Monday 26 January 2015


Contact Liz and Tony at: 
The Old Deanery Holiday Cottages: 
Killala, Co.  Mayo, Ireland 


Telephone :+353 096 32221 

Mobile :+086 3451960

Being a news addict I usually have my finger on the pulse of local, domestic and international affairs, but as events unfolded in France a couple of weeks ago I was detached, both physically and emotionally, hammering north up the N17.

I was on a Blue Bag trip, just me and my oldest travelling companion. Purchased in 1984 on Oxford Street for a tenner, Blue Bag has been around the planet with me a couple of times, as well as joining me on innumerable trips such as this, dashes for time alone, time with friends, time to do whatever I please, away from all manner of responsibility.

After months of illness I thought I was fully recovered, but as I was to discover, my energy levels were still severely depleted.

As wind and rain lashed the West of Ireland, I turned off the car radio and lifted my spirits by enveloping myself in a Vivaldi violin concerto. The swirling joyous music dissolved the impact of the storm, washing the rest of the world from my thoughts.

Turn off at Claremorris, cross country to Ballyvary, Ballina and eventually Killala. I know this journey so well, each turnoff another station of the cross.

You what? Blimey, maybe I’ve lived in Ireland too long!

Excited and eager to visit much-loved friends, I arrived back in what I refer to as ‘my village’, which will offend the locals on two counts: one, because many of them refer to it as a town, and two, I’m clearly not a local. A mere blow-in, I blew-out after three and half years, but a decade later I still love the place and its people.

First stop to see a man who owns a unique nook in the fireplace of my soul. Our time spent together never seems long enough, yet we managed to share a tiny 'winter warmer' and then both headed into the storm, he to fill bags of sand in a quarry, while was I aiming for a rather more genteel destination, in the shape of tea and a chat with another friend.

She is dealing with the kind of loss you experience only once a lifetime; the loss you hope to share with others in old age, when everyone is far more ready to deal with death.

We supped soup and talked and then I went off to the Old Deanery, where I’d rented a lovely holiday cottage for a couple of nights from another friend. (Contact details above).

Liz had lit a raging turf fire, so the place was completely toasty by the time I arrived. Dropping Blue Bag to the floor, I took off my coat and exclaimed out loud:

“Thank you, universe!”

Then I collapsed backwards into the fireside chair with such impetus I remember thinking it felt like I’d been shot. Of course, I knew that was a mere indulgence, but at that moment I was completely unaware of people being shot and held hostage in France.

Thereafter I did not move for six and a half hours, save for feeding my face and passing it out the other end. I hadn’t realised how utterly drained I was. Far from home, job, wife and dog, my strings temporarily cut, I fell like a ragged puppet.

It was blissful. Later my excellent friend called from Sweeney’s Village Inn, just around the corner. Was I coming up for a pint? 

Often I dream of such an opportunity, but that night I declined.

“No mate. Sorry, I can’t move. See you tomorrow at the party!”

The next morning I phoned my mother, who was shocked that I knew nothing of the previous day’s news. Like millions around the world, she had watched the heinous story unfold live on 24-hour TV news channels.

Refusing to succumb to radio or TV, I bought the Irish Times to find out what had been going on in France, and the Daily Mirror to read the football nonsense.

Strangely, I ended up reading the sport in the Times and the news in the Mirror. The Irish paper of record suffers from the same disease many so-called quality papers have these days: to discover the plain facts, you have to plough through interminable descriptive waffle about sunrises, sirens, smells in the air and sounds in the distance.

In contrast, the Red Top tabloid laid out aptly-named ‘bullet points’ of news simply and graphically, under a headline that ran:

“They wanted to die martyrs. Instead they died as vile pathetic murderous scum.”

Headlines like that help in the same way as Charlie Hebdo’s further three million cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. Ripping ill-formed scabs off a fresh wound, the massive print run succeeded only in offending millions of moderate Muslims, creating violent backlashes around the world.

Lacking the energy to attend that evening's party, I packed Blue Bag and headed home, my weekend away reduced to a single anti-social evening of solitude and inertia.

On the drive home I wondered at this perpetual cycle of violence, indulging myself in conspiratorial notions.

A western nation invades a Muslim country, precipitating revenge attacks on their home soil. Sometimes it starts the other way around, but a small part of me wonders if this status quo might suit both sides.

Terrorists seek to instil terror. Seeing armed troops guarding European streets, it’s hard to believe the terrorists have failed. 

Terrorised populations are easier for governments to control, and sure enough, Cameron and Obama have grasped the opportunity to remove more civil liberties, increase surveillance of private individuals and reduce the very freedoms that were supposedly being threatened by the terrorists.

Maybe the best way to deal with such fanatics is to remain united yet stoic. During what they bizarrely referred to as called their ‘Mainland Campaign’ the Provisional IRA’s bombs killed hundreds of English people, injured thousands more, yet I still played with my Irish friends at school. 

We simply kept calm and carried on.

©Charlie Adley

Monday 19 January 2015


I just found out that I’m living in the ‘goodest’ (yes, unfortunately, that is the apt word in this case) country in the world! As reported by Tim Adams of The Observer, political consultant Simon Anholt has devised something called the Good Country Index, to illustrate how much each nation looks outward, fulfils its international obligations, innovates and spreads the most positivity per person around the planet.

Using the kind of database that we mere mortals might only fear, Anholt tests 7 different metrics of each nation’s existence: science and technology; culture; international peace and security; world order; planet and climate; prosperity and equality; health and wellbeing.

Then he puts the 7 of diamonds back on the bottom of the pack, shuffles his mum’s phone number, adds it all up, subtracts the number he first thought of and wouldn’t you know it: Ireland is ranked Number One Top of the Pops.

Not only does this country come out above all other nations, but rather surprisingly, Ireland actually comes top of the rankings in the Prosperity and Equality category, from which I conclude either that every other country must be a truly terrible place, or that Anholt has never actually been here.

The trouble with this kind of evaluation is that you bring to it research bias, in the shape of your own subjective baggage. Therefore it’s no surprise that someone who lives on the Norfolk coast will end up with 9 of his top 10 ranked countries being European, with New Zealand representing the rest of the world in a very clean, Anglicised and ecologically eager way.

What interests me more than all this collection of random right and wrong answers is the need we have to brand absolutely everything.

Back in 2005 Anholt created the Nation Brands Index, assessing how 50 countries are perceived as brands by the rest of the world. The index has now become a major influence in the realms of global tourism and academia, yet like so many others, Anholt’s studies go the long way round to telling us what we already know: Ireland is a powerful brand, seen as a benign influence upon the world.

Don’t think many of us will be surprised to hear that.

It’s strange the way that brands are these days more important than nations, more powerful than products, when you consider how they started off. A searing hot piece of shaped metal burned onto the hide of a stock animal, a brand was nothing more than a primitive way to prove that you owned a cow.

Now it is the brands that own us. We live in a brand, eat and drink brands and socialise using all manner of other brands.

If asked to offer the first singular brand that springs to my mind, I’d say the label on the tin of Heinz Baked Beans, but that’s because I’m both old and English. Not only would the Irish lean towards Bachelors Beans, but you have in this country two of the most extraordinary brands in the world. 

Guinness is a global phenomenon, while on a domestic level, in the shape of Tayto, you have a unique brand loyalty. When asking for a pack of Tayto, an Irish person is not only asking for a particular brand, but also tacitly requesting a specific flavour: cheese and onion. If you simply asked for a pack of Walkers in England you’d remain crispless.

If asked for a brand these days, most people will say Apple, the most valuable in the world. Currently worth around $119bn, the computer firm’s brand alone is worth more than Ecuador.

Brands offer us a familiar short cut, an open door to gratification. I’ve always thought that Galway represented a tremendous brand, so I was concerned to read in this Noble Rag a few weeks back that in an effort to secure Galway the title of European City of Culture 2020, mayor Donal Lyons has put aside money to spend on re-branding Galway.

Among many other places, I have lived in London and San Francisco, two of the greatest city brands on the planet, so I can say with some certainty that Galway has a strong brand.

We know what we are, as does the rest of Ireland and the world.

We are the beautiful bay; the mad craic; the centre of technological excellence; the capital of Ireland’s arts culture; the river and lough Corrib; Connemara and the sight of salmon leaping in a city centre.
We are Claddagh boatmen sailing Galway hookers and horses racing around Ballybrit.
We are the builders of lifesaving medical devices and innovators in marine biology.
We are home to sideways rain, the best at partying and the best hosts of parties, festivals, more festivals and global yacht races.
We are a fantastic brand, which the world already recognises, respects, and revels in.

So instead of paying consultants who know little and care less about us, invest your rebranding budget directly into Galway: into the active beating heart of our arts; into the eager creative hands of our people.

Go mad and build a municipal gallery. Create a fund for local musicians to buy instruments.

Trust us Galwegians with our own tax euros. We will make them work for us, because we live in the greatest city and county in the ‘goodest’ country in the world.

We know that Brand Galway works best when it’s financed from the bottom up.

©Charlie Adley

Monday 12 January 2015

Who ate all the pies?

At the beginning of December each year I take it upon myself to do research into mince pies. Long and painful though the journey may be, someone has to find the pick of the crop so selflessly I systematically work my way through various supermarkets' basic ranges, as well as their luxury all-butter whiskey-imbued efforts. More often than not, I end up plumping for the home-made creations dusted in a little icing sugar and a whole lot of love, that come from the farmhouse down the road.

Sadly this year my annual project was brought to a screeching halt by my doctor, who was giving out about my blood pressure and telling me to lose weight.

Doctors are human beings and mine is an excellent bloke who was, on this particular occasion, having a bad day. He made no response when I told him that I’d lost a stone and a half in the last year. He didn’t twitch an eyelash when I pleaded that perhaps December wasn’t the best time to expect me to shed sugar as a way of life.

It’s bad enough when one side of a conversation is having an off day, but sadly I too was feeling rough and ready for bed. For the last 3 months I’ve been battling a series of infections following a viral bug, (yum, have I ever sounded sexier or more attractive?) so my mood was as low as my doctor’s temper threshold.

Struggling to process thought, I unwisely decided to try to think out loud, working out what else I could cut from my diet to help me lose more weight. My list of edibles has shrunk dramatically in the last few years, since I found out that my gut reacts badly to all citrus fruits, apples, onions, garlic and leeks, tomatoes and a host of other lovely things. I used to fill up on fruit every day (which may have been my undoing in itself!) and miss it more than I can say. Now that most fruit is forbidden, I find it harder not to snack on bad things.

So there I was in the doctor’s surgery, muttering out loud as I tried to find dodgy fatty sugary snacks that I could cut out of my diet.

“...well, there’s those Cuisine de France maple pecan thingies from the garage, they’re pretty evil, so they can go, and then there’s the mince pies and - ”

At the mention of pastry products my doctor lost his temper.

“What’s that about pies?”

“Oh, that’s my Mince Pie Research Project!” I let slip inadvisedly, “I’ll knock that on the head straight off! Gone. No mincers. None.”

“And what other pies?”

I hadn’t mentioned any other pies, but now felt duty-bound to confess that once or twice a month, me and herself dine on M&S chicken pies, served with three vegetables. Hardly the gastronomic equivalent of a nuclear holocaust, you’d think, but enough that day to tip my doctor over the edge.

“Look, there’ll be no pies!” he exclaimed, “And nothing that you can buy in a petrol station is ever going to be any good for you.”

Of course he was right, but by now I felt like a criminal, guilty of living on a diet he thought made up entirely of pies and cakes, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

Unbeknownst to him, neither chocolate nor biscuits had slipped my lips for three months before Christmas (now back on the menu until the last legacy of Christmas, the large tin of Belgian Chocolate Biscuits, is finally defeated) while the only reason I’d mentioned the pie word was because I was searching for foods to drop.

My body hasn’t changed its mass much in the last 40 years, but it has been arranged in several different shapes. 3 days away from exercise and the bulge begins. Two weeks of warming up on the rowing machine before walking the dog and the belly’s in, the pecs are twitching all is good.

Trouble is, each time I build that muscle, there’s more of me to turn instantly to fat when I become ill or injured.

To be honest, I care less about my weight than how I feel, and if that’s good then I’m set. It’s Sartre's hell - ‘other people’ - who manage to make overweight folk feel bad about themselves.

There are certain relations and family friends who think that the nicest way to greet me is to tell me that I’ve lost weight. Whether I have or not is immaterial and one of my least favourite ways to be defined.

Do they imagine I am truly so shallow a person as to feel more pleased to see them because they think there’s less of me than the last time they saw me?

Considering that the characters in question are almost all genteel English people of a generation that purports to care much about manners, I find their opening comments downright rude. All my life these people have said the same thing to me, and each time I have bitten my lip out of respect to their seniority, controlling my urge to come back at them all Churchillian (a man they would doubtless highly revere) and reply:

“Maybe I have lost weight and maybe I haven’t, but you are still ignorant and you are still ugly."

Weight is unimportant when compared to wit. Shortly after I scribbled about these matters a few years ago, I was confronted at the corner of William Street West by a northern compatriot, who also used to frequent Taylor’s Bar. Dryer and more abrasive than sandpaper, he shouted across the road to me:

“Hey Charlie, I read that piece you wrote about being a fat kid. 'Bloody ‘ell!' I says to meself, 'Bloody ‘ell! Ah’d never’ve thought Charlie was a fat kid. Who'd ever ‘ave thought that?' ”


 ©Charlie Adley

Friday 2 January 2015

Oh no! I've become an Angelus person!


The Snapper’s working late tonight, so I revert to type and eat my dinner early. That way I can be all fed and washed up before the BBC and RTE news programmes.

Herself is not a fan of spinach, so I take advantage of her absence by cooking an old Charlie fave: lamp chops with three veg in 15 minutes. I preheat the oven to 200c, and in a small roasting tin place each of the three little cutlets over a clove of garlic and a sprig of my homegrown rosemary, then whack ‘em in the oven with a tiny bit of oil and put the carrots on to boil. Add the green beans five minutes later, then the spinach in the steamer on top.

Little bit of gravy and mmMMmm, bloomin’ lovely! Lady Dog eats her dinner while I wash up, and the whole shaboodle is cooked, consumed, and cleared away within 25 minutes.


Now into the living room to create the evening space. When you work at home it’s very important to designate different areas for work and play. I write in the office/spare room and edit in the kitchen, but never work in the living room, so I now feel my spirits rising as my brain muscle relaxes.

The heating has been on and the air in here is a bit stuffy, so I open the windows a little. Everyone gives out about Winter but there are many aspects of it I like, one of which is that you can have an electric light on with a window open, without attracting a midge invasion.

When I lived in north Mayo I once fell asleep on the sofa to find my entire hallway had turned midge black. It was painted a pristine white, but now, well, suffice to say my neighbours might have thought the English lad had gone bananas. Sure, he must’ve cracked altogether. Wasn’t he hoovering the ceiling at half three in the feckin’ morning?

No midges in Winter, just clean sweet air, while the colours of these early sunsets are brutal and striking. A gash of crimson stretches along the top edge of pitch black menacing clouds, lurking low on the near horizon.

Such a peace comes with Winter dusk: no power tools; no sound at all.

Yes, it’s incredibly difficult getting out of bed on these dark mornings, but I’d really miss the seasons if we didn’t have them. My sister would love to live in LA, where it’s 22ºc and sunny, 11 months of the year.

No thanks. That would send me doolally.
What’s that? You reckon I lost the plot long ago? Fair enough.


Although I’m a lover of fresh air, it gets cold pretty quickly with those windows open, so it’s time to light the fire. First thing every morning, before tea or anything, I empty the grate and build a fire, ready to flare up with one match at any time. Even though I’m a born and bred Londoner, there must’ve been a country lad hiding in my soul.

Of all of the day’s rituals, making the fire feels the most important, while lighting it makes my day. Our fireplace is huge, clearly built for burning timber. Trouble is, I’m not to be trusted heading off to the woods with a chainsaw, so instead I bought some firebricks and filled it up, so it's just the right size for turf briquettes. Clean and compostable, they keep us warm and cosy, but there’s more to a fire than heat.

Fire is the single thing that sets our species apart. All fire clichés prove true. A good servant and a bad master, fire truly makes my house a home. The electricity might get cut off as storms blow in off the Atlantic; the heating oil might run out; but while we have the fire, we’ll be okay.


Now’s the time to straighten the cover on the sofa, climb aboard and let go. Lady Dog has been waiting for this moment, and she scampers from the hearth rug to her bed at the base of the sofa. With one hand stroking our Labradollie (or is she a Collador? We can never decide!) I reach for the remote control and put on the TV.


Being a news junkie, I have a set way of dealing with 6 o’clock. Although the BBC news is set to tape, I still watch the headlines there live, until Sophie says:

“Also tonight...” when we are smitten by the headlines from Northern Ireland. That’s the moment I switch over to watch RTE’s 6.1 news, just as it starts.

Ashamed to admit, I can only bear to watch 30 minutes of the Irish news. To be fair, RTE’s international coverage is far better than their English counterpart’s, but I have to confess that quite often I find Irish news just plain boring.

Once old Brian’s hangdog face is telling me that “... a car overturned today in Offaly...” I’m on to the digibox to watch the recorded BBC news.

After their weather forecast it’s back over to catch the Irish sports news, then the RTE weather (sunshine and showers) and we’re done.

Except tonight, when I put the tele on, I’m ahead of the game.

There’s that woman staring out of her office window, listening to the bells of the Angelus. Then I realise - oh no! - I’ve just been living through my own little Angelus moment.

As I enter my 23rd year in Ireland, I’ve become one of those Angelus people who do ritualistic gently benign things during the six ‘bongs’.

Lighting the fire, patting the dog, breathing the air, eating my dinner, all of it perfect fodder for one of RTE’s contemplative mini-minute-films.

Have I become that most obnoxious of beasts: the immigrant who out-Irishes the Irish?

When I relate this rare marriage of feeling and moment to my friend Solder Boy, he reacts with concerned verbal violence.

“Jeeze! Did you pour petrol on yourself, Cha?”

©Charlie Adley