Friday 24 February 2023

Interesting Feeling.

Staring death in the eye with a blade pricking my jugular - another true story from my new collection Kill Me Now.


Interesting Feeling.

The city streets are black and wet. Your friend’s living room glows amber from the light of lamps.

You feel safe; warm; relaxed.
You’re 23 and life is good.

Later this evening life will feel fantastic.
You will appreciate every single breath.

None of you want to go out. 

Saturday night is for amateurs: time to stay away from pubs, clubs and restaurants. Trouble is, everyone wants something to smoke, and nobody else knows how to get some.

You head off with your mate to Brixton, to score a little gear for the crew.

Fifty pairs of eyes turn to look as you walk into the pub. The centre of the bar is empty.

Everyone is hanging out by the walls, or the bar. Everyone is watching everyone else in a surreptitious way, that gives the impression they are in fact minding their own business.

Grabbing a pair of barstools, your mate orders pints, while you look around for your guy.

You’ve been shopping here a dozen times. You know your guy and he knows you. With deals like these it helps to know your guy. You know neither his name nor his marital status.

You know nothing about him, save for the fact that he has done you right in the past.

He’s your man.

After all your previous visits everyone else knows he’s your man too, so they leave you alone.

That saves a load of stress and hassle.

There he is, sitting over by the jukebox as usual. You catch his eye, exchange glances and head for the Gents.

It’s glaring bright white in there, heady with a cocktail of bleach and urine.

Nobody else about.

He’s a big guy, over six foot and chunky sideways too, wearing faded blue jeans, a black T-shirt under his brown leather jacket.

You speak first.

“Arright mate?”

“Yeh, harsit goin’?”

“Good y’know.”

“Watcha wan’? Black ‘ash?”

“Nah. I want some draw, if you got some.”

“Yeh I got some. How much?”


“Nah man, gonna cost you ten for draw. S’good bush, y’kna, s’Sensi, y’kna. Me personals.”

“Oh come on, you wouldn’t be selling ya personals to me.”

“S’good, y’kna, right?”

Suddenly three more guys come in. They’ve seen you walk in and they’re after your business.

You’re not interested in them.

One of them pushes forward.

“Hey man, watcha wan’? Ya don’ wan’ ‘is gear man, iss no good. Look, I got good ‘ash, see. Red Seal, see.”

“I don’t want no Red Seal.”

That was your mistake. You should have completely ignored the other hustlers.

Your man thinks he’s about to lose his deal, and while it probably isn’t worth that much to him, there’s ethics.

Yes, even in pub toilets on cold Brixton nights there’s ethics, and these other guys are out of order.

“Hey, wass yaaar problem? See, I deal with the man, see! He come to me befah, ya kna?”

“So what you say now, fool? You say I can’ no sell ‘ash in me own backyar’?”

A third guy takes hold of your hand, opens out your fingers, swiftly squashes something into your palm and then closes your fingers around it.

It’s an old trick. You got it, so now pay for it.

No way you’d ever buy like that, not without seeing and smelling the gear first.

Otherwise you’re going to end up with liquorice or oregano.

Things are getting a little messy, but you’re not sweating it. You’ve failed to learn that bad madness can happen any time.

Your man sees you holding the other guy’s gear and reckons you’ve done the dirty on him.

In the past he’s always been gentle of foot and vocal chord, but now he completely loses control, shouting and screaming.

“What ya doooin’, boy? You don’t do a deal with me? You can’t swap over, like, whenever you want, ya fool, bumbaclot.”

You step back in shock.

Stepping towards you

in one swift movement
he grabs you with one hand
by your neck,

the other by the rear waistband of your jeans.

He lifts you off your feet

into the air and
fast and strong

slams your back up
against the wall
above the urinal trench.

The others lads are laughing, but when he pulls the blade they start to jump up and down, yelling and screaming at him.

“Fuck’s sake man, get that blade off’ve ‘im! ‘Ees gonna kill that stupid fucka!”

“Bladclaart man, you wanna get the blade you get the blade. ‘Fee wanna kill the man ees gonna kill the man and nuttin’ we can do ‘bout it.”

He’s holding you a foot off the ground, choking your neck.

The power of his grasp presses your back against the wall.

You know the guy. He’d always seemed cool.

Tonight though he’s gone full whackadoodle on you.

You smell his breath. Curry goat patty.

Now he presses his shoulder hard into your chest, releasing the hand around your neck.

For a second you breathe in free rasps as he adjusts his grip, the hand now holding you up scrunched on the lapel of your leather jacket.

His other hand arrives at your freshly exposed neck, pressing his blade into your jugular.

There’s a fair bit of flesh on your bones.

It takes the strength of a mad man to hold you above the ground with one hand.

As long as he stays this mad you’ll be okay.

If he gets sane all of a sudden, and loses the strength to hold you up, you’ll slide down the wall,

onto the blade,
which will slide into your neck.

If he gets any crazier he’s going to stick it in anyway.

You can feel the cold metal tip pricking your skin.

The others aren’t pleased with all this. They’ve got businesses to run from the premises, and Babylon swarming all over asking questions they can do without.

They’re leaping up and down, shouting at him to let you go, but they can’t pull him away ‘cos then you drop.

If they try to get the blade off him he’ll do it anyway.

You know it’s nothing to him.

He can kill you, or he can let you live.

A dead white male on the toilet floor of a Brixton pub on a Saturday night: The Boys are not going to be overwhelmed by witnesses.

You’re aware that his mates are trying to get him off you.

You’re also aware that your wallet is being passed around out there somewhere, but that doesn’t worry you in the least.

The real game is between you and him,

up close

face to face.

He's using all of his strength to hold you up there.

You breathe hard on each other
his spittle hits your cheeks.

His eyes glare at yours
yours stare close up into his.

His sweat and heat on your sweat and heat.

You know it’s nothing to him.
He can kill you

or he can let you live.

You’re adrenalin calm.


Interesting feeling.


©Charlie Adley


Sunday 19 February 2023

Music Monitor


A tale of Deep Purple, bruised buttocks and my first act of rebellion. From my new collection of autobiographical short stories: Kill Me Now


Music Monitor

You sit terrified behind the curtain at the edge of the school stage.

The only other person up here is the Headmaster.

A lanky skinny man, he is compassionate, yet unpredictable in everything except his wardrobe and his rollups.

He sports green leather patches on the elbows of his omnipresent tweed jacket, nicotine yellow fingertips and moustache.

He also wears the rich scent of Old Holborn tobacco.

There are worse smells.

You peek out, around the edge of the curtain.

His fingertips rest regally on the arms of his wooden throne.

Below, the entire school fidgets excitedly on polished wooden benches. Each boy’s head twists to look up at you: excited if they don’t like you; nervous if you’re their friend.

You start to sweat.

Your heartbeat crashes around your eardrums.

For the first time you taste your own bile, along with a pre-pubescent whiff of damp armpit.

You wonder why the hell you’ve decided to do this.

At the age of 12, your life is as good as it will ever get. You’re Patrol Leader, a School Prefect and a Dormitory Prefect. You scored straight ‘A’s on all your exams and you’ve loads of friends.

A few weeks ago the Headmaster approached you to ask if you’d like to be Morning Music Monitor. Every function at English Preparatory School has to have a title.

Now you have the honour of choosing a piece of music each morning, which you then play while Assembly dissembles.

The corresponding record sleeve has to be displayed in front of the Headmaster’s lectern on stage, enabling everyone in front of it to know what music they can look forward to.

Behind the lectern, the Headmaster has no idea which composer you’ve picked, but he’s very familiar with the entire school collection.

At least, he thinks he is.

All he’s done today is come into Morning Assembly, as he always does.

He hasn’t seen what the rest of the school has seen.

Next year you’ll start Public School and because they think you’re smart enough to be an Oxbridge candidate, you’ll be thrown into a class a year ahead, and pushed to take three ‘O’ levels in a single year.

You’ll go from top of the form and popular to being the class dumbo and a social pariah.

A boiling bag of hormones, paranoia and primal urges, you’ll react by putting on 45 pounds of weight, and decide that you’ve no desire whatsoever to go to university.

Right now though you’re bricking it.

So far you’ve been the model of a modern music monitor, done exactly what you’re meant to do, choosing safe crowd-pleasing favourites such as Grieg’s In The Hall of the Mountain King or Sibelius’ Karelia Suite.

Each morning you lift the needle and set it down so very carefully onto the LP, in an effort to avoid deafening everyone with the ear-splitting crunch of a stylus sliding through loudspeakers.

Today the boys hold their breath, their eyes transfixed by the cover of the LP on display.

Your first act of rebellion.

Punishment awaits.

After the hymns and prayers, the Headmaster stands to make his daily announcements, sits down, turns to you and nods his head.

Your signal to play the music.

Nobody will stand up from their seats until the music starts, and then they will file out, age by age, class by class, except for the Prefects who wait until all others are gone, and then file out in order of their own seniority, followed by the Deputy Head Boy, then the Head Boy.

This obsession with hierarchy drives you crazy.

This is why you feel the need to break rank, and it’s too late now.

Everyone apart from the Headmaster has seen the album cover.

If you don’t do it you’ll be chicken.

If you do it, you’ll be a hero and in serious trouble.

Slowly, gently, the needle is lowered.

You sit back and wait for the opening chords of Deep Purple’s Smoke On The Water.

A gasp is audible from below, but still, row by row, the boys stand up and file out, each staring with a smile as they walk by.

Some whisper

“Nice one, Adley!”

Others drag their fingers across their necks, in simulation of the slaughter to come.

After the boys have all left the hall, the teachers file out in their correct order, by seniority of age and department, followed by the Deputy Headmaster, and finally the Headmaster.

This morning he’s not gone anywhere though.

He sits in his chair and looks over. Just the two of you in the empty hall. He looks down at his knees.

He places the palms of his hands over his cheeks, hiding his weary kind eyes. Now he inspects the frayed hems of his ancient gabardine trousers.

You sit and say nothing.

That’s a simple fact of life in private schools in England: speak only when spoken to, and even then, only when expected to reply.

This long silence drowns you in dread.

You imagine the Headmaster is contemplating which particular line of punishment to choose.

Finally he turns to you, and speaks softly across the stage.

“Hmm.     Well, Adley    that was               that was         hmm.     What was that?”

“That was Smoke On The Water by Deep Purple, Sir.”

“Hmm.       Heard worse things.          They appear able to play their instruments and create a melody.        Hmm.         I suggest that from now on, you stick to the wonderful world of Classical music from Monday to Thursday.       Hmmm.         On Fridays, I will trust you to be sanguine about your choices, but if it has a tune,       some kind of musical merit   and is     ermmm     popular with the boys,       I see no reason to avoid the contemporary canon completely. Are you capable of choosing such pieces?”

“Er, yes. Yes Sir!”

“And that doesn’t include Chuck Berry and his ding a ling, nor Benny Hill and the likes of Ernie.”

“No sir. Hate that anyway, Sir.”

“Very well, Adley.”

He stands up and leaves.

You sit there in shock, wondering what the hell ‘sanguine’ means, aware that you’ve got away with a whopper.

You stand up, and discover something that will affect each subsequent performance throughout your life.

While you have the nerve to speak in public, to make a marketing presentation, to open an exhibition or launch a book, afterwards your legs become feeble wobbly sticks, completely failing you, and you will fall over.

Alone in the school hall, you slowly topple backwards.

Your arse slams hard

against the wooden boards

with an echoing eye-jarring thump.

You have escaped the cane.

You have neither been reprimanded nor beaten, but contrived somehow to smack your own behind and end up in pain.

It was worth it though.

©Charlie Adley


Saturday 11 February 2023

International Dateline

Map: Caitlin Dempsey  

This weekend - from my new collection Kill Me Now - obsessive love and madness unleashed in:

International Dateline

For months you clamp yourself to her life, until eventually she relents and lets you be her boyfriend.

For years you tell her how important it is to travel.

She goes travelling.

Now she’s on a beach in Los Angeles, and you're in a piss-stinking public phone box in Bradford, West Yorkshire.

You ask the woman on the end of the phone three times: is she sure there were no letters waiting for your girlfriend when she arrived.

Three times she answers with increasing impatience.

“There were no letters for her, and right now she’s down at the beach.”

None of the many long letters you wrote arrived. She doesn’t know what you wrote.

You can’t even remember what you wrote, because ever since she left, you’ve been out of your tiny fragile mind.

Without her there to obsess over, your madness has no outlet.

You tuck your chin into your coat, push open the door of the phone box, and step into the freezing cold rain exploding over the Pennines.

You walk against the wind, and stumble back to your little terraced house, where you sit on the sofa in your soaking wet coat.

You drink scotch. Famous Grouse.
You smoke some hash.
Then drink more scotch.

Eight hours later Malcolm comes home from work at the Student Union bars and finds you still in your damp coat.

Full length tweed, with a large collar that you keep flipped up around your neck, exposing only your face to the outside world.

Since she left you wear this coat everywhere, even during university lectures.

It’s being talked about, but you know it’s better this way. You are safely cocooned, and they are protected from you.

Mind you it stinks a bit, when it’s soaked through and body-warmed from the inside.

Malcolm is not an effusive man. Long silences and few words are his way, yet tonight he sits next to you and puts his arm around you.

“This can’t go on, Charlie.”

“My letters didn’t arrive."


Long silence.


“If it can’t go on, what do I do?”

“Go and pack Blue Bag.”


You head upstairs, somewhat surprised to find Malcolm following you. Evidently he’s reached a level of concern that requires you to be supervised.

“What am I packing for? How long?

“As long as it takes.”

“And am I going somewhere hot or cold?”

“Pack as if you’re never coming back."

This is a man you trust. Your inability to act rationally makes taking instruction easy; pleasurable.

Somebody else has taken control.

Thank fuck for that.

Packing Blue Bag is simple when you’re going forever.

One set of clothes for hot.
One set for cold.
One set to stay dry when it’s wet.
Boots on the foot and trainers in the bag.

Everything stuffed into a plastic orange survival bag, which keeps it all dry, and if you’re ever stuck, you sleep in that bag. Orange bag rolled into a sausage, slid into Blue Bag and zip.


“Well done Charlie. Now, am I right in thinking you’ve still got an American Express card? I seem to remember you saying you’d kept it from your marketing days.”

“Yep. Paid the bloody membership fee each year for some reason, but never use it. It’s a charge card, not a credit card. You have to pay the full bill each month. Who does that?”

“Perfect. Put it in your wallet.”

You follow Malcolm out of the house and walk through the silent darkness of sleeping Bradford.

Malcolm unlocks the door of the bar he closed only an hour earlier.

You sit together in the pale light of beer pump heads.

Absorbing Malcolm’s calm and the stillness of a closed bar, you drink whisky through the night.

Malcolm looks at his watch.

“First train leaves for London in 20 minutes. Time to get to the Interchange.”

“Am I going to London?”

“No Charlie. You’re going after her.”

“Am I? Oooerr. Not sure she’ll like me muscling in on her trip.”

“You don’t have to muscle in on anything. Just see her, say what you need to and take it from there.”


Malcolm walks you through Bradford’s ashen dawn, down to the station, and sees you onto the train.

You’re heading south at sunrise.
Blue Bag is by your side.

Relief and a sense of purpose flood your frayed worn out systems.

From London’s Kings Cross you jump onto the Northern Line, and head straight to Kentish Town, to wake up Chris.

You tell him that you need him by your side for the day.

“Okay Chas, but I’m going nowhere without a coffee and a rolly. What’s going on this time?”

“Right mate, here’s the story. Got to be on a plane to LA by sundown, or else I might start to think."

Chris takes you to the USIT travel agency in the West End, where you show a young brunette your student card.

You explain to her that you have to be on a flight to LA by nightfall.

Her fingers whirl over her keyboard.

“Okay, there’s a flight with BA to JFK, leaving Heathrow at 5pm today, and then a connecting flight to LA six hours later, but … if you wait until morning, there’s a much cheaper fare on a direct flight, without that long layover.”

“No. I need to go now.”

“Okay. How long would you like to spend in LA?”

“24 hours. And the following day I need a flight on to New Zealand.”

She looks up at you for a second and returns to her keyboard.

“Hmm, yes, I can do that. Air New Zealand have two daily fights. Any preference for times?”


Chris bounces nervously from one foot to the other.

“And onward from New Zealand?”

Shit. You haven’t got that far yet.

“I’ll sort that when I’m there.”

“So it’s a one way from here to Aukland with a stopover in LA."

“You could say that.”

She looks at you and smiles.

“Do this a lot, do you? Get me to the other side of the world right now type of thing?”

You smile and ask if they accept American Express.

“That’ll do nicely!” she says.

You both turn your heads as Chris chuckles at the absurdity of it all, and then all three of you laugh together.

“Oh and I need a hotel room in LA. What time do I get in?”

“Erm, 1:20 am local time.”

“Shit. Okay, I definitely need a room. Nice place, please.”

“I’ve a room at the Wilshere for $250.”

“That’ll do. Book that too.”

You hug Chris and climb onto the bus to Heathrow.

You’re on the plane to JFK.
You wind your watch back 5 hours.

Sleep is out of the question. You’re buzzed to fuck on adrenaline and off your tits on sleep deprivation.

Six hours layover in JFK, immobile with a thousand yard stare,

Now you’re on the plane to LA.

You wind your watch back three hours.

This is the longest fucking day the universe has ever seen.

It started three days ago.

You asked Chris to call her, to tell her Charlie is on his way.

Chris didn’t thank you for that. What a bastard call to make for your mate.

She’ll be there.

Will she be safe at the airport?

Get a grip. She volunteered to help the victims of the Loma Prieta earthquake.

She’ll be able to handle a fucking airport.

Will she be furious?

You encourage her to travel and then, soon as she does, you implode, go bananas and chase after her.


You hate yourself but you love her.

Staring into the night outside the airplane window you see her dark blonde hair, those rounded cheekbones, her clear English Rose blue eyes and that perfect petite nose.

Through the veil of your madness this middle class woman from the Midlands appears to have a soul that’s pure, a heart that’s open, an admirably powerful sense of social justice and a mind-blowing body.

You’re not muscling in on her trip.
You’ll be gone the day after you arrive.

You just need to hold her.

She needs to know how much you love her, and then you can let her go.

Hang on! She’s heading to New Zealand in December.

Before she left, while you were still sane, she suggested you might fly out and meet her there for Christmas.

She actually said that, months ago, and you laughed and said

“No, this is your time my love. The last thing you need is me. This is about you.”

Now, maybe, this one night in LA might be followed by Christmas together in New Zealand.

How long is it since Bradford?

How long is it since sleep, since food or anything but winding back your watch?

Off the plane in LAX, you race to Arrivals, and

there she is
waiting for you.

She tries to look angry.

Your eyes pump excitement as you stride towards her, yet she refuses to smile.

You go for a hug but she stands back.

“What the hell are you doing here?”

“Came to see you, didn’t I?”

She can’t resist the power of your crazed enthusiasm, and now you hug her and she lingers just long enough to let you know.

She smells so good.

You grab a cab to the hotel and you both sit on the floor in your room, swigging a bottle of vodka from the neck.

She feeds off your madness, the excitement of it, and then you make love, frantic wonderful sex on rough hotel carpet, and then you pass out on the bed.

Two hours later the Californian sun drills into your head through your eyes.

When you try to check out of the hotel, the guy on reception says if you don’t mind, please wait a moment. He has to call American Express.

Apparently there’s been a recent flurry of activity on this card, and he simply needs to reassure them you presented full ID, and the card has not been stolen.

Outside the hotel you stretch out your arm, flick on your lighter and set fire to your American Express card.

The melting plastic drips onto the sidewalk.

“What the bloody hell are you doing?”

“It was getting too hot, so I made it hotter. I’d never be able to use it again anyway.”

You hug her and armed with her scent in your nostrils, you finally summon up the courage to ask

“New Zealand for Christmas? I can rent us a beach hut near Abel Tasman?”

She looks you in the eye, shakes her head and sighs.

“I’ll be there.”

You turn and walk into downtown LA, find a local bus that creeps slowly towards LAX, via some extremely dodgy neighbourhoods, board your flight to New Zealand and wind your watch back …

… how long?

Hang on, you’ll cross the International Dateline, so isn’t it tomorrow there already?

You have no idea what time

                        or even what day it is.

You’ve completely lost your own dateline

                        your brain bouncing around a timeless lifeline.

24 hours later you walk up Queen Street in Auckland.

You have no money.

You have no place to stay.

You have no ticket out.

You might never go back.

You might live here forever. 


You might not.


She’s coming for Christmas. 





©Charlie Adley


Sunday 5 February 2023

Dangers Of Joy

After yesterday’s tale of pain, today I greet joy in 1990s Connemara. From my new collection of autobiographical short stories:

Kill Me Now. 

Dangers Of Joy.

Today is the day you discover joy.

Everything you perceived as happiness in the past was merely a confused cocktail of alcohol, hormones and drugs.

This is joy, and it’s not fleeting.

You’re about to feel joyful for weeks.

After two years in Galway City, a slave to the Salthill craic, you spend six months plotting your escape.

Today, under a sunny sky, it’s finally happening. You load all your worldlies into your transit van, and head west out of the city.

At 32, you arrived in Ireland ready to ease up on the partying. After four hectic years in Bradford, West Yorkshire, it was time to grow up.

Galway had other ideas, and your life is now immeasurably happier, thanks to friendships formed in city pubs and Salthill clubs.

You’ll always love Galway City, and you’ll need that craic for decades to come, but cohabiting has never been your strong point.

Driving through the majesty of Connemara, your heart calms; your spirit soars.

Cloud shadows scurry over the smooth slopes of the Twelve Pins.

This road started when you first left London in 1981, to live in Cambridge. Even then you knew that you wanted this. A part of you has wanted this ever since you stayed on a Somerset farm during childhood summers.

Of course you didn’t know at the age of seven, but that feeling of utter belonging was your country soul firing up.

You’re moving into a tiny house on the edge of Europe, beside a lake, a few hundred yards off the road, behind the landlord’s family farm.

The Atlantic ocean awaits, with white sand beaches on three sides of your peninsula.

Your house.

 Photos of photos, so as not to destroy my old photgraph album...

Your first house, alone, where you will be able to write; walk; calm the fuck down.

After decades of countless housemates, that sounds wonderful.

Finally you have your own lone sanctuary, with a front and back door.

Compared to all your other moves, in and out of city flats, lugging heaving straining boxes up narrow windy staircases, moving into this house is incredibly easy.

Your life is unloaded in 20 minutes.

With everything inside, you step outside to be greeted by a deep blue cloudless sky and Freddie, the farmer’s cattle dog. He’s not used to being petted, and delighted to have his ruff scratched. You’ll share a strong bond.


Behind the steel gate is Sarah, the neurotic Connemara show pony. She’s too twitchy to be a friend, but the farmer always says “Howya!” as he walks by, and stops to chat about grass temperature and the pregnant cow.

To keep you warm you order a trailer load of turf, which is dropped in a heap on your driveway.

Beside every other house you see the upturned hull shapes of turf reeks, expertly stacked by locals, so you try to build your own.

Turns out to be harder work than you thought. There’s thousands of the little sods. Failing miserably, you come over all Beckett, decide to fail better and walk to the pub.

In an act of perfect kindness, the farmer’s sons sort your turf while you drink. Arriving back at twilight, you see your year’s fuel perfectly stacked up by the wall.


Encouraged by pints of Guinness with Jameson chasers, you feel altogether emotional and very welcome.

There are people all around the world whom you love.

They have helped you through hard times.

You feel strongly they need to know you now live in this stunningly beautiful place.

Joy seems to make you feel strongly about many things.

Your soul has risen high into your chest.

Energy and power flow through your body, into the Connemara sunshine.

Your feet barely touch the grass; bog; cow pooh; white sand.

Unpacking the final box, you find your old Ricoh camera.

You step outside, breathing deep.

Even though the air smells rich in sea salt and cow dung, it’s so clean it actually tastes of honey.

Time to attempt a 360 degree photo of your new location.

First shot is of your house, the second of the gravel drive that winds to the farmer’s house and the road, 

(you take a shot, and then turn a few inches clockwise)

which leads to the ruined castle on top of Dun Hill, where a 15 year-old Granuaille, Ireland’s Pirate Queen, moved in with Donaille of the Fierce O’Flahertys in 1546. 

(and take another, making the pictures overlap)

A small turn to the right and there’s the moonscape.

Sparse grasses tousle glacial marble slabs, smooth as fallen headstones, in treeless famine fields, enclosed by dry stone walls.

The fields rise and sink at random, as if tossed by a gentle green tide. 

(so that no detail is missed out)

A few degrees further finds the gashed grey silhouette of Erris Beg, the mountain that shields Roundstone and south Connemara from view.

(and as you take it all in)

Further round to the west lies Lough Anaserd, a small azure lake, squeezed between the coral white and pink sands of Doonloughan and Mannin strands.

(you gradually realise)

In the distance behind your house rise the sensual slopes and towering peaks of the Twelve Pins: God’s own fruit bowl. 

(that this place is really your home) 

Before them lies Errislannan, the mystical misty headland where Alcock and Brown landed, after their pioneering Atlantic flight.

(and for the first time in your life you are experiencing joy.)

Days later you pick up those photos from the chemist in Clifden, and arrange them into a wide circle on white card.

In the centre of that circle you stick a map of Ireland, on which you’ve circled Connemara with a marker pen.

Beside that circle you place a small portion of a local map, with your house marked precisely by yet another circle.

Then you draw manic arrows from the outer photos to the national map, and more from that to the local map, and your house.

Then you drive back to Clifden and take A3 colour photocopies of your white card montage, and mail those copies to family and friends around the world.

You can relax now.

They all know you’ve reached the end of this road, from metropolis to city, from town to these small clusters of homes, with neither shops nor church, known in Ireland as townlands.

As your local populations shrank from vast to minuscule, your world expanded wildly, allowing space for your spirit.

On your first night in your new house you step outside and gasp to see the Milky Way: a gash of silver light sweeping across the pure darkness above.
You look inside, through your living room window, and smile at the fire blazing by the comfy chair.

Must be a lucky person, whoever lives there.

The next day you plan a Sunday roast. You’ve picked up two cheap front shanks of lamb. If you cook them long and slow, they’ll taste sublime.

To minimise hassle you roast them together with onion and spuds, adding parsnip and carrots later.

Everything’s in one dish.
Dead easy for the washing up.

After two hours your house is filled with the scents of rosemary and garlic.

Your stomach rumbles.
The skies are still blue outside.
You lift the roasting dish out of the oven.

Dammit, you’re singing with pure happiness while you prepare the feast on your plate.

Just a few long slices with the carving knife, to ease the meat from its tendon and bone, and then one final slice to split the skin between your thumb and finger.

Blood gushes forth.

You know two things: there’s no way you’ll ask the farmer for help, like a useless blow-in English fool.

Not on your first full day in this house.
That is not going to happen.

You also know that, fuck it, you will sit and eat this dinner.

A bit of a wound won’t stop you now.

Belly driven, that’s you.

Thanks to Allan Cavanagh of 

You wrap several sheets of kitchen towel around your severed flesh, and sit at the table with your bloodstained hand raised above your head, to stall the bleeding.

Your other hand grabs roasties, carrots and lamb from the plate and shovels them into your mouth.

“Oh, mmm, god, mmm, that’s so good!” you mumble, chewing the lamb bone like a primal predator.

“Howya Charlie! Just thought I’d put my head round the door, like, see if you’re settlin’ in okay, like!”

You’re not yet accustomed to the locals’ habit of ignoring closed doors.

If you’re there, they let themselves in, as your landlord has just now, finding you waving a blood-soaked hand high above your head, and a gravied gristly lamb bone in the other.

Your face is smeared with grease and unbeknownst to you, your left ear is covered with dried blood from your injury.

Your landlord stops in his tracks.

You try to decide which hand is best to wave.

“Grand thanks, Pat!” you cry excitedly, spittles of lamb exploding from your mouth, flying visibly through the sun-drenched air.

“All good here! Not a bother on me!”

“Sound, well, I’ll be off then.”

Shocked, unsure and hesitant, the young man smiles, turns and retreats.

You laugh as you wonder whether he thought you were eating your own self-amputated hand.

It’ll be a while before he pops in unannounced again.

Your reputation has been created. The locals in the pub hear this story, and they christen you Oddball.

In response you explain to this rural Brethren of the Bar, some of whom appear to have worn the same clothes for forty years, that coming from them, Oddball feels like a compliment.

Everyone laughs at that, mostly because they don’t understand your accent, and are unaware they’ve been slagged off.

The bleeding eases after your Sunday feast.

You sit by the fire.

Your energy crashes like an avalanche.

Joy is powerful.

Treat it with respect.

© Charlie Adley


Saturday 4 February 2023

But This Now?

This weekend I’m posting two tales from my new collection of autobiographical short stories:  

Kill Me Now.

In one life could not be better; in the other, everything, including my life, is under threat.


But This Now?

You sit in the waiting room of Galway Hospital’s chest clinic.

Due to Covid it has moved out of the central building. Beyond tall glass windows the July sun burns high, in an ocean blue midsummer sky.

Today you expect to meet the lung consultant, with whom you’ve dealt for the last seven months, and meet the surgeon, to discuss plans.

These appointments are usually punctual affairs, but the surgeon is late because he’s performing an emergency operation.

Your phone vibrates in your pocket. It’s a text from your landlord. He asks you to call him at your earliest opportunity.

That doesn’t sound good.
In fact that sounds desperately worrying.

At other times in your life you might not react with instant despair to that text, but after the past four years your reflex now lurches towards the negative.

You’re sick, weak beyond exhausted, nerves in tatters.

Please, not your home.
Not now.

You text him back:

‘Hi. In UHG Chest Clinic, waiting to find out if they’re going to cut off a chunk of my lung. Will call you when I’m back home. Hope all good with you. Cheers.’

Your physical health has finally collapsed under emotional and mental stress: the loss of your marriage; your house; your dog; both of your income strands; three of your best friends.

You’ve been in hospital three times in the last seven months. First there came pneumonia and pleurisy, creating pain that made smashing your femur at 17 feel like a splinter in your finger.

Then after a Winter at home coughing up vile mucus for twenty hours a day, they admitted you with a massive empyema, and over ten days drained a litre and a half of pus from your chest cavity.

Since Spring, whenever faced with even the minutest of emotional pressures, you cough up blood.

There comes a gurgle, like a tap that’s been turned on inside your chest, and you rush for the kitchen sink, and splatter it scarlet.

A friend of thirty years is upset with you for reasons unknown. He wants to meet and talk about it, but you can’t cope with that.

After that phone call you drench a patch of lawn red.

An email from your wife about the divorce puts you on the toilet, painting the bathroom basin bloody for seven long demoralising hours.

You’ve seen so many movies when blood appears on a handkerchief, the soundtrack shifts from major to minor, and the character is dead minutes later.

However, because your present life is an unrecognisable horror, you look at the blood and think

Okay, so I do that now too.

What does scare you is the way the experts don’t know what’s wrong with you.
That means they don’t know how to treat you.

You have countless X-rays and CT scans. You have bronchoscopies and inconclusive biopsies. They send you to the posh private clinic for a PET Scan, which seeks out cancer.

The level of care you receive shows the medical types perceive your condition as extremely serious.

Finally you’re shown into the consulting room.

You’re nervous. You’ve never met this surgeon before.

Despite saying he’d be here, your lung consultant, who’s a great guy with a calming manner, is not around.

Months later, after the surgeon has performed his magic on you, you see him in fine form.

Unfortunately, today he is exhausted.

You remember your lung consultant said something about the possibility of foreign bodies in your lung.

“Do you think it might be caused by a foreign body?” you ask.

“Foreign body? No foreign body!” shouts the surgeon, “You don’t breathe in foreign bodies. You not a child.”

Well neither are you, but you’re behaving like one! you think to yourself.

“Three possible causes.” he explains. “One: infection.”

“Hmm, antibiotics don’t seem to clear it up so - ”

“Two: inflammation.”

“But my CRP markers are down to fourteen from over eighty, so what’s the third?”

“Cancer. We have talked and want to cut off half your left lung. You okay with that?”

Half of it?

Up to that moment you imagined surgery will involve the removal of the atelectasis, a golf ball-sized inverted collapse, down the very bottom of the lung, which the lung consultant showed you on a CT scan.

Half a lung?

“Do you agree to the surgery?”

Half your lung?
Your spirit drains from your toes.

“Er, of course. You’re the expert. Whatever it takes. After surgery you do a biopsy?”

“Yes. Then we do biopsy.”

You sign a consent form, stumble out of the room and head for your car, where you have a little cry.

You call your sister, because you know your mum's round there. Saves saying it all twice.

“They want to cut half my lung off. They still think I might have lung cancer.”

When you hear yourself saying it, everything becomes real.

Get outa Dodge.

You need to be the other side of your hour’s journey, so you can take a valium.

Back home, before you even call your brother, you speak to the landlord. You explain that you’ve just found out you’re losing half a lung, and you might have lung cancer.

He says he’s sorry to hear that. He won’t be renewing the lease. You've until December to move out.

Afterwards you sit in your chair and try to make sense of it.

You’ve very possibly got lung cancer, although you’re still a fat bastard, and there’s not many fat bastard cancer patients.

You’ve got a divorce coming up; a messy affair: shouldn't be, but it is.

You’ve been unable to earn anything for seven months, due to your illness and Covid. Your savings are almost gone. You have only enough left for a couple of months’ rent.

A brutal illness, no money and a divorce.
That would be enough.

But this now?

Now a house move, that shoves the global pandemic down into fourth place.

How will you find another new home, if you have no way of paying rent.

Your landlord wants you out, but you aren’t physically able to execute a house move.

After surgery you will be debilitated for several months.

For months your lung consultant has told you he feels strongly it’s some kind of infection.

Now cancer is very much back on the menu.

If you have cancer you cannot stay in this house.
You're too isolated; too far from the hospital.

In fact, if you’ve got lung cancer, you might even want to go back to London, to be surrounded by friends and family.

Back to London?
Have you gone insane?

You love the West of Ireland and never want to live anywhere else.

Yeh but that’s it.
You want to live in the west of Ireland.
Maybe you’d rather die in London.

Well, not really.

You'd rather not die, but in the meantime, you have to make decisions.

Too much stuff.


Too much big stuff.

Do you have lung cancer?
Where will you be living come December?
How bad will you be after surgery? 

Breeathe in

Breeeeeeeathe out

Breeeeeeathe in

Breeeeeeeeeeeeeeeathe out 

What feels right to you?

If you don’t know the answer, you’re asking the wrong question.

Distract yourself to avoid a panic attack.

Build a fire.

It may be July but you can still build a fire. Do something that makes sense. Sweep out the ashes and put them in the metal bucket.


You can’t decide where to live until you know if you’ve got lung cancer.

That will define everything.

Firelighters. Break one into two and lay them on the grate.

Use the axe to chop a turf briquette into kindling.

Keep your mind in the moment.
Eyes on the job.


Wait for the biopsy. Find out if you’ve got cancer, and then decide where you live.

Strike a match and hold it to the firelighters.

Yes, of course.
Sit back in the chair and breathe.

In the meantime do something that makes you feel better.

Do some work. Be a writer. Finish these stories. That makes all the shite easier to deal with.

Life should not be a senseless charge from confusion toward pain.
It’s for living, walking, fireside talking. Writing makes you whole. 

Throughout all this shit, you don’t indulge misery. You battle on, praying to your atheist god for a change of luck.

Never do you waste time wondering what you’ve done to deserve it.

You joke that if reincarnation is real, you must’ve been some kind of special arsehole in a previous existence.

But this now?
The house.
Your home.


Take it all on board, and decide only what feels right.
More nuanced and subtle decisions can follow in time.

You do the exercises they give you, to prepare your body for major surgery.

The operation goes well.

The biopsy shows that while you don’t have lung cancer, you do have Actinomycosis: a very rare, potentially lethal, often indomitable bacterial infection.

This bug has been causing all your illnesses, and created the abscess that made you cough up blood.

Now you will be fitted with a plastic line that runs into your arm and across the inside of  your chest.

Through it you will administer intravenous antibiotics to yourself at home for 6 weeks, followed by a year of oral antibiotics, with no guarantee that’ll wipe the bug out.

Antibiotics for a year?

If the treatment fails, this infection creates abscesses and fistulas, gradually dissolving your insides into lumpy pus.

Take your pills.
Get on with life.

©Charlie Adley