Sunday 29 July 2018

I disappeared under a pyramid of plastic bottles!

The most astonishing thing about this long hot summer is how well the rest of the natural world has survived, compared to us. How puny we have become in our First World complacency, struggling to maintain water levels, while the native plants and trees around us grow and reproduce regardless.

As I look in wonder at their resilience I find comfort and reassurance. Evidently this kind of summer has been occurring in Ireland for centuries, otherwise local flora would perish.

Yes, your lawn is brown and your pot plants need help, because they are our artificial interpretations of the natural world.

There’s barely been a drop of rain for months, yet the willow still grows, below ground, as its extensive root systems endlessly seek out water. Wild roses love a drought, feeding our eyes with pink flourishes cascading over hedges and stone walls. 

Thistles, meadowsweet, willow herb and dandelion carry on unperturbed by lack of water, while the cow parsley and all forms of wild carrot seem to be thriving, offering delicate white umbrellas and domes that catch your eye in a breeze.

Some trees have clearly put early energy into fruiting. Having evolved to ensure the perpetuation of their species, when the rain disappears they react, apparently cutting back on trunk and leaf growth, while pumping up production of the next generation.

Two weeks ago I saw towering horse chestnut trees already laden with conkers, while the branches of holly trees are dangling under the weight of clumps of green berries.

The bracken has taken a bit of hit, browning and collapsing along the roadsides, but just above, on the bramble bushes, a plethora of delicate pinky-white flowers promise a rich harvest of blackberries this Autumn.

Would that were the case for the raspberries in the garden. The burst of flowers in Spring promised a bumper harvest, and then fruit started to form, grew into perfect plump raspberry forms only to turn brown, crisping into what I can only describe as raspnuts.


I could have saved them, had I watered them, but it didn’t feel like a responsible reaction. All around me other plants, flowers and shrubs are doing just fine, without a drop of rainfall’s aid. The fuchsia, forsythia and perennial sweet peas are flourishing, while the poppies, corncockles, nigella and cornflowers are in their element.

At the height of heatwave I spent a week in North Mayo, in a house up a hill and beyond a while. Daytime temperatures were around 30°c and on the third day of my stay, the well ran dry.

The following four days proved a shocking education for me, as I discovered how much water I use, even when I’m really trying to conserve it. 

Taking no showers, using the remains of the kettle to do the dishes and living by the old hippy adage of If it’s yellow let in mellow, if it’s brown flush it down, I quickly discovered my utter reliance on the tap; the useless empty tap that I turned on out of pure habit god knows how many times, even though I knew there was no water.

I love water. At home I have a pint glass of water beside me day and night, and if I’m out I’ll have a bottle of it with me. After a lifetime of turning on a tap to fill my glass with drinking water it proved instructive to know how it felt when no water poured forth.

Took a while to sink in though. Sometimes I’m not the fastest, but I get there in the end.

Using only what I felt was the absolute bare minimum, I started to disappear under a mountain of empty 5 litre water containers. By the time they formed a pyramid any pharaoh would be proud of, I was having nightmares about marine life and that area of plastic junk in the Pacific that’s bigger than Spain and France combined, so I took the old ones into the village and refilled them at the garage.

To be honest I was plain disgusted with how much water I needed, and after taking a wondrous shower at a friend’s house I watched slightly covetously as they used their taps with nary a care.

Thankfully I have travelled, so I’ve been to places where women are expected to walk for miles to collect water every day. After seeing that I always gave thanks in a tacit way for having running water, but now I feel extravagantly lucky, and so should you.

Now take a deep breath and sit through the bit where you get hit with lists of statistics. Hold that breath and stick with it this time though, because these aren’t stats about obesity or the dangers of smoking: this is about the stuff of life, and why you should appreciate the wonderful liquid coming out of your tap.

The average tap releases 2 gallons of water per minute, which is roughly what a resident of sub-Saharan Africa uses each day. 

Here in the EU we each use about 50 gallons of water a day, while in the USA they go through 100 gallons a day. 

A five-minute shower uses 10 to 25 gallons, while at one drip per second, a leaking tap wastes 3,000 gallons a year.

Before you start moaning about a hosepipe ban, spare a thought for those 844 million people who don’t have clean water, and the 2.3 billion people who don't have a decent toilet.

Consider the fact that every minute a newborn dies from infection caused by lack of safe water, and then look around, enjoy the plants that still stand proud, and give thanks for the water coming from your tap.

©Charlie Adley

Sunday 22 July 2018


I was updating my friend Whispering Blue on the latest predictable controversy raging around Galway City’s 2020 award.

“Ah don’t talk to me! Didn’t we lose the run of ourselves?” muttered the Galwegian.

There’s that expression again. I heard it often in 2009, spoken by others born here in the West of Ireland.

Didn’t like it then and don’t now. It implies we all have a station in life, to which we should adhere. 

Doubtless some might still put it down to keeping your head below the parapet, but there’s no Irishman I’ve ever met less likely to blame history, so what did Whispering Blue mean?

“Ah, you know Charlie, did we really need it?”

Did we need it? Did Galway City need to be awarded the title of European Capital of Culture 2020?

There I’d been when the announcements came in, dancing on Mainguard Street, deep inside the thronging mad mobs of joy that Galway City specialises in, and yay! We won! Galway is the best! I know it! You know and now the world will know it too!

While we drank in the excitement, the cynic in me hoped and then wrote of fears that this award might turn out to be yet another debacle, fuelled by hubris, wherein good local people get screwed while vast amounts of money disappear into offshore ethers.

Never once, ’til now, did I spare a thought for whether it was a good idea. My friend made a profound observation. 

Did Galway City really need it, and more importantly, did those who live here need it?

Depends on your priorities. If you seek only the bottom line, the profit margin, then yes, the possibilities are indeed tempting. If you value what makes Galway great, which is you, the people, then the promise of 2020 starts to diminish.

I’ve always loved the people of cities in western bays. There’s a certain liberality, acceptance and hedonism shared by the people of Bristol, San Francisco and Galway; a wondrous blend of world-weary locals with wit and a strong sense of the absurd, to better handle their city’s storms, floods or earthquakes.

They share their home cities with hordes of blow-ins such as myself, many of artistic bent, who drifted through their youths unsure what they were searching for, until they found it here.

Characters, Connemara, compassion and craic.

Those always were the ingredients of Galway and they still are, but during the 26 years I’ve lived here, this city and region has undergone a transformation, socially and politically.

The lads back in ’92 were forever telling me that I wouldn’t believe the changes they‘d seen in Galway. With pride and unabashed enthusiasm they declared their home town was Europe’s fastest growing city, and Europe’s youngest city.

Since then the place has exploded. Way back in August 2000 this colyoom asked:“Galway - a place with tourists, or just a tourist place?”

Now every day looks like Saturday in town, and while that’s great for the local economy, maybe it’s not so wonderful for locals.

Traffic congestion is now the first thing people think of when they hear Galway mentioned on the radio, followed by the fact that nobody can afford to live here any more. 

We’ve students sleeping homeless in Eyre Square while landlords clean up on air bnb. Our hospitals cannot cope with the numbers swamping them.

Should we continue to embrace 2020, with its tenuous offer of wealth for all? 

Or, instead of this rampant quest for global visibility - in which I confess I was caught up - should we now focus our energy and funds, and apply them to making this city work for those who already live here, and those just arriving off the bus?

The sexing of Galway started in the 1980s, when Ollie Jennings kick-started the Arts Festival with Pádraic Breathnach. Everything that made this city great came from our streets and people, yet have we now, as my friend suggested, lost the run of ourselves?

Have we have been blinded by the shiny blue logo, the glory and greenbacks, when really the last thing Galway needs is more?

From its street-rich grass-root beginnings the Galway International Arts Festival has grown into an incredibly successful corporate entity, but on a solely personal level, I feel it has been, as my late father used to say, “Destroyed by progress.”

With the inevitable lifestyle and financial costs to locals of 2020, what I fear now is that Galway City itself will lose its heart and soul. My mate claims that’s already long gone, but I beg to differ. 

As an outsider it’s easier for me to appreciate everything about Galway. I believe that it’s not too late to cling to the wreckage and rebuild, if we are careful about what is special here.

In our haste to sell Galway’s uniqueness, we risk in the process turning the city into a sad bland corporate entity.

We could relinquish the title. We could say no, thanks all the same, let Rijeka in Croatia enjoy the honour alone, but we won’t. 

The stats say that 80% of Capitals of Culture believe they benefitted from the experience. Maybe, but Galway’s never been 80% of anywhere else. 

If 2020 succeeds it will be through engagement with individually brilliant Galwegians, and should it collapse and fail, it will be, as always, local graft and genius who save this city.

Galway was, is and hopefully always will be Ireland’s capital of culture. 

We don’t need to be told we’re great. 

We already know.

©Charlie Adley

Sunday 8 July 2018


I’ve temporarily transported myself to a house atop a mighty hill, high above Lackan Bay, north Co. Mayo.

"Beyond the Black Stump!" as my Aussie friends say.

The universe has been inordinately kind to me at a time of great need. I think 15 years ago I very briefly met the woman who owns this house, but she doesn’t remember.

More to the point, she doesn’t care.

Explaining who I am to her on the phone consisted solely of mentioning my friends here, in and around Killala.

In turn, I have grown to know her a little by looking at the books that line her windowsills, the seed packets on her shelves and her DVD library, which has sustained me through long midsummer evenings.

There is no TV and I have no desire to use the internet.

There come exceptionally few days in our lives when the universe wants nothing from us. It is even rarer that when those days come, we are able and eager to greet them, but this week that combination arrived together, which I greatly appreciate.

I very much like a window to write beside. Ideally it would be on my left, but directly in front is lovely too. 

Whoever designed this house understands windows, as through the one ahead of me here I see cattle grazing far away towering hillsides, long grasses waving in the wind, the tallest buttercups I’ve ever encountered and wild roses growing out of ancient hedges.

they understood windows...

One of my friends in Killala told me yesterday that she prefers to write in a windowless corner, and there you have it.

Neither of us is right or wrong. Apart from death there are no absolutes, so when I have described myself in this colyoom as weird, because I sometimes need to be alone, I confess now to being disingenuous.

Judge me weird or any way you want, but do not condemn me for mere introversion.

There are over three billion introverts on this planet right now. You might not know it, because we don’t tend to advertise meetings.

While my friend likes the austerity and enforced focus of a dark corner, I much prefer to lift my eyes; to visually escape out of this splendid window. A glance above the laptop, a few seconds to ease my frown and stretch my spirit.

The fine weather goes on. My personal definition of ‘heatwave’ is any indefinite period of time, a minute or a month, when it’s so hot I fail to function.

Last June, in Portugal’s Douro Valley, I sat on my voluptuous arse for an entire week. The minimum at night was 26°, each day rising to 39°. I’ll take anything in the 20s, unless it’s drenching humid, and I’m talking Miami, London and Athens here, not yer Sligo humid.

Today there’s a northerly breeze cutting through the fiery heat. This to me is perfect weather. The house is silent and for a short while I immerse myself in Arcadian peace. 

My favourite beach in the world is 15 minutes drive away, because I’m for the first time on the western side of Lackan Bay, in this house delivered by the universe, through tragic coincidence.

At night high pressure sunsets drench Killala bay with golden blood.

The beauty of this place is sumptuous.

In a wondrous parenthesis from trauma, my energy levels are still primed on adrenaline overdrive. I’ve been sleeping just enough to keep going, but today, on my third morning in this house, I’m feeling weak with tiredness.

Probably the result of the eight hours kip I managed last night. I reckon my brain copped on to the fact that the universe needs nothing from me this week, and tried to relax me prematurely.

There’s much to deal with in my short term future, but right now, I need nothing, save to arrive home safely on Saturday, ready to face reality once more.

Today I’m going nowhere. My car Joey SX has the day off. He deserves it, given the melting tar on the roads and bohreens round here.

Today I will walk and write and rest and be.

Just be.

Of course I need the company of loved ones, and am blessed beyond reasonable bounds to have so many, but put me in this house, an airport or a station and I’ll happily pass endless hours in relaxed and calm fashion.

Ever since my early childhood I’ve had the ability to space out, to stare at nothing in particular, while contemplating everything.

By the age of 10 I instinctively felt simultaneously as vital and as irrelevant as everything else.

All fascinates me.
Boredom is a stranger.

At school I was endlessly reprimanded for not paying attention, yet felt unjustly accused: I was paying attention. I’d been incredibly focused on the tall blade of grass outside the classroom window.

That solid plume of strong green stem and long single leaf, swaying in the breeze.

How old was it?
Why had it grown so much higher than the lawn from which it sprouted?
Had an animal poohed there and helped it grow?
How long was it going to survive, sticking out above all the other grass in that wind?
If I watched long enough would I see it fall over?

45 years later I’m distracted now, as my eyes stray once again to another window, where I catch a glimpse of a big brown rabbit hopping through the hillocks in the distance. 

They say it’s going to be 29º today.
It’s 1pm. I’ll walk later.
Time for a siesta.

Fill up the water glass first though.  
Oh bugger! The tap is dry!

No water.  

Drink. Shower. Loo.
Must go out and buy water.

Back to reality.

©Charlie Adley

Sunday 1 July 2018


It’s that moment which comes when you’re 37, sitting at the breakfast table. It comes when you’re 17, talking on the phone. It comes while you’re at work, and it comes while you lie on the grass in the garden.

That moment which at first you imagine must be some kind of joke. 

It’s not real, not happening to you, not today. 

After all, today is a normal day. 
You have plans. 

Tonight you’re going out for a drink, or this afternoon your mummy has promised that she will at last teach you how to ride your bicycle, or you’re on the way to the hospital to see your father.

That moment is not fussy about who it visits or when. Young, old, male, female, it does not discriminate. Like the air we breathe, it exists among us always; invisible; by its very nature visiting when least expected.

As soon as you realise you cannot ignore that moment, that it’s really true and truly happening, it overwhelms you.

Adrenaline swamps your body.

Your heartbeat speeds.

Your breathing becomes short.

Muscles in your chest tighten.

Apparently independent of your volition, tears suddenly fall from the outside edges of your eyes, yet it is far too soon to weep properly.

That time will come, but now, as that moment makes its impact, you are propelled into shock, your body and mind erasing all the centuries and subtleties of evolution, returning to its prime survival state.

Regardless of how strong, weak, healthy or infirm we might be, in its first minutes that moment is stronger than each of us, delivering identical blows to our bodies, minds and souls.

If you are young or have led a lucky life, the next time that moment comes may be your first. If, like me, you are not young and have led a precarious life, then that moment arrives with a tiny sliver of familiarity.

Experience is usually a useful tool, but where that moment is concerned, it offers only the clichéd blessing and curse.

At first you appreciate the blessing that you have experienced that moment before; that you know you are in a state of emotional shock, and that is helpful, because you know for a short while your mind will feel strangely empty.

Any thoughts not wholly concerned with your immediate situation will be held back.

Your body is armed with adrenaline, highly oxygenated blood and engorged muscles, yet your mind is stifled by the stench of dread. 

You know that there are all of a sudden an unknown mass of things that demand to be dealt with, yet simultaneously, you also know that while you are in shock, you will not be able to deal with any of them.

Your ‘fight or flight’ mechanism is temporarily in complete control. 

Every cell in your body is now primed to aid your survival, and the choice of which course you follow depends on who you are.

In the coming days your experience of having encountered that moment before becomes a curse, as you’re able to recognise the utterly confused state in which you find yourself.

Each time that moment arrives it is different, so even though you understand some of the symptoms, this is an entirely new challenge.

As the initial shock gradually dissipates, the blinding life-stalling fog becomes merely a bewildering mental mist. That’s when you’ll discover that your concentration lies like a shattered stained glass window at the bottom of what was, a mere couple of days ago, your mind.

If like me you’ve experienced that moment before in your life, you will know that there comes now an unpredictable and immeasurable period of grieving. Be it a death, a divorce, a defeat, or any kind of life altering disruption, you know that you’ll have to go through the stages of grief.

There are lists on the internet and medical experts who insist that there are seven stages, and an order to them, but in my experience, that is tosh.

We are not machines. Each of us is excitingly and terrifyingly different. We harbour utterly unique life experiences, and it is facile to expect that each of us will deal with trauma in identical ways.

When my father died I experienced four of the stages: shock, anger, depression and acceptance, but there was no trace of the other three; no bargaining, denial or testing.

The stages that did afflict me came as they are coming now, not in order but here and gone, an hour of this and a day of that.

Then again, as I write this, I’m aware that moment came into my life only a few days ago, so I cannot know what lies ahead. The stages will do what they will to me, and I will accept them as they come, because the fact our brains find it essential to deliver them makes me believe they serve a purpose.

This time I’ll need neither bargaining nor denial, but beyond that all is a mystery. Right now my up is down, west east, but however drastic life can be, I can always give thanks.

I am an incredibly lucky man, with a fabulously supportive family and an extravagance of incredible friends.

Their love has been my fuel and I yearn for the day when my tank is replenished enough to be able to thank them sufficiently.

Ideally I’ll never have to support them in the same way, but that moment comes in its own way to us all, and when it does, I will be there for them.

All I do know right now is that when my distance from that moment is sufficient, I will find a new peace.

©Charlie Adley

It's time to get over Thierry's handball!

Love, peace and handball buddies by Allan Cavanagh. See more of his artwork at at

Let’s make a deal, in an attempt to live in the present: if I don’t mention England’s World Cup victory in 1966, you’ll move on from Ireland’s Euro 88 victory over England in Stuttgart.

Actually that’s slightly disingenuous of me, because I never mention 1966, save for exploding with exasperation that the English media are still going on about it.

It’s incredibly sad the way both the English and Irish hang on to their far-distant footballing glories, while the Irish have unique abilities in the grudge bearing department. 

If I ever hear another word about Thierry Henry’s handball, it’ll be centuries too soon.

Yes it was painful, awful and all that, but he didn’t score a goal with his hand. He just bundled the ball towards William Gallas. 

Horrible, illegal, wrong: yes, all of the above, but he didn’t punch the ball into the back of the net, and - sorry about this! - it was a qualifying play-off, not the quarter finals of the World Cup.

When Diego Maradona suddenly found his fist possessed by a holy force, his country had been licking their Malvinas/Falkland wounds for 4 years. His Hand of God goal against England was revenge delivered cold.

Anyway, a mere four minutes later Maradona erased debate, by dribbling past five England players (Terry Butcher twice) and scoring on the greatest stage one of the finest goals the sport had ever seen.

Unlike the Irish government, who after Henry's handball asked FIFA if Ireland could enter the World Cup as an unprecedented 33rd team, the English did what they always do: soak it up, spit it out in vile tabloid headlines, burn a few cars in Nottingham and come to terms with the fact that they were beaten by a better team.

Like Iceland.

Thank you Iceland! Your steadfast skills and thunderous grunt handclap killed off any traces of English self-delusion that survived their feeble 2014 World Cup experience.

Even more than expectation, for decades England teams carried a sense of entitlement. After all, didn’t we invent the game of football, so isn't it our natural birthright to beat Johnny Foreigner soundly on his or her sporting backside?

Winning the World Cup in 1966 didn’t create that mindset: it simply reinforced in gold what the nation believed, ever since the sun set on the Empire in 1948.

Talking of empires, what a tragedy that the world’s favourite game and this World Cup are run respectively by a power-hungry venal organisation and a tyrannic despot.

Some might think tragedy too strong a term, but consider the scope of influence of this game

In the favelas of Brazil, the backstreets of the Ivory Coast and lesser-known parts of Laois, toddlers learn to kick a ball, win attention and applause while exercising in the most thrilling way. Football offers the unique chance of a lifestyle beyond the bounds of reasonable dreams.

At the other end of the socio-economic ladder, football also enchants the über-rich. In April 2003 a Russian billionaire watched David Beckham and the Brazilian Ronaldo scored five goals in Real Madrid’s Champions League victory over Manchester United.

That day he fell in love with football, went off and bought my beloved Chelsea FC. Truly Roman Abramovich must be an optimist, as well as lover of the game, as he’s watched just about every Chelsea game since, and he’s still around.

Well, he is now, after taking Israeli citizenship, so that he can get into the UK. Russians have felt an English cold shoulder since that nerve agent attack.

Strange that Russia is allowed to invade Crimea and Eastern Ukraine and threaten the Baltic States, but when an ex-spy cops it on a bench in Wiltshere, all hell breaks loose.

That’d be because like FIFA, Putin is unassailable.  
Both are supreme rulers of their particular universe.

Both are unapologetic about their methods, decadently rich and interested only in further expanding their power, whatever the human cost.

Hence, as football fans we have no choice but to accept that this World Cup is taking place in a dictatorship, and that the next, given the number of  nations who love the game and deserve to host it, has been awarded to one of the least worthy countries on earth.

What a tragic shame that the sport which honestly claims to be the people's game has been royally hijacked by unaccountable elites. Us lovers of the Beautiful Game have no choice but to accept that, sing ourselves a rousing chorus of

“Que sera sera, whatever will be will be!”

and move on, just as the Irish need to forget Thierry’s digits and the English Diego’s divinity.

That just leaves Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal against the Germans, in the 2010 World Cup. The one that was a full two feet over the line; the goal that was instrumental in FIFA adopting technology.

When Frank equalised England had come back from 2-0 down and were playing better than our exalted opponents. It looked like we might make it to the Quarter Finals, but instead of 2-2 in the 39th minute, demoralised England collapsed to lose 4-1.

What’s that? 
You calling me a hypocrite for grizzling about the past?

No problem.

Just as Mourinho complains his opposition parked the bus, hypocrisy grips football like Luis Suarez’s teeth on defenders' bare flesh.

I’ll drop the Hand of God if you drop the Frenchman’s fumble, but Frank’s disallowed goal?

That’s different!

©Charlie Adley