Sunday 29 March 2015

For two glorious days the gate stayed shut!

Last year it looked like this - this year there'll be more yellow!

It all comes together perfectly. The Snapper and I both have two days off work. The sun shines in a cloudless pale blue sky. The front gate is closed and we aren’t going anywhere. Nobody wants anything from us and we don’t want anything apart from this: working together and apart in the garden.

You can almost feel overwhelmed when you first look at your garden after Winter, but it’s a mistake to turn this work into a burden. There’s never any point worrying about what you haven’t done, nor how much there is to do. As long as you get on with what you can do, and on the way make it what you want to do, worry can take early retirement.

It’s a pleasure, a joyous pleasure to be out in the sunshine, fingers in the soil of this tiny corner of the world. Beautiful soil it is too, able to both crumble and clay into a ball. Loads of big fat happy worms are working their way through this flower bed, on a tiny ring of limestone a few hundred yards from Lough Corrib. A quarter of a mile up the lane you hit bogland, but here the ground is lush, almost alluvial.

While the Snapper walks Lady Dog I start on the weeding. These days it’s not enough to plan the tasks ahead, I also have to factor in what my ageing body might sustain. So instead of going hell bent for leather and weeding the whole bed in one go, I stop half way, standing to stretch and groan a little.

My God! This place is glorious on such a day. Staring at the fields beyond, my mind wanders to those Paddy’s Day crowds elsewhere; all those thousands thronging the streets of Galway, and the village up the road; all those pints, parades and people.

Here right now it is incredibly peaceful, save for the welcome return of a wide variety of birdsong and the occasional stamp of hoof from the old piebald.

My girls return from their walk, the Snapper telling stories of how Lady ate a dead duck and rolled in a pile of pooh. That’s about as good as it gets for a dog, so we put the long training leash on her and hook her up to the pole of the twirly laundry dryer.

Lady is a rescue dog with a predilection for chasing anything on four legs. Yet thankfully for once there are no other dogs around, nor any nearby livestock to tempt and distract her.

She lies on the lawn, delighted for the chance to be outside, while we execute our minor St. Patrick’s Day tradition: welcoming back the garden by sowing sweet pea seeds.

There are endless debates about whether you should sow them inside or out, in Autumn or in Spring, but I plant them into containers in situ on Ireland’s national day, confident they’ll completely cover the ugly heating oil tank by the end of July.  
 They’ll take a while to germinate outside, but when they do, through the harsh frosty mornings, they’ll grow robust and send shoots out every which way from the off. By Summer we’ll have a house filled with tiny vases of their purple, pink, white and blue flowers, bringing the scent of outside in.

For this task we work as a team, herself washing the old containers as I fill the compost, add the slow release feed and then together, we sow the seeds. Once the job is done we go our separate ways.

She is the queen of the hedgerow, working with the native species wherever they appear. All along the old stone wall, she has liberated primroses, foxgloves, wood anemone, hawthorn and blackthorn, hazel, wild roses and Lords and Ladies. On the other side of the house  we’ve planted willow whips to start a new hedge. One day it will break up the prevailing southwesterly which roars across this country.

Damn and blast: there’s nothing more disheartening to one weeding than the sound of a snap. Despite my best efforts at botanical archaeology, my deep scraping with the trowel has failed to reach the bottom of the dock. That snap means the tip of its tap root is still in the ground, mocking my efforts, certain to come back again.

I have to leave it there, otherwise this job will never be done. The bed must be cleared and raked, so that I can scatter the seeds I saved from last year: cornflower, Shirley poppy, Californian poppy, Love-in-the-Mist; Marigold and swathes of Larkspur for late season colour, front-fringed by alyssum and night-scented stock.

The longer we live here the more this garden returns our investment. Each year the lupins I grew from seed return to give us a splendid quite whacky show of colour and vibrancy; the bluebells and narcissus bulbs we planted reappear, spreading further along the bank each Spring.

 Last year's lupins - whacky and wonderful!

With the bed cleared and seed sown, it’s time to unveil my compost. For roughly eight months each year I compost all our veg scraps, eggshells and some newspaper into the pile of grass cuttings and gardening waste. In October I mix it all up, cover it with two plastic sheets, secure it with stones and leave it to work nature’s magic.

With some trepidation and eager anticipation I peel back the sheets and Lo! Beautiful! It has turned into sweet-smelling fibrous compost, the best I’ve had so far. Now for the sweaty job of loading several wheelbarrows, spreading it around the shrubs, the soft fruit and apple saplings.

All that waste turned into plant feed. All that sunshine peeling the alabaster plaster of Winter off my face, replacing it with the rusty shade of a Summer to come.

Late in the second afternoon we run out of milk, so I open the gate. The two day sanctuary has been wonderful, yet now for the need of a good cup of tea, the spell is broken.

©Charlie Adley

Monday 23 March 2015

Stop the man-bashing: it's counter-productive!

I’d finished packing my shopping at the supermarket checkout when the cashier asked if I was collecting coupons for the glasses.

“No, I’m not, so could you pass those coupons to the woman next in the queue? Thanks!” Then I remembered I’d some money-off vouchers in my wallet, but I was too late. The transaction was done.

“Here, you might as well have these vouchers as well. I forgot to use them in time!” I said, passing them to the woman.

Taking the vouchers, she looked over to me with scornful eyes and said:

“Typical man.”

Right now I’m a little sensitive about man-bashing, for reasons I’ll explain, so I was hasty with my response.

“I’m sorry but I find that sexist and offensive.”

Later I contemplated the madness of it. I’d just given her coupons and seven quid off off a €50 shop. Was that ‘typical man’? I’d taken my list and followed a testosterone trail around the supermarket, building up household stocks alongside ingredients for meals that I planned to cook through the week. Was that ‘typical man’?

I think it’s all typical man, because I’m an egocentric male who thinks he’s pretty typical. We’re all our own normal, which is why the word counts for nowt.

If in a parallel universe the woman had sighed and uttered the very same words in a gentle and complimentary fashion, everything would have been just as apt.

Poor diddums manboy here was not devastated by being slagged off by a woman, but I was disconcerted by the heat of my response.

The issues of gender equality appear so clear to me it would feel trite to write them down, were the worldwide situation not still so appalling.

Right now women perform 66% of the world’s work and earn 10% of global income. They produce 50% of the planet’s food yet own 1% of the land.

Throw in systemic violence and FGM and there’s no debate. We’ve a long way to go but at least we’ve started.

Like a man on a mission, this Dangler first sought to understand and then support the feminist dream in the early 1980s. Alongside listening to female friends, I read Simone de Beauvoir and Betty Friedan, progressed to Erica Jong’s zipless fuck and then hero-worshipped feminism in action, in the shape of German Green revolutionary and politician Petra Kelly. Her book ‘Fighting for Hope’ became something of a bible to my idealistic eyes. That fire still burns bright within me.

During that decade there emerged a phenomenon called ‘Militant Feminism’, personified by the heroic women of Greenham Common Peace Camp. Although rarely credited with victory, they managed to upset the British establishment and the Cruise and Pershing missiles were taken away.

I’m sure all those magnificent women did not strive for sexual revolution just so that they might eventually be able to behave as badly as men.

Changing the status quo takes a unified and determined effort. Men enjoy incumbent privilege, and happy people don’t seek change, so it’s not enough merely to strive for a change in male thinking: you have to show us how to behave better, by example.

Women need to redefine every aspect of gender communication. Stop diminishing your unquestionable cause by undergoing an Animal Farm metamorphosis where you become Farmer Jones, in all his horrific glory.

Of course women need to slag men off, just as men will continue to make the odd remark about women, but let’s all seek the same standards. Gender politics should neither be about winners and losers, nor who's the best or worst, but rather all of us.

If four men were talking live on radio about how awful their women were between the sheets, there’d be complaints by the bucketload. So how is it supportable that a few days ago I listened to a radio phone-in where women were talking live on air about men being laughable lovers?

Are all women good lovers? I doubt it, but we don’t talk about it. Did it never occur to anyone that women might not be the only gender to fake it?

Contrary to the tedious sexism inherent in TV commercials, we know how to use washing machines, raise children and floss our teeth. Trying to escape the crumbling confines of the Patriarchy, we’ve made an effort to change, so let’s no longer talk of each other in disrespectful or detrimental ways.

We need to get cracking though. In 2007 this colyoom wittered about Male Chauvinist Pigs metamorphosing into Female Chauvinist Swine. Sadly the situation has barely improved. While some men and women have moved closer to mutual respect, swathes of sexism still exist in both genders.

If I sound angry it’s because I feel let down. We’ve striven for generations to bring about improvement, yet now it is acceptable for women to behave like sexist boors; to treat men just as they themselves hated to be treated by men.

At the other end of the PC spectrum, when I write in any way disparagingly of a woman, I’m accused of misogyny.

It’s a heck of a long fall from Feminist to Misogynist. The accusation doesn’t trouble me as I trust the passion l harbour for social justice.

More than anger, frustration best describes how I feel. Since the 1970s many men have changed how we see women; how we think of them; how we talk to them and of them.

These are not a forced behaviours, yet our aspirations are now tempered by the behaviour of others.

Women: it’s time to stop the man-bashing. Slagging off men in the media is old-fashioned and unacceptable. Some men exploit these attacks as justification for failing to transform.

Don’t be upset that a man is making suggestions. You don't own your struggle, and a man’s perspective offers something you might never see.

I want us all to succeed, but that demands high standards from both genders. Now is the time for men and women to improve together: side by side.

©Charlie Adley

Monday 16 March 2015


Arriving deliberately early I plonk my arse onto a barstool in the Hotel Meyrick and take stock.

As human beings we tend to seek constancies: people, places and possessions that might always be there. I’m lucky to have many precious and astonishing people in my life, a benign possession in Blue Bag, and for places: barstools.

There’s something about a barstool that sets my mind at ease. It has nothing to do with the drinking. 
Of course I’m looking forward to my whiskey but first I breathe out, slump forward a little and rest my elbows on the bar.

It makes no difference if it’s a tiny corner bar in a train station, a barstool in one of my old locals or a pub in which I’ve never been. Wherever the barstool, I sit, relax and stare at the optics. My back to the world, I’m defiantly alone. Might want conversation but more likely I just want to sit, sip whiskey and think of random barstools in countless other bars, and how I’m doing in life right now, compared to then.

It’s not obsessive. I’m not fascinated in rating my life performance to any great extent. It’s just that barstools trigger reflections in my brainbox.

This barstool here equals that barstool there. 
What was life like, back there, back then?
Can I glean from it some wisdom or just self-indulgent romanticism?

That barstool in the Deluxe on Upper Haight, San Francisco, when I lived down the road. The barman wore a straw boater, cheeky eyes twinkling between his hat and his grey waxed moustache. That was a good cocktail bar.

America arrives familiar to our European eyes, as we’ve already lived there through our movie screens, TVs and books. I love American bars. Different from both English and Irish pubs and European café bars, they feed my love of American low-life culture.

My mind wanders to that wobbly tall wooden barstool in the bar just up from the Projects. Good people who were looking out for me advised me not to drink there but they needn't have worried. I grew up sitting on barstools in pubs where mine was a rare white face, so I never gave it a second thought.

I was fine, as I am now, sitting in this bar in what used to be the Great Southern Hotel. I’ve been to the Meyrick only once since its conversion, and that was to a wedding, yet it lived up to my expectations.

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be, so I’ll resist stifled sniffs and singing lyrical of the old place. 

There’ll be no yearning for concepts such as ‘cosy’ and ‘sumptuous’, no wittering wistful for the grand old Dame of a hotel she was.

No, I won’t do that, because the Meyrick appears very good at what it does, occupying the metallic monochrome glitzy side of anodyne. Looking across to the optics in front of me I feel like I’m in a place that knows what it’s doing, all the way from the staff to confidence that allows such sparseness on the walls. It’s neither different nor clichéd because there’s nothing to see, except the bricks which are, as my friend astutely points out, identical to London Underground’s restored platform walls.

Although unpretentious and friendly, I personally found the place a little cold, preferring something warm, more Irish; but then I’m a foreigner so I’m probably hoping for something that the native wants to avoid at all costs.

Back in the early 90s any available barstool along the front in an Tobar, with Blitz on one side and The Body on the other, Whispering Blue serving behind the bar, a far away look in his eyes, everyone happily resigned to another night of excess.

The brown barstools in Keogh’s old pub in Ballyconneely, before Brendan converted the place. Back then you’d leave with a rim imprinted on your buttocks from the frame, while the cushion sank below, long retired from supporting human backsides.

While he was building the new pub he erected a massive marquee over the pub garden, and set up the bar inside. So for a few months we sat and drank our pints on barstools staring at a palm tree and a flower bed. Sometimes we thought we were losing our minds, drinking beer in Connemara while the white cotton walls flew in and out on the western wind.

The vital barstool in Terry’s in Clifden, where to this day I ceremoniously have a pint of Guinness in celebration of having yet again driven past the hills and lakes of Connemara, and yet again been moved and enthralled.Sadly, over the decades, it has also become the barstool to which I flee when someone dies.

Any of the middle stools at the bar of Harriet Leander’s Nimmo’s, with Charlie Minot behind the bar. Bliss.

The far corner of the front bar in Taylor’s Bar, now that was a great afternoon barstool. Just away from the window, perfect for a crossword, to look out at the street or over the bar to Una. Down the road, the barstool at the very far end of the Blue Note used to have a groove on worn to match my own.

A freezing cold midwinter midweek afternoon in Neactain’s middle bar, on the barstool facing the coal fire; steam from the wetness of my jacket.

Each barstool a moment, snatched or given, a few minutes or maybe more to collect my thoughts; to simply be.

Given enough time, I’m might emerge from my reverie and engage with fellow humans. On rare occasion, I have been known to exhibit some social skills and cause smiling to break out.

More often than not though, while I’m on a barstool, I’m looking to drift; meander; remember and wonder.

I’d call it meditation but you’d all have a good laugh if I did. Open to the future, drawing from the past, whilst being in the moment and asking nothing of anyone else.

Except, oh, thanks, yeh, I’ll have another one, ta.


©Charlie Adley

Sunday 8 March 2015


Last Sunday afternoon I turned my phone off. I didn’t want to know what was happening in the vital Ireland v England rugby match, because an hour after that game kicked off, Chelsea were meeting Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley in the League Cup Final.

Naturally I was going to watch the Chelsea game, recording the rugby to enjoy in its entirety after my boys in blue had lifted their first trophy of the season.

While chatting on the phone to my father-in-law back in England a few days earlier, he’d jokingly advised me to remember where my loyalties lay.

“No problem! I’m a Chelsea boy, through and through!” I responded, mistakenly thinking he’d been referring to my choice of which sport to watch.

Later I realised that he’d been advising me to support England and not Ireland in the rugby. Indeed, my own Dad, whom I miss very much (especially when I write about sport) used to refer to Ireland teams as ‘Your boys’, understandably imagining that my love for this country somehow interfered with my identity as an Englishman.

Not a chance. There’s a reflexive defensive gene in human beings which kicks in when ones identity is under attack. I’ve never felt as English as I do now, living in the Republic of Ireland. English identity carries with it many historical crosses to bear, yet also pride at belonging to something special.

So while I’m happy that the Irish could celebrate a crushing victory over England last Sunday, there’s no doubt in my mind that my team lost.

Without wishing to take anything away from the Irish victory, in some ways rugby was the loser. 
Well, Rugby Union to be more precise.

As an unwilling schoolboy I was forced to play rugby. The memory of the twisted contorted pain endured playing tight-head prop I carry to this day.

In the 60s and 70s my father took me to Twickenham to watch England and Wasps, a local team. In those days Rugby Union was a free-flowing game compared to Rugby League. To us urbane Southerners, that was just the stop-start version for numbskull Northerners. These days the reverse is true: Union has deteriorated into a game of endless rucks, mauls and points scored by kicking, while League has adapted and thrived, becoming thrilling and fast.

Anyway, the England team lost, but Chelsea won the cup, so I was happy.

Given the many and varied ills of the Beautiful Game, from the despicable racist morons who claim to support multi-racial teams to the absurd amounts the players earn to the morally bankrupt monolith that is FIFA, there is no shortage of reasons to hate football, yet still I love it.

I love to watch football, and in particular Chelsea FC, on those occasions when they are enjoying themselves, playing the game beautifully with panache and a foolhardy spirit.

That was the nature of the Chelsea team I fell in love with back in 1969, but since then the club has changed its very nature. Everything that Chelsea was it is no more, changing from a bunch of capricious cavaliers into a dogged and predictable outfit that can be brilliant.

I love to watch Eden Hazard pirouette as he passes defender after defender; marvel at how Willian is able to run and run and run and yes, I enjoying winning, of course I do, while at the same time remembering ancient colyooms written about how I felt real life was like Chelsea, not Manchester United, because our rare victories in those days felt so precious.

The current Chelsea team has sufficient flair to empower me to ignore our manager José Mourinho’s mind games. He deflects media attention away from his players by creating a paranoid bunker mentality, in which everyone is against his team, because it works. It wins Premierships, but I hate it.

It doesn't feel like Chelsea. It’s tiresome; nothing but the mean-spirited and unsporting result of a corporate culture that demands winning at all costs.

When he arrived back Mourinho promised to be the “Happy One”, but for months darkness and mendacity are all we have had from the Chelsea manager, and it was driving me crazy.

We have a great team capable of playing astounding football, but I feared instead that Chelsea were destined to become a miserable whining winning machine.

Then a few weeks ago I watched the game at Stamford Bridge against Burnley. Alongside the Matic ‘incident’, two penalties were denied, ‘stonewall’ as the jargon demands, while our Premiership rivals Manchester City slaughtered Newcastle.

On such days the season changes. I’m never going to like Mourinho’s constant griping, but watching those refereeing errors and all the subsequent and similar game-changing gaffes every week, I long for two things to come from the world of rugby into football.

Let there be video technology. It is beyond absurd that the entire stadium can see a blatant error on the big screens, while referee has to continue, forced to pretend he’s seen everything. Allow these poor referees to ask for video help, as they do very successfully in rugby.

Let the captain of each side be the only one who speaks to the referee, so that we might obliterate much of the dramatic nonsense of prima donna players.

Within London families football loyalties are complicated affairs. My nieces and their father are solid Chelsea, as was my father, is my mother and myself. My Brother’s wife’s son is Spurs as is my father-in-law, but his son is pure Gooner, an Arsenal fan, as are his two sons and doubtless his daughter.

Now my niece has become engaged to another Gooner and so the soccer merry-go-round spins, but it’s all well-natured, while deeply heartfelt.

English football is not the GAA. In England the various colours of your home city's teams are marbled through your extended family - unless you’re from Newcastle, where there’s only one team in town: Toon.

©Charlie Adley

Monday 2 March 2015


As Springs spreads across the land, offering a revitalising massage for our weather-beaten souls, the rebirth of natural life inspires us to think of beginnings.

I’m so lucky to love my work, and there’s little more exciting for any writer than starting a new book. I’ve just begun one with the working title of ‘Arrivals.’

For a couple of decades I moved around the globe, hitch-hiking well in excess of 100,000 miles, searching for something nebulous and elusive. As you’d expect, on the way I enjoyed a myriad of incredible adventures, and as the stories in my new book will attest, arrivals are often the most dramatic parts of a voyage.

Around midnight on November 22nd 1984, I walked off a bus at New York City’s Port Authority, pumping with adrenaline at the realisation that I was stepping onto a new continent for the first time.

My head was filled with romantic notions born out of Woody Guthrie’s masterpiece ‘Bound for Glory’, while my freshly-purchased Blue Bag was making its debut appearance on my shoulder, as overstuffed with unnecessary clobber as I was with excitement.

I didn’t care that I had nowhere to sleep. Having grown up in London, where the prostitutes of Soho shot coy glances from dusky shadows, I thought I was city smart, but Manhattan was a revelation.

As I wandered onto the street a tall woman walked straight over to me, her hand grasping and then slowly massaging my boy bits.

“Are you gay?” she asked.
“No, but I am broke!” I replied, striding away, humming that line from Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Homeward Bound’ about “... come-ons from the whores on 7th Avenue...” which I customised to say “...I did not take some comfort there...”

A few hours later I’d somehow managed to blag my way into a free night in a luxurious hotel suite just off Broadway. I bounced up and down on that plush bed, the thrill of victory pulsing through me on that first night of my first round-the-world trip.

Several months and two continents later I walked into a huge Holden car dealership on the outskirts of Melbourne, and asked for a job. The bossman asked if I was the usual Pommie bludger who'd sit around on my arse doing nothing all day. I replied that if I was the usual Pommie bludger I wouldn’t have walked into his garage asking for a job.

“You start Monday!” he replied, but I had to wait another two weeks until I really arrived, after I’d been challenged to a beer drinking competition by my workmates and left their local champion dribbling on the pub carpet.

One of my favourite arrivals was the moment I stepped into the Caribbean sea off the coast of the Bahamas, realising in a single second that I’d been lied to throughout my entire childhood. All that nonsense talk of how I’d “get used to it’’ as my body turned hypothermic blue off Brighton beach, yet here was sea water I could not feel against my skin. As I eased myself through that turquoise warm liquid I promised myself that I’d never again swim in cold water, and I haven’t.

There was my arrival in New Zealand, lost in my own madness and paranoia, and my arrival in Noumea where I was kept under house arrest as civil war tore apart the Pacific island. There was my arrival in Maryland where I lived with drug dealers and deer hunters, and my arrival in Cambridge, where I inveigled my way into the privileged lives of England’s rich and beautiful people, who lounged around indulging themselves in their world of glittering prizes.

My favourite arrival was my last one, when in the West of Ireland I finally found my home. Back in 1992 an Italian golfer stopped to pick up myself and Inne, hitching by the bridge in Oughterrard, and as Connemara unfolded before me for the first time my chin dropped, my heart melted and I knew my search was over.

I’m really looking forward to writing about these and several other tales of my arrivals and as always, incredibly grateful to live off my writing.

If you’ve ever fancied yourself as a writer, or would simply like to have fun while improving your writing skills (look out - here comes the plug!) why not sign up for my Craft of Writing Course at the Galway Arts Centre?

My course has been enjoyed by everyone from fresh 20 year-olds to wise souls in their 80s, who have plenty of stories to tell; from complete novices to published novelists. Nobody can teach talent, but skills can be nurtured and imaginations stimulated. 

More importantly, while mystery and wonder certainly inhabit the process of writing creatively, everyone benefits from understanding the craft of writing. Anyone can master this craft. There is no mystery to it.

As well as learning how overcome fear and write a first draft, I’ll show you how to develop characters, structure, plot and voice. You’ll discover how to use shape, pace, tense and dialogue to enhance the power of your words.

I love teaching this course and my students seem to have a lot of fun doing it. More than anything, it really boosts my students’ confidence, as we all write together in a friendly and supportive atmosphere.

I’ve published over a million words in Ireland and the UK, and had three plays performed (one of which won a prize), so I’ll also give advice about how to sell your writing.

To maximise the effect of the lessons I keep class sizes small, so there are only 10 places available on this course. To ensure your place is safe, book now by contacting the Galway Arts Centre:

Charlie Adley’s Craft of Writing Course
Thursdays, 7:30 - 9:00 pm, from March 26th for 8 weeks.
€110 /€100 concessions.
Galway Arts Centre - 091-565886
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