Monday, 1 August 2022

Happy 30th To Me!


Fresh off the boat, outside my first Salthill home in Flea Lane, August 1992

 

It’s Saturday August 1st, 1992. I step off the ferry from Roscoff, onto Irish soil for the first time, and begin the greatest love affair of my life.

For 20 years I’ve travelled, trying to find where I belong, but never visited the country next door. After a couple of laps of the planet I’ve now run out of countries, so this place is going to be my home.

When I started hitching around Europe as a teenager in the 1970s, addresses and contacts were like gold dust. Now as a 32 year-old, I have neither friends nor family here.

I don’t know a soul.
Ireland is a clean sheet.
Perfect. 

Yet to encounter the word ‘soft’ is this context (and the forty other words the Irish have for rain) the air is drizzly damp, so I go into a big shop called Dunnes in Cork city centre, buy some waterproof clothing, and head into a pub.

On the barstool next to me a guy called Con offers me a hand the size of my head. Having never heard of the name, I wonder if he’s making some kind of post-modern joke, and aiming to rip me off.

No: I’m a paranoid fool and he’s a lovely man, intent only on getting me ver’ ver’ drunk. When he feels satisfied that he’s succeeded, he tells Mary the barmaid to book me a room in a B&B.

Later, in my bedroom, I reach for a giant ashtray on a high shelf. Lowering it reveals the sign behind it. White letters on red card declare:  

NO SMOKING!


Ashtray.
No Smoking in capitals.

I decide I’m going to love this country. It’s the first of many a million Irish paradoxes, which will, in a mere two months, give birth to a colyoom called Double Vision.

Lying on the bed in a Guinness-induced reverie, I light up a Marlboro, flip on the TV and watch the Galway Races.

30 years ago today.

I win a competition and have my one woman show Aileen Stays In staged in Galway City. I’m published in the Irish Times on several occasions, and the Irish Examiner give me a column. The Irish Post in England takes a fancy to my blather.

Thanks Ireland, for allowing me to pay my rent for 27 years through my scribbling. I’ve had the honour and enjoyed the pleasure of open briefs (that is: always writing exactly what I choose) and thanks to the Irish here, in the UK and USA, who seem to find my opinions and observations engaging, enraging, irritating and amusing.

Thanks also to all the students who attended and contributed towards my Craft of Writing Course. 



It has been a privilege to encourage, inform and assist hundreds of aspiring Irish writers over the last 15 years. I’ve loved every minute of teaching, and discovered that as a teacher, I continue to learn as a writer.

Over three decades I live in four homes in Salthill, one in Claddagh, one in Connemara, one in Ballyhaunis, three in California, and two in Killala, the north Mayo village that steals my heart in 2001, where I live now and will remain, forever; amen.

I have the privilege of loving several wonderful and remarkable women, marrying and divorcing two of them, while knowing to this day that one was and always will represent the closest bond I’ll ever enjoy with a member of the opposite sex.

I’m sure you’ll forgive that turn of phrase. Y’see, I come from a time when there was an opposite sex.

 

I also fall profoundly in love with Connemara; with the gobsmackingly beautiful Mayo wilderness between Ballycastle and Belmullet; with the entirety of what was once the West Coast of Ireland, until a marketing genius rebranded it The Wild Atlantic Way.

Some countries are divided North/South. Ireland is split East/West by the moity Shannon, and here on the Atlantic seaboard I find in 1992 a culture that embodies all that is good and bad in being old-fashioned.

Compassion thrives as life’s blood; nobody thinks less of you for being poor; time is the most precious commodity, a jewel prized way beyond the acquisition of stuff.

All of that fits me and my soul as if made to measure, but I hate the lack of ethnic diversity; the racism and homophobia; the absence of contraception, divorce and abortion; the denial of a woman’s right to choose.

30 years bring a social, secular and sexual revolution that rectifies all of the above, unfortunately taking things just a tiny bit too far, so that now the sensitivities of molecularly minuscule minorities dictate the freedom of scribblers like me to write what I want.

Ireland has changed so much for the better since I arrived (it’s all about me, of course) that it now fits like a jigsaw piece into my societal aspirations.

Whatever that means. Jeeze, I certainly overdo the waxing bleedin’ lyrical sometimes.

That’s another thing. The amount of swearing, cursing, effing and bloody blinding that erupts from my gob has grown tenfold since arriving here.

When I sit in the genteel suburban hush of my mother’s living room in London, I realise how often I now use the F word, and wish my linguistic skills were less blunted by my adopted vernacular.

Having said that, I’ve also gained vocabulary. I’m now able to differentiate the ‘feck’ from the ‘fuck’, and find myself involuntarily and noisily performing the West of Ireland Sharp Intake of Breath, when agreeing with someone.

To this Blow-In, friends are as vital as family, and here in the Wesht I’ve been incredibly fortunate to form a plethora of solid, wondrous, meaningful and hilarious friendships.

For this I am eternally grateful. If my family are my life’s foundation, then these magnificent friends are my walls and roof.

 

Deep and meaningful friendships ... the stuff of life!

 

Tragically, the last four years have involved a catastrophic amount of loss. Alongside my marriage, my dog, two homes, half a lung and all my savings, I’ve lost many friendships that I previously considered unbreakable.
 
This has shattered my heart in more ways than I can describe. One simply turned his back on me. Another decided to become angry with me during a period in which the slightest emotional demand caused me to cough up blood, so I was unable - and unwilling - to find out why he was upset.


Another found my apology insufficient. I fully accept that I’m a difficult and demanding man, but when I apologise I mean it. There is nothing more I can do beyond that.

However, as my most excellent friend Dalooney eloquently observed:

“Jeeze Chazzer. I’ve never seen anybody lose so many lifetime friends and have so many left.”

Truly I am blessed.

 

 Moody in the Aughrus peninsular, 1993 ... one for the dust cover!

Tonight there was meant to be a celebration in the pub. I was planning on putting a message on my local posse WhatsApp group, asking for some lucky winner to transport me to the pub, and later drive me home twisted, locked, bladdered, trousered: all of the above.

However, the health challenges keep on coming. Ever since December 2019 I have been seriously unwell with serial illnesses, and on occasion I struggle to keep my pecker up.

Today I’m on powerful painkillers, while tomorrow I must spend yet another long day at the hospital, having scans and tests and gordknowswot.

Even though your motives are the finest, I beg you please please please do not leave online comments encouraging me to be positive, go onwards and upwards, eat slug nipple fritters or dance at midnight in front of the moon whilst humming the Marseillaise.

Often the greatest act of kindness is simply to be there for someone, silent and strong.

 

Pull that belly in, boy! On the cliffs at my favourite beach, Kilcummin Back Strand.

 

The celebration can wait. The pub will still be there, as will this wandering Jew’s joy at having found a home.

Today, inside my head, heart and soul, I’m giving thanks.

I'm so grateful to live in this gentle beautiful soggy corner of the universe, where I belong; to have the love of countless others; to indulge my conceited belief that in return for Irish citizenship, I have offered this country an extravagant amount of opinion, a luxury of criticism and a gargantuan outpouring of love.

Happy 30th To Me! I'm home, and I’m staying ’til the end.

 

 ©Charlie Adley
01.08.2022