Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: A garden full of memories…
I'm standing out in the back garden with the wife. Now, in actual fact, we don't have a back garden. We have a hole where there used to be one. We used to have grass. No surprise there, I suppose; it's kind of your basic ingredient, isn't it? But we had a lilac bush that was spectacular for a few weeks in the year, and an apple tree that had real apples hanging off it in the autumn. We had all sorts of flowers. The garden - in its way - was lovely.
Then we got the dogs and they ate it.
It was gone in a month. You know those photographs of no man's land, the stretch of muck between the German and British trenches in World War One? That's what we have now, except there's much more muck.
Don't get me wrong - the dogs are great. They'd never eat anything live - well, human. But we had to make the choice, me and the wife: would we let them eat the house or the garden? So we decided - after some anguish and tears - to sacrifice the garden. It was either that or stand back and let them demolish the contents of the house, including the floors and walls.
It never occurred to us to get rid of the dogs, and that surprises me now. It was a simple choice: house or garden. And, actually, the garden was a goner by the time we had the vote.
They'd eaten the tree, the shrubs, the hedge, the rabbit hutch - it was empty; the rabbit had gone up to heaven years before - and most of the shed. They'd left us the walls.
A section of the wall, the one at the very back, we called our memory wall. It was the wife's idea. Everywhere we went, she'd bring home a stone from a beach, say, or a shell or a little tile, and we'd stick them to the wall. It was an idea she got from one of her sisters - Carmel, the sound one.
After a while, probably about 20 years, it began to look great. When anyone came to the house and looked out the kitchen window, they'd see the memory wall and go out and have a proper look at it.
Anyway, the dogs didn't eat the wall but they ate all the memories off it. Every stone and shell. The wall, like my mind, is a blank.
You know that phrase 'You had to laugh'? Well, we did laugh - but we had to work hard at it. The wife had to tickle me and I had to threaten to tickle her.
I should make something clear: we feed the dogs - we feed them well. And we love them. Me, the wife, the kids, the grandkids - all of us love the dogs. And, in fairness, they seem to have big time for us. When they catch me looking out the window at them, all I can see is a sea of wagging tails.
Anyway. Me and the wife are standing in what used to be our back garden. We're out there in the muck and the rain because we're making a video. Well, the daughter's actually making the video. We're just starring in it.
It's going to go up on my Facebook Shouter page.
We're Kate and Mick from that ad - you know the one: the couple who've just paid off their mortgage. Most of us, if we manage to clear the mortgage, go out for a drink and maybe something to eat. This pair, though, go on telly 10 times a night and thump their chests.
So, anyway. I've grown a handle-bar moustache. It's a bit lopsided; there's only one handle. The dogs are charging around us.
- We work well together, says the wife. - We do.
Her American accent is very good.
- Yeah, we do, I agree.
- We have to, says the wife.
The grandson is right behind me and he's just stabbed me in the arse with something sharpish, but I still manage to smile at the wife and she smiles back.
- There are memories in every nook and cranny, she says. - Every mark on the floor.
- They were challenging times, yeah, I say. - A lot of hard work. But we knew we'd come the road together.
- We just knew we'd make it work, says the wife.
Then I turn to the wife and we look back at the house.
- But do you remember the time they threatened to repossess the house? I say. - When I was out of work for a while.
- B******s, she says.
- Humiliating, I say. - It was terrifying.
- Heartless bastards.
Then the grandson comes out from behind us and holds up his placard: We Back Belief Every Day.
- And… cut, says the daughter.
The grandson sees us crying and he hugs our legs.