Saturday 16 December 2017

Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: Gobshites and influencers


Illustration: Ben Hickey
Illustration: Ben Hickey

Being Ireland's foremost elderly social influencer is a full-time job. It's all go, from the minute I wake up - earlier than you, Varadkar - to that dog-tired decision at the end of the day: will I bother with my teeth or just brush them really, really hard in the morning?' There isn't a moment in the day that isn't a potential opportunity.

Or, so I'm told.

By the daughter.

She has me shouting at everything.

- I'm supposed to be retired, love, I tell her.

- That doesn't mean your brain's retired, Dad, she says.

She's right, of course. But I wish my mouth was - retired, that is. Or even working part-time. When the doctor said he thought I needed an interest, I think he had stamp collecting in mind, or hill- walking, or having a go at the garden. I don't think he expected me to go home and start shouting at the radio, live on Facebook.

But that's what I'm doing - I'm shouting at the radio. I'm in the kitchen every morning, washed and shaved, standing or sitting in front of the radio and I'm shouting right through the news and on into Seán O'Rourke and Pat Kenny. (I skip Ryan Tubridy; he'd kill me.) And I keep going, right through the Angelus.

- Bong, yourself!

It's a big online hit, that one, the daughter tells me, and we're selling about 20 'Bong, Yourself!' T-shirts a day.

Anyway, I stop about 10 minutes into Ronan Collins, after I've hurled abuse at the birthday requests, and I'm given permission to go upstairs for a nap, so I'll be fit and fighting in time for Joe Duffy.

Talk to Joe.

- I will in me hole!

It's not a sudden thing, or a late vocation. I've been shouting at the eejits on the radio all my life. Some men learn how to play the uilleann pipes from their fathers; others are taught how to mend fishing nets, how to keep bees or maim cattle. My da showed me how to shout.

He spent long, happy hours instructing me on the correct use of the word 'gobshite'. He didn't know he was doing this; I was just looking at him, and listening. But, nevertheless, that was what he did. I sat in the kitchen with him and learnt all about the different categories of gobshite.There was the "bloody" gobshite, the "out and out" gobshite, and the "complete and utter" gobshite. There was a gobshite for every occasion, a label for every man he shouted at.

A younger man just starting out in his career as a gobshite - a newly elected TD, say, or an economist just home from America who wore a cravat instead of a tie - he had "the makings of a" gobshite. There was still hope for him, but not much. The makings of a gobshite almost always rose through the ranks to become a complete and utter gobshite.

He never shouted at women. Now, there weren't many women on the wireless back then but he wouldn't have shouted at them anyway. In my father's world there was no such thing as a female gobshite.

One thing is vital - he was happy. I spent large chunks of my childhood listening to my da shouting. But it never frightened me - never - and it often made me laugh.

My favourite was when he came up from behind his newspaper, like he was climbing out of the pages, and roared.

- Will you listen to that bloody gobshite!

He'd look at me, grin, and go back behind his paper.

He was happy. And - I hate admitting this - so am I.

I'm exhausted and I'm spending the waking hours when I'm not shouting sucking throat lozenges. And fair enough, they do the trick. But five packs of Strepsils a day can leave you feeling a bit queasy.

I'm shouting in my sleep too. According to the wife - and I've no reason not to believe her. She always tells the truth and, more often than not, it's brutal.

- Whoever you were dreaming about last night, Charlie, she says. - They were all gobshites.

- Gobshites?

- The bedroom was full of them, she says.

- The room was full of men, so, I tell her.

- In your dreams, Charlie, she says. - Not mine.

She smiles. She can see it too: I'm happy. I'm exhausted and jumpy; I haven't seen sunlight since... I can't remember. My throat is killing me and I think I might have scurvy.

But I'm a happy man - I'm a happy father.

Because the fact is, I'm not the social influencer: the daughter is. I'm her performing monkey and do exactly what I'm told.

- We're building up the follower numbers, Dad, she says. - Then we'll start campaigning properly, like.

- Campaigning?

- Yeah.

- What's our first target?

- The banks.

I stare at her: do we ever really know our kids?

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