Thursday 24 December 2015

How much does a man need?

            Thanks (I think!) to the inestimable Allan Cavanagh at:

What do I want for Christmas? What does a man need?

Years ago I worked with male teenage Travellers alongside a man who taught them (and me) about how to become the human we wanted to be.

“Self knowledge is completely useless, Charlie,” he explained, “...unless you do something about it.”

Last Spring I realised that I was exhausted, and actually changed my behaviour patterns. In the past I’d feel beholden to pummel on regardless, until I became ill or depressed or both. 

Instead, learning a little bit from my past, I tried to cut myself some slack and ease up on the pressure. Any self-employed person will tell you how difficult it is to do that, but I did it.

Then I started buying myself things. Not frivolous nonsense of the kind irritatingly advertised on the radio as gone when it’s gone... No, I invested in myself and feel all the better for it.

I bought a pair of good boots. With a couple of skewed discs and a dodgy knee carrying an unnaturally large body weight, my plates of meat take a battering, so good boots are essential.

In the past I’ve bought the same boots every year, which last just under a year. This time I went out and bought good boots, handmade by a small company in Yorkshire. 

Admittedly there was some woe in the tale, as the first pair of good boots I bought were handmade by a company in Germany. 

According to online reviews posted by ex-squaddies, these boots were the best boots a man could buy. I felt ex-squaddies would be good judges, but hadn’t reckoned on my feeble middle-class body. Blisters the size of Cyprus left me limping and stumbling until I had to relent and took the boots back. 

Upon seeing the state of my plates, the woman in the shop was overcome with sympathy and agreed to exchange them for me, even though they were now beyond resale.

These boots I love. They hold me up and allow me to follow Lady Dog through flooded bog and bohreen.

I’ve a good chair. It’s a proper size for one such as me and I ordered it with the hardest arse cushion they had available. Then I ordered a spare arse cushion for it, knowing how much of a beating this chair will take. 

Admittedly the first chair I bought was not a success. I’d never bought a lounge chair for myself before and unknowingly purchased a feeble nursing home number, just because it felt wonderful on my back. 

It did not last well. Worn out and dejected, it now sits in a corner of the living room, under a pile of Snapper stuff.

I’ve a good coat. Each year I go out to TK Maxx and then on to Ó’Máille’s, where I buy a wax cotton jacket for around 70 quid.
After I mentioned to the Snapper that I was about to live out this annual ritual, she suggested that instead I go straight to Ó’Máille’s and talk to the wonderful Ger and Anne about a tweed coat.

She pointed out that if I spend 70 quid every year it might be better to spend more for a good coat that’d last a decade. Then she reminded me that when we met I used to have a full length tweed coat and I then explained to her how that coat was something of a miracle.

I’d had a full length tweed coat when I lived in Bradford. There was nothing better to battle the blizzards that raked across the Pennines, as I walked home in the early hours from working bars.

Within a week of arriving in Galway I’d found an identical coat in a charity shop and after parting with only 20 quid, myself and that coat became one.

An asset to Galway for generations, Ó’Máille’s on High Street represents Irish culture, tradition and craftsmanship in action. With his shop packed with delighted and excited American shoppers, Ger measured my chest and within a couple weeks a full length Magee 1866 arrived in the shop.

After some adjustimication of the sleeve length I walked out of Ó’Máille’s wearing that coat and ever since it has become my second skin. It weighs a ton and attracts infinitely more compliments than my natural good looks, but I’ll not be jealous of a coat. 

Out in the freezing darkness, wind and rain, following Lady Dog as she circles and twists in her Walk of Pooh, my wellies rise above the coat's hem, the upturned collar ties up across with a buttoned strip and I’m oblivious.

So I’m a lucky man with my good boots, my good coat and my good chair, but to know me is to know that far beyond basic yet vital material goods, I prize nothing more than the humans in my life.

I’m lucky to be living with my wife and dog, both of whom I love and am loved by, in different ways I’m delighted to say.

I’m lucky to play my part in my small and nurturing family, who are all taking to each other, loving and supporting each other: praise be.

I have friends in England, America and Australia, a large group of whom I’ve known since I was 13. We have shared each others’ lives throughout: an inestimable gift.

Also there is a precious crew I still consider my ‘new’ friends, those Irish lads and lasses I met when I arrived here in 1992, who offer me the feeling of family here, while I live away from my own.

What do I want for Christmas? 
What does a man need to make him happy?

A wise person once said to me:

"If you sleep in a warm bed with a full belly, safe in the knowledge that nobody you love will be taken in the night, then you have no worries."

I’m a lucky person. So are you. 
Happy Christmas, patient colyoomistas.

©Charlie Adley

Sunday 20 December 2015


There’s a plate in front of me crammed with a fresh fillet of PJ McDonagh’s cod wrapped in golden batter and a steaming mountain of chips. Normally I’d be stuffing this wondrous food into my gob with gusto, but not tonight.

I’m not a well man. Haven’t been for a while, but over the last few weeks the needs of others have taken precedence.

Tonight however is all about me. Despite the way my body feels like a damp wrung flannel, I’m going out for my Staff Christmas Party. Just because I work for myself I see no reason to miss out on this tradition, so every December I celebrate with one of my organic Galway rambles.

There’s only one rule: no arrangements; let Galway do it to you.

My Staff Christmas Party had to be postponed last week, as sadly I was in England for my Aunt’s sudden funeral. Earlier today I contemplated calling in sick, but the Boss told me attendance was mandatory.

Easing more of McDonagh’s heavenly ballast into my belly, I sign up for the Silly Bugger Olympics: a competition between my mental health and my physical wellbeing. By the application of craic and whiskey, I’ll poison either this debilitating virus or myself before bedtime.

On her way back from work, the Snapper spots me looking out of the chipper’s window and pops in to wish me well for my night out.

“Town’s totally dead!” I say.

“Perfect!” she replies. “Just the way you like it, you antisocial git!” 

With a kiss goodbye she heads home, as behind her I whisper:

‘ … but when town’s like this, you can see who you want to see.’

Ignoring the fact that all I want to see right now is the underside of my duvet, I head over to the Quays, where I sit outside under the heater, armed with my first Jameson of the night.

Within minutes I feel released from a straightjacket of stress and anxiety that I didn’t even realise I was wearing.

I’m free! 

For a few wonderful hours nobody wants anything from me and I do not have to be anywhere or do anything. It’s been far too long since I felt like this. First victory of the night goes to my mental health.

Over the road a man is tying his young husky puppy to a bollard as he nips into Number Ten. His pooch is nervous and her owner is wonderfully concerned about being out of sight. A woman sitting outside the Quays walks over to the dog, strokes her, and reassures her owner that she’ll look after the pup until he comes back.

God, sometimes I just love the human race. Down here on the street, luxuriously far from mayhem and slaughter, people are pretty damn fine.

By the time I’m on my second Jamie my thinking has strayed into deep philosophical issues, pondering how Number Ten is really No.10 Quay Street, if that building over there is No.6 and this one is …2, 3, 4 …no … 4, 6, 8 … ah, who cares?

Sip. Swallow. Breathe. Relax.

Hmmm and who was the marketing genius that decided to award names to our Atlantic storms this Winter? 

As soon as we were introduced to Storms Abigail, Barney and Clodagh I knew that this naming was depression-creating. Desmond nearly drowned us all and by the time we’re being hit by Storm Pontius Pilate, we’ll all be ready to crucify ourselves.

Why did I just give that guy all my change? Even though he had a drip needle stuck in his arm and seemed like a genuine bloke, I still felt I was being done, but I gave him the dosh anyway.

A fool and his money are easily parted, or so my dear old Dad used to say, but this time

Karma kicks in quickly, in the shape of a surprise early Christmas drink from the lovely lass behind the bar in Neactain’s. She knows
I’ll not be out again before the New Year and her friendly greeting engraves onto my face a smile that I have no desire to relinquish.

There is no finer winter barstool than the one in the corner of Neactain’s middle bar, facing the fire. I’m in temporary heaven.

“There's no one from Galway in here at all!” exclaim the couple from Tralee. They’re delighted to be chatting and socialising in a way that Kerry’s capital cannot offer.

“You're in Neactain’s!” I explain, slightly whiskiedly. “If you want to meet locals there are plenty of local bars where local people drink locally.”

They look at me as they well might, but show no enthusiasm to move, so I do it for them. 

A lovely comfy Jamie tucked into the bar in Murphy’s, followed by another in Freeney's, and then up the cobbles with the wind behind me into Coili's, just in time to find my excellent friend Dalooney strumming up a storm, alongside four fiddles and many other instruments with strings, skins and holes.

Two women leap to their feet and dance, straight backs, ankles flying. Gradually they encourage a very shy lad to join in and the entire bar is transfixed as he glows with joy.

I wonder at how a little goodness goes a long way, and then I wonder how it's taken me over four hours to travel from the bottom of Quay Street to Johnny Massacre Corner. 


Later, as I enjoy a nightcap outside Neactain’s, a man stops and smiles at me.

“O’Reilly’s!” he declares. 

Long-since Lohans, no other pub’s name could strike such a personal chord. Tuesday afternoons in 1992; my first local in Ireland.

He needs petrol to get back to Clifden. I give him my last bit of cash, caring not if he’s driving home or having me on.

The party’s over, the battle’s done, and I award a Gold Medal to my mental health. Very possibly erroneously, I truly believe that my elevated spirits - arf! - will chase that virus out of me.

© Charlie Adley

Monday 14 December 2015

It's not okay to say you don't understand the Syrian situation!

One of the scariest aspects of the war in Syria is that so many supposedly interested people are willing to admit that they don’t understand it. 

A supremely intelligent friend of mine told me after the Paris killings he was worried that 'it was all about to kick off.’

Have to say I was a gobsmacked. The fact that he didn’t feel the situation had already ‘kicked off’ was disturbing.

Last week I watched the BBC news after the Commons vote on bombing Syria. Interviewed on the street, person after person said they didn’t really get it, but that’s what they’d got politicians for, so they had to trust the politicians.

Hoh mumma! Why would you do that? Because it worked so well last time in Iraq, where British planes are still bombing, or in Afghanistan, where the Taliban are on the verge of retaking the entirety of Helmand province?

Taking only one strand of this apocalyptic bowl of spaghetti, what part of the USA and Russia simultaneously being on the same side while not actually fighting the same war feels good?

Come again? Exactly: it’s complex, but we do not have to understand everything. The warring factions have so many splits and splinters they could fry your mind, so let’s not go there.

The simple and sad truth is that there are many different wars going on, in the same place, at the same time, which is precisely why we need to grasp at least the fundamentals of the situation.

This being the Middle East, we don’t try to find the beginning, because this area of the planet has had more border lines engraved in it and erased from it than Gordon Ramsey’s chin. There’s have been Assyrians and Romans and Macedonians and I’ll spare us the full list, as it would fill the rest of this space.

Suffice that we understand that the most recent lines drawn, the modern borders of Israel, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, are only part of an historical chain. 

After the last Iraq war and the Arab Spring, there grew a collection of rebels in Syria who wanted to overturn President Assad and his brutal regime. Under the umbrella of the Free Syrian Army they had the spoken support of the West and were doubtless given covert intelligence and arms by NATO countries.

Russia, Iran and Hezbollah (based in Lebanon) all support President Assad, while 30 million Kurds long for the return of Kurdistan, tragically now split into parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Armenia and Iran.

Meanwhile, the influence of Saudi Arabia oils the wheels of the region’s war machine, aided by billion of dollars of western military hardware.
Driven by the differing Islamic philosophies of Sunni, Shia, Wahhabi and Salafi, these ingredients were already there when Isis declared an Islamic caliphate, ignoring the lines on the map, taking control of linear swathes of Syria and Iraq that offered the oil that fueled their war.

Built from shattered Iraqi lives, disenchanted European Muslims who could not support what they saw as their nations’ Crusades against Muslim countries, and Syrians who didn’t ally themselves with the Free Syrian Army, Isis are at war with any who dare to be different.

These are the main ingredients of this horrendous dish, which when combined in war make my stomach muscles clench. The West, in the shape of the USA, UK, France and others are trying to destroy Isis, which they clearly cannot, but they don’t want to help Assad defeat the Free Syrian Army.

The Russians are saying they are fighting Isis but in fact are supporting Assad, by attacking the Free Syrian Army. The Turkish are taking the opportunity to fight the Kurds, and have not helped by shooting down a Russian plane.

The twisted nature of this contorted conflict creates so many potential disasters, it’s hard to believe it could become more intractable, but you can always rely on politicians to make things worse.

Just as Tony Blair lied about Saddam Hussein’s ability to attack Europe in 45 minutes, Prime Minister Cameron has created the lie of this war, by claiming there are 70,000 moderate Syrian militiamen ready to fight against Isis. 

The fact that those soldiers are fighting Assad, not Isis, is ignored. Tragically, the Commons debate was won by the frankly empty rhetoric of Labour’s Hilary Benn, who roused the British Bulldog.

An hour later British bombs were falling on Syria.

It saddens me so deeply when warmongers cravenly ignore the lessons of history. Not once has bombing from the air ever succeeded as a tactic.

We cannot do nothing about Isis, but bloodthirsty revenge is never reasonable. There is much talk of how medieval and barbaric Isis are: they behead people and burn others alive. What do hundreds of bombs falling from the sky do to people? Do their victims enjoy a less barbaric death, or are they ripped asunder as they lie in their beds?

Well over 1,000 years ago, while we were busy being medieval, Muslims were building universities, discovering the Andromeda galaxy, inventing algebra and algorithms. They were identifying spinal nerves and demanding their doctors were qualified. They were creating hydropower, opening psychiatric hospitals and using ophthalmology.

Just after Parliament’s bombing debate, there was a by-election in Oldham. Labour’s leader Jeremy Corbyn had been ridiculed for refusing to vote in support of the war, watching Benn, his own Shadow Foreign Minister steal the show, by doing the Conservative’s dirty work for them.

Inevitably the politicians voted for war. However, the people of Oldham defied the combined efforts of the British media and Establishment to discredit Jeremy Corbyn by speaking with their votes. Labour won with an increased majority.

The British people do not want war. They’ve heard this all before and know that by attacking Isis with bombs, yet more bombs will explode in England.

Both Isis and NATO want war, yet there are other avenues. Who is buying oil from Isis? Stop their funding, rob them of their ability to wage war and eventually, maybe, people might be able to sleep safely in their beds.
Charlie Adley

Saturday 5 December 2015

… and the rain fell all over Ireland …


 … in Longford it fell but Maeve could not see it fall. As she moved through cloud that kissed the ground, she tucked her chin into her chest and gave thanks that it was not windy. 

Every day of her life she headed up to see her baby girl and her granddaughter, and every day the hill felt just that bit steeper, but Maeve was not one for slowing down. She wasn’t ready to give up on her legs, so each day they ached a little more.

Letting herself into the dark house she strode towards the kitchen, turning on lights as she went. Kettle filled and on, teabag in mug, she went to the back door and picked up the wicker washing basket. Then over to the washing machine, emptied the load and draped the clothes on top of the radiators around the house. 

Her daughter told her to just throw them in the tumble dryer, but Maeve could not do that; not when the heating was running and the radiators were steaming.

Why would you use so much electricity when you didn’t need to? God, it’s great to have it at all. When I was their age we’d hardly ever even seen it, let alone have it in the house.  I don’t think they’d like that, not at all. Not without their precious iPads and X-Boxes and all that. So no, I’ll not waste good electricity when there’s heat in the radiators.

Maeve found comfort in laying the clothes out on the radiators, as each day she’d assess the size of a new pair of socks, the stretch on her granddaughter’s t-shirt that had become too small.

So her daughter would chide her that the house wasn’t heated because she’d put all the wet laundry on the radiators and Maeve would say that as it happened the air in a house does become very dry with the central heating so the wetness of the clothes would make for better air to breathe and her daughter would look at her and wonder which programme she heard that on, but she’d say nothing, because she was grateful to come home to a lit house, a boiled kettle and a hug from her mam…

… and the rain fell all over Ireland … fell in great pulsing waves on the runways of Shannon airport, smashing the windows of the terminal building with exploding shotgun sheets. A couple from Racine, Wisconsin, celebrating 59 years of marriage, are heading home for Thanksgiving, to 36 grandchildren from 9 children of their own. 

They’ve toured Ireland and the UK, even though he has chest pains and she is on crutches, and now they’ve taken the evening flight from Heathrow so that they can take the early flight to JFK in the morning.

Holding each others’ hands they walk long corridors, go up 2 flights of escalators, arrive nowhere and then go down 2 flights of escalators to find themselves a few yards from where they started. Through passport control, their spirits weary, they see that their luggage is due on Carousel 5.

The other 4 carousels are silent and lit. Carousel 5 is in darkness, but still they wait, along with everyone else.

Tinsel doesn’t glow in darkness, she thinks to herself. It just looks sad.

Suddenly the lights come on and the belt moves and three suitcases emerge. Then the belt stops.
She looks around, amazed at the stoic silent acceptance of the Irish.

"What the heck’s going on?"
"Don’t worry sweetheart. We’ve got all night."

The tannoy man announces that the luggage from the Heathrow flight is now arriving at Carousel 4, so as one they pick up their hand luggage and push their trollies to watch the conveyor belt of Carousel 4 move for a few minutes and then stop.

The tannoy man explains: “Through no fault of our own, your luggage will now be arriving at Carousel 5.”

This time it’s himself that becomes grumpy. Squeezing her hand tightly as they walk back to Carousel 5, he hisses from between his teeth

“Well if it’s not their fault, who the heck’s fault is it?"

Later in the airport hotel bar, as he sits and says grace before eating his spaghetti and meatballs (she went for the Irish stew) he silently apologises to God for being so short-tempered. 

Others might call them Christian Fundamentalists, but they don’t see it like that. They’re just people of faith who happen to think President Obama’s a muslim terrorist.

… and the rain fell all over Ireland …

… and Paul fiddled with the delay on his windscreen wipers as he sat waiting for the lights to change. These roadworks had made his journey in and out of Moycullen a nightmare since March. They were due to be finished by the end on November.

Right. Not going to happen. The way the council poured the last of its budget into roadworks at the end of every year drove him bananas. 

What about those long light summer evenings, when neither a flouro jacket nor JCB was to be found working at this site? There were now 3 Stop-Go roadworks on his commute home from Galway and more were appearing every day, like scabs on a pockmarked face

If he was late home Joan might already have hoovered the house. Cornflake, their Golden Retriever, was shedding for the winter and the carpet looked like it had been snowing inside.

As soon as Paul climbed out of his car Cornflake would run over and smother him in soaking wet dog hair and face licks. Then, delighted to be inside at last, the dog would lie in front of the fire and steam stinky wet dog smells around the living room.

The thought of it made Paul smile. The light went green, so he switched his wipers on and drove off…

… and the rain fell all over Ireland …

©Charlie Adley