Sunday 27 November 2016


The other night I was spacing out in front of the fire, staring at a box of Marks and Sparks ‘Extremely Chocolatey Milk Chocolate All Butter Biscuits’ on the coffee table.
Wonderful, I mused. They’ve called their biscuits exactly what their customers want to see.
Imagine a brave new world where the nanny state runs amok and truth rules. How much would you want to reach for ‘Fat Free But Stuffed With Tons Of Sugar So You’ll Still Be A Fat Basstid Frozen Yoghurt’, or, as The Snapper suggested, ‘Incredibly Addictive Diet Cola Crammed With Known Carcinogens.’
Irish elections would be contested between the ‘There’s Bugger All Difference Between Us And Them Party’, the ‘We’ll Screw You In A Different Way To Them Party’ and the ‘We Collectively Sound Like Miracle Workers But We Don’t Have The Money To Make It Work Alliance.’
Within the self-serving confines of the Irish legal system, Tribunals would become ‘Lawyer Feeding Frenzy With No Chance Of A Meaningful Verdict Fiasco.’
We’d have the ‘We’ve Got A Richer Foreign Criminal Than You So We’ll Win It Premier League’, while Irish and Australian teams would play the ‘We’re Just Going To Beat The Crap Out Of Each Other International Rules Test Match.’
Evidently M&S think their customers incapable of grasping the fairly simple idea that there’s a whole heap of chocolate on these biscuits, because below their extremely explicative name on the box, yet another line of copy claims:

Whoosh … my brain's lost, pondering the deep philosophical matter of whether a chocolate biscuit can actually still be a biscuit, if it is 

Truth be told, I don’t know what’s worse: the way my tiny mind works, or that I share it in public.


So rarely in life do you get to say the funny thing at the right time. When somebody upsets you or when you feel you have a point to make, the words just don’t come. You dip your chin in the face of your enemy, because in the heat of battle your brain dries up.
You know that you’re capable of a killer line, but it comes to you days later, with a stab of sorrow at four in the morning: it’s too late. 

If only you could've said that back then, everyone would think you such a witty whizz.
Yet others rarely judge our ability to slice the air with sharp strokes of verbal swords. I like to think that as a species we are slightly more substantial than that.
But boy oh boy, when the right words come, I don’t care how shallow I’m being. Last week I was walking down Shop Street, looking across Johnny Massacre Corner to a large crowd of tourists standing opposite the Kings Head pub.
Their tour guide was shrilly explaining how  "... nobody knows the identity of the executioner of England’s King Charles I, but -”
at which point he was interrupted by an energetic local lad, coming up the street, who turned to the crowd, stretched a smile on his lips, raised his arm in the air and cried with exuberant triumphant pride:
“He was an Irishman!”
at which the crowd laughed heartily.
Despite a healthy sense of humour, my head was racing with the crassness of this guy’s misplaced pride. Frantically searching my brainbox for something to say, I was about to come face to face with himself the Historical Proclaimer.
It had to be quick. Neither he nor I had slowed our brisk walking pace. In seconds we’d be past each other and the crowd, walking in opposite directions.
This was not the moment to suggest that Gunning, their ‘Irishman', probably wasn’t the man who executed King Charles I, because another bloke called William Hewlett was later convicted of regicide, after Charles II returned to the throne.
Anyway, it wasn’t yer man’s historical inaccuracy that irked me.

No, the hottest potato baking inside my brainbox was wondering how the killing of that English king did the Irish any good.
And then it came to me. Just simply exactly what I wanted to say. In retrospect, I’ll admit it looks rather feeble, not much of a witty gem at all, but at the time it just seemed perfect.
As the two of us walked past each other, I turned to the crowd and shouted:
“Yep, he did exactly what Cromwell wanted!”
Then I walked on, leaving himself to ponder that little baby, and the tourists to wonder if they had just experienced some kind of wonderful Irish street theatre.
Did any of them give a damn about who was right or wrong?
Did any of them care that a mere 3 years after the king’s execution, Cromwell declared himself Lord Protector, which did the Irish very few favours?
Not a single one.
Had I in any way inhibited yer man from feeling good each and every time the Irish walloped the English?
About as likely as him wearing a Glasgow Rangers shirt.
Nevertheless, as I walked down the road I felt a spring in my step and a thrill in my heart. Even though I’d impressed nobody but myself, I was delighted.
For once, I’d said the right words at the right time, and in my sad little existence, I savour these tiny harmless victories like ripe berries on the bush.

©Charlie Adley

Tuesday 22 November 2016


When Galway-based writer Mike McCormack's novel Solar Bones won both the Goldsmiths Prize and Novel of the Year at the 2016 Bord Gáis Book Awards, I was just a little bit too excited. 

His triumph brought with it a minor victory for me, on both a personal and professional level, as throughout my life I’ve had a difficult relationship with literature. 

Thrust ahead a year at school by educators who didn't understand the difference between intelligence and academic ability, I found myself surrounded by incredibly clever students. 

English Public Schools exist to produce candidates most likely to succeed at Oxford and Cambridge. While many from that class proceeded to do just that, for me university was never an option.

Every teenager needs to go through a phase when nobody appears to understand them, and this was mine. Everyone in my life kept telling me how clever I was; that my failures were the result of sloth and indifference; that if only I worked a bit harder, I might just surprise myself.

School reports through the years inevitably said the same thing: ‘Could do better.’

Nobody listened when I tried to explain that I had genuine trouble assimilating information from text books. Then a powerful cocktail of hormones and Punk Rock met this onslaught of expectation, and I reacted in a predictably adolescent way.

It went something like this:

‘You insist that I read your books? Well I won’t read them. I won’t even go to university, because I'm fed up to the back teeth with being told to learn. Yes, of course I want to learn, and will continue to do so joyously throughout my life, but there’s more to learning than books by old fogeys and fathomless farts whose language I cannot take in. I will work in a warehouse, ride a motorbike and reject your academic world, where I feel inadequate and stupid. I will hitchhike thousands of miles and learn from that as much as your high literature will ever teach me.’

So I did, and along the way devoured books that I read of my own volition. Woody Guthrie’s autobiography Bound For Glory served to rip apart the cosy confines of my bourgeois mind, showing me a braver way. Inspiring and wonderful, I still read it every couple of years.

In my early 20s I found two of my favourite writers. Richard Brautigan wrote with more of a brush than a pen, creating gentle lyrical ethereal prose that kisses poetry. His writing marries romance, wit and magical realism, elevating me to a better place and leaving a wry smile on my face every time.

Charles Bukowski could not appear at first more different, with his low-life misogynistic alcoholic profane guttural. Disgusting and shocking, his own anti-hero, I find him irresistible, as I do Brautigan, because both men are phenomenally honest.

On every course that I teach, a student will ask:

“Can I do this, Charlie? Can I use three narrative voices? Can I tell the story backwards?”

“Yes, you can do anything you want. Absolutely anything at all, as long as it works.”

The advice is a tad oversimplistic, because what works for one might not for another. When I read John Banville’s Booker Prize winning novel The Sea, I was transported back to those dark classroom days. 

The fact that I didn’t like the melancholy drudge of the tone of the book was my own problem: a matter of subjective taste, but I hated feeling excluded and ignorant because I wasn’t familiar with the paintings and artists alluded to so often throughout the book.

That didn’t work for me, because I felt as if he was only writing for a few people; those who might fully appreciate how much he knows.

Absolutely not my kind of book.

Through the guidance of my friend and teacher Iris Leal, I have overcome my dread of anything considered high literature. 30 years ago she insisted that I read Anna Karenina, and I was astonished to find Tolstoy's language so simple and accessible. She led me to Boyhood and Youth, by JM Coetzee, where I adored his uniquely simple voice, and amazed myself to find I loved the work of a Nobel Laureate.

Moving to Galway, I was entranced by Walter Macken’s grit, honesty and grá for the West of Ireland, and recently I've been swept away in a wonderful wave of new Irish writing. 

Lisa McInerney’s Glorious Heresies was a tremendous piece of storytelling, as shocking and exciting as Paul Abbot’s Shameless, when it first appeared on TV. 

Donal Ryan’s Spinning Heart was a huge hit, but it’s his short stories that occasionally make me catch my breath. Eimear McBride's Lesser Bohemians and Kevin Barry's City of Bohane lead the charge with their stylised language and alternative takes on reality.

My friend Claire-Louise Bennett’s astonishing debut Pond has taken the literary establishment by storm. A reviewer claimed she had reinvented the non-novel, and no, I don’t know what that means either, but away from all the literary la-di-da, her book is a great read.

My little victory?

As I joined in the single sentence that is Solar Bones I felt no fear. Immediately aware that this book was Mayo man Mike McCormack's masterpiece, I felt deeply thankful that it never once impressed upon me the weight of its own cleverness.

A slice of West of Ireland Zeitgeist; a philosophical pondering on life and death; a fascinating insight into the mind of an engineer; a perfectly drawn microcosm of the political attitudes of this nation, past and present and a comforting illustration of a loving family’s life, Solar Bones is a triumph.

More than that, for me it felt great to love a book that others then classified as high literature.

There’s hope for me yet.

© Charlie Adley

Sunday 13 November 2016


“How ya doing?”

“Mighty. And you?”

“Good thanks. Bit tricky this, but your mate with the northern accent, the lad we were drinking coffee with outside Pura Vida? I’ve known him for years. We’ll often stop and chat. Thing is, I’m not sure of his name.”

As my friend stares at me over the table I’m not sure if I’m about to be reprimanded or helped out. How could I possibly be so shallow as to say I know someone, when I haven’t a clue what they’re called?

His mouth drops open, his eyes stare at the table as a gathering red flushes up from his chin to the crown of his head.

“Jeeze Charlie. Now that you mention it, I’m not sure myself. I think he’s married to the sister of that Dave from the market, because it’s his brother I was talking to. Not the brother from Letterfrack, he’s not been around, the other fella, the one who married the Yank and moved over there and came back after the crash, he’s working in Thermo King now I think, and …”

As he rambles I find myself forgetting who it was I was asking about in the first place and no longer caring in the slightest. Over the last couple of decades I’ve become used to this.

U2 sang about the land where streets have no names, but the truth is that sometimes in Galway City, people don’t need them either.

Even though this city has changed in many ways since I moved here in 1992, all the things I first loved about it remain almost intact, so I was saddened to hear Whispering Blue and Soldier Boy, both raised here, agree that the place had lost what made it special.

They felt that the place had grown too big, lost its intimacy and spontaneity.

Whenever I walk around Galway City streets with one of my local mates I’m still to this day astonished at the number of people they know. I’m a Londoner and over there bumping into people you know is a rare and special event.

To me this buzzing upcoming European Capital of Culture is still also a provincial county town, with an extraordinary smile on its face and a spring in its step. 

Home to dreamers, scribblers, dancers and software designers, you’ll know many people in Galway, just not necessarily by name.

This city of 14 tribes has many more now. Scores of Brit blow-ins like me; Europeans availing of free movement; 20,000 students and a welcome tide of others from further afield. Also, let’s not forget those poor souls lost in the limbo of Direct Provision. It’s easy to ignore them. Many of us do, but they live here too.

Many wonderful tribes from all over the world on this western seaboard, colliding with local culture, wondering what on earth everyone is talking about. 

If you are one of the many thousands recently arrived in this wonderful patch of the planet, allow me to share the following snippets of advice, gleaned from 24 years of simultaneously sticking out and blending in.

Despite what they tell you, never ask anyone if there’s any craic. Nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing will plunge a conversation into silence, a room into panic, a mood from light into darkness than somebody asking if there’s any craic. 

Unless there’s been a very recent death in the community, the air will hang heavy until someone starts talking about sport or a new dress on sale in Monsoon or, thank the Lord for its ubiquity and neutrality: the weather.

As a naïve new Galwegian you will at some point inevitably find yourself trapped by a local, who is convinced that you know somebody that you don’t.

You need to be prepared. There’s more than a little bit of Mrs. Doyle about it all, but instead of a cup of tea being forced upon you, the other person cannot rest easy until you either admit that you absolutely definitely don’t know the person never have never will now please step away from my face, or simply lie and say oh yeh, him? I know the fella.

If for you, as it was for me, you find neither of these options attractive, because you don’t want to upset someone and you don’t like telling porky pies, then learn this my friend, and use it freely:

“I’d know him to see him.”

Works a treat every time. The Galwegian who was for obscure reasons obsessed with you knowing this absolute stranger will breathe out, nod, smile and like a humpback whale across hundreds of miles of ocean, return the call:

“Ah you would! You’d know him to see him.”

After this blissful exchange life will immediately return to normal, whatever that might be in Galway.

Just room for one more quick-pick of idiomatic signposting. Even though the Irish are fascinated by death, preferring a good funeral to a bad wedding any day, they don’t mean someone’s died when they describe them as ‘up above.’

‘Up above’ can mean they’re still at home with Ma in Shantalla or taking a few months rehab in the cottage in Roundstone. I know from experience that this tiny bit of knowledge can save a whole heap of tragic confusion.

Only locals truly know how much this place has changed, but for me, never mind the streets, until the day comes when we need to know our friends’ names, there’s hope for Galway City.

©Charlie Adley

Monday 7 November 2016

I think we're all ready for Punk Football!

There were so many different reasons for a nine year-old boy to feel excited that day. 

I was going to see Chelsea play for the first time in my life. 
I was going to see Chelsea with my Dad. 
I was being taken to the football by the person who gave me the love of football in the first place.

Every child that was first taken to see their team play by a parent will know what that experience means. In the years to come, before any concept of bonding existed, my father and I did just that over our love of the Chelsea. 

We couldn’t unite over our love of watching the Chelsea play, because in those days our team only turned in a performance when their chakras were aligned with seven pints of Watney’s Red Barrel and a Ruby Murray.

Plenty to feel excited about on a unique day in that nine year-old’s life, yet only one shock gasp of pure pleasure and a moment of abject embarrassment have stayed lodged in my head since 1969.

My unexpected thrill came before the game, as my short legs climbed the last of a mountain of steps, and we emerged at the top of the West Stand. 

I hadn’t given the ground a moment’s thought, so it was wonderful to find myself involuntarily stopping in my tracks, looking out over the great expanse of deep green grass, sharply divided by perfectly pristine white lines, so unlike anything I’d ever seen in the muddy mires of the park or at school.

As my chin dropped in thrall, my eyes wandered around Stamford Bridge, looking vast with its greyhound track between the pitch and the crowd. The sound of the songs from the Shed transfixed my senses.

I couldn’t take my eyes off those crammed masses on Chelsea’s hallowed terrace, where the scarves swayed above the fans’ heads in a sea of blue.

Instantly part of me wanted to be down there, in the midst of the throng, but more, I was just loving being there with my dad.
That’s why, when the game finished 1-1, it was beyond painful to ask him when the replay would be.

“There’s no replay. It’s a league game.” he explained calmly, as inside my pre-teen head my voice roared I knew that! Why did I ask such a stupid question? Now he’ll think I don't know anything about football! Why did I ask that?

In the 70s and 80s football was very far from perfect. Fascists sold National Front newspapers outside the grounds, and when as a 17 year-old I went to stand in the Shed, I spent more time trying to stay away from fights than I did watching football. 

Mind you, to that teenager little compared to the tribal ecstasy of a mass of manhood, moving as one in outrageous jubilation, when we scored a goal.

More important than anything football might offer, my father and I went to football together for years. Having forced me to go to a school that insisted on Saturday attendance, Dad then colluded with me in schemes of skullduggery that required me to skive off on a Saturday afternoon.

At the sound of the bell after the last morning class, I’d shoot down the mile-long drive at full speed, hoping to break free before the Monitors arrived to guard the gates.

Then I’d jump on the train and head to Finchley Road tube, where my Dad was waiting in the car, engine running, parked on a double yellow, eager to head off to the ground.

It still feels wonderful to have shared those times of 40 years ago together. They were only possible because the game back then was completely accessible.

If you saved all the cut-out-and-keep coupons on the back page of the Chelsea matchday programme, you could send off for an FA Cup Final ticket. My Dad and I did just that, and went to two Wembley cup finals together.

If he were still alive today my father would no longer recognise the league we watched together. We had season tickets because regular people like us could afford them, and we’d turn up at away grounds, pay a couple of quid at the turnstiles and get tickets for game.

To have access to today’s Premiership you need to buy a club membership and then sell your youngest child into slavery, so that you can afford to take your other child to a game.

As letter writer Dave Robbie recently pointed out in the Irish Times, when the Lilywhites of Dundalk secured their third consecutive League of Ireland title, the club won the equivalent of 33% of Wayne Rooney’s weekly salary.

We know that footballers are today’s rock stars, their clubs the bands of the 21st century, and there’s no doubt the game has become too distant from its fans.

Before Punk, all we’d known were the supergroups. Disgustingly rich rock stars, performing half a mile away from fans who felt little affinity with them. 

Just as it was with those ‘progressive’ rock’ stars of old, it’s increasingly difficult to see our modern vain pampered footballers as heroes.

My relationship with Chelsea FC has changed fundamentally. My club is now a corporation, performing with all the common sense, compassion and integrity expected of a business entity.

Despite that, I still love the game, but I wonder: just as Punk replaced those inflated ego supergroups of the 1970s with street-level energy and enthusiasm, has the time finally come for Punk Football to hit the world?

Will a movement rise from people outraged by the greed inherent in the game?

Might we return football to its muddy grass roots? 
Can we rip it up and start again?
©Charlie Adley