Wednesday 22 December 2021


Snow fell onto the sodium-lit London street outside my Rats Alley flat. 
The Winter of 1986 was so cold the water in my loo froze over. All down my road, cracked toilets bowls lay dumped outside the flats, like rejected Christmas presents.

Chris and I sat in my living room for hours, staring at each other in silence, hunched against the old plastic sofas, wrapped in layers of clothing and blankets. 
Utterly boracic and lint: skint, the pair of us, with only two days to go until Christmas.

“Hey Charlie, have you got any old whiskey bottles?”
“Yeh, there’s two empties in the kitchen. Why?”
“Aha! Bring them to me, and get out that fan heater you hide in your bedroom. We’ll have a drink yet!”

Ten minutes later, we were lying on our bellies, eyes at carpet level, watching whiskey seemingly appear from nowhere. 
Chris had stood the two empty bottles in front of the fan heater, which was running at full blast. The heat from the fan was hitting the cold glass, thereby condensing the holy juice out of the bottle. 
Where before there was nothing, we suddenly had a couple of inches of Christmas Cheer. 
So we did.

“Yay! Nice work mate! Happy Christmas to you and your cunning ways! You’re a bloomin’ genius!” I exclaimed.

The phone rang. It was my landlord, who also owned the shop below my flat. He was sorry to ask at such short notice, but he wondered if I wanted to earn some cash? And did I know anyone else who needed some too?

Did I?

He explained that the shop owners of the street were looking for a couple of guys to stand outside dressed as Santa Claus. They would be collecting money for the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital.

“Sure, yeh, 'course we can do that!” I told him, “But how can you pay us if we’re collecting for a charity? We wouldn’t stoop so low as to take money from the sick kiddies!”

He explained that our presence was going to attract punters to his shop, one way or another.

Well, fair enough then. More than fair, but just one more thing. This was Golders Green, at that time the most Jewish suburb in North London. 
How kindly were the locals going to take to Father Christmas?

“Well, he was Jewish, wasn’t he?” came the inscrutable, irrefutable reply.

Yes, Jesus was born, lived and died a Jew. 1,986 years later, in the tiny back room of a shop in frozen London, Chris and I were falling about laughing as we tried on our costumes. 
We were unsure if Santa was meant to be naked underneath his regalia, but the freezing air settled our minds on that issue.

Somehow, fitting the tights over our jeans felt more than a little Superman-ish, but the beard was another matter entirely. 
It got up my nose, tickled my lips, and after a minute or two of breathing, returned to my senses the less-than delightful scent of the previous night’s Rogan Josh.

And so, out onto the streets, followed by a gaggle of giggling girly shop assistants.
“Cor! Look at those two sex bombs!”
“Yeh, don’t fancy yours much though!”

We asked the boss if it wasn’t a little excessive having two Santas out there together, but once again, his answer was beyond reason.

“Most places they get one, so in Golders Green, they get two!”

Chris and I started to shake our buckets, trying to catch a generous eye. People were ready and eager to give. Great Ormond Street Children’s hospital was a cause that crossed the barriers of race and religion, although I felt a little saddened to have to treat a hospital like a charity.

We had been provided with bags of lollipops, which we were meant to give to sweet little kiddies who came up to us. 
Unfortunately, (or maybe most fortunately) children are trained to stay away from strange men bearing candy. The combination of my costume, and the ultra-deep voice I adopted for my role seemed to scare the hell out of the wee darlings.

All it took was “Hellow lickle girlie! Do you want a lollipop?” and I was instant pervert, children scurrying away to hide behind their parents, safe from the nasty red man.

Suddenly, off in the distance, we heard a strange commotion. Two police cars were creeping slowly down the street, followed by a massive demonstration by Hassidic Jews, they who sport the long hair curls, blue raincoats and big floppy velvet hats.

Hundreds of them were marching down the Golders Green Road, carrying placards written in Hebrew. Chris and I stepped back to watch this strangest of sights unfold, and then all of a sudden, it dawned on me that each and every one of them was a potential punter.

Leaping into the fray, I frantically shook my collection bucket. Each side of me, every which way, hats, raincoats and beards glided past, the marchers temporarily blinded by my flash of scarlet ripple in their ocean of dark blue.

I felt I was inside a roll of Pathé News film, and was sorely tempted simply to savour the moment, but there was work to be done.

“Cough up for the kiddies! Great Ormond Street Hospital needs your help! Dig deep!’”

Dig they did. Hands reached into pockets, coppers started flying into the bucket, followed by silver coins and then notes. 
To the left of me wallets were hurriedly opened, to the right a passing beard, a glance of spectacles, everywhere hands putting notes into the bucket, fivers, tenners. 
It was wonderful to stand there and watch them give wads of cash; enough to bring a tear to my eye.

There was no question of Old or New Testament loyalty here, just a river of raincoats on a mission from God.

A full bucket, a happy shopkeeper, and two very merry Santas in the pub that Christmas Eve.

May your God be with you.

©Charlie Adley

Thursday 20 May 2021

In memory of Jon Lewin.

In memory of Jon Lewin, on what would have been his 62nd birthday. From Double Vision in October 2006. 

A couple of weeks ago I received in the post a package which reaffirmed my faith in human nature.  

Although it only contained a simple T-shirt, I was surprised, delighted and almost emotionally overwrought.

Back in September I was sponsored to participate in the Galway Hospice’s Memorial Walk, a splendid and very successful event which raises much-needed funds for the most worthy of causes. 

Each walker wore a T-shirt on which was printed the name of a person in whose memory they walked that day. 

I chose to walk in memory of Jon Lewin, a life-long friend who died of a brain tumour a few short years ago. 

Upon arriving at Claddagh Hall I was given a package containing the T-shirt I had ordered, and went off to the Gents to put it on. 

At the back of my mind, a wee small irritating voice had been nagging me for days, wondering if they would have spelled his name right. And lo, as soon as I saw the shirt out of its wrapping, there was the name a certain John Lewin. 

And then I cried. 

Clearly, I didn’t cry because they had spelled his name wrong. There are many things that might upset me in this world, as regular readers know only too well, but an excellent institution such as the Galway Hospice awarding hundreds of walkers free T-shirts in a thoughtful tribute to lost loved ones could never be a cause for complaint. 

No, I was mourning, and it hit me like a Tsunami. I had written about Jon in this colyoom the week before, when I related our nightmare teenage holiday in Greece, so his memory was fresh in my brainbox, and I felt his presence with me on that day. 

‘Stop being an idiot, Adley!’ I told myself, and put on the T-shirt, but each time I looked at the name, John with an ‘h’, I had a ridiculous and irrational emotional reaction.

This geezer’s name on my shirt was not Jon’s, but what did it matter? 

This day, this walk, this fund-raising event was not about me and my pedantic neurotic needs. 

Somewhat foolishly, I decided to mention what had happened to the organisers, making sure to stress that it really was not a problem to me in the slightest, but that maybe in future, what with there being all manner of new nationalities and names arriving to live in Ireland, attention to detail might help avoid people getting upset. 

I hated myself for saying anything, because however I emphasised that I was fine with it, that it wasn’t about me but potential walkers of the future, the more the friendly hospice professionals apologised. 

Maybe, through their depth of experience, they could see more in my eyes than they let on. 

I was certainly unaware of how emotionally messed up I was.
Stepping outside the Claddagh Hall, I stood by the dock and watched all the wonderful walkers turning up in their T-shirts. 

Nobody seemed to be alone, and even though I would normally loathe to have company on a walk, I felt strangely lonely and, once again sad. 

Looking at all the Irish names on all the others’ T-shirts, I suddenly had a bit of a panic. Oh no, I should be walking for my little four year-old friend from Mayo who died recently. 

How could I forget her?
How could I not think to put her name on my T-shirt? 

And who is this person whose name is on my T-shirt? It’s not Jon.
And why do I feel so nervous?

Why do I feel so scared of being a part of this crowded walk?
And why and why and why ... 

Jon was a very beautiful and calm man, and as if he stood at that very moment by my side, I heard his gentle whisper in my ear. 

‘Stop being a prat, Charlie! Get yourself out of here, and walk somewhere else. This is not for you today. You’re too much of a mess.’ 

With the rain starting to fall, I ran away, jumped into my car and drove far away from the crowds. I felt horrible, hopeless, guilty as charged, and could not, for some reason, stop crying. 

Eventually I parked at the beach in Furbo, and proceeded to walk long and alone: stumbling over rocks; squidging wet-booted through flooded fields, and finally sitting, breathing, restoring my mental order on a boulder covered with clams. 

I walked for all those who had sponsored me. I walked for the Galway Hospice. 

I walked for Jon, and I walked for my 4 year-old friend. 

Jon aspired to be a real rock’n’roll person, always cutting his own personal swathe, and I truly felt that he understood and appreciated why I had done a runner from the Walk. 

I never wasted a moment wondering if any of my sponsors would begrudge their donations to the hospice on the grounds that I had walked the coastline a few miles further west. 

And I had walked for myself, taking time now to lie at face-level with a river, mesmerised by the beauty of the babbling flow, as I regained control of my emotions, and accepted that evidently I had seriously needed to grieve. I threw a wobbly, cried a bucket and walked alone.  

What better organisation to be the catalyst for such an emotional outpouring than the Galway Hospice?

But what of the package in the mail? 

Yes - you guessed it! 

Reaffirming my faith in the future of our species, and going way beyond any hopes, expectations, even idle daydreams, Fiona at the Galway Hospice saw fit to print a T-shirt with Jon’s name on it, and send it to me, with an apology and a thank you note. 

At this stage, all I want to say is no, please, let me thank you, for bowling me over and showing so much love and care that I am, once again, quite emotional. 

Oh and thanks to the Universe for sending us people like that!


©Charlie Adley


Tuesday 16 March 2021

...and we all fall over for Ireland!

 Thanks as always to Allan Cavanagh of


An excerpt from Double Vision in the Tribune back in 1993, describing my first Paddy's Day in Ireland.

As I awake I’m shivering from head to toe, and a twinge of cramp is rising from my left ankle up to my calf muscles.

Lifting my leg to ease the pain, I realise that I am not in my own bed. I am somewhere else. Somewhere with a much smaller bed.  

Moving forward I fall off this strange bed and hit the floor, buttocks first. Letting out a moan, my head bangs against something metallic. 

Hmm, metallic and hot. I hope it’s a stove, ‘cos if it’s not, then wherever this is, it’s burning down.  

No, if it was burning down there’d be flames and light and heat. Yes, light and heat. That is all I’m capable of thinking, so I lie down and congratulate myself on my Holmesian deduction.  

The pain in my head comes not solely from being banged against metallic objects. This pain demands that I remember the recent past. It is a pain that begs the questions:

‘How much did I have?’
‘Where am I?’ and
‘How did I get here?’  

First things first. I reach into my jeans pocket and find several lighters of the disposable kind. So I was stealing lighters again. Six lighters in my pocket. Must have been a hell of a night.

I flick one on and realise that I’m in a caravan.
 On a nearby table is a candle, which I light, and a peat briquette, which I throw into the stove, before collapsing back onto the bed, exhausted.

My watch tells me it’s 03:30 am on the night of March 19th.

“Okay mate,” I say out loud to myself, “start at the beginning.”

Claddagh Quay on Paddy’s Day, the bands are setting off, the kiddies looking sweet as cherry pie in their outfits. The parade moves and I follow it a while, because I’ve decided that it’s way too early to go to a pub.

Wrestling with the crowds in Eyre Square I watch children playing in the soap-filled fountain, and then some Gardai push through the hordes, and I tuck in behind them, making the most of the wonderful space that parts for them as they move.

All of a sudden I’m outside an Tobar, and amazingly there’s a barstool free, and Whispering Blue serving.

Pints of the black stuff seem to appear in front of me from all directions, and then I have that dangerous cavernous feeling inside me; the kind of cavern that gets flooded at high tide.

After that it all gets a little hazy, but I can remember seeing the Far Canals gig at Vagabonds, and a Vauxhall Cavalier stopping for my raised thumb at Merlin Park.

I can remember seeing a lot of people falling over; falling down in the street; falling onto the dance floor. Must be an ancient St. Patrick’s Day tradition.

“So you’re awake!”

A soft warm female voice rises from under the bed sheets. 
Oh bliss. I know where I am. I’m in my lovely friend’s caravan in a field in Doolin.

“Have I behaved myself?”

“Oh yes, you have been the perfect gentleman, apart from arriving in the middle of the night yesterday.”

“Oh sorry.”

“No, it was lovely to see you, but be careful when you try to stand. You were falling down a lot!”

Oh was I? Seems like I’m becoming more Irish all the time.