Sunday 29 May 2016

A&E staff are amazing - the system's not their fault!


I can be an awful idiot. When the financial crash hit in 2009, freelance work just disappeared. A dogged and stubborn fool, I worked 15 hour days, 7 days a week, trying to earn a living, but no papers or magazines were buying anything.

Eventually I became so exhausted that my chest felt tight and my breathing was all over the place. At that point I really should’ve gone to the doctor, but our respective families had generously paid for the Snapper and I to go to France on holiday, and I really didn’t want to miss it .

Convincing myself that all I needed was rest and relaxation, I waited until we were in the middle of nowhere, in a farmhouse somewhere in the west of France, before becoming seriously unwell and ending up on a cardio ward in a hospital near Bordeaux.

As it turned out I was fine. I’d had a massive panic attack but as I’d never known anything like it, I’d imagined I was having a heart attack.

Thankfully two good things came out of this horrible experience: we discovered that my blood pressure was up in the stratosphere, so that has been treated ever since, and after returning home I sold a feature to the Irish Times about what it’s like to have a panic attack and end up in a French hospital.

Well, you have to. If you’re going to make a living out of scribbling, you cannot turn down opportunities like that.

My lovely wife had a most miserable holiday, staying in a cheap hotel on an industrial estate so that she could visit her prat of a husband, who’d been living in denial of his poor health, so I swore to her that I’d never ignore such symptoms again.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, when I went out for a stroll in the warm afternoon sunshine.

The last few months have been a difficult period in our household, as the Snapper’s illness forced her to leave work last year. 

Thankfully she’s on the mend, but with all the ensuing changes to finances and everything else, I’d been working too hard, trying to cover too many angles all over again, and inevitably my own health had started to suffer.

Over the previous few weeks I’d noticed a slight tightness in my chest when I’d been out walking Lady Dog, and the night before my stroll I’d felt the same discomfort when I awoke for my middle-aged male peeper, so that morning I’d called my doctor to make an appointment for the following day.

A few hundred yards into my afternoon walk I suddenly felt that tightness again ,this time accompanied by a drawing pain down my left arm.Very aware of how these symptoms matched those of an impending heart attack, I returned home scared, wondering whether to drive myself to A&E, but after resting for a few minutes I felt better.

I wasn’t going to make the same mistake I’d made in 2009, and anyway I’d promised the Snapper I’d take my health seriously, so the next morning l was at my doctor’s to seek advice.

We all moan and complain about the HSE, and while we’ve all experienced heinous delays at A&E and long waiting lists for procedures and operations, I have to say we have much to be grateful for.

First of all, I’d been able to get that appointment with my doctor. My 87 year-old mum is always complaining how incredibly difficult it is to see her GP in London, and even when she sees him, she only has 10 minutes to explain her symptoms.

So I felt very lucky to be sitting in my doc’s surgery, while he listened to my chest, tested my blood pressure, my oxygen levels, and reassured me that he felt I was okay.

He suggested that we never mess with chest pains, so after he wrote me a letter of referral I went down to A&E at 11 0’clock, armed with a 600 page book, prepared to wait the customary 8-12 hours to be seen.

Much to my surprise my name was called a few mere seconds after my arse had hit the plastic seat. Evidently, they don’t mess with chest pains either, and over the next six hours I received an amazing level of care and attention.

It’s all too easy to equate the staff on the ground with the organisation they work for, but the two exist in different universes. 

Every single nurse, doctor, porter and consultant I saw that day offered me gentle kindness, professionalism and efficiency.

By 7 o’clock I’d had every test known to man and medical science performed on me. They gave me an EKG, my blood pressure was taken, my urine, blood and blood sugar levels tested. Finally I was given a stress test on a treadmill, after which the report was seen immediately by a cardiologist who declared my heart healthy.

Nobody could find anything wrong with me at all, except for the symptoms that I was still feeling, so I prescribed myself some serious rest and relaxation, and over the next few days proceeded to feel increasingly better.

Clearly Galway’s hospital system cannot cope with the numbers seeking help, a situation massively exacerbated by the closure of A&E departments in Ennis and Roscommon, but despite the ridiculous demands put upon them by Dublin-centric politicians, the staff at our hospital are dedicated and wonderful professionals, doing a great job in dreadful circumstances.

While it’s essential we continue to protest about our hospital situation in the West of Ireland, we must remember to give thanks for the people who work in them.

©Charlie Adley

Sunday 22 May 2016

Any time's the right time to come to Galway!

Aboo festival in action...

“Well when’s a good time to come?”

“Depends on what you want to do while you’re here.”

“Well, I heard something about a Galway festival. When’s that?”

“Hard to say really. See, you’ve already missed the New Inn Mummers Festival, the Music for Galway Midwinter Festival, the Galway Astronomy Festival, the Subtitle Film Festival and the Galway International Rally.”

“Oh, are there any left?”

“Don’t be silly, that was just January. In February we had Tedfest, that’s the Father Ted festival out on Inis Mór, the Muscailt Arts Festival, Seachtain na Gaeilge Festival and Éigse an Spidéil”

“You what? You’ve gone all gobbledegook, mate.”

“Nah, that’s the local lingo my son. Probably nowhere near right, but I do my best. Anyway, you’ve heard of Paddy’s Day? Well they call Lá Fhéile Pádraig, and seeing as Fhéile’s their word for festival, that counts too.

“Then we had the Galway Food Festival, the Clifden Traditional Music Festival, the Galway Dance Days Festival, followed by one of the major events of the year, the Cúirt International Festival of Literature.”

“Is that the one where you got up and read a load of rude words in public?”

“The very same mate. ’Twas a right laugh.”

“Well that’s what I want: a laugh. That’s all really.”

“Well if that’s all you want then come anytime. Honestly mate the best time to come to Galway is when we’re all just getting on with our lives. The city’s perfect for bumping into people, going with the flow until you suddenly realise you’ve missed the evening, half the night and you’re heading into early morning. Right up your street, I imagine.”

“You know me.”

“I do, and you know me, so there’s the other side of Galway too, the county, Connemara and a million places perfect for making sure you bump into nobody at all.”

“So when’s there a gap between festivals?”

“Well now, let’s see. You’ve already missed the Inishbofin Walking Festival, the Leenane Mountain Walking Festival, the Inishbofin Arts Festival, Bealtaine Festival, the International Mayfly Festival, the Connemara Mussel Festival, the Galway County Fleadh, the Galway Early Music Festival, the Galway Theatre Festival and Fleadh na gCuach.”

“Bless you.”

No, wasn’t sneezing. That’s the Cuckoo Fleadh.”

“Right. Whatever you say. Never mind what I’ve missed. What’s coming up?”

“Well, next up is the Galway African Film Festival, the -”


“Bloomin’ right seriously. It’s in its 9th year now. Then there’s the Clarinbridge Banjo Gathering -“

“Now that sounds more like what I’d expect!”

“Stuck in cliché-ridden Ireland, you are mate. Still, if you really want old school, come for Conamara Bog Week, starts next week. Or if that sounds too distant from the comfort of your flat white, come for The Café Arts Festival.”

“Too exciting. I’m trembling.”

“Sarcy bugger. If it’s adrenaline you want then there’s the Venture Cup Powerboat Race in June, the longest, toughest powerboat race in the world, just off Salthill Prom if you don’t mind. More sedate altogether, there’s the Galway Garden Festival, the Connemara Green Festival -”

“Mmmm -”

“Steady boy, green as in ecology, mate, not what you’re thinking at all.”


“Then it’s July and the big hitters move in. Culture Vultures aplenty and not much room for just chilling. Mighty stuff though, with the Galway Film Fleadh, the Galway Fringe Festival and the Galway International Arts Festival. At local level then you’ve the Westside Community Arts Festival and the grandaddy of ‘em all: the Galway Races. Mind you, there’s also the Omey Races, out in west Connemara’s Claddaghduff, horses running on sand at low tide, just fantastic.”

“Pub nearby?”

“Of course.”

“What about late August? Does it quieten down towards Autumn?”

“What do you think? There’s Cruinniu na mBad Festival, with scores of Galway Hookers - oh behave, they're boats - racing in Kinvara, followed by the Connemara Pony Festival, Galway Heritage Week and the Loughrea Medieval Festival. Out west there’s the Oughterrard Agricultural & Horticultural Show, while back in town you’ve the Oscar Wilde Festival, the Galway Races Autumn Meeting and the Clarenbridge Oyster Festival.”

“It just goes on and on. Don’t you people ever work or sleep?”

“We work eat and sleep promoting our city and county, mate, ‘cos we’re at the end of the European road and we have to let people know how great it is out here. 

"Anyway, so then there’s Shorelines Arts Festival in Portumna, Clifden Arts Week, Galway Culture Night, Galway International Oyster Festival, the Ballinasloe International Fair & Festival and the Galway Jazz Festival.

“There’s the Sky Road TV & Film Festival, The Why Not? Adventure Film Festival and the fantastic Baboró International Arts Festival for Children. Then you’ve the Connemara 4 Seasons Autumn Walking Festival, Conamara Sea Week, Food on the Edge and the massive Vodafone Galway Comedy Carnival.”

“Blimey. Does it never stop?”

“Not yet, ‘cos then there’s the Racing Festival, the Bake Fest, the Galway Aboo Halloween Festival and in November we’ve the Tulca Festival of Visual Arts, the Spirit Of Voice Festival and the Galway Science & Technology Festival.”

“What about Christmas? Is that festival free?”

“Are you kidding? That’s the perfect time for the Connemara 4 Seasons Winter Walking Festival, the Christmas market, Galway on Ice and the Cope Christmas Day Swim.”

“Okay then. Seeing as there’s no gaps and I’m completely blinded by choice, I’ll just book a ticket and come out this weekend.”

“Perfect mate. Looking forward to that. Festival or no festival, any weekend is the perfect weekend to come to Galway.”

©Charlie Adley

Monday 16 May 2016

My 21st birthday party was great - pity I missed it!

In a few days I’ll have to use my 56 year-old brain to remember that I’m no longer 55. Throughout my life I’ve given thanks for the fact that I was born in 1960, so when confronted with the question of my age, I have minimal maths to perform. There’s no carry two and divide by six about it.

My so-called landmark birthdays came and went without so much as a flutter of existential angst: 21; 30; 40; even the half century slipped by without so much as a mental twitch or whiff of mortality.

However, completely unexpectedly, turning 35 knocked me off my socks. I just couldn’t work it out, suddenly feeling my age and not liking it. I had to come up pronto with some kind of explanation so decided it was because my Dad was always going on about the ‘three score years and ten’ we are allocated in the Bible.

35 is half of 70, so I reckoned maybe I was just suffering from passing a subconscious half way line, with all traffic now heading inexorably out the back door.

I prefer to think that it doesn’t matter whether your age is divisible by ten. Sadly life and human brainboxes don’t work as we might wish, and 46 came along and knocked me sideways with a right hook I never saw coming.

Why couldn’t I just conform and attach significance to the same big birthdays as everybody else? Hoh no, I had to twist myself through a special test, some kind of left-field self-experiment in which I was the guinea pig.

Even more bemused than usual, I eventually realised that 46 meant I was nearer 50 than 40. Good old fashioned fear, that was the reason for my downer, so now, a few days from being nearer 60 than 50, I’m delighted I’m not working up a sweat about this impending number change.

Our decades illustrate more than the mere fact that we have ten fingers and count accordingly. Since my group of lifetime friends known as the London Posse and I turned 50, we’ve all noticed changes affecting our lifestyles.

It comes as something of a blow to discover that cures and recoveries are often no longer available. This illness needs a pill that you will take each day for the rest of your life; that pain in your knee/shoulder/back is not an injury but a condition that you’ll have to learn to live with and manage with conventional medicine/yoga/mindfulness/ignoring it and hoping it goes away/application of horse chestnut bark cream and octopus rennet mud.

To be honest I’m comfy with getting older. I had mad teenage years in London, scorched the hell out of my Twenties and then did it all over again in Galway in my Thirties. 

My Forties were spent mostly living alone, wondering what the hell I’d done with the previous 30 years, while now in my Fifties I’m aware that life just keeps on posing problems that need to be overcome.

That’s not as depressing as it sounds, because one of the many upsides to having lived longer is that I’ve learned more. I know that joy will visit me on occasion, thrilling my senses as it rushes my nervous system. I know that happiness will come and stay for a while, just as darker guests will move in and out.

Life will offer more of the same, presented as brand new, and it’s up to me to decide if which is sugar or shit, and what to do about it.

I’m not suggesting for one moment that if life gives you lemons you make lemonade. Love the lemons, that’s what I say. Let the power of the hard times allow you greater appreciation of the easier ones.

All this birthday talk reminds me of the time I tried to make a big deal out my 21st. I booked a table at Ronnie Scott’s where I went with the Posse to see the great Horace Silver.

As soon as the band finished their set, I dashed off to the loo, but when I came out there was no sign of my mates.

I checked the loos, outside the club, back inside, outside again, but the scummy sons of bitches had scarpered without me.

Even more annoying was the fact that I knew precisely where they had gone, and how they had got there. Back in those days I had an account with a minicab firm, and had ordered three cars to meet us outside the club, to whisk us off to my sister’s house, where I was staying while she was on holiday.

I called the minicab firm, but it was peak time on a Saturday night and they had no spare cars. Eventually I resorted to spending a week’s wages on taking a black cab all the way to the outer suburbs, where I finally found the drunken dribbling detritus of my own 21st birthday party.

On paper it looked like a great night: cool jazz followed by a hot party in an empty luxury house.

Trouble was, I wasn’t there.

Naturally, my friends all thought it absolutely hilarious that I’d missed my own 21st birthday party, but it didn’t matter. It wasn’t important; just numbers, and what difference could a bunch of numbers make to me?

I know that 90 is the new 80 and 50 is the new 12. Last week I watched a 100 year-old free-fall from a plane (on purpose, you understand!) and with advances in medical science, along with a sprinkle of sand flea blood compound on your morning muesli, you can feel as right as rain and twice as fruity deep into your dotage.

I know, but I just don’t care. I’m getting older and accept that.
Happy Birthday to me - if I make it to Monday!

©Charlie Adley

Monday 9 May 2016

Remember when cafés were just caffs?

Every Saturday morning we’d collectively come to, moans, groans, coughs and oh-nos, lads scattered rag tag style all over the Guru’s flat. Some of us might have scored a bed to sleep in and possibly - but most probably not - more than a mattress.

As we gulped mugs of strong hot sweet tea we stretched our aching and abused young bodies. Every single one of us could really have done with a shower, but instead we ran our hands through our messy bedheads of hair, in an effort to make ourselves vaguely presentable to the outside world.

Then it was jackets on (only biker and donkey need apply) and out into the West London Streets, practicing our orders.

There was both humour and anticipation in the uttering of these lists. We were heading down to the Chippenham Cafe, a proper caff with its name each side of Coca-Cola logos. I’m not a fan of the term ‘Greasy Spoon’, because it whiffs a little of the English Class System, so to me the Chippenham was a caff, pure and simple, and for that period of time in the early 80s, it was our caff.

Just as certain special pubs have become my Local at various points, so too particular caffs pepper my past, like pin-stickers on my map of life.

One by one we’d line up, ready to tell the dyed blonde our particular order. Nobody just ordered a Full English. That was for amateurs. 

She bent over, resting her elbows on the counter, clutching her pad and pen, and with the speed of a dealer at Vegas somehow managed to write down all our different ingredients, one by one, barely pausing for breath.

“2 eggs, 2 bacon, 1 sausage, mushrooms, beans, tea and two slice.”
“Right love.”

“1 egg, 2 bacon, mushrooms, beans, black pudding, tomato, tea and two slice.”
“Comin’ up, love.”

“2 eggs, 2 bacon, chips, beans, tea and two slice.”
“Lovely. “

“2 eggs, beans, mushroom, hash brown, tea and two slice.”
“No bacon love?”
“No thanks, I’m a veggie.”
“Oh yeh, I remember now.”

The entire breakfast was a ritual, from the walking to the caff to the ordering and consuming. There is something about Saturday morning and blokes and cooked breakfasts. 

The caffs are long gone now, replaced by pasta places and sushi joints. If you want your cooked breakfast now you go to a pub, or make it yourself.

Looking around the pub each Saturday morning I’m both warmed and somewhat mystified how many other men seem to do exactly what I do still, to this day.

A red top tabloid read from the back and a few minutes of alone time. An island in a busy week, space to breathe, blank out, gorge yourself with organic processed carcinogenic pork that does wonders to your soul if not your health.

There was more to caffs than Saturday morning though. Before Galway I lived in Bradford, West Yorkshire, where we used a legendary caff called The Italia as a second home.

Open all day and evening, we’d go there as often for evening meal as we would cooked breakfasts.

Even though by serving full menu dinners it pushed the boundaries of what you’d think a caff should be, somehow it never felt like anything other than a caff.

Steak and Kidney Pie, chips and beans at 6 o’clock, an hour before starting the second shift of a split-shift at the bar and you were sorted ’til, well, ’til the next morning’s caff!

Galway had them too. Down the bottom of Dominick Street, Spud Murphy’s - now a pizza place - was pure caff, and did a tremendous breakfast. Strawberry Fields were on the genteel end of caff definition, but their place in Salthill was famous for its view over the bay, and notorious for bringing out the ingredients of your breakfast bit by bit.

“Here’s your bacon, loveen, the eggs’ll be out in a while.”

I discovered eventually the way to defeat their idiosyncratic attitude to catering was to order a BLT and a fried egg on the side. That way I got my breakfast without them realising they’d accidentally done it right ,

It boils my blood to think of the way they demolished the Grand Hostel, which housed Strawberry Fields. It was the only beautiful building along that stretch of the Prom, and now we are left with the elephantine miscarriage that is Bailey Point.

Moan over, we head back down the other end of Dominick Street, where the Left Bank Café used to offer breakfast, but I always felt just slightly intimidated by their acute accent. It was clear they didn’t want to be seen as a caff. 

They wanted to attract artists and creative types. While there are moments when I might consider myself somewhat that way inclined, I have no aspiration to breakfast with acute accents, unless I happen to be in France.

In a world of mochachinos and flat whites, focaccia bread and drizzling, there is no place for caffs.

Like all those ingredients that fuel nostalgia, doubtless the memory of the caff feels sweeter than the reality ever was, but there will always be a part of me that belongs in the extinct Majestic Cafe in Hammersmith Broadway, whose ‘e’ raised absolutely no question of being acuted.

They served their tea in 1950s Duralex glass bowls, while their bacon glowed so purple on your plate you knew it could not be in any way natural, as you crashed a forkful of it into your egg, raising it hurriedly towards your mouth, so that the runny yolk didn’t drip down onto your T-shirt.

Oops, oh damn.

No frills. Very ug. Most glorious.

Charlie Adley

Monday 2 May 2016


I was having a cuppa with an excellent friend, when I stumbled across a realisation that shocked me to my nether regions. We’d been talking about the launch of the Galway Anti-Racism Network, and my mate explained how he was proud to live in Galway, because we’re open-minded and friendly and embrace different cultures.

I understood where he was coming from but suggested that his experience of every day life might be very different to an Algerian living in Doughiska, or a Romanian in Salthill.

Then he asked me if I’d ever experienced antisemitism in Galway, which precipitated a rambling response from me that finally had me goggle-eyed on the inside of my soul.

As my friends will attest with weary sighs, during those disastrous conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians I become an agnonised screwed-up beast, lost between my desire for Israel to exist alongside a free Palestine, those family members who fall out with me when I criticise Israeli military actions, and Irish friends who perceive the combination of my silence and Jewish identity as a sign that I support all the tactics of the IDF.

I completely believed that this was my truth, but when my friend asked me about antisemitism, he’d unwittingly spun me around until I stumbled upon a new path.

“No!” I told him, “Not in any way. Back when I arrived here there was a lot of anti-English feeling, but ever since the arrival of Africans and northern Europeans, we’ve dropped down a few places in the Irish Racism League.

“But well, y’know, during those wars, when I walk down`Shop Street and see yer man standing with his giant Palestinian flag, I feel…”
and there I trailed off, because I realised I was about to sound ridiculous.

“Are you okay?” asked my friend, perhaps worried to see my head go down, my arms wrap themselves around my chest in a bracing hug.

His concern was not misplaced, as inside my brainbox cogs were whirring, balls rolling, down chutes until finally, I looked up at him and smiled.

“Yeh mate, phwooh, just realised something that’s shaken me up. S’gonna sound really stupid this, but I think I’ve just sussed out what makes me go crazy during those Israeli wars.”


“Well, there I was rationalising it all, saying it’s about me feeling lost between being seen as an anti-Israel self-hating Jew and a Zionist warmonger, while actually it’s not any of that. Well, it is, partly, but now I know there’s another feeling. Deeper.

“Look, I know I’m safe in Galway. I chose the West of Ireland, it wasn’t imposed upon me, but apparently I don’t feel as safe as I thought. I’ve just discovered that sometimes I feel threatened. Threatened, yeh, that’s the word. Powerful word, but then it was a strong feeling.

“I know, I know it’s stupid, irrational, illogical and stupid, but I just tried to describe how I feel when I walk down the road and see that flag and feel at that moment how much anti-Israeli outrage and hatred is being displayed in so many ways around lreland, and then I wonder how far has that bile got to go before it’s aimed at me as a Jew and - kapow! - I feel threatened.

“See, I was raised by someone who was raised by someone who fled the Nazis. My Dad used to tell me all the time how we were guests in England and one day we might have to move on.

“What I didn’t realise until now was the influence of my formative years of as a child, in synagogue and at home. Those rivers still run deep and strong within me.”

Very understandably, my mate reckoned I was overreacting; being a mite melodramatic. 

“No mate,  I’m deadly serious here. I know yer man with the flag is a lovely guy, and I know that nobody is ever going to harm me for being Jewish in Ireland, but that counts for little, when you’ve been cut through with indoctrination. Hardly have to illustrate the effects of it on young people to an Irishman, eh?”

It’s far too easy to assume that racism doesn’t exist in the West of Ireland. Indoctrination’s evil cousin is socialisation and I’ve felt the effects of that here too. Growing up in England I was vehemently anti-racist, loving the multi-cultural mix of food, music, philosophies and attitudes to life.

Imagine my horror then when I moved in 1995 from an all-white West of Ireland to San Francisco, only to discover that I suddenly felt scared when black people got on the bus. 

After a mere four years of seeing no black people beyond the TV and cinema screen, I was dismayed and appalled by my own reactions. I’d changed beyond self-recognition.

Deeply ashamed of myself, I didn’t have a good night’s sleep until that vile streak of bigotry was erased from me.

Made me wonder, though. If my core feelings and values could change that much in a few bleached-skin years, what might it be like to be born here?

You might feel threatened by the changes going on in Ireland, but I’m still learning about myself as I near 56, so long may your life education continue too.

Remember though: self-knowledge is utterly useless, until you do something about it. We can all make sure nobody, whether white Irish or any other shade of human in our society has reason to feel threatened.

We’re walking bundles of socialisation and indoctrination, but it’s our duty as sentient adults to overcome those barriers and our ignorance.

©Charlie Adley