Sunday 27 January 2019

A long way from everywhere, yet not far from anywhere!

There’s an old Yiddish proverb that says: when you don't know where you're going, every road will take you there.

Telling myself that not knowing where I was going was really just being open-minded about where I live, I scoured four property websites every night for months, searching the entire counties of Mayo, Galway and Clare.

Served notice to leave, I had to go. Part of me wanted to anyway. Right now I need a sanctuary; a healing place.

My home is just too important. I’m incapable of deciding, in less time than I spend trying on new boots, if a house can become be the home in which I’ll be happy to work and live.

I get all panicky and tongue-tied, so when I first went to look at this house, I bought my friend Whispering Blue.

He’s visited all my homes in Ireland.

I knew he’d know.
It was the right price, but was it right?

“It has a good feel about it, Charlie. It’s very you.”

I’m so lucky to have friends I trust implicitly.

Done deal, so I’ve gone, this time heading inland for my first time in Ireland.

While the edges of countries are naturally the most exciting places, bustling with trade, culture and tourism, I often feel the true essence of a country, be it bland, bilious or brilliant, lies in its middle.

I’m excited to find out, but at my own pace.
Oy. This wandering Jew’s road has been winding.

It started in the leafy North West London suburb of Stanmore, where I was born into a big house with a fabulous garden.

When I was ten we moved into a terraced quasi-Georgian in a cul-de-sac, and 10 years later shifted to a smaller bungalow around the corner, where my mother still lives.

From there I moved to Cambridge, where I shared a filthy flat over a chemist's shop with my much-missed friend Jon. Young lads eager to break our umbilicals, the place was littered with Scalextric tracks, empty KFC buckets and gallons of home-brewed beer.

Moving back to London in ’83 I made a wad of dosh marketing for a Japanese company, while sharing a flat in Highgate with a Canadian ballet dancer.

She used to stand in the kitchen with her ankle on her head.

Disenchanted with the corporate world, I wandered the world, landing in a friend’s luxury home with swimming pool in a posh Melbourne suburb.

There I worked in a garage, doing up cars and generally ladding it up Aussie style for a good while.

Back in London by ‘85, I decided to take the scribbling seriously. After three years writing in a tatty old flat in Golders Green, NW11, I left the prohibitively expensive capital city for what was then the cheapest place in England: Bradford, West Yorkshire.

A year at Nurser Place in a very pleasant 3-bedroomed terrace, shared with friends and loved ones, was followed by a brief yet intense period of madness.

Then I had two years in a decrepit damp old terraced house in Ellercroft Road, which I shared with 32,000 mice and two longhaired DJs from hell.

Escaping England on a one-way ticket to Malaga in 1992, I hitched to Barcelona and enjoyed a splendid Olympic summer, living in my friend’s duplex above the gentle old plaza-strewn streets of Gracia.

I loved Catalunya but it wasn’t home, so I hitched over the Pyrenees, up through France, and took the boat from Roscoff to Cork City.

In Kinsale I worked as a kitchen porter while living in a hostel, going gently yet certainly mad from sleep deprivation and split shifts.

Hitching north, I ended up in Salthill, where for a year my tiny house turned into a 24 Hour Party Pandemonium, so another move, just around the corner, to the anodyne, warm yet fireplace-free flats of Church View Mews.

Fleeing the city madness I headed west to my soul’s own country, Connemara, where I lived blissfully, on the shore of Lough Anaserd, until I fell in love.

Deserting Ireland, I moved to San Francisco's Lower Haight, an area back then decadent enough to make me feel welcome.

A month later I moved to a very grand apartment on Fell Street, near Golden Gate Park. Although there was, as the locals put it, an awesome sweep to those hardwood floors, there were also problems with my relationship with America.

Tragically a move 65 miles north, to tiny Occidental in Sonoma County’s magnificent Redwood Empire came too late.

Much damage was done, and I returned to Ireland finally aware that I belong here, anywhere west, from Cork to Donegal.

I’d not stray again.

After two years in a crazy haunted and magical house in the Claddagh, I moved to wonderful Killala, north Mayo, into a lovely warm old farmhouse, where I was ecstatically happy for more than three years.

Sadly, by the middle of the fourth I started to feel lonely, as people seldom came round.

Then, on my very last night in the house, half the village arrived to throw me a surprise leaving party.


It was absolutely exceptional and glorious.

All my glasses were packed in boxes, but not for long. I woke the next day to find one character sleeping face down in my bath.

Back to Salthill for 2 years in a one-bedroom house, followed by 6 in a grand Rockbarton terrace just off the Prom, and then 7 years beside Lough Corrib, a half an hour from Galway.

What a journey!

From my new home it’s an hour and 10 minutes to the Coolagh roundabout, so I’ll be down every week.

You don’t get rid of me that easily!

Where am I living?

Well, now that I’m officially Irish as well as English, I’ll obfuscate the details by delving into your native love of paradox.

My new home is a long way from everywhere, yet not far from anywhere.

©Charlie Adley

Sunday 20 January 2019


Early Saturday morning and I’m sitting in the pub. Everyone needs a treat once in a while, and I make sure to enjoy my weekly cooked breakfast without guilt, much to the annoyance of my arteries.

Yet today, as I survey the plethora of plates laid around the table, I’m twitching and perplexed.

What’s with all these serviettes?

Don’t get me wrong. I can be a right clumsy oaf, well capable of knocking over cups, spilling bottles and sliding my elbow through food on plates you didn’t even know were there, so I’m delighted that there’s a serviette under my cutlery.

I can even understand the serviette sitting between the teapot and its saucer, because those little metal teapots can present a heck of a challenge when pouring.

If you just lift them willy-nilly and thoughtlessly try pouring tea straight into the cup, the tea will run out of the pot’s spout and then, as if the pot emitted the gravitational force of a small planet, the liquid will cling to the pot and flow in a small tidy line down to the bottom of the pot and onto the table.

Serviette time.

Ah but your scribbler is ahead of the game. I raise the teapot up to eye level, grip the handle firmly between two fingers and holding the little blighter high over the centre of my tea cup, I pour a slow steady stream directly and accurately straight into the cup below.

Tea is important. It’s the rarest of things, fundamental to the essence of culture in both my native England and adopted Ireland.
Anyway, the tea is well-behaved and in my cup where it belongs. No spillages, no serviettes necessary.

There’s a serviette under the saucer upon which sit the little bottles of jam, marmalade and butter. There’s a serviette between the china bowl of saucy ketchup and mayonnaise sachets and the saucer underneath. There’s a serviette under the salt and pepper jars, which also sit on a saucer.

None of this offends me in the slightest, although it makes me wonder about resources and waste, and ponder about extra work for serving staff.

Then there’s the yuk, the really yuckkety poopers, which is the serviette underneath my hot toast, which is now disintegrating, and in the process rather unpleasantly proving itself to be less paper napkin and more some kind of evil plastic/paper hybrid, that is presently both crumbling onto the plate below, while kind of melting into my toast.

What with all the serious suffering going on around us, there’s no way I’m going to sit here and give out about how the serviette screwed up my slices of brown pan, because I don’t live in a world where that matters very much.

No, I’m much more concerned about where this mass serviette behaviour comes from and what mentality it represents.

This place is far from the only establishment currently guilty of serviette excess. Everyone’s at it. I wouldn’t be surprised if next week the checkout bloke in the garage passes me the credit card zapper with a serviette underneath it.

At this point you’re probably wondering what the hell the problem is with serviettes. Who cares about the bloody serviettes?

I don’t, but the statement behind their overuse is significant. We live in the West of Ireland, where historically life has been tough. These counties endured a holocaust during the great famine, and as a result there’s a strong ethic here of waste not want not.

If you’re a guest in a house in Connacht you’re expected to clear your dinner plate, even if there’s potato cooked five different ways and half a ton of swede.

When the Irish economy booms we in the West enjoy only a few drops of the sweat flipped off the foreheads of dancing Dubs. A boom in the West is when there’s no mass poverty here; when most of us can afford to live without financial fear.

That’s as good as it gets here, for most of us. That’s what constitutes good times west of the Shannon.

Well, financially. What makes the West the best is that we don’t need money to have a good time.

Yet now, there are serviettes everywhere.

Not all are cheap and noxious. Some are high class triple-ply numbers in rich burgundy hues, so posh that you’d think twice before wiping the melted cheese off your mouth onto one.

Whatever they’re made of, this blanket use of serviettes is an ostentatious display, representing a delusional attitude to our economic situation.

After the last crash there were many voices, from townlands to cities, complaining that we’d lost the run of ourselves; that for some reason we’d overdone the good times.

Not me. I believe we all deserve to live large if we want to, but right now we are not in a boom. Kabillions in debt has been swept under the carpet for your grandchildren to pay off, and while house prices and rents are through the roof, nobody (save for the usual suspects) is getting rich.

Yet for some reason the ether feels that good times have come again.

Aren't we one of the fastest growing economies in the EU?
Let’s cover the place in serviettes to show we can afford to splurge that bit extra now.
Sure, isn’t it mighty that things are great again!

Sorry to be a downer, but reality bites. Whatever form it takes, Brexit will devastate our economy. Like a ghost flying unwelcome through the door, it’ll instantly reduce Boom to “Boo!”

Then we’ll see how many serviettes there are to waste.

©Charlie Adley

Sunday 13 January 2019


Come on. No good sitting here.

Time to get cracking.

If only I didn’t feel so lethargic.

My body is telling me to rest and my mind isn’t exactly fighting the idea either, but rest is not on my menu today.

I’m truly tempted to stay here, sitting by the fire with my mate, who’s working his way through a backlog of Match Of The Days, but no.

I’m moving house in a couple of weeks so my mood is neither here nor there. Ideally I’d be leaping enthusiastically into this process, but after months of painful chaos I’m exhausted.

Challenges always feel less daunting when I’ve made a plan, which this time is mind-numbingly simple: do it room by room, carload by carload, until there’s only furniture left for the van.

Nobody’s going to do this for me, but how hard can it be? Muttering mantras about longest journeys and first steps, I head off to my bedroom to find and pack up the nooks and crannies of my life.

In a plainly pathetic effort to make it more fun for myself, I decide to turn this sorting of worldly possessions into a TV show called Keepers or Crappers!

Do you love it or need it?
If not, bin it.

Off we go with round one, which entails sitting on the floor and opening the door of my little bedside table.

What might be in here?
Not a clue.

Ah, my playing cards and bag of poker chips.


I’ll be a complete stranger in the place I’m moving to, and in the past I have found poker a way to make friends, especially as I tend to lose.

Reaching for the carrier bag I lift it out of the tiny cupboard to watch, as if in slow motion, the bag disintegrate in front of my eyes, allowing light plastic poker chips to explode to the floor and rebound energetically -

 - running under the bed -
 - rolling under the bedside table -
 - rolling further, under both chests of drawers -

… and what
… and how
… and please no!

No no no!

In my hands I’m holding the raggedy handles of what merely seconds ago appeared to be a bag, but the plastic in my hands is all that remains of it.

Beneath me, a pile of recently liberated poker chips lies completely enveloped in a dry soup of beige dust.

I know plastic eventually degrades, but there’s no way this bag has been in that cupboard long enough to disintegrate like that.

Now, instead of heroically plunging into my packing, I have to get the hoover out, move all the cupboards in my bedroom, find and fish out the errant plastic discs and somehow wash off the powdery remains of what the bag has become from all the chips, the floor and oh, I want to lie on my back, kick my feet in the air and wail like a baby:

“Which part of this is making progress towards a carload of boxes?”

but I don’t, because I’m a grown-up and that’s not deemed acceptable behaviour, unless
you want the funny farm on your family crest.

Could the packing of my stuff have started in a more trying way? Well, I suppose I could’ve accidentally cut my arm off. That would’ve been much worse, and no less likely than a disappearing bag.

Making appropriate grunting noises as I struggle to my feet, I look at the tatty remains in my hands, and see that behind the beige background there are hundreds of tiny lines of green printed words running all over it

Sitting on the side of the bed, I unfurl the last inches of complete bag that are stuck between my fingers, and peering closely discover that those lines of words all say the same thing: ‘biodegradable plastic bag’.

Oh that’s bloody great.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for biodegradable plastic bags. Don’t tell the others, but I’m a big fan of all those survival shows on TV, when a bunch of obnoxious humans get dumped on a island in the middle of nowhere.

The level of human obnoxiousness might rise and fall, but the one constant factor, wherever they are in the world, is that the beaches will be strewn with plastic bottles and waste.

It’s deeply sad and maddening so yay, absolutely triff, let’s find a way of making plastic disappear, but - and right now this is a bit of a deal breaker for me - please let us know clearly, in no uncertain terms, when the bag you’ve given me is going to crumble into dust in a few years.

What’s that?

Why don’t I use the eyes in my head to read what’s printed all over the bag?

Yeh well, you would say that, wouldn’t you, and go away and I never liked you anyway.

As I sit here and write this I know that there are still poker chips hiding under wardrobes in the bedroom. I hoovered up all the skunky gunk and dusted off all the chips, only to find they were still covered in manky grey goo.

Can’t give guests I haven’t even met yet poker chips covered in manky grey goo, so I washed them off in the sink, and then spent ages trying to find a way of laying them on tea towels and draining boards, so that they could all dry, because I needed to get on with packing my stuff.

Didn’t work, so I gave up and dried each one individually, by which time it was dark, and I had to cook dinner.

Not a single box packed. Guess today wasn’t the day I was meant to start packing.

Should’ve just chilled and watched footie with my friend.

Ah well, next time I move, I’ll listen to my body.

Mind you, I hope by then I’ve long forgotten all about this curious cocktail of degradable plastic and poker chips.

©Charlie Adley

Sunday 6 January 2019


“How was your trip?”

“Great, thanks!”

“So what did you get up to?”

“Oooer. Blimey. So much.”

Inside my skull my brain spins this way and that, like an agitating tumble dryer loaded with conversations.

Standing in the away section of Watford FC’s Vicarage Road, on narrow concrete steps between my friend and other middle-aged men who make me feel less than fat. 

All have anoraks zipped up over their half barrel bellies, and before the game they seem jolly and avuncular.

I laugh at something said, at which point the True Blue behind me turns and asks

”So who do you want to lose it most - Liverpool or Spurs?”

Here in the heart of Chelsea’s diehard supporters I know this is not the time for me to go off on one, opining about how I love the game whenever it’s played well, and how watching both those teams at the moment is a pleasure.

No. I say exactly what I’m meant to say.

“If it’s got to be one there’s only one it’s got to be, ain’t there.”

He nods and approves, as I have correctly shown my understanding of the age-old rivalry between Chelsea and Spurs.

It’s impossible for me to be at a Chelsea game and not mourn for my father. He first took me to Stamford Bridge when I was a boy of nine, and then he bought me a season ticket seat next to his.

We went to Wembley twice together for cup finals and those Saturdays spent together forged eternal bonds, to which I’m happily shackled today, ten years after his death.

That’s why I sang my heavy heart out when the Chelsea fans decided to celebrate Christmas by belting out a roaring rendition of our Yuletide classic, to the tune of ‘The First Noel’.

“Out from The Shed came a rising young star,
Scoring goals past Pat Jennings,

From near and from far,
When Chelsea won,

As we all knew they would,
The star of that great team was Peter Osgood!

Osgood, Osgood!
Osgood, Osgood!
Born is the king of Stamford Bridge!”

Who cares about rhymes at times such as this?

Then the game started and this cosy Band of Blue Brothers around me instantly transformed into beings of incandescent rage, bile and hatred.

Guess I was out of practice. Hadn’t been to a game for years. I’d forgotten what it’s like.

Here I live a gentle life in which it’s unusual to encounter public displays of outright aggression.

The bloke next to me, with whom I’d been sharing a giggle, was now using every ounce of strength in his body to reach out his pointed finger and scream at the linesman, not 10 yards way.

“‘Ere you f***king moron, did you get that f***king Hitler moustache for f***king  Christmas you f***king blind c**t.”

They were all at it, behind me, below, all of them, sending my mental tumble dryer back to a conversation with a taxi driver the day before.

The car rental companies were asking silly money for the festive season and there were no buses, so I took taxis when lifts weren’t available, enjoying the company of intelligent, sensitive cabbies who, given the time of year, were mostly Muslims.

“So why’d you leave England, then?” he asked.

“Because I felt so tired of the anger. So many people in England exist a hair’s breadth from a fight, and that’s not the world I want to live in. Don’t get me wrong, mate, I love England and I’m proud to be English, but I just don’t want to live here, that’s all.”

He laughed. As a cabbie he completely understood.

Back in the stadium, as if I wasn’t missing my dad enough, the Chelsea fans burst into a rendition of the Liverpool slum song, which may have had some political poignancy in 1967, but now sounds like the soundtrack to a vile black and white newsreel, running around the ground.

Overwhelmed by memories and the power of the crowd, I forget who I am and find myself singing along...

“You look in a dustbin for something to eat,
You find a dead cat and you think it’s a treat…”

I’d packed my Chelsea scarf, but before we left for the game I asked my mates if I should wear it. What’s the story, these days?

Both decided I was better off not to, just to be on the safe side.

Mental tumble rumble tumble as I reflect on how shocked I felt years back, when I saw my Dublin friend who lives in Mayo give his son the blue jersey to wear.

“Isn’t that asking for it? Won’t he get beaten up in school?“

“Not at all!” scoffed my friend, in his rich deep voice, ”We all stand together here!”

Away from the mindless hostility, football offers refuge and benign escapism to middle aged men. We watch, follow and support out teams without question. You win draw or lose and you play well or badly.

It’s a no-brainer.

I gave both the friends in this story team shirts, even though one’s a Tottenham fan!

It was a no-brainer.

We like no-brainers, men do. Just watch us shop.

Tumble away to more cabbie conversations.

“So how does all this Brexit stuff look to you over there in Ireland? Are you all wondering why the English chose to vote for recession?”

From strangers and my closest kin I enjoyed much care and kindness. I sat on my sister’s sofa with my 89 year-old mum on my left, a friend of 45 years to my right, holding my baby great-nephew in my arms.

How was my trip?

It was wonderful and hard, sad and joyous. 

It was easy and exhausting, a pleasure and essential.

I felt loved.
I felt both lost and at home in the place that I come from.

Only here in the West of Ireland do I feel I belong.

©Charlie Adley