Friday 21 November 2014


We are a fantastic species. For millennia we saw comets in the sky as messages from gods, omens of defeat and disease, yet now we have landed on one. A tiny craft made here travelled 300 million miles through the void, hit the bullseye and then plonked itself down on the comet’s surface.

You’d think we were almost gods ourselves, were it not for death. Struggling with the knowledge of our inevitable death we show our humanity, rather than our divinity.

We’re going to die one day. We don’t know why we’re here and we don’t know how to face death so comet schmommet, we’re not gods at all.

We are human, blessed with the 4 Effs of Humanity. We are fallible, freaked out, fucked up and fantastic.

I’m a big fan of humanity: both the race and the emotion. In the last week death has visited my life three times, in wholly different ways, and I’ve given thanks to humanity for easing my pain.

You might mock the first of my deaths but tread carefully. There can be more to a plant than mere vegetable matter, and Perfect White Geranium and I had history. Back in 1995 I left the West of Ireland to make a new life in California. 

Tragically it didn’t work out, so when I returned years later, I shared a place with my friend Artist In Blue Towel. I’d given her all my plants when I left and then forgotten them, so I was thrilled when she handed me back my white geranium.

I cut a branch off it, stuck it into another pot and gave it to my friend. This new plant thrived, as did the mother plant, for decades.

Over the years I lost count of how many cuttings I took off Perfect White Geranium. I became quite cavalier, even showing off a little at how easy it was to create a new plant. 

Look, just take this central stem, chopped at both ends, and d’naaah, another plant.

Perfect because the plant’s leaves were flawless, large, deep dark green: memories of a life loved, lost and regained.

So when the stem went black in the pot, I knew its time had come. Everything dies. Being a nurturer I’d be sad to lose any plant, but this one was almost a friend.

If I wasn’t writing this in public, I’d say Perfect White Geranium was a friend, but generally people expect friends to have heartbeats, so when I then heard about the dog that had died, I was deeply sad.

Admittedly at the time I had consumed a small bucketload of whiskey, as we were mourning the loss of a true human friend, but Una didn’t know that I hadn't heard that Boogie had died, and all of a sudden tears were exploding from my eyes.

Una looked a little surprised and distressed, until I explained that her black labrador and I had formed a strong and permanent bond years ago, while her family, all of us in fact, were experiencing trauma.

Death makes little sense at the best of times. When it takes a tiny spirited unique child, you find yourself hugging the dog.

Third of the three and left until last as it hurts the most at the moment: the recent death of my friend Tim. Another gone far too young, we knew death was on the agenda as he’d been living with cancer for a long time. Throughout the surgery and the ensuing disfigurement, Tim remained as stoic, brave and dry witted as he ever was.

Tim was one of those people who are built purely of the essence of themselves. When I visited him in UCH a few days before he died, he showed not one single change of character.

Of course he felt emotions just like any human, but Tim was English: he kept a lid on it. 

So when I ran out of football smalltalk and dared to venture from the safety of Boy Chat into the No Man’s Land of Human Talk, he had no time for it.

I asked him if he’d watched the game the previous night. He nodded but explained he’d not seen all of it.

“So tired.” he whispered, leaning back on the pillow.
“That’d be your body fighting the illness.” I offered, knowing it was no such thing.

Tim looked over to me and smiled.
“Nah. T’isn’t.” he said, forcing me to nod in agreement.

The silence that followed was laden with truth; the simple yet devastating truth that he was struggling to stay alive.

After my visit Tim texted me to say thanks for coming in. Away from his bedside I was allowed to once more leave the shores of Safe Man Talk, and text him back that he was a good man. 

Smily emoticon came back, his way of saying “Goodbye” to my “Goodbye.”

He was a good man. It was said in the church by many. It was said in the pub by many more. It was the summation of the man. If our lives are to be summed up in five words, I can think of none finer.

Once you’ve popped your clogs it makes no difference whether you climbed Everest or won X- Factor. Did you live a just life? Did you do harm? Did you love others?

The sadness that accompanies each death is as different as the human gone. When Tim’s coffin came around the corner of the street, carried by close friends of mine, my emotions went into spasm.

Yes, he was loved by them and I am part of them and even though I now live far away I am still so much a part of this and whooosh ... my tears flowed.

Tim was humanity on legs, the human race in a single person. Yes, he was flawed; a smile appeared on my face each and every time I saw him; he was a good man.
When death comes to us, I hope we might all match Tim’s legacy.

©Charlie Adley

Sunday 16 November 2014


Four years after 9/11, I was standing beside New York City’s ‘Ground Zero’, reading the hoardings hung on the wire fences around the site of the attack.

One of them declared: “In memory of all those great American Heroes.”

Turning to my friend, I observed:

“It’s strange the way the word ‘hero’ is used these days.”

I was about to explain how they were innocent victims rather than heroes, but I never got the chance.

A hand grasped my shoulder. I was spun around to face a grey-haired man in an anorak and spectacles.

“Hey! Show some goddam respect!” he hissed at me.

Had I shouted to my mate, I might have understood this man’s rage. But I had whispered. The scene before my eyes had filled me with sadness, and my voice went quiet as if wev were in a church.

So I was showing respect. Had I been more foolish I would have tried to explain to this man what I meant. But I could see the pain behind his eyes, the loss, the anger, so I dipped my chin and simply said “Sorry!”, walking away with my tail between my legs.

Who knows who he loved in the towers, but as much as my heart broke for all those lives lost and broken, my sadness was spreading far wider, to the hundreds of thousands of innocent victims in Iraq who died, as a result of this attack. Members of the public killed for no good reason. The powers that be have long referred to civilian deaths during wartime as ‘collateral damage’.

It’s a hellish long way from ‘hero’ to ‘collateral damage’ but they are one and the same person.

Very sad.

Whenever particular wars flare up, foreign populations become especially agitated, seeing one ousted overpowered people as more important than others.

I cannot. I just see a human life, each as vital as all the others. So now, enveloped as we are in memories of the First World War, my heart bleeds fiercely, as it always does when I contemplate that horrendous debacle.

There is no way to wage war tidily. Even the crisp technology of remote-controlled drone warfare kills innocent victims aplenty. However there is something especially tragic about the 1914-1918 war.

The odds were stacked against the innocents for so many reasons:

The weapons of war had changed. Artillery fire had become faster and more furious, leaving the infantry hiding in putrid trenches. The makers of war still envisaged two armies facing each other in the field, so they used all their powers to recruit as many men as they could, yet technological advances meant that no such battle was possible. Shells, shells, endless shells pounding exploding killing maiming, followed by poison gas, as soldiers sat impotent and rotting in their muddy holes.

Then there was the pointlessness of the war, fighting over 100 yards of Belgium to satisfy the hubristic Empire aspirations of European aristocracy. Those soldiers were expendable: 1c and 2c coins in the coffers of the continent's Crowned Heads.

Then of course, there were the lies. The idea that it mattered at all. I’m not being disrespectful of those who died by saying that their war was pointless. They were brave men and women, doing their duty.

Lies lie behind many wars. For a reason that is beyond me, people swallow these lies to this day. Two months ago the UK government said that by fighting ISIS they’d make the world a safer place. Last week the BBC reported that the government was warning Britons abroad to be vigilant, as their participation in the war on ISIS has made the world a more dangerous place.

Lies abounded back then. Lloyd George promised surviving returning soldiers ‘A Land Fit For Heroes’, yet there was nothing for them. Post-traumatic and unemployed, decades before either ailment was treated by the State, a generation succumbed to the Spanish Flu epidemic. Dark times indeed.

Lies. It was the Great War. Nothing great about it, except the number of innocent victims.

It was The War To End All Wars, but clearly, it was merely the overture to the symphony of modern warfare.

They’d be back by Christmas.
I don’t think so.

Far from being disrespectful to the dead, I am honouring their sacrifice. They were innocent victims. Most of them were out there so the children back home could afford to eat. Putting yourself through hell so that you can keep your family healthy: that, to me, is heroic. Getting killed for a government who quite frankly doesn't give a damn: that is truly terrible.

Of course there were heroes out there. Incredible daring and courage was displayed on a regular basis. When it was employed to save lies rather that destroy them it was particularly heroic.

I’m not saying that all killing is bad. Give me a gun and I’d shoot a Nazi stormtrooper, no problem.

But my heroes tend to be those who dare to save their troops. Give me Shackleton over Scott every day. Scott was an amazing man, brave and honourable to the core. But in the same way that the English celebrate Dunkirk as a victory, they worship a man who came second and perished with his comrades.

Shackleton’s expedition failed spectacularly, yet he didn’t lose a single man. I have just read his own account of the Endurance expedition, the ensuing landing on Elephant Island, the incredible journey in the James Caird and the epic crossing of South Georgia. These were tough men, hard and steely in a way so far beyond your sofa, your iPad and cappuccino that I suspect it no longer exists.

Despite his strong ambition and a desire for glory, Shackleton made every decision based upon his greatest chance of keeping everyone alive.
That’s my kind of hero.

©Charlie Adley

Monday 10 November 2014

Feverish dreams of Albert, Mary and ... doughnuts?

Not fair. Absolutely not fair. I return from a splendid trip to London with a passenger inside me. The night before last it showed its thousands of faces by keeping me awake coughing and yesterday it unleashed the full force of its snotty fury, turning me into an explosive disaster of a man.

While a semi-reclusive life is helpful to my head, my lack of exposure to other people clearly isn’t good for my immune system. 

On the heaving trains and thronging buses of London’s megatropolis, I rubbed shoulders in confined spaces; held onto escalator rails that had been touched by tens of thousands; breathed air on planes that recycled everyone’s assorted bugs every seven minutes.

I was unlikely to make it out intact.

When I was little my next door neighbour used to say
“You have to eat a bag of dirt before you die.”

As a child I never understood what she was on about. I used to worry that one day I’d come home from school to find my mother eating a bag of dirt, and then know she was about to die.

Thankfully I’m fairly robust and rarely suffer illness. In the 22 years that I’ve lived in Ireland I can only remember two occasions when I’ve had the ‘flu - and when I say ‘flu I mean the number that knocks you off your feet, wiping out your ability to function for several days, rather than that peculiarly Irish illness, so often offered as:

“I had the ‘flu yesterday, but I’m fine now.”

No, you didn’t have the ‘flu. You had what I have now: a nasty cold and chesty cough that, while debilitating, in no way compares to the severity of influenza.

Back in 1994 I was living in Salthill when the Beijing ‘Flu was raging around the country. Alone in my home, I started to come over a bit dodgy in the late afternoon and by the time I went to bed I was delirious and incapable. Sweat poured over my entire body (sorry if you’re having your tea!) and as I climbed into bed I noticed that the veins in my arms were swollen up like lengthy black puddings. 

The lymph glands in my armpits were - ouch! -tender, enlarged, and as I sit here now, I remember the very thought that went through my bewildered head.

“Oh. Infected blood, swollen glands. Looks like septicaemia. If that infection makes it past my armpits I might die.”

With that, I ho-hummed and slid under the duvet, knowing there was no way I could make it to the phone to call for help. So powerful was that fever, I was able to accept calmly that if I died, I died.

Influenza’s hellish combination of shivers and sweating stopped me from dropping off to sleep, so I picked up the book I was reading, which happened to be Robert Kee’s ‘Ireland - A History.’ After a couple of pages the fever swept through me like wavelets around pebbles at low tide. Neither asleep nor awake, I was lost wandering the mental prairies that stretch between dreams and hallucinations.

Those feverish visions from 20 years ago still send a chill through me now. Albert Reynolds climbing Vinegar Hill, scratching his bare hairy chest as he roars at the English invaders. Blood, limbs, heads and guts are splashed, slashed, severed and spilled on that Wexford battlefield.

Suddenly there comes a blast of heavenly light from the sky, a shaft of love from above, heralding the appearance of Mary Robinson, as if an angel, accompanied by a choir of cherubim singing swirling ethereal chants.

Towering above the two warring factions, Mary raises her presidential arms high above her head, and in an instant, all the soldiers on both sides stop fighting and drop their weapons.

Truly this was a powerful woman, yet still only the creation of a very sick scribbler, so I was not surprised to see that Ireland’s grand dame of diplomacy then produced a big box of doughnuts.

Everyone cheered. Maybe she was about to close her act by performing a miracle akin to the feeding of the 5,000.

Sadly no. Instead of eating the doughnuts or passing them around, my demented brain had other plans. Mary Robinson sat down and most unexpectedly and quite obscenely, did something with those doughnuts, slowly and deliberately, one by one, that I will leave to your collective imaginations.

You might well wonder why on earth I’m sharing this vile vision with you. Well, it’s partly because in my present state I’m unable to think much beyond illness, but more importantly I’m reminding you all how dangerous and nasty the ‘flu can be. If you have an older neighbour or relative, keep an eye on them, because viral infections can play havoc with frail bodies.

Evidently I made it through that torpid night, waking the next morning to discover staring back from the mirror a panda withdrawing from heroin. As if the huge black patches under my eyes were not enough, I now also sported on my left cheek an infected carbuncular spot the size of Cyprus.


My body had so many toxins to deal with they were starting to erupt out all over the place. Off I went to visit my first Irish doctor, who couldn't have been nicer. Mind you, even though I know that there’s very little medical people can do to help viral infections, I’m not sure about the advice she gave.

Had she told me to rest, drink lots of fluids and keep in touch I’d have felt satisfied.

What I wasn’t expecting to hear, when I could barely stand up from the fever, was:

“Well now Charlie, you’re grand. Go off home and drink a good couple of stiff hot whiskies and then take a brisk walk along the Prom. That’ll have you right in no time.”

“Er yeh, thanks Doc!” I mumbled, wondering if she was real or just another hallucination.

©Charlie Adley

Monday 3 November 2014


Bruce by the barn

I saw a ghost but it didn’t frighten me. However, there’s a car park ticket that’s scaring the hell out of me.

On a late Somerset Summer’s evening in 1977, my friend Bruce Wallace and I were stumbling from the village pub, heading back to the farm where I’d spent blissful holidays ever since I was a toddler.

Towering hedgerows are a feature of England's arcadian south-west, so the narrow lane was shaded dark as dusk. Before the road curved toward the farmyard, there was a gap in the hedge, looking across to the river and the little stone bridge.

Naturally, as the fading sunlight suddenly hit us, we both turned our heads toward it, where we saw a tall uniformed man, standing by the bridge.

As the hedgerows returned, we lost sight of the man, who was gone before we crossed the bridge ourselves.

It was an entirely unremarkable encounter. Doubtless the farmer and his wife had taken in more guests. The farm was listed in several guide books, so later, when the new arrival failed to turn up for dinner, I asked the farmer who he was.

He turned his tanned creased handsome face to me.

“By the bridge was he?”
“Yes, in some kind of army uniform.”
“Ah, that’d be my granddad. He likes to stand by the bridge.”
“No, couldn’t be him. This bloke was youngish, in his 20s I’d say.”

Flicking his pitch black fringe out of his eyes, his deep Somerset accent betrayed nothing but nonchalance.

“Arr, that’d be him. Went off to the Somme. Tends to pop up around this time of year. Always loved standing by that bridge. More spuds?”

Hunching our shoulders, staring wide-eyed across the table, Bruce and I made stupid faces and went “Bleeeeeaaaayyyyaaarrr!”  at each other, allowing comical shivers to run through our bodies.

Over the years I’d seen and heard so many magical things in that farmhouse that I knew better than to question this. My father was no small man, yet I’d seen the farmer levitate him high up from the floor, using just his little fingers.

The house itself was listed as haunted, but while I never saw the official ghost, I became relaxed around the atmosphere that prevailed in their home: all things were possible.

One morning at breakfast the farmer's wife was talking about the dream she’d had the night before, in which she and her family were sitting in the guest dining room, eating their dinner in front of a huge fireplace.

The family kitchen had just such a fireplace, with a massive and ancient oak beam running above the cavernous grate and many little nooks, baker’s ovens, and cubby holes in which to dry herbs.

Without uttering a word, the farmer finished his breakfast, left to return with an axe, which he proceeded to pound into the wall of the guest dining room.

Nobody cared to find out why the house’s previous inhabitants might want to seal up such a magnificent fireplace, yet there it now was, revealed, oak beam intact.

 Blissful childhood memories and spooks galore.

“Always wunnered why it was so cold in here.” said the farmer.

To my teenage eyes his response to her dream represented such an act of faith and love, I barely spent a moment pondering the implications of her vision. So when he told me that this figure we’d seen was simply his grandfather spending a few hours by bridge, before heading off to die in the Somme, it all seemed perfectly reasonable.

In the memorable words of Dr. Who, it was probably nought but a “...timey wimey jumbly wumbly thing.”

A proud atheist-pantheist mutant, I accept wholeheartedly that there is much to the universe we cannot see. We sense so little compared to other animals, it’s clear there’s more to life and death than we can perceive.

None of that scares me at all. The wonders of the Cosmos are truly awesome, as in ‘worthy of awe’, rather than ‘awesome frappaccino.’

Death scares me, because I’m an atheist, and now this little car park ticket has given me a roaring bad dose of the hairy bejeebers.

Just like every other Friday, I drop Lady Dog off to the wonderful Gabriella’s ‘Big and Small Daycare’ and head into town.

Returning to Roches car park, I pay for my ticket and put it onto the flat fascia beside my car Bennett’s clock.

Ten minutes later I’m driving up College Road when I look over to see the ticket still sitting there.

Fear grips me. Am I finally losing my mind?
How is that ticket still there?
How did I get out of the car park?

In an effort to quell the wobbler I’m about to throw, I try applying a little rational thought.
Sadly, despite its fantastic reputation, I often find rational thought something of a letdown.
Maybe the car park barrier had been open and I’d simply driven through.

Hmm, I don’t think so. If the barrier was open, I’d enter into some kind of neurotic quandary about the chances of getting my car chopped in half when the barrier came crashing down on me as I tried to drive through it ...
 ...I’d remember that.

Maybe, instead of swallowing the ticket, the machine had spat it back out and I’d reflexively put the ticket where I always put my tickets.

No. I doubt I’d have seen if come out, as I was just watch the barrier, eager to exit. Anyway, if I’d noticed that it had popped out, I’d have wondered about whether I’d mistakenly been given the Galwegian parking equivalent of Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket.

So now I’m scared for several reasons:
I cannot remember how I left the car park, which is unsettling.
I don’t know how this ticket is still in my life.
I fear my noodles might have prematurely stewed into mush and that I am no longer an able sentient human being.

Now that is scary.

Ghosts shmosts, have a Happy Halloween and fear what you must.

©Charlie Adley