Monday 25 November 2019


Sometimes seasons ease from one to t’other, dissolving gradually, as water through limestone.

There’ll be a few seconds of welcome heat from a March sun, making a brief appearance between dark lashing rainclouds, or the sense in August that hedgerows are neither fading nor pumping verdant.

Sometimes seasons arrive like a shocking late night knock at the door.

A couple of weeks ago I left Ireland in Autumn, crisp amber leaves catching the light of the glaring sun, as they clung to branches under clear blue skies.

Three days later I returned from London to find Winter ensconced.

At first I didn’t notice the gale howling around Shannon Airport, as instead of walking across the tarmac, we were awarded a covered walkway from the plane.

Then came that most bizarre of rituals: the journey to Shannon Airport’s immigration and baggage hall. 

Up you go, 
up several flights of stairs and escalators, 
and then straight away down you go,  
down several flight of stairs, and then 
without walking any distance on flat surfaces,
up you go, climbing several flights of stairs
and then, yes, down again, and
down a little further, 

until every cell in your body 
feels sure you’ve just returned 
to where you started.

Each time I take this epic airport trek, I wonder whether we could have just turned left as we entered the building, taken five steps and arrived at Immigration.

What’s with all the up and down?

Are our minds being subliminally dissembled, so that we might better appreciate the subtle ironies of Irish wit, or is it Fáilte Ireland’s way of preparing tourists for a land of mystic paradox?

Don’t get me wrong - I love Shannon Airport. Compared to the kettling experienced at other international airports, Shannon feels calm, friendly and intimate.

Wish they didn’t make everyone take their shoes off, though. They don’t even do that at UK airports.

Over-eager to get home, I started to drive like a bit of madman on the M18, until I realised through the darkness that the tarmac was flooded.

Like Mike Tyson stomach punches, gusts of wind slammed broadside into my car Joey SX.

Joey’s digital doodaa displayed the outside temperature as 3 degrees.

It was only six in the evening.
Winter had arrived in two days.

Further north I saw leaf and branch debris scattered all over the country roads. Must’ve been a northerly wind, as my little house felt freezing.

I’d left the heating on for an hour each end of the day while I was away, which is usually more than enough, given the three feet of stone wall between inside and out.

Not that night. Brrr! Light a fire pronto (control freak here had built one before I left), and let that back boiler get the rads singing their song of comfort.

Next morning, as my kettle boiled, I looked beyond my kitchen window, taking in the sudden change of season.

Bare trees, stark and wondrous upturned lungs, swaying in a brutally cold wind that pierces bone.

Cattle in the field grouped close together, to keep each other warm.

Right Adley, time to switch into Winter mode, inside and out.

Being a bloke it’s incredibly easy to sort my Winter wardrobe. Out with all the cotton jumpers, replaced by two piles of woollen sweaters: one mankier pile for wearing alone at home; the other finer, worthy of public consumption.

Switch notebook from three season anorak to trusty tweed coat, my second skin through the cold months.

Polish and beeswax my walking country boots and black town boots.

Wellies by the back door, ready for the morning walk across the lawn to empty the ash bucket.

Inside sorted.

Outside now, mulching the shrubs and herbs; sweeping up bags and bags of leaves; taking seeds from cornflowers, poppies, nigella and corncockle and sprinkling them all over the patch; choosing which plants to save seeds from for next year.

At the far end of the lawn lies a ridge of gooey rotted lawn cuttings and mashed up leaves, which I want to use to mulch the tiny bed outside my office window.

Barely a foot across, this strip bed runs only a few yards, but last year produced a constant conveyor belt of colour.

When I moved in, bluebells were just coming up. They were splendid, and followed by daffodils. Then I sowed Virginia Stock and sunflowers, and planted Crocosmia, all of which thrived in the tiny patch of soil.

Later in the Summer I dropped some corncockle and nigella seed in there, and still to this day they flower. Despite the glory of November colour, it’s a weeny bit frustrating, as I’ve a soft git rule that says if a plant offers a single bloom, it cannot be pulled.

I’ll have to wait to restore this tiny exhausted miracle of a bed with the protection, nutrients and goodness of that mulchy muck.

Finally I sit outside with a cuppa and sunglasses, admiring my clean leafless patio. Several years back, my landlord up in North Mayo paid me a huge compliment.

One night he declared in the pub: “You keep a tidy patch, you do.”

My chest swelled with pride, as I’d watched this farmer for years in his labours of animal and land husbandry, painting gates, rescuing ewes, nurturing foals and rebuilding fences.

Next I need to clean out the gutters and wash down the drains, but not now.

Now I‘m just going sit here, dazzled by the low sun, listening to Winter’s bliss-inducing absence of noise.

©Charlie Adley

Sunday 17 November 2019


“I’ll meet you under the clock in Marylebone station at midday on Saturday.”

“Brilliant mate. That’s perfect. Chelsea kick off at 12:30, so we’ll find a pub, watch the game and then go somewhere plush and comfy to sit and talk properly.”

Being prone to romantic notions, I’d envisaged the clock at Marylebone Station being similar to the legendary 4-faced clock, which forms the focal point of Waterloo Station.

I was also nurturing memories, only two years old, of Marylebone Station being a relatively quiet and gentle place, compared to London’s major compass point terminals.

Turned out I was wrong on both counts.

The District Line train I’d taken from Putney Bridge to Edgware Road had been wedged. I grew up in London, and it never crossed my mind that I might not get a seat and some space during Saturday’s off-peak hours.

Instead I was reacquainted with the essential London skill of tube surfing, which involves looking as nonchalant as possible, while gripping the leather straps that hang to hold you up, as your body sways, dips and jolts with the train.

Slightly unnerved by the way my native city had changed so much, I stepped out of Edgware Road Station, unsure of my route to Marylebone.

Ah but there’s the Euston Road! Instantly I became a local once more.
Spring in step, right down Lisson Street, and boomph, there’s Marylebone Station.

Even better, attached to the station shone the bright signage of the Marylebone Sports Bar and Grill.

“Luvvly jubbly Batman! Well ‘andy!” as they say … here!

Before I even enter the station I see rivers of people flowing in and out of each portal, and inside it’s not far from mayhem.

Well, actually, that’s not true. I live in such a ridiculously quiet spot that a pair of finches feuding over birdseed can seem chaotic. Suffice to say the station was bustling, noisy and there was no clock.

Up and down I paced, searching for a dial, and as 11:59 beckoned, aha! Over there! A digital strip, declaring platforms, trains and the time.

Underneath, my mate waiting

We hugged and headed straight to the Sports Bar, where a boisterous bunch of large lads down the far end were watching Nottingham Forest v Derby, collectively contributing decibel levels that’d make Lemmy’s ears bleed.

It was fantastic to see English football’s second tier creating such fervent support. Trouble was, along with the cries of all those watching gordknows what on who knows how many big screens, it would have been great if the lads from the East Midlands calmed down a bit.

Not like I was going to ask them.

Let ‘em roar.

We slid along the seating of a freshly empty booth, with a TV screen at the end of the table where the jukebox used to be. Then, as I headed to the loo, my mate gave me a most enigmatic order.

“Think 40 years.”

Distracted only by the hysterical mosaic in the Gents, portraying Messi peeing into the pan over someone's head, Ronaldo curving his effort in from far away and Neymar laying in a puddle of his own making, I subtracted 40 from 2019 and realised where my friend was coming from.

Back in our booth I smiled and declared: “Jerusalem!”

“David’s Gate!” he smiled back.

“Jaffa Gate!” I replied, tempted to burst suddenly and completely inappropriately into song:

“Ahhh yeeeessss, ahh remember it weeell!”

In May 1979 we’d arranged to meet in Jerusalem, at midday on August 5th. We both then left London, to hitch and travel separate summers, and as today, 40 years later, we met at midday.

We clinked glasses and ordered something called the Matchday Combo. As we tucked in to our decadent platter of Southern-fried chicken, garlic bread, onion rings, potato-wrapped hot dog, corn-on-the-cob, spicy wings, skinny fries and dips, I reflected on the conversations I’d heard each night, where Londoners discussed their 5:2, paleo and vegan diets.

That day we didn’t care about high fat foods, salt or anything really, because we were being boys, enjoying the occasion, the food and footie, and each other’s company.

After the game (which Chelsea won, thanks for asking) we walked under the covered concourse to the Landmark Hotel where, just 20 yards from the footie fanatics, others ate and drank in a grand marble pillared ballroom, under towering indoor palm trees, at tables covered by crisp white linen.

’Twas ever thus. There will always be rich people, and for us it provided the prefect venue for a long catch-up conversation.

We drank coffee and then the waitress bought us a bill.

I explained to her how I hadn’t asked for one yet, because we might be ordering something else.

“Ah yes sir, but we have to bring a bill after each drink, as so many people run away without paying.”

My friend and I both physically flinched. I suppressed my anger, suggesting to the waitress that she discuss with her boss a better way of dealing with their problem, so that customers don’t feel accused of being criminals.

We upped and left, mildly offended, yet delighted to have spent good time together.

I smiled gently to myself. That day we were clean shaven and well dressed.

How might the staff here have reacted if we’d arrived wearing the tattered denim shorts, dust-dried skin and variety of body odours that accompanied our 40 year-old reunion in Jerusalem?

If family forms the blood of life, friendships are the flesh and bones.

©Charlie Adley

Monday 11 November 2019


The landlord on the radio is complaining about his tenants. They’ve half-destroyed the house, upset all the neighbours and they’re six months late with the rent.

Of course I feel sorry for him. This is far from the first time I’ve listened to landlords giving out about their tenants from hell, but my sympathy is tempered by a massive omission.

You never hear tenants giving out about their landlords. Well, you do, often and emphatically, in private conversations, but rarely in the mainstream media, and even less frequently to their landlords.

I’ve been living in rented accommodation since 1981, and up until the middle of the last decade, the relationship between landlord and tenant remained mutually beneficial.

The landlords had their mortgages paid by tenants, who in turn lived without the fear of something in their home breaking or going wrong.

Of course there were always areas of contention, usually involving periods of notice and the return of deposits, but the lines were clear and well drawn, with both parties getting something out of the deal.

In Bradford, West Yorkshire, I lived in an attic room with a long window running the length of the building. My view reached out beyond the city, to green fields and the mighty Pennines.

One afternoon the entire window fell out and crashed to the ground.

Within minutes my landlord Majid (who lived next door) had boarded it up, and the next day a new window was in place.

That’s the way it worked. If a pipe leaked you called the landlord, and they had it fixed.

It felt good.

You were paying for their building, but in return you lived without worry of paying for repairs.

Not any more.

These days everything has changed. Despite the valid and furious cries coming from this bloke on the radio, the market presently favours landlords to an extravagant and cruel extent.

The balance of power has shifted so fundamentally that now the tenant is supposed to feel grateful to be given the opportunity to pay excessive rent.

In San Francisco in the 1990s I first sampled what has now become standard procedure in any major city: the queue outside every property at viewing time, each applicant clutching their approved credit rating report and references.

Instead of feeling protected by a symbiotic relationship, millions of tenants are now terrified of contact with their landlords. 

They wouldn’t dream of asking for refunds, in case they’re seen as troublesome tenants, and served notice to leave.

If something goes wrong in your rented home, you now either fix it yourself, or if you can’t afford to do that, you live with it broken.

There are of course laws to protect tenants, and clauses in each tenancy agreement that offer reimbursement and support for tenants, but they are, to a great extent, worthless.

As soon as a tenant demands help, their landlord starts looking for ways to get rid of them.

In the present market, there are always new tenants lining up, eager to replace evicted ones, so nobody demands their rights.

Instead tenants now keep their heads down, paying plumbers and electricians themselves, so as not to worry their landlords.

There’d be hell to pay if tenants arrived to picnic on their landlord’s lawn, yet landlords feel it’s fine to appear, unannounced, at the front doors of tenancies.

There is no escaping the fact that tenants are seen socially and politically as second class citizens.

Our society shows more respect to homeowners who can’t pay their mortgages than tenants who pay their rent each week.

Nobody speaks out. You don’t hear tenants on the news, asserting their legal rights, because they don’t want to be identified by their landlords or blacklisted.

As I grew more mature and responsible (I did. Honest I did!) I started to feel a duty of care towards each home I lived in, so each year at renewal time I’d let the landlord know anything that I’d want to know, were that house my own.

A broken gutter, wobbly roof tiles, anything that might compromise the structure of the building itself. I’d also let them know I’d had the chimney swept, and in return they’d send gentle thanks and a refund.

However, ever since the financial crash, landlords don’t care as much about the state of their rental properties.

Maybe they’re also squeezed financially, but whatever their financial situation, they own a house which the tenant does not.

When homeowners found they couldn’t afford to pay their mortgages, they stopped paying them. Lied to and living a nightmare, untold thousands are still in arrears, but many benefit from mortgage relief.

Tenants have no such support. If we can’t come up with the rent, we’re screwed. If your rent’s several months in arrears, you’re out and that’s that.

Evictions of homeowners makes prime time news, but tales of tenants being thrown out of their homes don’t make the grade, because these days, tenants don’t either.

Thankfully, apart from one excruciating exception, I have been phenomenally lucky with my landlords over the years.

Every tenancy I’ve had here in the west of Ireland was agreed upon in that gentle and benign manner, known as ‘Old School.’

After a cup of tea and a chat, there’d be a handshake.

As my current landlord put it: “Why would I want to read references from people I don’t know, when I’m sitting here talking to you?”

©Charlie Adley