Friday 26 February 2016

Whoever you vote for the government won't get in!

It was the strangest of sights. My father, a man of great manners and decorum, was leaving the house at dawn, singing, shirtless, walking along the middle of the Uxbridge Road, sharing his joy with the neighbourhood.

My uncle, his brother Robert had just been elected as a Conservative MP for Bristol North East. He’d scraped in with a tiny majority of 462 votes.

Even though I was only 10 years old at the time, this was far from my first political memory. Years before, as a toddler, I‘d been lifted above my father’s head outside 10 Downing Street, as the crowd chanted:

“Wilson OUT! Wilson OUT!”

During General Elections our house became Tory HQ, and on election day I was given the job of running up the road to collect the latest sheets from tellers outside the polling station, who were asking people how they had voted. 

Back home, rulers were used to cross names off huge boards, so that towards the end of the day they could go and ‘knock up’ supporters who hadn’t yet voted.

Often the source of inspiration throughout my childhood, it was my brother who liberated me from Tory indoctrination. Four years older than me, he left his austere Public School to attend a local Community College, where that he discovered Socialism.

He grew his hair long, changed his name from James to Jim and put up ‘that’ poster of Che Guevara in his bedroom. Much to my delight, Bob Dylan lyrics suddenly appeared, sellotaped to his bedroom door:

‘Mothers and fathers throughout the land
Don’t criticise what you can’t understand.’


Adley family dinner table conversations were always fairly explosive, but with the introduction of lefty politics into that Tory home, furious rows broke out nightly. 

Doors were slammed and huffs were puffed. My father used to have the last word, partly because he deserved such respect, but also because his use of rhetoric was way more advanced than ours.

“That’s not my opinion - that’s a fact!” was one of his favourite closing statements.

As a teenager in 70s London there was no ignoring politics. When Ted Heath took on the miners all hell let loose. He imposed the 3 day week, while electricity blackouts came and went at random. All the TV channels stopped at 10pm. National Anthem, that’s your lot.

Despite patronising elders who insisted my political outlook would change as I grew up, my feeling are as clear today as they were 40 years ago. Until we have universal healthcare, housing and education, free at the point of entry, we dare not call ourselves ‘civilised.’

Years later, when Thatcher tore the country apart as she wrought her revenge on the miners, I picked up some lads hitching onto the M1 at Brent Cross.

According to Thatcher they were illegal flying pickets, but to me they were simply human beings; three men in my car. Yet as I turned off the motorway to drop them off in Nottingham, my car was surrounded by police. We were all arrested and thrown into holding cells.

That was politics to me. That’s how I grew to see the world. There were stark and important definitions to my political landscape: Left and Right.

Then I arrived in Ireland and struggled to understand the idiosyncrasies of Civil War politics. Eventually my mind painted a picture of two groups in a pub. One bunch sit quietly at a table, their shirt collars tucked inside their v-neck sweaters, their Japanese hatchbacks insured, washed and parked between the lines outside.

The other lads are having a rare auld time at the bar. Chancers with their big German cars illegally parked, wads of cash and smart Italian suits, they look like they’re really living the life.

They’re the lads you want to hang out with, which is why Fianna Fail is surely the natural party of government in this country. This shower we’ve endured recently might be just a little bit straighter and slightly less corrupt, but they’re so damned dull.

Just after I arrived here Fianna Fail stole the advertising campaign that Saatchi & Saatchi designed for Thatcher. ‘Beware Labour’s Tax Bombshell!’ it screamed, yet straightaway Albert Reynolds jumped into governmental bed with Dick Spring’s Labour.

"Whoever you vote for the government gets in!" declare the Anarchists. I’d hoped that when I was older the allure of that old slogan might have faded, but it hasn’t. In fact after four decades spent feeling my ideals being eroded by the cold winds of cynicism, I see more truth in it now than I ever did.

However this is Ireland: paradoxical, infuriating and wonderful. 

When you cast your vote, be aware that whoever you vote for, the government won’t get in. That’ll be decided later, by others beyond your control. 

There will be days, weeks, months of horse-trading over coalitions, during which time the vote you cast will have taken on a life of its own, changing policies and promises as it’s osmosed into a gathering of the unworkable to govern the implacable.

After the last General Election, I saw a Fianna Fail poster on a lamppost by Salthill Prom.

‘Vote for Stability’ it declared. Liberated from its top cable tie, knocked around by the weather, knackered by inadequate design, it swung, swooped and lurched in the wind.

Now of course it’s Enda’s turn to plead for stability, yet nobody knows better than the Irish how far they are from feeling firm political ground beneath their feet.

©Charlie Adley

Monday 22 February 2016

Everyone in Ireland knows Steve!

Your 'umble scribbler helping out a local in New Zealand, 1989...

It’s a natural question. If you’ve ever left the parish, you’ll have been asked it too.

“Where’re ya from?”

To me however this innocent icebreaker has become an enquiry I dread.

As a Londoner who has lived in the West of Ireland for almost 25 years, my impatient heart demands I say that my home is 15 miles from Galway City, but I know that’s not what these people want to hear.

That’d just be yet another blow-in acting the bollox.

These lads are not really interested in the precise location I slid into the world. They’re just pulling at the reins and slavering to tell the tales, to share their stories of those days they lived ‘Over There.’

All they need is for me to ‘fess up that I come from London and they’re off, galloping into their rare auld experiences in England.

Oh yes, they were working over there in the 50s/60s/70s/80s/90s. 
By God it was some time. I tell you now. There’s never been the like of it since.

Then they’ll ask if I know a pub called the Bunch of Grapes and do I know Steve?

When I first moved to Ireland I just couldn’t understand why seemingly intelligent and witty Irish people would leap on the fact that I came from London to ask me if I knew Steve.

A couple of decades later I now understand the significance of this question. It encapsulates the reason I love living here.

The town of my birth has a population just under twice that of the entire Republic of Ireland. The only way you survive living in a city that size is by minding your own business and having a close set of people to whom you cling.

I’m a Londoner and no, I don’t know Steve. 
I’ve never heard of him.
I wasn’t there. 

Wasn’t me.

However, in Ireland the chances are that you do know Steve. 

Ireland never underwent the mass migration to the cities that the industrial revolution demanded in England. This country was not forged in steel foundries and coal mines. It isn’t that long ago you’d still hear the beef prices at the end of RTE radio evening news.

The Greater Dublin Area accounts for almost 40% of the Republic’s population. Thankfully, most of the rest of the country is still a village and when you live in a village, you know Steve.

Although I’m a reclusive type, I do like the idea that we are all aware of each other. On frequent trips to London to visit my family, I have to physically resist my finger, twitching on the steering wheel, trying to lift itself in acknowledgement of every other driver.
Coming out of Heathrow in my rental car, the M25 has 8 lanes on each side. No place for behaving like a culchie.

Walking the streets of London, the very same streets I played on as a child and roared my motorbike along as a petulant teenager, I have now become the crazy guy; the one who says “Howya!” or  “Lovely evening, isn’t it!” to complete strangers.

Just as I would if I were still living in London, they gather their coats around them and whisk by, holding tight onto their children’s hands, in case I try to speak to them again.

Exactly what I would fear in London I adore in Galway. Sitting outside on Quay Street, having a few chats with friends passing by, I feel a part of something small enough to matter, yet large enough to call itself a city.

After living in the Republic almost as long as I lived in England, I’m repeatedly reminded that the most important difference between my native and adopted countries is the size of their populations.

Yes, oh yes, believe me, I know all about the history. Over the last two decades, the odd Irish person has occasionally felt it their duty to remind me of innumerable injustices. Yet even though suffering is the default setting of the people of the West of Ireland, I have never lived in any place where people smile as much.

Poverty, sideways rain, sliding your boots across a pavement pizza: whatever challenges life throws at the people of the West, they tut, inhale sharply and make the best of it.

I love them as much as I love living here. The West of Ireland is my home, which is why I bristle so when faced with that question, over and over again, day in day out.

“Where’re ya from?”
“I was born in London, but I’ve been living here for 24 years and-”
“Ah, London, eh? I was over there in 19...”

Back in 1989 I was hitching in New Zealand with my girlfriend. Everywhere we went we kept on bumping into the same pair of Irish nurses, and wherever we were, they’d sigh and say:

“Ah look at that view. It’s beautiful! Sure, it looks just like home!”

I was able to agree that the scenery was gorgeous, yet couldn’t make comparisons with Ireland, because while I’d been to Australasia twice, I’d never visited the country next door to my own.

Four years later, I was looking at room to rent in a flat in Salthill. The woman looking for a flatmate had asked a friend over, to help her choose the right applicant.

As I walked in, her friend looked at me, her chin dropping just enough to allow a smile to stretch upon her lips.

“Hey, were you hitching in New Zealand with a blonde girl, back in 1989?”

“I er, yes I was. Why, what did I do?”

Daring to stare for a moment into her sparkling blue eyes, I realised she was one of the nurses.

“Kitty? Oh! Oh wow! You’re kidding me!”


I got the room, benefitting for the first time from the fact that in Ireland, everyone knows Steve.

©Charlie Adley

Monday 15 February 2016

A gentle anti-social ramble around the Wesht...

 My very own decompression chamber...

No human could enjoy a better greeting in Tigh Neachtain. At the corner of the front bar sits the Snapper, elegant in her long woollen dress, alongside a smiling crew, who leap to their feet to cry

“Charlie! How arya!” and offer firm handshakes. As one of them sniffs my neck another declares:

“It’s good to see you back in Neachtain’s!”

which leaves me wondering when I left...

The politics of Quay Street are simple. You’re either a Quays person or a Neachtain’s person, and never the twain, except of course for your contrary colyoomist. I love them both. One of my great pleasures is to sit outside either and watch life as it drifts over the cobbles.

For me it has more to do with the seasons than matters of allegiance. Thankfully, I feel very welcome in both pubs, but in the Summer the seats outside Neactains get the sun. In Winter the Quays has an awning and exterior heating, so I gravitate there during these dark months.

I'm a funny one. Even though I’ve come to town to see people and have some craic, I discover that my socialising batteries are out of charge. I'm not past enjoying the craic.

Just today, this evening, I can’t access those social skills that create conversation.

After a mere half hour of talking, I head west over the bridge, stopping in the rain to absorb the wonder of roaring tumult that is February’s River Corrib. Then off to McGuire’s shop for a newspaper and into Monroe’s.

Ahhh, lovely. A table; a pint; a window onto Dominick Street. Watching the stoic walkers of Galway’s commute brace themselves in the face of a wet Atlantic wind, I spend a gloriously quiet hour.

Over the years I’ve found Monroe’s an excellent decompression centre, when after days of rural isolation I’m ready to see life all around me once again, but not quite able to take it on face to face. 

The smell of woodsmoke helps too, and their cheese and ham toasty has saved many a day.

Fortunately my anti-social mood won’t stop me from having a great time tonight. I’m feeling extremely happy and I'm not trying to keep anyone else happy.

Maybe tonight I just want my arse plumped on a barstool. 

Sometimes I deliberately aim for pubs where I know nobody, to sit and stare at the optics, to soak up the feeling of being there without having to contribute anything apart from cash.

Then again, it’s often on those nights, as a stranger in a strange bar, I find great personalities on the barstool next to me. Firm friendships have been formed while pure unadulterated nonsense was debated.

Maybe after the game I’ll head to Carroll’s, then up to Tonery’s bar in Bohermore and onto Fox’s, where Dalooney is playing tonight.

Stepping outside the door I’m blasted by sideways rain. 

Abandoning all thoughts save seeking refuge, I dive into the Blue Note. It’s only 6:30 so the place is dead quiet as I settle onto a barstool.

Blimey, haven’t been in here for years. Whatever happens tonight, my freedom feels perfect. Perfect to sit alone and feel calm. Perfect to wonder about the game.

John Terry is far from perfect. “There’ll be no fairytale ending!” he declared, as he announced a parting of the ways with Chelsea. 

Doubtless he’s a contemptible git who has misbehaved in all manner of ways off the pitch, but throughout his entire career the man has played through blood and pain, holding the line, scoring goals and leading the team as nobody else could.

With Stevie G, Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville long gone, JT’s the last of his kind: a complete club man, lifelong and heartfelt. He announced he would not play for any team in England or Europe, so that’s he’d never be faced with the prospect of having to play against Chelsea. To this True Blue fan, that goes a long way.

Meanwhile in the Blue Note, the young ones at the end of the bar are chatting about the music playing.

“That’s kind of cool!” he whispers under his breath.
“Yeh, it’s something from the 70s.” she replies.

That’s Billy Joel’s ‘Piano Man’, I think to myself, smiling as I consider how both ABBA and The Ramones are also ‘something from the 70s.’

Born in the 60s, I suppose I’m something from the 70s too. What a great decade it was for music, even though those bouffant hairstyles and brown fashions were appalling.

Feeling suddenly rather old and slightly out of place, I sip my Jameson and reminisce about the afternoon this pub first opened.

Sitting outside with The Body, Blitz and Whispering Blue, we clinked bottles with the inimitable Cian Campbell, whose mighty personality injected success into the bar.

At first the Note served as stopover on the journey from an Tobar to the nightclubs of Salthill. Years later, drinking with Angel, Yoda, the Guru and myself, the smoking section of the Blue Note became our Brotherhood HQ, but the only Galway pub I ever felt was my Local was Taylor’s Bar. 

Oh Taylor’s. All these years later, it still feels like losing a friend.

Chelsea and Watford play out a miserable goalless draw, but down the back of Massimos there’s excellent craic to be found at Shed na Gaillimhe, the home of Galway’s Chelsea fans.

Then it’s time for ballast in the shape of curried chips from Costello’s and off for a nightcap in the Crane, where local ladies are dancing to the band, impromptu twirls and magnificent swirls: pure wonderful.

Considering I wasn’t in the mood, I’ve enjoyed a splendid night.

©Charlie Adley

Monday 8 February 2016


My body is covered with scars and scabs, bruises and burns. I’ve not been in a fight. Just waking and sleeping, I pick up knocks and scrapes all the time; always have done.

The Snapper tells me that it’s because I’m not in the moment. Apparently, when I burn my arm on the handles of the roasting tin, I’m not concentrating. 

I know those handles well, as I’ve burned my arm on them on countless occasions, but as I raise the heavy tin from the hob, to pour the roast’s deglazed goo into the gravy, I - Ow! Bloody Dammit! Screw that bastard thing! - do it again.

It’s no coincidence that my house is laden with aloe vera plants. Nothing works better softening painful tissue after a burn, but sometimes even that doesn’t work. Last year I awoke in the middle of the night to find a tennis ball-sized swelling on my forearm where my most recent burn used to be.

Filled with fear, I could feel from the heat of this new grotesque injury that an infection had taken over, and in the darkest hours it’s incredibly easy to head down the horror trail of septicemia, lymph nodes and is it morning yet and please can I go to the doctor now?

While the Snapper’s advice makes absolute sense, life ain’t simple.

On many levels I’m a fan of being in the moment. When I see tourists clasping cameras to their eyeballs as they travel around Connemara, I worry they’re so obsessed by proving they’ve been here, they miss the point of being here. 

Equally, I try to live in the present. Right now is all we've got and all that lardydeedar. However, as a scribbler, I cannot live forever in that realm. While being creative I naturally exist in a world of my own. Off with the faeries is too specific. I wander the world with my eyes open, while my brain is somewhere else entirely. 

In that personal mental bubble, my imagination and thoughts can make joyous whoopee with each other, uninterrupted.

However, those poor souls who have lived with me find it frustrating and upsetting to enter a room, only to have me scream in shock.

“I bloody live here!” some have shouted, with justifiable indignation.

Built like a bear and lost in my own writer’s reverie, I never notice the damage done until I’m drying after a shower. 

Wow - there’s a fresh cut all the way down my left thigh. Must’ve walked into the corner of a table or something. 

Holy moly, look at that bruise on my back! Wonder how I did that? Bleedin' 'eck, it’s the size of Cyprus and has more colours than Jupiter.

Sometimes several accidents come together to create a perfect mess.  Last week I was trying to carry too much stuff in one go from the kitchen into the living room. 

A slice of toast slid from its plate into my mug of tea, creating a much larger splash that I would have thought possible. The tea erupted onto my woollen jumper, the boiling liquid heading inland so that it could also burn my belly.

My tea was spoiled, my toast ruined, my jumper needed changing and it was out with the aloe vera all over again.

While others might see such buffoonery as comic genius, my mouth emitted a different term at the time, unsuitable for this noble rag. That debacle I cannot put down to my otherworldly creative needs. It was just me being a lazy prat and paying for my sloth.

As if my natural clumsiness and spaced out creative needs are not enough, there is one more major item to add to this catalogue of Adley malfunctions.

This one I fear the most, as it usually creates a victim other than myself and is impossible to explain. Possibly driven by nervous tension, I try to endear myself to it by awarding it a name all of its own: my dreaded spasma of the arm.

Yes, there’s a spare ‘A’ at the end of that word, because mere spasm is not extravagant enough a term to describe the bizarre nature of this behaviour. Although it can happen at any time, it usually appears when least desired and expected.

20 years ago I was dining with a lovely friend of mine in an austere and quiet restaurant on Achill Island, We were laughing a little too loudly and generally having much more fun than the other diners, who were peering disapprovingly at us.

In one sweeping movement, my arm suddenly travelled across the table, clipped my friend’s full wine glass into the air and then batted it down, so that it smashed into pieces on the floor, having emptied its Burgundy contents all over her white shirt.

Despite looking unquestionably like an act of aggression, she knew me well enough to know it had been an accident, and we laughed uproariously at the absurdity of it.

Another time, in a restaurant in Salthill, I greeted the lovely woman who’d agreed on a first date by sending my arm towards the lit candle in the centre of the table, and then in what appeared to all (including me!) as a deliberate and extremely precise movement, my fingertip flicked the molten candle wax from just below the flame onto my date’s right shoulder.

So lovely a woman was she that she spent the entire meal with her arm covering the solidifying wax on her blouse, so that, in her generous words:

“You wouldn’t spoil the meal by worrying about the wax.”

I’m willing to suffer the bruises and burns if it helps retain my creativity, while my occasional clumsiness is a sad fact of life, but my spasma of the arm hurts others, so I would happily banish it from my repertoire of strange behaviours.

©Charlie Adley

Monday 1 February 2016

Don't hate Winter - it's stunning!

When I told my Galwegian friends in 1994 that I was leaving Salthill to live in Connemara, in a little house between Ballyconneely and Slyne Head, they collectively shook their heads and rumbled worries.

“The Winter wind will drive you crazy.” they warned. “People go bananas, living alone out there, mate.”

While I knew they were only being kind, they were underestimating my own madness, the built-in bonkers brain I carry that loves people but finds them hard to be around. Connemara couldn’t drive me crazy because I was already there.

After washing up on Ireland’s shores a couple of years before, I was lucky to find myself befriended by an excellent crew local lads, now life-time friends.

Our nights out ran from an Tobar to Taylor’s to Vagabonds, and I enjoyed every one, but the lifestyle was causing my body to crumble, my spirit to wane. 

After countless exploratory hitching trips I’d fallen desperately in love with Connemara, and was raving with excitement at the prospect of living there, in rural solitude.

I longed to turn off my bedside light at 11 and awake at 7, so that I could lie there snug for another hour, feeling smug and grateful that I was neither on a crammed tube train, nor freezing cold waiting at a bus stop.

I loved my first Winter alone in that bleak moonscape. With the ocean not more than a mile to the north and west and only three to the east, I’d rise after my hour of smugness and walk to a beach before breakfast.

No distractions, no demands; simply walk and sit and write all day.
At 4 I’d walk the 1.8 miles (I told you I was crazy and yes, I need to know distances like that) to Keogh’s pub where I’d make myself perfectly squiggly before walking home for dinner.

Many days I’d speak to nobody, save for the bigots on Marianne Finucane’s Afternoon Call - yes, Ireland had ritualised daily moaning before Joe Duffy - yet never did I feel lonely.

After ten days of this healthy productive living I’d climb into my transit van and race along the N59 for two days of guiltless hedonistic consumption in Galway City. 

Three mornings later, I’d load the van with shopping at Quinnsworth, and drive slowly and carefully back along the N59, my aching head and trembly body desperate for recovery and solitude once again. 

Being an awful contrary beast, it wasn’t the wind that drove me crazy, but the lack of it. One night I lay in bed and couldn’t sleep. There was nothing of consequence running around my mind, yet something was spooking me.

Opening my bedroom curtains I thought the sheen on the land meant it had snowed, but no: it was simply a full moon. Born in light-polluted London, I’d no idea of the power lunar light had on the natural landscape. 

Deeply moved, I stepped outside and saw those stone-walled famine fields bathed in the silvery wash of a freezing Winter’s night. Ponies were grazing as if it were midday, while the shrieks of vixens and cry of their prey shattered the ethereal silence. Arching across the heavens over my house, the Milky Way shone as a luminous reminder of my own insignificance.

Then I realised why I hadn’t been able to sleep. 
There was no wind.

Although I’d lived there for six months, I’d not yet had the chance to experience the utter stillness of motionless air. Holding my breath I stood still, listening carefully. Brooks that I hadn’t known were nearby babbled and spluttered. I could hear the grass being ripped from the ground by horses’ teeth.

Ever since that moment of ecstasy I have loved Winter. The following November hurricane force winds bent in the glass of all my windows, but I felt no fear, as there was no shed door, no roof tile nearby that might smash into my house.

Such a brutal and majestic power fuelled that storm, that the following day we villagers bounced around with a spring in our steps, thrilled to have survived to see another blue sky morning.

So many of you claim to hate the Winter, but that to me is something of a crime. Why choose to write off 25% of the year? I love the burgeoning power and promise of Spring as much as I enjoy the reflective scents and prolific harvests of Autumn. 

Summer is the only season I have problems with here in the West of Ireland, and that’s because it only arrives once every 7 or 8 years. 

Yet Winter is reliable, in both of its forms.

There will be a succession of brutal Atlantic storms, dumping floods of rain upon the land carried by tree-felling gusts, and then we’ll have the cold stillness of high pressure, when blue skies emerge slowly from deeply frosty misty mornings.

Winter is the only season in which each day you can enjoy both the sunrise and sunset. Out on the bog walking Lady dog, we pause to watch as the crimson sun rises above the horizon, bleeding onto the stark silhouettes of distant hills. Eye-dazzling low sunshine cascades into the coal black clouds, creating a harsh cocktail of vivid beauty.

 We stand in silence; absorbing the colours; soaking up the tranquility of winter.

Above us, the palest of blue skies carries a solitary grey cloud. Eager to drop a freezing cargo, its cascading fringes touch the ground a mere mile away.

Unsure whether it’ll be dumping sleet or hailstones. I decide to experience neither, and click my teeth.

“Come on girl, let’s head home for breakfast, before that hits us.”

Much as I adore heat and sunshine on my bones, I love Winter for its stark dramatic light; long cosy evenings by the fire; exceptional periods of silence; those mornings when I wake to find the land glazed by a wicked frost, the air chilled to perfection.

©Charlie Adley