Sunday 16 July 2017

Walking flies the flag of my mental health!



 Thanks to The Snapper for the wonderful photos!


My mental health is like the weather of the West of Ireland: all manner of changes and varieties, sometimes quite stormy and scary but most of the time wobbling around inside a fairly moderate range.
 

Leaving the house with Lady Dog this morning should have been a very happy occasion. I’ve not been able to take Lady for a walk since I injured my leg back in March, and this is the second time I’ve done it this week.
 

My relationship with depression is inextricably linked to walking. When fit, happy and healthy I walk my sorry plates of meat off, enjoying the mental release and emotional peace that come alongside all the physical benefits.
 

I have joked that it’s impossible for me to know whether the walking goes before the depression arrives, or if it’s the depression that kicks the walking out of my life. All I know with certainty is that when I’m physically able to walk yet not walking, I’ll be in the midst of a dark one.
 

 

In the past I’ve found this observation incredibly useful, as one of the recurring symptoms of my depression is a few months of denial, during which time I endeavour to ignore the bleedin’ obvious, carrying on as normal, wondering why I'm so tired; why life seems so testing.
 

After weeks of that nonsense, I will eventually look back and realise I’ve chosen not to walk for ages, which is when I have been known to say out loud to myself something akin to:
 

“You’re not walking are you, and there’s nothing wrong with you physically is there, so you’re in one, Adley, ye daft bollocks!”
 

When I'm physically unable to walk I struggle to maintain the naturally positive perspective that allows this scribbler to enjoy life, love, work and BBC4. 

Doing my physio stretches and taking various supplements, I feel I’m working on my mind as much as my body.
 

Do those pills work?  I don’t know, but as a fan of the placebo effect, I know they’re much more likely to help if I believe they’ll help, so I do.
 

I’ll do anything to get me out of the house and walking again, so I’ll take this and bend over like that and try to be patient, calm down, don't push it or I’ll just injure myself again.
 

A few days ago I strapped up my knees in Velcro thingies and thoroughly enjoyed taking Lady out for her morning stroll. This morning, for reasons that I recognise are beyond my control, I can’t shake the bluey from my head.
 

 

Yesterday I felt a little lost, mildly bewildered, unpleasantly disoriented, but thought little of it until I awoke this morning, feeling all those symptoms, intensely and simultaneously, latched like a limpet onto the dark side of my brain.
 

Even though I know it’s silly (and that I’d absolutely hate it if someone else dared to do it to me!) I try to cheer myself up, pull myself together a bit:
 

Look at yourself man! You’ve so much to give thanks for. You’ve a perky dog bouncing along at the end of the lead, and time to cross the road into a magical world of nature before breakfast.
 

A mix of bogland and pasture stretches for miles, and as I desperately try to appreciate being out here once more, after months of longing for it, I stop and sniff and breathe, standing under a celestial sky carpet of grey clouds, cracked by the heat and high light of midsummer sun.
 

While Lady bounces and pounces in the undergrowth, being irresistibly cute as she fixates on the long grass below and tries to catch a frog, I stand in gentle silence as a peaceful breeze caresses my ears, and look around, taking in the glory of my local world.
 

With Summer past its peak hours of daylight, the yellows that burst into life in early Spring are on the wane, making way for the pinks and purples of late season. 

 

There’s still dandelions and gorse to fly the yellow flag, but now there is pink from the gracious willow herb and vetches, while wild orchids of every shade from dark purple to the palest of pinks thrust up from the wild grasses, erect and proud and just a bit wonderful altogether.
 

 

When I worked at the University of San Francisco, I used to have a John Hinde calendar on my office wall, and dream deep and long of days like this.
 

I’d stare each month at a different photo of the West of Ireland and grieve for its loss and imagine lying on my back in a field in the middle of Nowhere, Co. Galway and feeling free to have the time to spend my days walking and writing and …






…and it’s all here, now available to me. Of course this life comes with new tests and challenges to face and overcome, not least the physical pain I must endure, but even as my spirit and thoughts feel tired and weary today, I know how good life is.
 

I know that I have major problems, but who doesn’t? I know that I'm lucky to have so many in my life who love me, and equally I know that nobody, including myself, can ease my mental condition this morning.
 

This is not a bad one. By the time you read this it will have long been consigned to history. Just enough of a chemical imbalance to erase from my day the joy of a walk, but at least, after all these decades, I have learned to recognise what happens to me, understand it, and know that it too shall pass.
 

Regardless of how I perceive it, the world outside will continue to bloom, thrive and luxuriate in its own splendour.

© Charlie Adley
05.07.2017.

Monday 10 July 2017

TRAVELLING IS REALLY ABOUT BEING STILL!


The splendour of the Douro Valley.
Most pics by The Snapper, naturally!

Holidays are notorious tests of relationships, but thankfully the Snapper and I enjoy them together. We use most of our spare time visiting family and life-long friends in England, but for one week each year we’ll find a wee house abroad with some kind of pool, walking distance from a restaurant, and then do nothing.

Herself will sit outside, reading a succession of vast tomes from dawn to dusk, while I will stare for hours into space, eat some olives and sip whiskey.
 

There might be an excursion to a Roman ruin, certainly natural history rambles where the Snapper can invest in her photographic talents, and most evenings we’ll probably walk out for dinner.
 

Apart from that, we are happy to relax in peace and quiet.
Bloody lovely, I think to myself in anticipation of Portugal’s Douro Valley. Can't wait.
 

As we steer out of our drive and head to Dublin Airport, I whack on the radio.
 

“Reports are coming in of a major forest fire in Portugal. So far at least 35 people are known to have died, many burning to death in their cars.”
 

I quickly flick the radio off.
 

“How many times do we hear Portugal mentioned on the bloody news, and here we are, not a half mile from home and they’re giving out about firemageddon.”
 

Having been a bit of a nerd on Google Earth before we left, I find our little place, where we are greeted by our hosts. 

 

Although Armando was born in the area, the couple met and lived in Anne’s native France, so all our communications are in French.
 

The warmth of their welcome is extraordinary, and while we sample Armando’s lip-dribbling cakes (a French patissier? Oh no, how terrible!) they tell us all the things we can do around the area.
 

It’s 38C.
I don’t want to do anything except sit in the shade and drink water.
 

Turns out our place is not a separate house, but a flat below their house, while our terrace is at the junction of the path to the garden.
 

Throughout the week we are visited constantly by both of them, so we don’t enjoy the privacy we usually like, but it’s impossible to be upset. The garden that Anne has created is incredible, with the river at the bottom of it offering shade, alongside the magic sounds and mesmerising sights of flowing water splashing over rocks.




Such is the diversity of Anne’s planting that wildlife of all types thrives here, with the smell of figs colliding with the croaks of frogs, the low-down burr of big black flying beetles with cries of human delight, as the Snapper discovers dragonflies of many colours.
 

  
Any gardener who can grown cacti and banana palms in the same garden as ferns and purple loosestrife knows their onions. Anne’s garden is living proof of ‘Right Plant Right Place.’
 



Meanwhile the strawberry Chantilly cream tart and lemon meringue pie that Armando creates to celebrate the Snapper’s birthday could not be more perfect.
 



It was clear from the start: even though this wasn’t going to be our usual holiday, Anne and Armando are so unbelievably kind, generous and friendly that there is no way I could be upset with either of them, about anything.
 

To be fair, they probably wanted to make sure we were not bored, popping down every couple of hours to chat and suggest places to go.
 

Maybe we are strange, in that we can amuse ourselves. More than that, I discovered after many years of travelling that to truly enjoy and understand a new place, I need to stop within in it; to look, listen, watch and smell the air. A paradox entwined in truth: travelling is about staying still.
 

You also have to move your arse every now and then, and I fell in love with the breathtaking Douro region, where stonewalled wine terraces line lush valleys that plunge dramatically into deep meandering rivers. 


Although tourists pass through, this is authentic Portugal. Nobody speaks English. There are no photos on restaurant menus. There is no ‘tourist food’ aisle in the supermarket.
 

Bloody lovely.
 

One invitation I had no intention of resisting was to our village’s Sardine Festival. Part of an annual midsummer tradition, each village runs an event to raise funds for the local community, and thanks to our hosts, the Snapper and I find ourselves the only non-villagers present. 

 















As my lovely wife dances yet again with the rather insistent Chief of Police (who can say no?), I snarf yet more gigantic sardines, fresh from the flaming barbecue, eaten in hands as is their sensible way.

 

The sun sets and the band strikes up with traditional local music, while we are brought soup, wine and beer with smiles and flourishes. 

It feels an absolute privilege to be here, to share their festival, run by themselves purely for themselves: the pure opposite of commercialism.
 


A week after Portugal’s worst ever natural disaster, with 72 now known dead, the local lads see no reason to change another tradition. Much to our disbelief and outrage, they light up a succession of fire lanterns and launch them, flaming, into the night sky.
 

Even though my mind boggles, for once my mouth stays firmly shut.  

This is my fifth visit to Portugal, and each time I find myself loving the calm, patience and sincerity of the locals.
 

Part of me is now pleased that they are also capable of behaving like pure eedjits, while another part of me will keep an eye open tonight, and a nostril alert for the smell of burning eucalyptus.

©Charlie Adley
28.06.2017

Sunday 2 July 2017

WHAT DOES IT MEAN WHEN YOUR PLANE IS ‘DELAYED INDEFINITELY’?



If you’re lucky enough to be flying away on holiday this year, I suggest you prepare yourself mentally for the airport. 

Between accidentally pulled plugs crashing computer systems, cabin staff working to rule and doubtless, that age old Pythonesque perennial - the French Air Traffic Controllers going on strike - you might have to spend a fair bit of time in the aptly-named Terminal.

Breathe out and rid yourself of all your expectations and desires. Give yourself up to the airport. They own you now and there is nothing you can do. 

Do not join a queue to board a plane that has not yet arrived. Do not sit and stare hour upon hour at the Departures/Arrivals screens. 
Do not believe that your gate will be announced at 16:05.

Most probably your journey will pass without a hitch, but should it go wrong, hopefully you’ll find comfort in knowing that however bad things seem, I had it worse in 1985.

Back then airports displayed flight information on ladders of plastic slats. When a plane left or landed, those slats flew around going:

kashunka - kashunka - kashunka - kashunka

The whole effect was quite trippy and hypnotic, as the destination names and flight numbers appeared to flow upwards, like the waters of a river, as the sign updated itself.

32 years ago I was perched eagerly on the edge of a seat in Auckland airport, watching just such a sign. After sleeping in the airport to save money, I was waiting for my cheap flight to Sydney with an airline called UTA, the less well-known Pacific branch of Air France.

UTA insisted you fly to Australia via Noumea, or New Caledonia, as the imperialists called it. Despite the fact that the French treated the airline with the same contempt, neglect and disregard for health that they showed the indigenous people of their Pacific colonies, all the Polynesians and young travellers flew UTA in those days.

The locals joked that UTA stood for ‘Unknown Time of Arrival’, with flights invariably delayed, overbooked or cancelled. But boy, were they cheap! 

My flight to Noumea had already been delayed a few hours, because the plane hadn’t yet arrived, but the board now said it was due to leave in an hour, so I shuffled off to the bathroom to wash; make myself feel human. 

It had been a long wait, but that was okay. I can stare into space for ├Žons. I’ll do all the waiting that’s out there, but I was feeling unusually twitchy about this trip to Noumea. 

There was a civil war going on there, especially notable as a triangular conflict. There were the colonial Caldoches, the native Kanaks and the French, all fighting over an island rich in nickel.

There’s always a natural resource in the mix somewhere. 
War follows natural resources as poopers follow peepers.

Having splashed off the detritus of a rough night’s sleep, I threw my blue bag over my shoulder and walked with a spring in my step towards the check-in desk. As I passed the Departures board, I threw it a cursory glance, and off it went, as if propelled by my eyes:

kashunka - kashunka - kashunka - kashunka

The ripple of movement arrived at the plastic slat with my flight on it, and whoooshhhh! It was off, moving around, who knew if up or down?

kashunka - kashunka - kashunka - kashunka

My feet were frozen mid-stride as I waited for the plastic flow to settle.

And there it was:

UTA flight to Noumea: ‘Delayed Indefinitely.’

Wow! What the hell did that mean? I have seen all manner of delays to flights, but ultimately, they’re either ‘Cancelled’ or ‘Estimated at...’.

Only UTA could come up with ‘Delayed Indefinitely.’

No. No no no. I was here all bloody night and everything was okay until I went to brush my teeth and then there was the bad 

kashunka - kashunka - kashunka - kashunka 

and now what? 

Some kind of existential holding pattern?

Delayed indefinitely? 

Am I meant to sit here for the rest of my life?

Has the plane even left L.A.? If not, when is it going to, and if it has, how is it delayed indefinitely?

Unable to fight my way into crammed UTA office, I heard from several over-excited youthful types that our plane had come down on Vanuatu; had been hijacked in Tahiti; had crash landed into the ocean; had an engine on fire and had to turn back...

To this day I still don’t know what happened to that plane. 

With no Kiwi dollars left, I simply resigned myself to fate and waited another three days in that airport, trying to learn from the experience.

Bring on the ├Žons.

Still, the delay meant that I had only three days on Noumea instead of six, and then I would be in Australia, reunited with dear friends at last. 

Three days on a tropical island? 

How bad could that possibly be, compared to being ‘Delayed Indefinitely’ in an airport?

Well, quite bad, as it turned out. 

The Scouse lad that sat next to me on the hotel shuttle bus from Noumea Airport decided it would be a “crackin’ idea” to use his huge camera to take lots of photos of all the military planes and tanks lined up in the fields outside.

After he was promptly arrested and yanked off the bus, never to be seen again, I was suspected of being his companion, and placed under house arrest.

One minute I’m delayed indefinitely, freed from everything but progress for all eternity.

The next I’m imprisoned, stuck for a finite time into a tiny space.

Life’s wee tricks, eh?

Now sit back, relax and enjoy your flight. 

©Charlie Adley
12.06.2017

Tuesday 27 June 2017

WE MIGHT DESTROY MANKIND BUT THE PLANET WILL BE FINE!


Bombarded by big news about bombs, elections and Brexit, we’ve almost forgotten Trump’s pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Although Climate Change poses a massive threat to us all, the way everyone talks about killing the planet makes me laugh.

Our human arrogance knows no bounds. Pumped up with ridiculous levels of self-importance, we imagine ourselves civilised, walking around as if we own the planet.
 

We talk of saving the planet, as if we were the guardians of this celestial wanderer. We indulge ourselves with grandiose notions about how we might be destroying the planet, and with delusional hubris we imagine we might be able to cure the planet.
 

Wisdom still eludes us. Ever since life evolved on Earth mass extinctions have come and gone. We are extinguishing species and creating famines, filling the oceans with plastic and surely will bring about our own downfall, but we don’t need to save the planet.
 

The planet will be fine.
 

We might be able to invent safe fuels, or build carbon scrubbing machines to remove the greenhouse gases. We might build huge mirrors to reflect the sun’s rays back into space ..... and a shaft of pure white light might shine out of my backside singing the Hallelujah Chorus.
 

This planet that we are so concerned with saving was born somewhere around 4,700,000,000 years ago, while our bunch have only been on the scene for the last 160,000 years.
 

If the history of this planet was a mountain, we would barely be a pebble upon it.
 

Every day this living breathing pulsating lump, pumped by an internal engine of swirling molten rock and trapped gases (think Uncle Mikey after Sunday dinner), hurtles through space being pummelled by all manner of other lumps of rock.
 

Depending upon the whims of the universe, our deaths might be delivered by a massive meteor, like the one that hit Mexico 65 million years ago. That baby left a crater 170 kilometres wide, releasing the gases, dust and climate change that wiped out the dinosaurs.
 

Or that lump of Canary Island might finally slip into the Atlantic Ocean and send a mega-tsunami to the eastern seaboard of America, which will rebound and wash up on Ireland’s shores, causing total devastation an unbelievably short matter of minutes later.
 

Maybe it’ll be the Super Volcano that lurks under Yellowstone National Park. The phenomenal size and power of this caldera only came to light relatively recently. Sections of the park’s pine forest were slipping into a lake, and then vulcanologists realised that this lake was in fact part of a crater of phenomenal and terrifying proportions.
 

When that monster decides to erupt, the jet stream will rush the blast and dust storms east, obliterating half of the United States and probably the rest of us under the ensuing clouds of sulphur.
 

We are so far from being the rulers of this planet, it is laughable. 

When the Earth farts, scratches an itch or wets itself, we puny humans are engulfed in disaster.
 

When the ground moves or explodes, as it does with alarming regularity, all the lobby groups and self-help books in the world won’t mean a thing.
 

It’s hypocritical and pointless to talk of trying to cure Climate Change in any kind of context that expects economic growth to continue. 

Were corporations, governments, our species as a whole truly concerned about how we might be harming our environment, then we would, as one, stop our insane desire for more material goods, for more cars to take us from A to B.
 

We have no idea what will get us in the end. According to the  doomsayers, we might die in any number of cataclysmic natural events.
 

Maybe the unprecedented level of permafrost melting all over the Siberian tundra will release so much methane that the Earth with flash into flame and disintegrate in a cosmic botty burp.
 

Perchance the ice melt going on in Greenland will finally hit critical mass, and flood the oceans.
 

Just up the road from us, the North Atlantic Drift, which brings the warm air and water to our west coast has been shaky for ages. 

When that conveyor belt stops, as it has done already for short periods, our climate in Ireland will become Arctic within two weeks. 

Not much fun at all.
 

The only sure thing about the apocryphal Big One is that it will be instant and in the course of the history of the planet, nowt more than an irrelevant blip.
 

Whether you’re cruising around in your plush motor, or sitting on the sofa watching Netflix while betting on your phone, you might dare to believe that we own the planet, and can therefore save it.
 

Well, next time you’re feeling all cushty cushty, smug and altogether civilised, remember one stark truth: you are 3 days away from becoming a murderer.
 

Whenever catastrophe strikes, history has shown that humans go through the same pattern of specific behaviours, time and time again.
 

Irrespective of where you are in the world, whatever your wealth, regardless of how well you think you know yourself, come disaster, you are the same as me and I’m the same as all of you.
 

Day One: we hide and await help.
 

Day Two: we leave our shelters in search of food. At this stage, we are willing to steal to feed our families.
 

Day Three: if we have not found food by now, we will be prepared to kill another human being, if they have food and our children do not.
 

Civilised? You tell me.

©Charlie Adley
11.06.2017

Saturday 17 June 2017

Don't see the world in black and white - humanity is a thousand shades of grey!


Can’t I turn my back for one minute? Last week I went off to London to spend a few days with my mum. Sitting in her living room, pure terror ran through me, as Mum told me a tale of horror about her friends, who live around the corner in the road where I grew up.

Above the front door of Jewish homes there’s a tiny container holding a prayer, written on parchment: a mezuzah.
 

Vile scumbags had been going down this road, knocking on doors with a mezuzah and yelling
 

“Heil Hitler!”  

at lone senior ladies opening their doors.
 

Immediately protective of my mum, I felt amazed yet again by the stoicism she displayed.
 

After a childhood lived as millions of bombs fell nightly from the sky, her Blitz Generation takes things in their stride.
 

Alongside the police, my family and friends feel protected by their local Jewish community. There exists a strong sense of belonging, of togetherness, supporting and being supported by each other.
 

Even though I’m an atheist, I feel culturally and in every other way Jewish. The Nazis didn’t care if Jews believed in God or not, but here in the west of Ireland there’s no similar community to lean on, reach out to, talk to.
 

In fact Irish opinions on Palestine and Israel are often as naive as many of the views I hear from the other end of the spectrum, back in London. I end up wary of speaking about or writing my views, as I love my friends and family, and if I did so it would upset both.
 

So often I feel pretty damn lonely in both places I call home.
 

Maybe this lack of community support was the reason I felt more scared than Mum did: if someone heil Hitlered me at my door, I’d be bloody terrified.
 

Ah, but wasn’t this why I fell in love with life here in the West of Ireland? Aren’t we compassionate here, preferring people to profit and a heart to heart more than a heil Hitler?
 

Shaken by mum’s news and rolling coverage of the London Bridge murders, I go online to comfort myself. What’s going on back in lovely gentle Galway?
 

Fascists are throwing rocks through the windows of the Ahmadiyya Mosque in Ballybane.
 

You’re kidding me.
 

The City Council is evicting ten young families, offering no plan for their future accommodation, beyond presenting themselves as homeless to the City Council.
 

“Ah!” you gasp. “He forgot to say they were Traveller families!”
 

No, I didn’t. My first job in Galway was working with young Traveller children in the Rahoon Flats, and years later I worked with teenage Traveller boys in Ballybane.
 

What were they like?
 

Well, there were a couple of no good violent types, quite a few half-decent boys, loads of good ‘uns and one or two pure salt of the earth diamonds.
 

If that breakdown sounds familiar it’s because it works for the entirety of the human race. We’re not all angels, but there’s a lot more good than bad.
 

Over the years I grew weary of debates about whether Travellers were an ethnic minority. The only truth seems to be that they are discriminated against like one.
 

You might have young family members living in your house or garden. Unable to afford housing, they need a mobile home while they save, or to live rent free while they balance caring for young kids with work.
 

How would you feel when you hear that the council has evicted them from their home, with no offer of alternative housing?
 

Wouldn’t happen, would it.
You’re not a Traveller.
 

None of the tired arguments about bringing it upon themselves will wash in this instance. Awarded by the Diocese, these homes have supported the growth of 10 young families over the past 25 years, and now the authorities wish to wash their hands of them.
 

There’s been no new Traveller accommodation in Galway for over 20 years, so this eviction is forcing people onto the roadside. Happily there was a wonderful turnout of demonstrators in support of these families, just as there was outside the Mosque.
 

I wish I could have been there too.
Broken windows make me think of Kristallnacht.
 

Those protesters belong to the loving and caring majority in that breakdown of human types.
 

However, some become blinkered by their rush for justice. 

Mentally masturbated by Facebook feeds that mirror exactly what they want to believe, far too many people now see the world in black and white, when humanity is truly a thousand shades of grey.
 

In a mad rush to attach themselves to one extreme, in order to do battle with another, many lose sight of subtlety and moderation.
 

We are complex beings and better humans when our opinions reflect that.
 

I fear the speed with which people are making irrational connections. An ideology that wants me dead inspires an idiot terrorist who’d lived in Ireland to kill innocents in London, which leads to a bunch of dangerous fools attacking a mosque in Galway.
 

In their eagerness to make sense of this hate crime, some then create erroneous links to the Palestinian flag that flew over Galway City Hall, which leaves this Jew, who yearns for a safe Israel and a free Palestinian State, feeling mildly intimidated.
 

Ah poor diddums.
 

Galway is far from Gaza, but in a hurry to fortify their own truths, people are starting to think in two dimensions, so such statements can quickly lead to those neo-Nazi bastards threatening my mother’s friends on their doorsteps.
 

If you need to feel tribal, support Galway.

©Charlie Adley
11.06.2017