me but more the way it’s now being used. We all know language is an amorphous entity, with culture and technology providing new words, but it’s people like us who choose which ones we want to use or leave behind.

I love the process, as it keeps us scribblers on our toes, while offering a zeitgeist insight into the minds, styles and preferences of our society.

So the next time you hear somebody giving an explanation starting with ‘so’, remove the word in your mind and see if their sentence suffers in the slightest.

I don’t think so.

Quite possibly you’ve already decided that Adley has lost his noodle once more and you may well be right, but pay some heed. I have good form in the wordy way of things. I’m proud to say this colyoom raised a very early red flag on the word ‘iconic’:

Double Vision - March 2009:
“It’s official. The word ‘iconic’ has just become iconic. It’s an iconic word. Pure iconic.
Our 21st century culture craves ultimates as if there is no tomorrow. Hyperbole and exaggeration now reign where adjectives and a varied vocabulary used to do a fair job. It’s no longer sufficient for anything to be unique, special, vital or extraordinary.
If it’s not iconic it’s not worth a busted light bulb.”

Since that old colyoom the word ‘iconic’ has become so ubiquitous and has lost so much power it will never again carry the same gravitas, but hey, words come and go.

People these days are using the word ‘marvellous’ half as much as 20 years ago. Other words currently on the way out are ’Fortnight’, ‘Fetch’, ‘Catalogue’, ‘Drawers’ and ‘Marmalade.’

Drawers?  So what do modern people keep their socks in?
Marmalade on the way out? Not in my house!

Still, it’s not a huge surprise to discover that usage of the words ‘Facebook’ ‘Internet’ and ‘Website’ are all increasing, alongside ‘Essentially’, and everyone’s favourite, ‘Awesome’.

So once you’ve got rid of iconic and all the other poetic expressions of grandeur, ‘Awesome’ is what you’re left with.

Dread to think what the folk of the Old Testament, whose God was ‘Awful’ (as in ‘inspiring awe’) would have to say about a teenager describing their iced Mochafrappachino as ‘Awesome'. While the word once carried an almost supernatural power and beauty, now we yawn as we hear it.

Sometimes words are the James T Kirks of vocabulary, boldly going where they have never been before, exploring strange new contexts, seeking out new meaning and anti-meaning.

Not so long ago, it was sufficient to describe things that you didn’t have to pay for as ‘free’. As children we gleefully collected Free Stickers and Free Football Cards from petrol stations. ‘Buy One Get One Free’ was just the way it was back in those whacky carefree distant days of last week. So you either paid for things or they were free; nothing more nor  less was needed by way of definition.

So somebody somewhere decided that the word ‘Free‘ no longer cut the mustard, so now nothing will ever merely be ‘Free’ again. Why ‘Free’ isn’t adequate as a word to describe the concept of ‘Free’, I’ll never fully understand, but now things either cost something or they are ‘For Free.’

As wordy conversions go, this particular change hasn’t been a slow affair. Back in the 1970s, when there was neither satellite TV nor You Tube, American expressions like ‘No Way’ took years to be absorbed into European society, trickling across the Atlantic to London, thence to Galway and all parts occidental.

These days words travel much faster. ‘For Free’ happened completely overnight. There’s not a marketing department in Ireland offering anything ‘free’ anymore.

So it’s ‘For Free’ or you pay for it.
So that’s the way it is.

While I’m on a roll and have the chance for a pun, I have to ask Griffins, who still bake by far the best bread around, why they felt the marketing need to become ‘Artisan’? Everyone’s Artisan these days. Call yourselves Master Bakers or Craft Bakers. ‘Artisan’ just makes me think of ‘Artisanal’, and that puts me off my sandwich.

Oh for goodness sake Charlie, just chillax!
Chillax? Oh, don’t get me started.

©Charlie Adley

Sunday 7 September 2014


Many people try to camouflage their racism by prefixing it with the word ‘casual’, but some words just do not belong together. ‘Casual racism’ is as mismatched a combination as ‘accidental starvation’ or ‘inadvertent massacre.’

Trouble is, we’re all casual about racism, in different ways. There are so many strains of racism manifesting themselves at the moment, it seems natural, almost human, to want to gauge it; measure it; describe this kind of racism as different to that one. Yet there is no such thing as racism-lite.

I’d been planning to write a piece about refugees seeking asylum in Ireland. A group who arrived in 2000 were assigned to a privately-run Direct Provision centre in Salthill. They arrived here looking for freedom, safety, dignity and a chance to build a life, the same basic human rights that the Irish have sought and gained all over the world.

Upon arrival they were told that their applications would be processed in 6 months, so I very much doubt they thought they’d still be there 14 years later, having raised nearly an entire generation on €19 a week per adult. Families are forced to eat food that appears to them unhealthy and foreign, while being denied the basic human right to cook for their children.

Then something wonderful happened. Instead of having to wag my scribbling finger in an unattractive way, the plight of refugees in Ireland became news. Having woken up to the injustice being perpetrated, the Irish are marching on the streets to protest.

For too long I feared I’d have to watch a Prime Time Special at some indeterminate time in the future, wherein the shameful plight of these people would be revealed, offering Ireland another opportunity to self-flagellate on a national scale, muttering about how this could have been possible, this awful terrible tragic way of running things.

No offence, but ye lads are great at that. Yet it didn’t happen because people like me and former Supreme Court Judge Catherine McGuinness, who predicted that a future government would end up apologising for the damage done by the current system, were wrong.

Ireland’s on the case, but it took a while. Our ‘casual’ racism of turning our collective heads for years, allowing such a regime to survive, is no longer acceptable to the Irish. We all agree that private companies running holding pens for humans is not the way to go. 

Yahoo! The times they are a-chaaang-in’ and all that.
But oops - what’s this?
Oh no.

My chin drops through the floor, closely followed by my morale. Last week Declan Tierney wrote in this noble rag about Councillor Michael Fahy’s wish that when they finally build the Gort to Tuam motorway, the 500 construction jobs won’t go to ‘foreigners’.

Oh. Oh my god. So sad.
You might think it was enough for him to blast the basic tenets of the EU to smithereens, while leaving all vestige of civilised human decency dead on the floor, but Fahy wasn’t done until he used every 1970s racist cliché in the book.
He had nothing against people from northern Europe.
“The point I am making is that they should go home and try and get jobs in their own countries."
Just when I thought it could get no worse, Tierney reported that the Councillor’s arguments weren’t even based around economics. 
“It is 26 years since we won an All-Ireland hurling title and the main reason is that some of our best hurlers and workers are living abroad!” said Cllr. Michael Fahy.
“Hurling!” I shriek out loud with disbelief.
“I told you Charlie, return of the Gaels...” whispers my friend Whispering Blue in response from his armchair across the room.
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties decline to make any comment. This colyoom is however willing to speak out against such vile bilge, because I know that somewhere there’s a bloke standing up for casual racism.
“Ah sure, what would this English bollox know? Yer man, he was only talkin’ about da hurling.”
How can we pretend to be getting to grips with the ills of society when it is still acceptable for our elected representatives to sound like the redneck forces of Ferguson, Missouri?
There always has been something casually racist about US society. Although poverty itself creates ghettos of ethnic minorities, nowhere else have I seen anything like the urban social housing complexes known in America as the Projects. Almost entirely black, they are ersatz open prisons for those that US society expects to become criminals. African Americans make up nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million people in jail in the USA, six times the rate of white prisoners.
Just another statistic that we’ve all become used to; become causal about.
Casual racism thrives in England, where ex-Premier League manager Malky Mackay was about to sign a contract with Crystal Palace when the club suddenly rejected the deal. Mackay been sending racist texts. Hardly surprising, given the casually accepted status quo in the English Football League, where nearly a quarter of all its players are black, yet 98% of the managers are white.
Nothing about racism is ever casual. The only casual thing is our attitude to the plight of others. We need to be asking now why it takes so many years to process the applications of those seeking asylum here.

As a people who have suffered so greatly over the centuries I am saddened and shocked that the Irish have up to now appeared so casual about withholding basic human rights from others.

Your politicians plead with US Congress to allow an amnesty to long-term Irish illegals living and working in America, yet here in Ireland refugee families share a room for 14 years, cannot send their children to 3rd Level Education and cannot cook their own rice.

Time to stop being so causal about human rights. Time to start seeking justice for those on these shores.

©Charlie Adley

Monday 1 September 2014


You mess with her, you mess with me...
Readers of a mean-spirited bent might be delighted to know that after my recent rather smug piece about the Magic Button that converted my customer service debacle into a minor victory, everything went very wrong.

How sad is it that our expectations are now so low, that a customer finally receiving goods that he’s bought might be described as a ‘minor victory’?

If contemplating that makes me feel blue, it doesn’t compare to the way I felt last week, when I was hit with a double-whammy of consumer crises.

After more emails and letters than I care to contemplate, the rowing machine failed to arrive as guaranteed last Friday. I didn’t even want it delivered, but thanks to anomalies on the Argos website, I had no choice.

The following Monday night I was in London visiting my mother, when I received an email from 
Argos saying that the rowing machine hadn’t arrived in Ireland, but would be dropped in the garage in the village on Wednesday.

I replied saying that Wednesday was no good. I was away, the garage wouldn’t hold it for long and the Snapper was unable to pick it up, both time-wise and physically. Could they make it next week?

At 08:30 the next morning my mobile rang, showing an Irish number.

“Hello Charlie. I’m in Galway with a box for you from Argos. Where will I find you?”
“In London! You were supposed to be delivering last Friday, and as of last night you’re not meant to deliver until tomorrow! It’s confusing. Can you make it next week?”

He then dropped the box at the garage in the village, precipitating a shower of costly international mobile phone calls from me to the Snapper, the garage, Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama.

By the time I arrived at Mum’s house around 9:00 I was fuming. Never mind all that guff about being ‘a valued customer’. It felt like I was now working for Argos. Clearly they hadn’t a clue what was going on, so I was making the best of a bad job.

However, as soon as I opened Mum’s front door, my rage went in an entirely different direction. She was very upset. A man at British Telecom had just been rude to her on the phone.

In a nano second all thoughts of my comparatively petty troubles dissolved in a wash of sympathy and a flood of protective ire.

Who was he? What was his number and just let me at him! How dare he? Oooh and Grrrr and honest Mum, it’ll be alright.

“Well you can call him if you want, but I don’t think he’ll listen. He was thoroughly objectionable and actually, now that I think of it, he sounded drunk.”

While completely understandable, my mother’s lack of optimism was entirely out of character. When my lovely Dad was alive he used to find her relentless positivity slightly wearing, often calling her ‘Pollyanna’ when she tried to smooth over too many problems with platitudes, but my mother’s struggles with BT have gone on for over three years, finally exhausting her faith and patience.

Once or twice every year Mum’s landline stops working, at which point various engineers turn up, fail to find anything and go away again. You might think that an 85 year-old woman losing the use of her landline would constitute a priority, but sadly, in today’s society, the Corporate Entity is king, with we customers mere fodder, to be crushed and pumped into the Profit Machine.

For the last few weeks she’s been stressed and distressed as her phone has gone again. A few days before my arrival a BT team dug two large holes in the road outside Mum’s neighbours’ houses, leaving a sign saying the job would be completed in 3 days. 

I’d already called the number on the sign, only to be rebuffed by a woman refusing to accept any responsibility whatsoever. They were not BT, she insisted. They were the engineering wing of BT and anyway, work done on Saturday was not counted as ‘a day’ so could I call back next year, when she might give a damn.

All my Mum wanted was to know what was going on. She was terrified of going out in case she missed the BT engineers when they came. I took the phone number of this BT man who had been rude to her and then I breathed deeply, trying to remember that I was back in London, where aggression is inevitably met with more aggression.

Be calm.
Be nice.
Just get a result for Mum and all will be cushty.

A bloke answered the phone, unintelligibly garbling something. 
“Is that Ray?” I asked.
“That’s what I said!” the voice snarled back.

Grrrr and more Grrrr, yet I controlled myself. My pragmatist ruled the roost. 20 minutes later he was calling me ‘Charlie mate’, but sadly I suspect only because I have testicles and unlike my Mum, don’t sound like the Queen on the phone.

Later, I was explaining to one of the engineers working outside that this was about an 85 year-old woman who felt like a prisoner in her own home.

He nodded and tutted sympathetically, until my mother appeared on her front porch, as ever beautifully turned out and immaculately dressed. She then proceeded to glide down the steps and came to talk with us.

After meeting this graceful grandmother with mental faculties that fly in the face of age, the engineer turned to me with a big smile.

“Doing pretty well, isn’t she, for a prisoner, know what I mean?”
“Just as well,” I replied, “considering the way she’s treated; considering the way we’re all treated these days.”

...and so this was intended to end, but incredibly, minutes after writing the above, I receive a phone call from a courier company.

"Is that Charlie? We've a rowing machine from Argos that we want to deliver."

You have a what no no you're kidding me. 
Another one?!!?

©Charlie Adley