Sunday 25 February 2018



I was on the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere between Sydney and Melbourne. Must have been 40°C in the sun, and although very familiar with hitching, I was new to Australia.

Glancing down at Blue Bag on the ground beside me, I saw it was crawling with thousands of ants. An hour earlier I’d laid a wrapped burger on top of my bag for about five seconds, but clearly that left enough scents of interest to alert these - ouch! - little biting bastards to swarm over my most treasured possession.

Lifting Blue Bag I shook it and swiped it, encouraging an expeditionary force of the formic acid carriers to crawl up my arm.

That was when the pain hit me. 

My gut 


and oh 
yes oh 
right now
urgently needing to 

void itself.

Natural ownership of my intestines had suddenly disappeared. They’d declared UDI and their contents were on a March for Freedom.

To my left, to my right, hundreds of miles of flat Australian beige scrubble.
Between them, a busy major road.

Nowhere to run, nowhere to pooh, except over there, a tatty old corrugated steel barn, so off I went, clenched of sphincter, to discover it actually had a toilet. 

The rest of the barn was exposed to the road, so there could be no commando ablutions. It had to be the little loo.

The dunny.



There was no room for Blue Bag, and even if there had been I’d not rest it there. That bag had sat on every surface known to man and nature, but this was alien.

A tiny cubicle with daylight only peeping in below the corrugated sheeting, the air was old, stagnant and roasting. 

Every single surface had been colonised by beast, bug, mould or fungus, and as soon as I closed the door, I started to sweat like a power shower.

I’d have done it anywhere else. Give me a bush to hide behind and I’m your sub-human, but I couldn’t bring myself to drop my kecks in full view of all those passing motorists.

Chroist there’s a Pom over there taking a shit on sacred Aboriginal land! Call the cops! Get the bum extradoited!”

Stumbling out into the fresh air (40°C never felt so cool!) I was delighted to find Blue Bag ant free. Three minutes later that heat had dried me out. I was empty, happy and on the road again.

Sadly though I wasn’t free of that dunny.

The smell; the heat; the corrupted foul marriages being forged in there, between the human, animal and plant kingdoms: it has stayed with me since 1984.

That’s why I wasn’t surprised when the memory of it rose into my mind, making me laugh out loud last week, while alone in a Co. Galway pub toilet.

You see, I’d been getting all grumpy and unnecessary with the working of this Gents. All swish and modern, with polished surfaces and under doo-daa lighting, it caused me to raise my eyebrows when I first walked in.

Just a few years ago this very shiny Gents had been Da Jacks: that stalwart bastion of rural Irish pub attitude, with dead flies on the windowsills, cobwebs in the corners and a good millimetre of dried yellow scale under the collective trough.

Now, like wow, it looked so good, but that’s the point.
It just looked it.

The old jacks had a turn tap, with a lump of soap and a rotary towel. You could wait for the water to heat up, use the soap and wash properly, then pull down a foot of pristine cotton and dry your hands.

Instead I found myself playing an absurd game which involved running up and down, hitting three hot taps on three basins so that I could get enough water to wash my hands, before the timey thing ran out on the rising faucets.

Five seconds of tepid water doesn’t do it for me. I understand the pain in the hole it is for landlords when someone floods the bathroom, by leaving the tap on, but please, ease up on the tap technology, especially as so many pubs are trying to flog us food these days. 

If there’s cooking and eating going on, give hygiene a chance, eh?

At least there’s the electric hand drier. 
Surely that must be an improvement on that old towel nonsense? 

Sadly, no. Most of the electric hand driers we encounter emit a delicate and gentle kiss of sparrow’s fart, which would take several centuries to dry your hands, so instead we end up wiping them on the back of our jeans.

Well, I do.

At the other end of the scale come the skin shrinkers. Their pummelling blasts dry your hands quickly, leaving them feeling warm and lovely.

Unfortunately, in the process, they have also scattered infected faecal droplets of water all over your hands, arms and face, as well as Jackson Pollocking all the surrounding walls.

The Dyson goes one better, by needing you to slide your hands in and out of a slat.  Rather like one of those old fairground games, where you had to guide the ball along the curvy metal line without touching it, you must dangle your hands in and out of the drier without coming into contact with the plastic, as that tiny area has been touched by every single hand that’s passed this way.

What was wrong with the rotary towel? They cry about the environmental and monetary costs of laundry, but what about the manufacture and running costs of these electric jet streams drying your pinky?


Then I remembered that microwave of an Aussie dunny and all was good. 

What a spoilt brat I can be sometimes. 
This is a wonderful loo.

Don’t much fancy ordering food, though.

©Charlie Adley

Sunday 18 February 2018

Is there anything greater than a lifetime of friendship?

I had bit of a moment back in 2012. Standing at the back of the little upstairs bar in the Róisín Dubh, I was listening to Tuam songwriter Seamus Ruttledge explain that this charity gig had been organised by Conor ‘Monty’ Montague, his old friend from way back in the early 90s.

Way back?

But I was there, then, meeting them both. Writing columns under noms de plumes Freebase Kevin, Swami ben Carpenter and Pink O’Bum, I was part of Seamus’s freebie rag, which was locked in a minor battle with another Galway newspaper.

Here were these local boys saying they had been friends forever and I, a mere blow-in, had been part of it too, 20 years before.

Truly, I am a man blessed by friendship. To my English heart, these good men were part of a group I considered to be new friends.

I had not grown up with them. I had not shared my life with them from the age of 13 onwards, as I have with my friends from London. 

A few are now scattered around the globe, but the vast majority of these lifetime friends still live in England’s capital, at addresses that have not changed, with telephone numbers that I know off by heart, engraved on my cerebellum during crazier years, when all was in flux.

A truly amazing bunch of people, now many parents and grandparents, we all live separate lives, but still keep in touch and meet up every now and then, for either gentle visits or lairy reunions.

Even better, when we see each other or even speak on the phone, there is no question of having to explain yourself in any way. We know each other far too well to need preambles.

Alongside our families we are the foundation stones that support each others’ lives, offering profound and unique comfort, love and joy throughout the entirety of our collective lives.

Best of all, we know that the rest are there. As a man living a blow-in existence, far from family, the knowledge of their presence gives me great comfort. 

 A Good Friday gathering circa 1980 something... I wondered where the Guru was, until I spotted the red shoes on the left, and the fact that everyone
is listening to someone...!

Yet I've been blessed all over again, by the friends I’ve made beyond England. 

Online I’m now able to keep in touch with  friends that I made working at the University of San Francisco, while several of my Australian mates seem ever eager to share England’s Ashes defeats with me. Old friends from my youth work days stay in touch on Facebook and yes, new relationships are rarely yet sometimes spawned in my comments boxes.

Visits and real contact are rare and special, but the best friends to have today are the ones on your doorstep, and there again I have been exceptionally lucky.

A wave of English blow-ins swept into Galway during those early 90s. I washed up in a tiny house in Salthill, crammed under low ceilings and mouldy crumbling walls with two other Englishmen, large both physically and in personality, while next door was a 24 hour Party House of mayhem and madness.

If you didn't want to meet an Irish person you really didn’t have to, but I hadn’t hitched from Malaga to Galway to hang out with a crusty from Surrey. 

 Check out your scribbler's magnificent 1970s Jewfro!

Thankfully one night Blitz approached me in the Jug O’Punch and introduced me to The Body, while back in their gaff Whispering Blue had just returned from Berlin and was kipping on the sofa.

Only a few minutes was needed in town with any of those lads to understand that life here in Galway was unlike anywhere I’d ever lived. I’d seen 4 continents, where in small rural communities everyone knew each other, while in cities nobody did, because that’s how you survived.

Yet here was a city where everyone knew everyone They had grown up together, lived amongst each other, and Howyas flew constantly in all directions.

Even though the lads could not have done one single thing to make me feel more welcome, I felt constantly then - and now - a blow in.

Believe me, sometimes that is no bad thing, yet at others so strange. I feel neither less nor worse in any way, simply aware that, just as I have my lifelong friends back in London, Galwegians have their lifetimes living around them.

Why this now? Well one afternoon a few weeks ago I was sitting outside Neactains with two friends, both of whom worked behind the bar of an Tobar back in 1992.

One of them I know very well, while the other I admire and and respect. As they sat and swapped stories I gave up trying to know who was that and when did they do what, as the boys were off in a time and place of their own.

It is genuinely lovely to listen as two people share a myriad of lost laughs together. I experience it often when with my Galway brethren. It reinforces my feeling of foreignness in no bad way.

I have my own crew who know me that well, and in between I have all the other new friends, melded into my life during decades in Ireland.

Old housemates, firm and forever; ex-colleagues and bosses now much easier to chill with as peers; the triumvirate brotherhood with Angel and Yoda; a good chunk of a village in North Mayo; tea and buns with Dalooney and a couple of hedonistic reprobates in Clifden who I love dearly, and of course the Snapper, my most loyal and most loved friend.

I’ll always be a blow-in, and that’s just fine, because your old friends are like mine in London.

Fortified by them, I’m privileged to be able to say I’ve known my Galwegian friends for 25 years.

How lucky am I, to consider them my new friends?

©Charlie Adley

Sunday 11 February 2018


Tucked in behind the stack of dinner dishes sits an empty bottle of fabric conditioner. Well, I say empty, but there’s half a centimetre of pink Lenor at the bottom, growing slowly as the fluff-giving liquid slides down the sides of the bottle.

If the Snapper were doing dishes tonight, she’d wash out the bottle and lid and leave them to dry on the draining board.

I pick it up, scrunch it and chuck it in the landfill bin. Then I rinse out the two empty two litre bottles of Diet Coke that were standing by the Lenor and leave them to dry.

What am I up to? Not too sure, to be honest, because matters Green fire up constant conflict in my brainbox.

I feel no confusion over my intentions towards the environment. Willing to acknowledge that my presence on this planet causes harm, I strive to create eco-ambitions that make sense to me.

For a long time a strongly cynical part of me has wondered if our Irish multi-bin systems really do any good.

I’m sure that the food waste, tea bags and egg boxes I tip onto my compost heap will return something to the plant world. Yet I wonder how much of what we recycle at home ends up crushed into a massive cube of shite, which is then loaded onto a container ship with hundreds of similar shitey cubes, sailed around the world and dumped off the coast of Bangladesh, where desperately impoverished locals try to salvage a wretched living off our waste.

I’ve always suspected there’s an element of psychological warfare behind our wheelie bins. Compared to the amount of waste created by industry and commerce, our domestic detritus feels almost insignificant, yet as long as we do our bit, we feel okay.

We all know we have to contribute to the saving of the planet, so if we’ve washed out our cans of baked beans and placed everything in the right bin in the correct way, we can feel we’ve done everything we can.

If we go through this palaver each day we’re allowed to forget about the planet with a clean conscience. We need not worry our silly heads with the mass pollution created by industry, because we’ve put our newspapers into the blue bin.

Are we just being placated: fooled into thinking we’ve done enough?
If you’re finding it hard to take ecological sermonising from the bloke who just put a dirty plastic bottle into the landfill bin: welcome to my world.

Riddled with distrust of those who sell to us and govern us, I instead devise random rules of recycling. The clean Diet Coke bottles required no soap to clean out. A quick sloosh with the water and they’re off to recycling, but that yucky leftover fabric conditioner was going to go down the plug hole. 

It would need hot water to wash out, which uses up electricity, and then I’d be pouring phosphates and all sorts of crap into the drains; the septic tank; Lough Corrib; the Atlantic Ocean.

What is point of damaging our local environment just so that I can obey the rules? (why use the Lenor at all, I hear you cry!)

In the same way, I’m buggered if I’m going to use pints of hot water and Fairy Liquid to wash out a jar of peanut butter, just so that it can go in the glass recycling.

There’s no shortage of sand in the world. I worked for a while for the Glass Manufacturers Federation and I can tell you: we’re doing those lads a great favour.

My head spins like a windmill blade as I listen to greeny types giving out about wind farms. Of course powerful rulings about how far they must be built from housing need to be adhered to, but what would they rather have? 

Peat farms destroying Ireland’s great bogs and clean air?  
Nuclear power, perhaps?

I fear that all this legislation in favour of electric cars is nothing but a one-way street to a nuclear future. In 2017 there were 31.7 million cars on the roads of the UK, yet their government plan to rid their country of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040. Where is all the electricity going to come from?

Talk of clean electric cars utterly bamboozles me. How is electricity a clean energy? Even if, in 20 years, renewable and recoverable sources provide all the UK’s domestic output, that leaves a heck of a lot of cars needing charging.

Inevitably that will be when nuclear energy returns from moral exile.

At least with nuclear power we can be absolutely certain of one thing: it will go wrong. There will be a disaster which will wreck our lives and the environment.

I love the idea of wind farms and tidal energy, but we also need to ensure that in our eagerness to save our environment, we’re not screwing up the one beneath the sea.

Having already bleached much of the planet’s coral reef, we need to look out for the oceans. Wind turbines create noise that interferes with many aspects of marine life, particularly cetacean navigation. Humpback whales lose their ability to migrate. Dolphins pods become beached.

Is there anything more terrifying and disgusting than that vast artificial island of plastic drifting around the Pacific Ocean? An evil country in search of an owner, nobody takes responsibility or funds an expedition to clean it up.

What could possibly be more important to our ecosystems and climate than ridding the oceans of plastic?

Hmmm, yeh.

Right now, that might be me going back to my bin and taking out that bottle of Lenor.

Think of the poor fish, Adley.

Sorry, septic.
Sorry, Lough Corrib.

Holy microbeads, this recycling business sure is confusing!

©Charlie Adley

Sunday 4 February 2018

Is Ireland becoming more modern than England?

While I loved my travelling years I carried much more of a burden than the weight of Blue Bag on my shoulder. At the tender age of 17 I discovered that an Englishman abroad has much to prove to the world. 

The drivers who helped me on my way as I hitched around France uniformly imagined I was German, because I spoke French.

“Non, je suis Anglais.”

As a student of history at school I knew we had plenty of it with the French, but naively imagined that because we’d liberated their country 30 years before, they might show some generosity of spirit to the English.

Silly me.

Gladly I did share much love and generosity with the French, but that was as an individual, after I’d found out how to shrug off my Englishness.

As the decades and continents went by I grew weary of that process. Time after time I was charged with the slaughter of however many thousands or millions the British Empire took from that particular part of the globe.

Yes I know, it was appalling, but you see: I wasn’t there. 

Over and over again I said it, car after bus after plane; town after village after city; relentless, just about anywhere and everywhere in the world.

Gradually my response reduced to an aggressive tone of voice delivering a defensive reaction:

“Not me mate. Wasn’t there.”

As is the way with the human condition, the more people accused me of evildoings by spurious historical proxy, the more I dug my heels in.

I wouldn’t apologise to them for being English. Of course there’s no excuse for what happened with the Empire, but as I said umpteen times, not me mate, wasn’t there.

Secretly, I felt a perverted and wholly immoral pride. This itsy bitsy country took over a third of the entire world? Coal, steel and misguided ambition, allied to the fact that English soldiers could thrive in any weather conditions and live without sex for months, while any food they ate would be better than what they’d get back home.

Cracking jokes about the British Empire to Irish readers?

You might be forgiven for seeing no humour in it, yet in the same way that I have tried to rise above my native country’s history, the Irish are now emerging from their historical hatreds and latent loathings.

Tragically I probably now suffer less historical abuse from the locals, because those of a racist bent have in Ireland these days others more different in appearance to vent their vile spleens upon.

I remember the farmer leaning on the gate a few years ago, trying to bond with me in exactly the wrong way.

“Ah but y’see, Charlie, they’re not the same as you and me.”

This from the man who’d spent the previous three years endlessly haranguing me in the pub about my nationality, now hoping to bond because we were both white.

I’d never apologise for being British. I’m proud to be British. I’m proud of a country that has given the world constitutional democracy, football, the internet and Strictly.

How can I not feel pride when I think of England’s stand against the nazis? While ye lads were euphemising about an emergency and your enemy’s enemy being your friend, our grandfathers fought fascism.

What’s not to be proud of in that?

My heart pumps when I think of July 5 1948, the day the National Health Service was born.

Aneurin Bevan launched the manifestation of a unique and wondrous dream: to give the British people one organisation that included hospitals, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, opticians and dentists, to provide services free to all.

Civilisation should be determined by what we can do for those able to do less. With the launch of the world’s first Welfare State and the NHS, England proved to be a most compassionate country, whose government genuinely hoped to improve the lives of the masses.

As Irish people anywhere in the world (with the possible exception of England!) you will be received with joy and comradeship. 

As an Englishman, I feel there’s much to be proud of, but also I fear that while Ireland is emerging from history, shaking off those hair shirts and miserable chains of bondage, England is rapidly descending into its past.

When I moved in 1992 to the West of Ireland I saw England as the modern world, and this place a beautiful anachronistic backwater.

Now there are 2,000 food banks in England. The country which created welfare is relying on the compassion of the general public to feed their poor.

When there’s a rise in Social Welfare payments in this country, the compassionate people of Ireland make no noise, save to celebrate what they see as a sign that things are improving.

A surefire way to win votes in England is to promise to cut the dole. Universal Credit is not only the disgrace of this Tory government. It’s also an indictment of everyone who voted them in.

As Ireland finally to clambers into the modern world with the legalisation of divorce, marriage equality and soon a woman’s right to choose, England shrinks back behind its borders, dreaming of the glory left scattered on those Normandy beaches.

While the older English decide that all their ills are the fault of others from outside, young people overwhelmingly voted against Brexit, so there is hope for the future.

Here in Ireland, youth counts for a massive third of the population. For the first time in 25 years it feels to me as if I might now be living in the more modern country.

©Charlie Adley