Monday 29 August 2016

THREE PRICES FOR THE SAME DRINK IN THE SAME BAR!


Years before Paris, Hilton Hotels represented exclusivity and class. As a young boy in the 1960s I saw London Hilton on Park Lane as a stunning skyscraper.
 

20 years later, as a precocious marketing whizz-kid, a client invited me to lunch at its rooftop restaurant. I loved it. Everything felt special. My client was clearly well known to the staff and I left feeling altogether squiffy and rather bloomin’ splendid.
 

Had material matters mattered more to me, I would have felt that I’d truly made it.
 

Instead I chose scribbling and had no further contact with Hilton Hotels until a couple of weeks ago, when I stayed at the Watford Hilton.
 

Blue chip brands have two ways to go. They either hang on to the unique quality that made them what they are, or they diversify, diluting the brand into as many enterprises as might exploit a profit from the cachet of the name.
 

Fortnum and Mason and Waterford Crystal would be the former, while Hilton, as I discovered, represent the latter.
 

Every couple of months I visit my mum in London. Occasionally, when it’s not convenient for me to stay with her, I go to a hotel. Last time my usual place was fully booked, but the internet came up with a reasonable rate at the Watford Hilton.
 

For some bizarre reason I just love saying it: 

Watford Hilton Watford HiltonWatford Hilton

It sounds so incongruous it tickles my funny bone, but as a guest it screwed with both my head and wallet and that doesn’t make for a happy man.
 

To be fair all the staff I met (save one who failed to see past the rules) were absolutely splendid, my room was as clean and bland as any corporate hotel, and I had no complaints, until I went to the bar.
 

Much as I love my family, when I return to London from the silence of rural Ireland, the hammering hum of the big city combines with my family’s need to all communicate to each other, at once, all the time (myself included), to leave me a bit bewildered by the end of the first day
 

I long for a barstool in the hotel and a double Jameson.
 

Sadly, as is increasingly the way these days, there were no barstools, condemning the lone traveller to sit at a table. That night 
Tired after travelling and coming down from a fun full-on family dinner, I didn’t care. 


Up to the bar, where I feel a little taken aback that my double Jamie costs £10.90, but I just want it down my neck, so I go to my table; sip whiskey; relax. Pick up the menus from the table and look at them, so I’m not staring at couples at other tables like a psycho.

Ah, the drinks.listings.
Jameson: £5.00.
 

Hang on a mo. If this says it costs a fiver how come my double just cost £10.90?
 

Up to the bar to ask the barman who tells me it’s the service charge.
 

I tell him I was a barman on and off for 18 years and if a punter wanted to tip me that was great, but you don’t add a whopping service charge to a drink when you feel like it.
 

He says it’s on all the drinks.
 

I tell him that had I ordered from the floor staff, I might have left a tip. Had he proved a splendid barman, I might have tipped him too, but there is no such thing as service charge when you’re standing at the bar. 

Even in the USA, where it’s customary to tip the barperson, it’s not obligatory. It’s never included in the price of the bloody drink.
 

The barman insists it is. End of.
 

Back at my table, I feel angry and an unfortunate desire for more whiskey but - ah! Over there, the Tariff sheet on the side of the bar. 
That’s the legally binding document, so let’s go and see how much the Jamie costs on that.
 

Jameson: £4.60.
 

Do wot guv’nor? One bar three prices for the same drink? They are ‘avin’ a laugh (and I can feel the Londoner rising in me even now, as my language changes) and I walk to Reception, where I tell them what’s happened.
 

They take the Tariff sheet down, as the bar could be closed down if they charge more than the listed prices, but while all are friendly, none of the four staff I speak to offer any kind of resolution.
 

I retire to my room to see if Gary Lineker will really be in his underpants.
 

On a table in my room is a plastic card saying something irritatingly corporate and well-meaning:

“If there’s something wrong tell us and we’ll make it right!”
 

So I sit and fill in their Comments leaflet and write a note to the manager, expressing the fact that despite their hocum cotton wool bunkum, I’d spoken to 4 of them and nobody had made anything right at all.
 

The next evening I receive a letter in which he kindly explains that my room service charges have been rescinded and that I can have a double Jameson on the house tonight. 

He apologises for what he calls the “price variance” but at no point addresses the big mystery: all the other stuff was simply an administrative cock-up, but what the hell was that service charge about in the bar?
 

Pretentiously infected by its brand name, the place just about manages to live up to the standard of other plastic menu corporate hotels. Sadly, it acts and charges as if it is still special in some way beyond the sign over the door; a cut above.
 

The cost of their room service cooked breakfast? 
£23.75.
 

I kid you not. That includes a 'tray charge’ but I’m not sure if service charge is extra.
 

Hiltons ain’t what they used to be. Class is not the word.
©Charlie Adley
16.08.16.


Saturday 20 August 2016

I DON’T CARE IF YOUR LOO PAPER TOUCHES MY SAUSAGES!



I shouldn’t, but I just can’t help myself. I’m not usually a sadist. If anything I tend more towards the love and peace brigade, yet right now I’m torturing a woman and thoroughly enjoying myself.
 

There's nothing physical about my minor act of evil. She’s not planted under a bamboo seedling that will grow up through her body overnight. My attack is purely psychological, and to be honest, cutting through my dark pleasure is a bright streak of embarrassment.
 

I can’t believe I’m really behaving like this, but equally I’m utterly fascinated by the terror a small piece of plastic can instill in your average Irish person.
 

Finally, I relent, reach for little placcy divider and place it on the conveyor belt at the back of my shopping.
 

Herself waiting behind me in the checkout queue at Dunnes breathes a massive sigh of relief.
 

"Thank you!" she whispers under her breath.
 

I’d been dying to see how long she could last when her eyes were confronted by several feet of empty black conveyor belt, but no placcy divider.
 

What is it about that supermarket divider that terrifies Irish people?
 

Solid mothers of five who drive small tanks and run successful businesses from their homes shrink with fear when presented with the edge of somebody else's shopping.
 

Yes, we all need our personal space to survive the challenges of modern life and manners are wonderful things. As in my native England, here in Ireland society tacitly requires a certain level of politeness to be observed.
 

All that suits me down to the ground, but once there's half a foot of black plastic between the arse end of my box of eggs and beginning of your packet of nappies, it's pretty bloomin’ unlikely that the cashier will suddenly reach across the void, grab your shopping and charge it to my bill.
 

God forbid, even if they did, what's the worst that can happen?
We might be forced to look each other in the eye, act like social animals, and explain that a mistake had been made.
 

Still you wait. 

Even when there’s a completely empty conveyor belt stretching before you ...

... you wait.
 

You wait until that impolite man (of course he’s a man so he’d know no better) plays the game and gives you the divider.
 

Hurried, stressed and impatient, all people wait as calmly as their raging blood pressures allow for the placcy divider, holding their breath, arms folded at the chest, as if their very lives were under threat.
 

I've even seen some people piling their shopping into a tower on the metal far end of the counter, waiting waiting for the moment when - Oooh! Oooh yeh that’s so good! - their pent-up release comes, as the divider hits the belt.
 

Is this behaviour an obscure expression of anal retention? Is all this holding back really about the self-imposed delaying of your moment of pleasure?
 

Doubt it. As far as erotic environments go, the supermarket checkout queue has the sexual allure of dung beetles and the sensuality of soggy white bread in the sink.
 

Is there an unwritten book of supermarket etiquette? Why are people being so ridiculously considerate about such a minor issue, when they’ll quite happily park their  SUV across two spaces outside the supermarket?
 

They won't let their fish fingers stray within a divider-less foot of your organic beetroot, but they won’t think twice about talking to their friend all the way through the film when they sit next to you in the cinema.
 

If it's not down to manners or respect perhaps it's pure snobbery. Does Moddim in the Moon's overcoat fear that her superior brands might fraternise in some dirty way with my common as muck essentials? 

Does she shudder at the mere thought of her luxury indulgences being soiled by sitting too close to my Goodfellas frozen pizza?
 

Will the goodness of her biodynamic aubergine be denigrated by the nearby presence of my Denny sausages?
 

It’s more complex than that, as this fear of divider-free black belt crosses all economic thresholds. Makes no difference if the bloke behind is disappearing under mountains of generic value family packs, or standing nervously in line with a hand basket carrying only a little prosciutto and confit de canard.
 

Rich or poor, male or female: you're all scared to the point of pooping by the thought of sharing your shopping.
 

As a blow-in I might be ignorant of a dark day in Irish history when a riot started in a supermarket. Not so much the Massacre of Vinegar Hill as the Slaughter of the Celeriacs or the The Great Gluten Free Disaster of ’77.
 

The sad truth is that we define ourselves - our characters, our social standing, our self respect - by what is in our supermarket trolleys.
 

Tell me that you’ve never cast a critical eye over what your fellow humans pick up for their weekly shop.
 

What are they going to do with that muck? Yucketty yuk yuk! Glad I don't live in their home! That toilet paper tears badly, and that cleaner is bad for the environment, and I don't like those crackers, way too salty, and look at all that meat! Heart attack coming up for you, no doubt. Didn't you ever hear of fruit and veg, pal?
 

I just have to accept that I’ll never understand this deep-seated Irish fear of groceries becoming mixed up. 

Do you really believe that your Shredded Wheat being six inches from my Pantene ProV will change your fingerprints?


©Charlie Adley
08.08.2016.

Tuesday 16 August 2016

Fight for your right to watch your own national games!

For once I can't blame Murdoch!

 
Tommy walked into club with a fat lip and swollen left eye that’d be a right shiner by morning.

“You been fighting again, Tommy? Don’t tell me. It wasn’t you. It was the others.”

The seven year-old lad looked at me straight in the eye.

“Yeh, whazz.” he whispered, pointing his chin to the ground, looking all sorry for himself.

“Maybe next time don’t wear your Dublin jersey to school, eh?”

At that his head shot up, brow furrowed, eyebrows scrunched together in genuine confusion.

“What’re ya talkin’ bout? Was’n me blaydin’ Dublin jersey. Sligo, Mayo, makes no difference wha’ jersey y’wear. They bate me ‘cos dare a bunch of fuckin’ bolloxes, dat’s why.”

“Language, Tommy!”

“Yeh, sorry. I’ll fuckin’ shut up now so I will.”

I’d only been in Ireland a few weeks and knew precisely nothing about this country. My introduction to the ethos of Gaelic Games came through this encounter with Thomas, while I was working at a post-school project for 5-13 year-olds in the Rahoon Flats.

Over the next 25 years I grew to understand the importance of your sports. In no small way their history reflects the history of your nation. Their prohibition through the days of occupation focusing Republican support; the horrific massacre at Croke Park; the ruins of the GPO on Hill 16.

When at the turn of the century they were faced with the successful globalisation of Brand Ireland, the institutional partnership that had defined old Ireland finally fell apart. The Church declined to adapt and lost much influence, while the GAA chose modernisation.

All of a sudden you could play the English game or Rugby and still play GAA. Then, as Ireland blossomed into its first independent boom, those ‘foreign’ games were being played at Croke Park.

The GAA seemed to be leaving behind the bigoted restrictions of the past, willing to forgive, forget, move on and before you could utter the words ‘Dev', ‘grave’ and ‘turning’ in the same sentence, they were playing God Save The Queen at Croker.

Unfortunately the conveyor belt of progress rolls only one way, so it came as no surprise to me that the GAA sold broadcasting rights to Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Sports. Although Murdoch’s my long-standing nemesis, I cannot blame him and his empire this time. 

He’s only trying to make money. That’s the function of a profit-making corporation.

Nobody minds the GAA making a few bob, but that’s not their primary function. Their reason for being is to serve and facilitate everyone who participates, from the Cannings and Careys to Carol who sows grass seed on the bare patches of the parish pitch to Colm who drives the physical contents of the pub to away games. \

Even though I know few of the intricacies of the sports’ rules, I love so much about Gaelic Games.

I love that Tommy or any other kid can wear any county jersey to school without fear, because I come from a culture in which wearing a Liverpool jersey in Manchester means you’re asking for a kicking.

I love the way you all stand mixed together, shoulder to shoulder, sharing the craic with the opposition, because I spent my youth in football grounds where barbed wire and columns of police kept the Away fans separated from the Home fans.

I loved those Friday evenings in the pub in North Mayo, when my friend would be off his stool every hour to pick up the munchkin in the green and red jersey from training in the Community Centre gym and drop off the older lad for his training, later picking him up, as red in the face as half his jersey, to drop the oldest son off for his training.

The village was carpeted by sweating children of all ages in Mayo jerseys, growing up with a strong sense of belonging, a feeling of pride in their community and a love for exercise and the team ethic.

When your county makes the All Ireland Final it’s the lads you know from down the road who bring a tear to your eye. All that is now under threat, as the only games safeguarded for terrestrial television are the two All Ireland Finals.

Gaelic Games start and finish in the parish, just as cricket in England will live and die on the village green. Cricket is the English national game and when it was sold to Sky Sports there arrived a devastating hole in our culture that can never be filled.

My mate and I used to write off five days of our lives to watch an Ashes Test Match. There’d be pork pies, sandwiches, beers, cards and conversation, but now that’s gone forever.

We lost our national game to satellite TV, but you don’t need to lose yours. There’s a review of the situation due at the end of this season and backed by major figures from the worlds of sport and politics, a campaign is under way to ensure that existing legislation (already used to ensure free access to the Six Nations Rugby Championship) will be enforced to keep Gaelic Games on terrestrial TV.

Tuam songwriter Seamus Ruttledge explains: 
“Keep Gaelic Games ‘Free to Air’ is a platform that lobbies for all Gaelic Games to be freely accessible. 

It’s not too late to do something to help, so please contact your local TDs, councillors, your local GAA club, your County Board. Make your voice heard. Demand that Gaelic Games be safeguarded for us all.”

Well said sir. 

Be heard, because Gaelic Games are more important to Ireland than the GAA.

To help call 087-2968651 or 087-8161663, or visit ‘Keep-Gaelic-Games-Free-to-Air’ on Facebook.





©Charlie Adley 07.08.126.

 

 

Sunday 7 August 2016

We are predators with good brains - so let's use them!


Messy business war. Bloody, savage, cruel and inevitable, war is one of only two constants that run throughout human history. Survival is the other: the continuation of our species for a few millimeters in the marathon of time.
 

We’ve not been around long and unless we see an evident simple truth that is not even in front of our eyes, but rather our eyes themselves, we’re not going to survive much longer.
 

Our eyes are on the front our our faces. We are predators, designed to kill. Fight or flight, hunter or prey, that’s the way it is in the animal kingdom, and we have evolved to look forwards: to kill.
 

We prefer to think we exist on some sort of higher plane than the beasts of the field, but we don’t. Yes, we’ve come up with Gandhi and Gucci, but still we need to kill each other.
 

Sometimes I wish (not very often) that Intelligent Design was real; that an omnipotent benevolent being made all the creatures and twiddled their evolutionary nobs.
 

If that were the case then we might have avoided the one way street of improvement that is the human race. Yes, tigers and sharks can eat us, spiders and snakes can do us harm, but essentially we’ve no other predator but each other. 

You can call it Top Of The Food Chain and feel all puffed up and proud of our cultural achievements if you want, but take a look around.
 

We’re killing each other.
 

Always have and sadly inevitably will, until we realise that war is in our nature. No, that doesn’t mean we’re bad people, nor does it negate our ability to love, to feel compassion and empathy for strangers in a way that is rare in nature.
 

However, until we cop on to the fact that we are biologically destined to hunt, and then use our superb sentient brains to act on that knowledge, nothing’s going to change.
 

Gandhi was possibly ahead of his time, while Gucci represents in capitalism one of the main reasons we choose war over wisdom. Untold billions are made in the manufacture and sale of military hardware, while the spoils of war come in the shape of oil refineries and gas fields, diamonds and gold.
 

Messy business indeed. Priests getting their throats cut, revellers mown down in the street and it’s so close to home and on TV all the time, it scares you. 

The media coverage equation has always worked by dividing the distance of the tragedy by how many of your own nationals are involved. Hence the Berkeley balcony scored blanket coverage, while the 87 people killed in Kabul yesterday barely got a mention.
 

The people of Nice and the priests of Normandy have you rushing to change your Facebook cover photo to the French flag, while the 14 children killed in Aleppo three days ago didn’t even register.
 

Did those people die in Kabul or Aleppo? You’ve no idea. They die out there all the time. It’s hard to keep up. 

They die in agony, ripped apart by bombs in markets, torn asunder in their beds at night, in wars that we either actively support or are culpable of by history and association.
 

Yet when these wars come to our countries everyone’s stunned and shocked.
 

Yes it’s appalling. It’s horrific, terrifying and wrong in many fundamental ways, but what the bloody hell did you expect?
 

Why did you think that those being delivered hell nightly from the skies might not seek revenge against their enemies?
 

Did you hope it was so far away it’d never really trouble you beyond a tut-tut-isn’t-that terrible now? over the 6-1 news?
 

Well get a nice Irish tricolour ready for your Facebook profiles and avoid the rush. Travelling through Shannon Airport every couple of months, I’m outnumbered 20-1 by US army uniforms in the Departure Lounge. 

Sipping my coffee I try to rid my mind of two words, legacies of a London childhood that ran in tandem with IRA bombing campaigns: legitimate target. I’m a legitimate target in that airport, with legions of soldiers all around me, and so therefore is Ireland.
 

No it’s not news. You’ve lost count of the lefty politicians and pacifists who’ve been arrested for climbing over the barbed wire onto the runway. You wondered why they bothered, just as you’ll be shocked and outraged the first time the war comes here.
 

‘What did we do the deserve this?’ you’ll ask with self-righteous indignation.
 

You did what the maxim says it takes for evil things to happen.
You did nothing.
 

War comes in many forms. Six years ago this colyoom was outraged by the French banning of the veil. While many of you have at best mixed feelings about the covering of female faces, it was clear that to many devout Muslim women, the banning of the veil felt like an act of war; another Crusader’s tactic to diminish, degrade and ultimately destroy Islam, their religion and their way of life.
 

Double Vision May 2010: "For crying out loud, this is dangerous stuff. We’re stoking up a holocaust, people … this is about the demonisation of a major world religion. Our leaders are fighting a Crusade and we are sitting back saying nothing. The West have decided that Islam is the enemy and Islam has taken up the fight"
 

We can maybe hope that a world run by women might undo the mess caused by men. 

Will Angela, Christine, Theresa and hopefully Hillary overcome their predatory instincts? Or, like Thatcher before them, will they feel the need to outman the men with yet more warmongering?
 

While there’s money to be made war will continue, but we can play our part for peace by no longer pretending we are not at war ourselves.
 


©Charlie Adley
31.07.16.

Sunday 31 July 2016

GALWAY CITY NEEDS A LIE IN!

shhushhh....... we're sleeping......

Galway City is a grumpy beast early in the morning. Stuffed full of pork products from their B&B breakfasts, groups of Germans and Americans squeeze between crammed rows of growling delivery trucks, chuck-chuck-chucking out diesel fumes, fouling the damp misty morning air.
 

Bewildered by the ugliness of the scene, the tourists wander around, wondering what all the fuss is about.
 

“I am sinking how everybody said Galway was great, but this is just, how you say? Gross?”
 

Be patient. Galway City doesn’t burn the candle at both ends. If you want to drink eat and dance until dawn then you have to give the city time to refuel, rest, have a shower or four and flush its innards out.
 

You wondered what that smell was? Well this city’s the recipient of every type of bodily function, and it has to relieve itself too. Just like its inhabitants at this time of year, Galway’s a bit stinky and doesn’t like to get up in the morning.
 

You wouldn’t turn up on your friend’s doorstep first thing after a big night out expecting them to be full of life and smiles and energy, so take a walk to Black Rock, kick the wall, marvel at the astonishing view of the Burren and by the time you get back to town the place’ll be spick and span, shutters rising and door’s opening, everyone getting ready for action.
 

With its year’s peak so close we should spare a thought for Galway City, its energy almost spent. Our city absorbs what we feel in our knees, livers and wallets, but it needs to take one more deep breath, another round of greeting smiles and split shifts for the Bank Holiday Weekend and it’ll ease just slightly. Then it’ll be schools, Halloween and … and we won’t go there.
 

Well done Galway! Your bars have filled with song, your theatres and tents brimming with music and drama. Your cinemas were home to packed houses watching world class movies during a captivating Film Fleadh.
 

Your walls have been hung with art, your floors with installations. Your streets have been filled with the cacophonous delights of a busker every five yards, while your pavements have been smoothed and squashed under the weight and purpose of hundreds upon thousands of human feet, flying bodies of acrobats, jugglers, actors, poets, tightrope walkers, Nora, Pat, giant insects, human pizza and a million rats.
 

Bottles of Buckfast have been hurled into skips, only to smash upon landing against bottles of bubbly. You’ve hosted Samuel Beckett, The Undertones and Dermot Weld, along the way becoming the European Capital of Culture 2020.
 

So no, Galway doesn’t do mornings very well. 

This time last week I had to drop the car in early for service, so at 9:30 am I found myself slumped in a chair outside a closed Neachtain’s. With a posture that suggested I was being pushed back into the cane chair by a great and powerful force, I let myself sit; stare; soak up the pain and exhaustion of a Galway City morning.
 

Cities don’t suffer hangovers, but if they did, Galway would have the greatest hangover in the world. Mind you, through the miasma of that self-inflicted misery, there’s laughter to be had and heard. 

As I stumble and drift around town in these early morning hours, I find myself laughing with just about everyone I meet.
 

First I have a giggle with Paddy Mechanic, who seemingly only recently discovered that lawnmower blades and human fingers are a bad combination. Then I bump into the lovely Donncha, a man of organic lettuce and natural warmth. These days we seem only to see each other at the height of the festival season, yet he’s a fine human being to meet this morning, and a link to Galway past.
 

Well, at least one of my Galway pasts!
 

In the offices of this Noble Rag I enjoy the company of Frank upstairs and share a giggle with Carmel on the ground floor, leaving the building with a smile stretched upon my lips. I’ve only walked from Bridge Street to Market Street, yet already I’ve had three happy encounters.
 

Later in the afternoon lies the prospect of tea and buns with Dalooney, a weekly man to man gathering where we talk of fruit flies and feather boas, wrapping the occasional real life subject with humour before introducing it into the excellent conversation, so I dive into Petite Delice for cakes. Still and always will go to Griffins for my bread, but French patisserie? Ooh là là!
 

Then it’s off to Pura Vida to relax, drink, eat and stare out of the window at the flow of people over and water under Wolfe Tone Bridge.
 

The place is packed with 20something young Americans. Think less David Bowie, more:
 

“Like ahh she said like ahh, so I said like ahh, and then she said like err, so I said like err.”
 

Good to know that in our social media age, the art of conversation is not dead; not quite.
 

Two hours later I’m back with the car, but now the city’s arteries are as clogged as carotids after thousands of cream cakes.
 

In the labyrinthine helter-skelter of Jury's car park amateur season has broken out: cars reversing, lost and stuck. 

It’s enough to try the patience of your scribbler, so a few minutes later I‘m delighted to find myself ensconced in my Friday office, outside Neachtain’s, where I can watch the Galway Shuffle along Cross Street, High Street and Quay Street. 

Personally though I like to look up to the medieval rooftops opposite, to the scuttling clouds and the seagull’s nest crammed beside that chimney stack.


© Charlie Adley
23.07.16.