Monday 26 September 2016

BEWARE THE GALWAY DOUBLE: TWO NIGHTS OUT IN ONE NIGHT!


Just when I thought I’d learned all the tricks Galway can play with your plans, the city slips me a sucker punch that leaves me reeling.
 

I know how dangerous it is to meet someone for coffee at 4 in Galway. I know that just popping out for the milk can sometimes take three days. I know that there is no such thing as ‘just one quick drink.’
 

Sitting at the bar of an Tobar in 1993, I discovered how dangerously different Irish drinking culture is to English. My excellent friend The Body turned to me.
 

“Are you going out tonight, Charlie?”
 

The question completely threw me. I’d spent the previous 4 hours of darkness drinking whiskey in a city centre pub.
 

What part of that wasn’t ‘out’?
 

Back in the day in England we went down the pub at 7:30 because it closed at 11:00, so that we could have enough sleep to fulfill the Protestant work ethic, arrive at our jobs on time, brimming with energy and bulldog spirit.
 

Like many other Catholic countries, Ireland prefers to go out at 10:00, but that’s where the comparison ends. While the Spanish and Italians enjoy a late dinner, splitting their working days into morning and evening shifts with a siesta, many Irish eat early and go out to drink at 10:00, heading to bed when standing up becomes a little too troublesome. 

Some will sleep until they wake up and there’s the rub for me: I'm condemned to bloomin’ wake up early. Perverse and unnatural, this business of being conscious and active through the morning hours must’ve been drummed into me as a lad.
 

A few weeks ago I needed a night out, but felt a bit betwixt and between. Like the weather, like a slightly nutty scribbler, I didn’t know if I wanted the Irish-style social late night, with attendant sleep deprivation, or the early start English version, more of a solitary wandering anti-social ramble.
 

Deciding I wasn’t really in the mood for making small talk, I hit Quay Street at 6:30, aiming for the only certainty in my head.
 

Every Adley organic ramble has to start where the white flesh of fresh cod is magnificent. No good Galway night out can begin until you’re full of PJ McDonagh’s fish and chips.
 

Coach parties wandered up and down Quay Street on that fine evening and there was not a seat to be had outside Tigh Neachtain but - ah wonderful! - the barstool facing the fire in the middle bar was free.
 

One of my favourite barstools in the entire city, especially on a wet cold Tuesday afternoon in February, I sit and watch the flames and drift off into the bizarre and exciting world of Joe Boske and his Arts Festival posters.
 

Rather too happy, I down three whiskies in fairly quick succession, and find myself twirling Pádraic Breathnach in a ballroom manoeuvre as I take my leave.
 

Plenty of time Adley, pace yourself.
 

Drawn by the full moon in a cloudless twilit sky, I wander towards the docks.and lean on the wall at the end of the pier, wondering at the elemental splendour of that silver wash on inky waters.
 

A whiskey in O’Connaires, once Sheridan's and other incarnations, but to Galwegians of a certain age (and this blow-in) only ever Padraig’s as is and was and ever shall be. Despite the nasty metal bar stools, I meet Peter Connolly of the exceptional Claddagh clan, who updates me on the progress of Bádóirí an Cladaig and their superb mission to regenerate Galway’s maritime traditions, by restoring and sailing a fleet of Galway hookers on the modern day bay.
 

A while later I’m sitting outside The Quays, blissed out in my own space, very happy to look like Billy-No-Mates. On my left five American men drink five pints of Guinness, roaring with laughter at each shared story, while to my right three bearded hipster cyclists in Spandex drink bottles of water.
 

Onwards I wander, up to Murphy’s where the last vacant barstool invites my arse to sit on it.
 

Perfect. I love it in here. Checked shirts and men being men, watching Barca thrash Celtic. Mind you, times change: the lad sitting next to me at the bar is reading a book on a Kindle.
 

I stare into the mirror, the optics, drift off with the gentle hum and tinkle, giggle and cough of the bar.
 

Another couple of wee ones down me and I’m feeling perfectly toasted, wandering up High Street to sneak a quick nightcap in Tigh Coilis, watch Dalooney ply his musical art and head back for a good sleep after an excellent evening out.
 

My phone vibrates, alerting me to a message from Vinny. He’s out of the theatre and how about that drink?
 

Nothing I’d enjoy more than a drink with the inestimable Mr. Browne, but I’ve already had my night out and - oh, whatever.
 

Four very splendid hours later, Dalooney, Vinny and myself fall out of another city centre hostelry. My friends have been in sparkling form, having only had the single night out (although, to be fair, Dalooney had played an earlier set in Taaffes too, so he was on his own ‘double’) but I am now absolutely Galwayed, bad and improper.
 

After 24 years this city can still catch me out. I thought I knew all its tricks, but on reflection I suppose I was asking for trouble, heading out without knowing which kind of night I wanted.
 

In the end I enjoyed both the quiet solitary wander and the big blather night out. 

I’ve been introduced to the Double Galway: 2 nights out for the price of one. Well actually, the price of two, plus a double hangover and sleep deprivation thrown in for good measure.
 

Wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
 


©Charlie Adley
18.09.16.

Sunday 18 September 2016

Blood, sweat, tears and craic: the stuff of life!



Many thanks to all of you who responded so positively to this colyoom’s mention of male mental health a couple of weeks ago. It’s great to hear your tales of progress; magnificent that you’re so willing to tell them.
 

Traditionally men are not considered good at talking to each other, but that’s not necessarily true. We share feelings through telling jokes, reveal tragedies and victories through tales and anecdotes.
 

Sometimes you don’t need to go into the details. Sometimes it’s just enough to get away from whatever ails your head and spend time in the company of others who are simply pleased to see you. 

Sometimes, for men, the fellowship of other men who want nothing from you except attention and time can prove wonderfully healthy.
 

One of the ways I and a few others massage our male minds is to gather on Friday afternoons round at Soldier Boy and Whispering Blue’s gaff.
 

It’s a little like one of those excellent Men’s Sheds that exist these days, except that we don’t actually make anything except conversation and endless cups of strong sweet tea.
 

Okay: it’s exactly like a men’s shed.
 

A few weeks ago we were joined by Bog Doctor, a soul with a keen sense of the absurd, often couched in overtly perverse and scatalogical humour. Passionate about the local environment, his insights have helped me to look at the bog differently when I’m out walking Lady Dog.
 

Are the plants by the drainage ditches looking more healthy than the ones far out on the middle of the plain? How much does our digging affect growth on what was once wet ground?
 

Reaching down beside his arm chair, Bog Doctor produced a small metallic suitcase, which he opened to reveal a microscope, slides, little bottles and tools, all slotted snugly and orderly in place.
 

On the table was a Coffee and Walnut cake, purchased to celebrate Soldier Boy’s birthday. Bog Doctor took a minuscule granule of the cake and placed it on a slide, whereupon each of us in turn groaned and giggled as we lowered our stiff and creaky middle-aged frames to kneel carefully by the microscope
 

Now I know that to a microbe, a speck of icing sugar looks like the Ross Ice Shelf on the continent of Antarctica.
 

Pricking his thumb with a sharp point, Bog Doctor carefully spilled a drop of his own blood onto a slide. One by one we all once more knelt uncomfortably to peer at blood as we’d never seen it before, magnified x 200, then x 400 and finally x 900.
 

It was utterly fascinating to see the emergence of what looked like cells. Bog Doctor managed to answer all our questions clearly and sensitively, without making any of us feel thick.
 

If only Science at school had been more like that.
 

Every massively enlarged image of organic matter looked like a 3D satellite map of terrain and what with there being a room full of blokes, talk naturally turned to maps.
 

Weren’t they great? 
Didn’t we all love them?
 

While everyone shared their own personal tale of how maps had mattered to them in the past, I could only think of one, and reached for my phone. A few years ago I asked my friend, cartoonist Martin Rowson, to create a map of our walks with Lady Dog.
 

So that we might swap tales, The Snapper and I have allotted names to several spots on our townland and bog (Snifffy Woods; Horse Stands High; Pheasant Nest Corner and so on) and I wanted to suggest to the lads that another function of maps was to aid the evolution of place names. Maybe over time an area we call Sniper Alley might become something like ‘Snipraille.’
 

Trouble was I couldn’t for the life of me find the image on my phone. By this time, the room was silent, every eye focused on my fingers as they splayed over the tiny screen’s shiny surface, hitting this and sliding that, while I spluttered and muttered.
 

Eventually I turned to Bog Doctor, who was eagerly waiting by my side to see the map I was going on about.
 

“Sorry mate. Taking me ages. These things are not designed for middle-aged male fingers. Old man with iPhone I’m afraid.”
 

There followed a suitably long silence; not too long, but a period of time heavily pregnant with Bog Doctor’s imminent response.
 

Quiet as a mouse, he muttered under his breath:
 

“Hmmm. iPhone with old man.”
 

The depth of his verbal switcheroo took a few seconds to sink in, but then the wonder of his observation hit me. With a tiny bit of word inversion, he was implying that the phone was a more competent entity than I was myself; that somehow it was the phone that was struggling to accommodate me, rather than the other way around.
 

That’s my kind of humour. Subtle, slightly absurd and suitably cruel, laden with more than a dollop of painful truth.

“iPhone with old man! iPhone with old man!’” was the chorus roaring around the room, as we all for a couple of minutes forgot our woes and collapsed into hysterical giggles.
 

I laughed until I cried, at which point Bog Doctor launched himself at me, brandishing another microscope slide.
 

“We’ve had blood and now we can look at tears. Anybody got any sweat?”
 


©Charlie Adley
03.09.16.

Sunday 11 September 2016

EIR’S FEEBLE BRANDING REFLECTS THEIR SERVICE!



You know that feeling of utter hopelessness you get when you’re on the phone to a service provider? Twice recently, when dealing with Eir, I thought I was losing my mind.
 

My home’s only 25 minutes from Galway City, yet in 21st century Ireland there’s no landline-based internet available here. Instead I have to pay for satellite internet, separate satellite TV, a landline and a mobile. 

Our internet is so slow that for business I rely almost entirely on my phones, constantly irritated by Eir’s bombardment of cheap bundle offers that I can’t subscribe to, as they don’t provide broadband.
 

Fed up with forking out around €120 a month for my two phones, I called Eir to see if I could get a better deal and they offered me a landline and mobile bundle for €87.00. Hardly a startling discount, it required an 18 month contract with full cancellation fees.
 

As a customer since 1992, I felt offended by those contractual obligations, so I called back within the cooling-off period to cancel the deal.
 

The salesman told me there was (all of a sudden) no need for the contract at all; that he’d give me a €10 discount for six months and I could be sent a paper bill. He did such a great job that I ended up signing.
 

“Fair play to you mate!” I told him, enjoying the prospect of writing a positive colyoom about customer service. What a welcome change that’d make to the usual consumer columns that exist to criticise.
 

Then Eir went and spoilt it all.
 

A couple of weeks after the new deal, neither of my phones would dial out. Living where I do at first I thought it might be atmospheric pressure or the Little People, but eventually I dialed 1901 to be told that Eir had cut me off.
 

This was Am I Losing My Mind? #1.
 

Eir said they’d created a credit limit for me, which was then somehow exceeded, so they cut me off.
 

I wailed down the line about how difficult it is as a customer to pay a provider if nobody sends a bleedin’ bill, and how much did I owe anyway?
 

€281.39.
 

What?
 

€281.39.
 

No, you’ve got it wrong. It can’t be, even with you going on about overlaps covering new contract times and all that malarkey. The deal was €78 a month for the first six months, then up to €87, and you come up with €281.39, and a random credit limit, and then you cut me off without even sending me a bill?
 

I’ve lost business and credibility and how much did you say again?
 

€281.39?
 

Eir agreed to investigate whether I’d been mis-sold about free calls to UK and Irish mobiles.
 

I paid everything, just to rid myself of irritation, so imagine my delight when I returned from abroad in June to find no messages on my landline.
 

When Eir restored the service they cut off because I hadn’t paid a bill they hadn’t sent me, they failed to restore my vital voicemail. So when prospective students and interested editors found they couldn’t leave a message, they were unlikely to call back.
 

For my small business it was a financial disaster, exacerbated by a supervisor at Eir’s Complaints Department, who sent me off to Am I Losing My Mind? #2.
 

He kept telling me that Eir had sent me two texts about the money I owed, before they cut me off. He ignored both my words and my payment history, which showed that I’m the boring sod who pays all my bills on time, every time.
 

Ergo, if they had deigned to send me a bill, I’d have bloody paid it.
Repeatedly insisting that I’d been sent the texts, he went on to tell me that Eir’s texts were reminders, not bills.
 

I lost my temper and started shouting.
 

“When a provider asks me for money, I call that a bill, don’t you?”
“No, they were reminders.”
“Mate, you are having a laugh with my head now.”
 

I checked my message history and as I suspected, I’d received no texts.
 

Hell, I didn't suspect: I knew, but Eir offered no compensation for loss of business, just robotic pedantry about their Terms and Conditions.
 

Then I receive in the mail a flashy pop-up full colour leaflet, telling me that my Eir broadband bundle is going up by €8.00 a month, but that’s okay because I’m going to get Eir Sport, and free calls to Irish mobiles as part of an improved package.
 

My head spins.
Are Eir even aware that they don’t offer broadband here?
 

I already pay BT Sport for the TV channels that Eir’s offer adds to the broadband bundle to which I cannot subscribe anyway.
 

Eir then tell me this offer was sent in error; that the broadband bundle that I don’t have isn’t going up in price, but my calls to Irish mobiles are still not part of my bundle.
 

Recently I was asked by a German student where most locals got their broadband.
 

“From Eir.”
“From air? I heard that in Ireland technology is strong, but that is amazing.”
 

After spending €16 million on rebranding, people really should recognise your company name when they hear it, and visually relate it to a strong logo.
 

Appearing in a seemingly infinite amount of colours, Eir’s three letters sound exactly like a different word.
 

This is the opposite of branding.
 

If Eir had invested in their product and customer service, instead of wasting a fortune on such feeble marketing, I might have proper broadband by now.
 

As these calamities are happening to me, I strongly suspect they’re going on all over the country.
 

The crushing fact remains that until Eir provide fibre broadband, I have no choice but to subscribe to their monopoly. In the meantime I’ll try to run my business despite them.

©Charlie Adley
01.09.16.

Monday 5 September 2016

AT LAST MEN ARE TALKING ABOUT OUR MENTAL HEALTH!



Fleeing responsibility I seek mental peace; time to settle my heart and refresh my soul. 

I’m only away for 2 days, so that’s a pretty tall order. If this wee break only allows me to dip my emotional fingers into a particularly wonderful state of being, I’ll be happy.
 

No floatation tanks needed: just splendid isolation.
 

To awake to an empty day; to sniff the familiar whiff of freedom; to go to bed when tired, awake refreshed; to walk for miles.
 

I love people, yet need solitude to repair and recharge. As a selfish youth I repeatedly stretched and broke the boundaries of my fragile mental health. 

One morning in 1989 I found myself stumbling up Aukland’s Queen Street, wondering what the hell I was doing in New Zealand. Broke and broken hearted, paranoid without a passport, I felt as mad as a hatter and sure I’d never see Europe again.
 

Obsessive love had driven me temporarily insane and while it was terrifying to be crazy on the other side of the world, it was supremely liberating to know I had no plan and truly did not give a damn.
 

I’m a feeble human, unable to appreciate my mind’s many states of being, but I’m grateful for the experiences of madness I’ve garnered.
 

 

While her people enjoy a slumbering Sunday morning, I drive 4 hours through Ireland, to glimpse for the first time the sunny southeast, This lunchtime it turns out to be soggy and grey, with dark clouds threatening low over Waterford City.
 

Onwards to the edge, to the sea, where stumbling around Tramore, I’m sad to see so many bars and restaurants closed during the tourist season.
 

The seaside town’s hills leave me sweating into my first whiskey. Although I enjoy a pleasant evening with fine people in a good town, I’m weird and would rather be in Lehinch on a Tuesday evening in November.
 

Down here the smaller places seem bigger. There’s more infrastructure and it’s slightly more clipped than it feels back west. 

Here dandelions are pummelled by trucks on the roadsides while I miss the willow herb and cow parsley of our slower roads and bohreens.
 

Oh - and they don't Howya when you walk past them on the street. Found that out straight away, but kept on Howya-ing like a culchie anyway.
 

 


On the second morning I awake to more damp dull skies so I decide on a pootle and discover the absolutely stunning Copper Coast Drive to Dungarvan. Coves, sea stacks, ragged rocks and crashing waves divert my attention as I try to focus on the winding road, but each stopping place is filled with cars, so I drive on.
 

Taking tea and reading the paper in a hotel in Dungarvan, I listen to two women effing and blinding over their carvery meat and cabbage like there’s neither a tomorrow nor a God, so I head back along the same road, now under pristine blue skies.
 

Through map reading and pure instinct I turn off the main road, to find a perfect empty beach. A fascinating signboard explains how the layered cliffs towering above display the entire history of our planet, back to a time when South East Ireland was on a completely different continental lump to the rest of the country.
 

 

Waves and sand and pebbles and rocks. Freedom from artificial sounds.
 

Bliss.
 

I do what I do. Sit on a rock and look for a pebble somewhere out along the tideline.
 

Focus on it and see which way the tide pulls.
 

Will it become covered in water or high and dry?
 

By the time I know I’ll feel better. 

Mindfulness, meditation, call it what you want, it’s Adley’s way of recovering personal peace. I’ve been doing it for decades. Lakes can be tricky as there’s no tide, but I’ll watch a blade of grass bend in the wind instead.
 

Off in the distance I see what I imagine to be an Irishwoman collecting seaweed. However, as she approaches I discover that she’s English and picking up litter, after the weekenders left a terrible mess all over the glorious beach
 

“I know you don’t do it for thanks, but I’m glad I’m here to say thank you to you, for doing a wonderful job. Thanks!”
 

She smiles in return and then I’m alone again.
 

Thanks universe. That rock made me happy.
 

On the drive back to Tramore I find myself feeling sad again. There seem to be so many villages that have neither a shop nor a pub. A friend had told me that the South East might remind me of England a little. Tragically, in that particular aspect, it did.
 

We certainly have our problems out West (most of which stem from not being out East and copping the government funds), but compared to what I saw that day, our rural village life is pretty vibrant.
 

On my last evening in Tramore I finally find my pub. A youngish landlord (they all look younger these days) and a loud friendly crowd up the stairs and around the corner.
 

I plonk myself on a barstool in the quiet front bar and do my blanking out thing, until an Aussie bloke arrives on the barstool two down from mine. I sense his need to talk so we drift amiably into conversation.
 

After only a couple of minutes he explains that he’s had a few mental health issues in his time.
 

“Mate, that’s exactly why I’m bloody here!” I reply.
“What, because of my mental health issues?”
 

We laugh and then I say how wonderful it is that men have progressed as a gender, to the point when two blokes in a bar can swap mental health stories, without feeling any less testicular.
 

In Ireland that would have been impossible 25 years ago.
 

We clink our glasses
 

I found my beach.
I found my pub.
 

Whaddya know? Everyone struggles with their heads.

© Charlie Adley
29.08.2016

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.