Sunday 24 September 2017

Irish radio: a whole lotta men going on... and on... and on...

 Some of the men on Irish radio

The only surprising part of the George Hook scandal was that it took so long to happen. Hook is a man who would say these things, along with all the other bigoted older men who you’d just about tolerate for the length of a drink at the bar.

You’d nod every now and then, to be polite, make no eye contact and slip away quietly as soon as he was distracted.

These are the men who you’d like to forgive, because you know they belong to an Ireland that is late in its evening.

They are the men who’ve done it all, so they tell you, yet they seem to have learned so little from their experiences. It was inevitable that Hook would say something like that, because he revels in a Daily Mail nostalgic malaise of anachronistic attitudes, presenting himself as smug and knowing.

Deluded souls claim he is some kind of controversialist. Being controversial for a living is a tricky business, requiring great knowledge and insight of both sides of the argument, and a deftness and subtlety of touch that are rare and joyous to behold.

an irksome man...

George is not that man; never was and never will be. Barely worthy of anger, Hook can’t be blamed for being himself, but his employers are guilty of the crime of imposing upon Ireland radio domination by irksome older men you’d never voluntarily listen to.

Radio stations survive by doing demographic research to identify their target audience, so they can sell advertising space and make money.

You’d imagine Communicorp employ a talented marketing department, so how can they get it so wrong? Do they really believe today’s Ireland wants nowt but tiresome earache from middle and older aged men?

Our modern bouncy republic is young and more diverse than ever, yet the nation’s broadcasters still believe we’re living in a country that disappeared with Se├ín Lemass.

It’s crass in the extreme of these marketing types to believe that as a 57 year-old white male, I’m so shallow that I desire only to listen to a dreary procession of other old white males.

A member of the last generation to have a life-long relationship with radio, I represent their listenership, but that doesn’t mean I’m so utterly vacuous that all I need to keep me stimulated is the babble of less well-informed contemporaries.

From the boy under bedsheets listening to Radio Luxembourg’s Top 20, on a not-very-hygienic-at-all metal earplug plugged into a tiny yellow transistor (well it was considered tiny then, but at the depth of three smartphones, it’d now be seen as cumbersome) to today’s remote control button on the steering wheel of my car, I have always loved radio. 

Mind you, I suffered major radio culture shock when I arrived in Ireland. After a couple of years in the city, I moved alone out to the country, where of course the radio went on and oh, it was painful.

 some more men....

Gay Byrne I found unbearably condescending, my immigrant mouth falling open as once again he patronised a female guest with his ‘good girl, good girl’ verbal pat on the head.

After his show I had a choice of two more men, either Pat Kenny or Gerry Ryan, but my real education came in the afternoon, in the shape of Marian Finucane’s ‘Afternoon Call.’

Long before Joe Duffy’s melancholic minor key mutterings, it was Marian’s onerous task to remind the sinful people of Ireland to give thanks each day. How lucky we all are, compared to the apparently endless torrent of anguish and misery Joe and Marian’s callers have delivered, daily, for decades.

I’ll never forget how disturbed I was by one of the first callers I heard, back in those early 1990s. An outraged mother was in tears on air, because her seven year-old son had been told to take a shower with the other boys after football.

This woman was screaming down the phone line:

“I do not send my child to school so that he can have other children looking at his penis. His penis, Marian. His PENIS.”

‘Is this what they’re really like?’ I wondered, but thankfully it was my greenhorn ignorance of the Irish that was the problem.

There are still some people in this country who think like that, and if they are men they might well get their own radio show, but fortunately there are so many more who are wonderful, wise and wickedly dark in the humour.

George Hook is not the problem. Of course he’s going to put his foot in it: he knows no better. 

Of course Pat Kenny would come out and defend his stablemate, describing him as "a decent man with children…” who was merely  “…musing over a topic.”

Oh okay. That’s alright then.

What was never alright was that if you’re not perpetually connected to the internet, between midday and 1 o’clock, George Hook was the only voice Irish talk radio had to offer.

 Chris and Sarah - hope for the future...

What’s not acceptable is that in Ivan Yates yet another older man has replaced the vibrant partnership of Chris Donoghue and Sarah McInerney - yes, briefly, a female was allowed onto Newstalk’s testosterone-packed airwaves!

Wouldn’t it be great if Ray Darcy said something outrageous about black people; if Joe Duffy finally retired to a tropical paradise; if Ryan Tubridy was suddenly bombarded by glitter, subtly and painlessly eviscerating his body until he resembles the sugar sifter he presents to us?

At last we might hear some voices that better reflect today’s young Ireland; some diverse opinions that educate, rather than offensive and incorrect old rubbish.

©Charlie Adley

Sunday 17 September 2017


It starts with the car windows veiled in morning dampness. Then flower beds show more seed heads than petals.

The rains came exactly when they always do, just as festival season hit Galway, and by Race Week we were into that humid damp air that meets hot sunshine breaking through thunderclouds.

Before that though, we had a long dry Spring and Summer. A friend of mine grades Summer by how often he leaps into Lough Corrib, and this year there wasn’t the heat for more than four swims. 

Not good by his standards, yet I’m always amused by the Irish ability to eradicate the memory of months of good weather with two wet mornings.

I’m already hearing that Autumnal old chestnut:

“Ah sure, we never had a Summer at all!”

But yes we did. We had no Winter last year, which was strange and deeply disturbing, but Spring came right on time, with the sweet peas planted into containers on Paddy’s Day.

Despite the seemingly driven Irish desire to see bad weather in good, I know it was dry for months because I have a dog who loves walking, and from March to August I did not once don my waterproof leggings.

During most Summers I become obsessed with the weather forecast, trying to spot a window of dryness so that I can mow the lawn, but this year it was easy.

Well, until the Arts Festival. But you’ll have that.

It took me decades to truly understand that the seasons here are a month apart from the ones in my native London. Regular as clockwork, on August 1st my farmer landlord in North Mayo used to say:

“Well, that’s it now, Charlie. That’s it gone.”

At the time I’d refuse to believe him. Back in England August is seen as high Summer, but this year on August 1st, as I stood on the front lawn with Lady Dog, waiting for her to do what dogs do, I felt a turn in the wind; a different rustle to the leaves on the trees; the slightest whiff of growth oozing into decay.

It was arrogant of me to disbelieve a Mayo farmer. Of course the climate is different here, 500 miles further west, on the Atlantic edge of the continent.

I love it.

Yes, I know that sounds incredible. I know that when we’re feeling beaten up by Winter’s brutal endless storms, demoralised by the lashing rain of another midsummer letdown, we cheer ourselves up by reassuring each other:

“Ah well, we don’t live here for the weather!”

No, we don’t, but without our weather would we have the place we love?

One night years ago I was crammed into the shelter of a shop porch with a man who resembled Uncle Albert from Only Fools and Horses. 

Together we watched as blankets of sideways rain powered up Dominick Street, torrents of insistent swirls, dancing silver under the street lights.

We looked at each other and then out into the bleakness, both knowing well that this was not a passing shower; that we would have to brave it and deal with the consequences.

Turning to me he threw back his head and laughed maniacally.

“God’s gift to Ireland!” he screamed above the clamour of the storm. “God’s gift, the raaaaiiin!” he cheered, eager for me to ask him why.

Not really in the mood for theological debate, I resisted the urge to reply “Well ta very much, God!” instead settling for the more respectful:

“How’s that then?”

Delighted I’d finally bitten his apple, he launched into his spiel, which was, I must admit, enlightening.

“Without the rain there’d be a hotel on every clifftop. Without the rain there’d be caravans and mobile homes as far as you can see. Without the rain there’d be millions of tourists here every month of the year and the farmers would go broke and sell up to build more hotels and the land would be gone and the space would be filled. Without the rain everything you love about Ireland would be gone.”

Silence fell between us.

Somehow this stranger could not have summed up better what I love about the West of Ireland. Almost beyond the compassion, warmth and wit of the people, I adore the pace and space of the West.

Wildflower meadows pop up in vacant lots in the middle of village streets. You can walk for hours without the sound of distant traffic. I can lie in my bed in the morning and listen to donkeys braying, pheasants squawking and the endearing rasp of a gently snoring Snapper.

Our mountain sides are empty. 

Our clifftops are grassy. 

The weather is terrible and as Autumn sets in now, it will only get worse, but consider this: wherever you live in Connacht, you’re never more than 20 minutes drive from somewhere stunningly beautiful.

If you step out of your bus or car and stand in the middle of nowhere for 15 minutes, you’ll be giving thanks, feeling privileged to live in this extraordinary part of the world.

At night we can see the Milky Way in all its glory. During the day we can walk among wildlife, dreaming for a moment we are the sole representatives of the human race.

Autumn is nature’s planting season, when tilting grasses and falling fruit sew seeds; when billions of bacteria are born in rotting growth, returning life and energy to tired soil.

Next Wednesday is Rosh Hashanah, Jewish New Year (5,778, since you ask!)

Jewish people see Autumn not as an end but a beginning. We will dip apples into honey, to give thanks for the harvest and ask for a sweet year ahead.

Be grateful for the gifts nature bestows on us here, and before you curse the rain, consider the alternative.

©Charlie Adley

Sunday 10 September 2017


Thanks to my mate, The Guardian's Martin Rowson for the cartoon

I’ve only driven a few miles towards my mum’s from Heathrow Airport when a white van cuts up on the inside of my rental car, driving in a lane that doesn’t exist.

As he squeezes past me at speed I swerve to the right and toot my horn, scared he might scratch Hertz’s shiny new motor, allowing them to charge me a wad.

In a split second, as if awaiting the chance to show what an angry man he is, his bare arm comes shooting out of the driver’s window, performing a trio of high speed, evidently well-practiced hand gestures.

We start off with the classic English V-sign, followed by a shaking fist, while the Grand Finale is that sarcastic classic, the up and down ringed-wrist motion.

He voted Leave.

I don’t even need to see him to know that, but the traffic lights 100 yards away turn red so we end up level. The same age as me, with less hair and stomach, he’s avoiding eye contact now, but I know him.

Not his name, nor anything personal about him, but I know that both he and I were born at the birth of Brexit.

There’s much that I love and admire about England and the English, yet I choose to live in the West of Ireland, partly because 

I’m besotted with it, but also because here I’m free from an awful feeling that used to pervade my life.

I was born a mere 12 years after the sun finally set on the British Empire. As a young boy, my atlas at school showed a third of the world as Ours, making it hard not perceive us English as something special; something better.

I grew up with people suffering a national resentment: they'd missed out on being Great; things used to be better; they’d been born too late.

Out of this sense of loss evolved a loathsome latent violence, an aggression lurking just below the surface, whereby one ill-advised word starts an argument, two drinks a fight.

It was this feeling of being robbed of glory that spawned Brexit. 

The Leave voters who believe they are better off alone come from the same seam of English thought that made me leave England 25 years ago.

When the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier last week referred to English attitudes as “a sort of nostalgia…” he had no idea how accurate his assessment had been.

He was referring to the UK’s Disney desire to be out of the EU while in the single market, but accidentally chose the perfect word to describe the malaise that feeds the English delusion.

Feeling swindled of greatness, Brexiteers will now turn their wrath towards the EU negotiators, as if somehow this pig’s dinner is the EU’s fault.

As I said, I love the English and truly believe that if instead of Boris and his bunch of bumbling liars, they were presented with simple truths, the majority would have voted Remain.

They were told that Europe represents 40% of UK trade, while the real figure is 60%, thanks to free trade deals that the UK enjoys, negotiated by the EU.

Of what’s left, half is trade with the USA, not presently a reliable partner, leaving a minuscule 20% that the UK trades with the rest of the world. To make up their losses, these Brexiteers will have to cut unprecedented - and frankly impossible - trade deals.

How would the English have voted if they knew that without an EU workforce the NHS, agriculture and construction industries would crumble? That without migrants from Europe, others must come from further afield to support economic growth? That you can’t negotiate separate trade deals if you’re in the customs union? That there can be no freedom from the European Court of Justice while you trade with the EU?

On occasion, as a proud Englishman, I have squirmed with embarrassment as this debacle unfolds. The arrogance of Tory attitudes is matched only by their ignorance of the EU and the way it works.

When negotiating with 27 other nations it might be an idea to first find out what works for them, and then match their aims to your ambitions.

Blinded by delusions of grandeur, both Conservative and Labour politicians conveniently forget that they started this messy affair; that naturally the EU see Brexit as a major threat, and must prove to other nations that leaving absolutely means losing all benefits.

Instead they offer mere pontifications on whether it’s best to be inside, beside or out of the single market; how everything in Ireland will turn out right, merely because all sides appear to want roughly the same thing, while not one single workable suggestion has appeared.

In many countries, plebiscites involving fundamental national change require a two-thirds majority, yet UK politicians on all sides insist that the British have spoken, and we must listen to their voice.

Yes, please do just that.
Don’t ignore the 48.

Nigel Farage told the Daily Mirror in May 2016: 
“In a 52-48 referendum this would be unfinished business by a long way.”

The British did not speak with one voice. 52% of a misinformed and propagandised electorate whispered:

“We are confused and fearful, but we want to believe we can be great again.”

4% is a margin of error, not a mandate.

For me Brexit means a lengthy citizenship application, as after half a lifetime in Ireland, I fear turning around to find I’ve no security.

I wish the English had learned one thing from the EU. Here in Ireland we know only too well that when we vote the wrong way in a referendum, the EU insists we vote again, until we get it right.

Saturday 2 September 2017

Dribbling, sloshing and hurling in Connemara!

One of my beloved London Posse is over on a visit, so we avoid the high season crowds at Roundstone, turning right at Clifden and head for the Aughris Peninsula.

By lunchtime we’re sitting in Oliver’s in Cleggan, enjoying Guinness, oysters, the view out of the window and each others’ company.

Cleggan was my base when I first discovered the area, and I fell in love with the secluded little beaches that scatter the shoreline all the way to Claddaghduff. Most tourists seem to see the place as merely a ferry in-and-out job, but they are missing a lot, and I’m grateful they're over there, on different beaches.

Standing on white sand, alone or with a lifetime friend, looking out to Bofin and distant headlands across a turquoise Atlantic aspiring to appear Caribbean, I feel a sense of belonging, calm, hope: works for me every time.

On the day that's in it, the sky is grey, so my friend doesn’t see the full splendour of blue and black, green and gold, but Connemara never lets you down.

The lads in Oliver's are talking about the hurling, and just for a minute my mind drifts back to this bar decades ago, when I used to stay in the hostel at the old Master’s House. 

Then, after a year in Galway, I developed grandiose notions of belonging to the B&B set.

That didn’t work out well at all.

A stubborn and foolish man driven by the idea of a cooked breakfast, I’d forced myself out of bed after a long afternoon and longer night before.

Kings, Newman's, The Pier, Oliver’s, back to Newman’s.
You’re familiar with the way it works. 

My messed-up morning brain was perfectly mirrored by the low cloud drizzle swamping and subduing Cleggan Bay. Heading into the dazzling lights of the Dining Room, I was blissfully unaware that my T-shirt was on inside out and back to front.

The other residents sat at their tables, all clinky china and hushed tones, trying their best to ignore me.

Far from matters of mere sartorial elegance, I was having a great deal of trouble simply eating. Trying far too carefully to secure a piece of toast and fried egg onto my fork, I oops and steady now … there it goes.

At the precise moment I managed to fumble that eggy bready parcel into my mouth, an immaculately turned-out French couple glided into the Dining Room. 

A second’s glance deduced that these slickers had not been in the pub until early that morning. They’d invested in 8 hours kip and doubtless awoke refreshed, only to spritz their cheeks with atomized Evian water.

As if in an art gallery - or maybe a zoo! - they both stopped in their tracks to watch a piece of fried egg slowly slip from my mouth, ooze its way down my chin and drop back onto my plate.

Rather convenient, I thought to myself, no scraping of table cloth necessary, but the French were utterly horrified. They turned and walked out of the room, for some reason having lost their appetite.

Now everyone turned to look at me, in that straight-laced shirt collar out of the V-neck sweater kind of way.

Did I care?
Not while there was food to be eaten.

The rain continued to come down. All healthy intentions to climb hills and break a natural sweat were banished.

Back to Oliver’s, where the big screen was up. Galway were taking on Tipp in the All Ireland semi-final. Back then the Gaelic was all new to me, but you didn’t have to know the finer points of hurling to recognise one of the best sports on the planet.

Excitement expanded to explosive levels in the packed pub, as Galway confounded the tipsters. Every time a point was scored the place erupted, and when Galway scored a goal small riots broke out in various corners of the pub.

The place fell silent as Tipperary took the ball and ran towards the Galway goal, save for a tiny yet defiant female voice, rising from the middle of the crammed-in masses.

“Come on Tipp!”

Everyone laughed raucously. So different to my native England, nobody here booed or maligned her beyond gentle craic.

As a teenager in the 70s I’d never wear my Chelsea shirt in North or East London, so I was both delighted and shocked when I first saw Mayo kids going to school wearing Dublin jerseys.

In England that’d be cruising for a bruising, but here everybody stands together - although I suspect you’d be unlikely to find a Dublin shirt on a child in Kerry.

Galway won by two points on that August day in 1993, and I dutifully resigned myself to the ensuing celebrations.

We went on to lose the final to Kilkenny, but as I slosh down molluscs and black stuff with my mate, I’m absorbing the positive mood in the fresh Cleggan air.

Galway knocked out Tipp and the dreaded Cats are long gone.

Can’t wait for tomorrow! Come on Galway!

©Charlie Adley