Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: The sands of time and disappearing dog poo
I'm having a day out with the little grandson and we're counting the dog poo. It's not like the old days, because there's very little to count. We only spot three good lumps between the house and the Spar.
- When I was your age, I tell him, - we'd have been into the high hundreds by now.
He doesn't know what I mean but he nods in agreement.
And it's true. When I was a kid there was a dog in every house and nobody cared where they went to the toilet. If you'd been caught picking up dog poo with a plastic bag you'd have been laughed out of town. Now that I think of it, there were no plastic bags.
- 'Nother one! says the grandson.
- Good man, I say.
Another image from my childhood knocks on the side of my head.
- Did you ever see white dog poo? I ask the little grandson.
He looks at me and laughs.
- White poo!
- It's true, I tell him. - All the dogs had white poo back in the day.
And he laughs again.
I spend the rest of the day wondering what happened to white dog s***e - and all the other things that have become lost in the mists of time.
- Do you remember Mata Hari? I ask Martin later in the local where we're having a sneaky daytime pint.
- I do, yeah, he says. - He played for Juventus.
- No messing, I say. - The spy.
- She spied for the Germans in World War One, he says. - And got herself executed for her troubles. She was a dancer, wasn't she?
- There now, I say. - You know all about her. We grew up knowing who she was. But I was chatting with the lads, my sons, like, there on Sunday and the wife walked in and I said, "Watch out, lads, here's Mata Hari." And they hadn't a clue who I was talking about.
- Did she, but?
- She did, yeah, I say. - She gave me a good-natured clatter.
- You're right, though, says Martin.
- What about?
- Mata Hari, he says. - And it's other things as well. One of my kids loves the gardening. His back garden's tiny but, Jaysis now, Charlie, you should see it. It's good enough for the telly.
I'm half-afraid he's going to take out his phone and show me pictures, but he doesn't.
- So, he says. - I was in his kitchen chatting with his partner and he walks in; the son, David. And he's covered in muck, you know. And I say, "Get up the yard, there's a smell of Benjy off you."
- I bet they didn't understand you.
- That's it, he says. - They're too young for 'The Riordans'. They'd never heard of Benjy.
- Come here, I say. - Why was the white dog s***e white?
- I'll get back to you on that one, he says.
I was at mass a few weeks back - another bloody funeral - and my knees told me when to kneel way before my head did. A bell rang, something clicked - some bone or joint - and I was down, off the seat, before I knew what I was doing. The wife says it's in the muscle memory, when to stand, when to kneel; it's all still there decades after I stopped going to mass. The point is: I know the rituals. But my kids and their kids don't; they haven't a clue. I suppose they'll have their own rituals that they'll hand on to the grandkids - who'll then ignore them. I don't know. To be honest, I haven't noticed.
- Leprosy's another one, I say.
- Probably, says Martin.
- Definitely, I say. - They were handing round the chocolates and they bypassed me and I said, "Am I a leper?"
- And they didn't know what you meant.
- Not a clue.
- Did you hear about the leper cowboy?
- He threw his leg over his horse.
- There were loads of great leper jokes, says Martin.
- All lost, I say.
- It's sad.
- It is.
- Did they cure it or what, the leprosy, like?
- I don't know.
It is a bit sad, and it isn't just the leper jokes. It's the feeling that the world, somehow, doesn't belong to us - people my age - anymore. We got off the bus and forgot to get back on; we look up and it's turning the corner - gone.
I hear music that means nothing to me, my kids talk about films I haven't seen, stars I've never heard of. They show me stuff on YouTube that's supposed to make me laugh, but doesn't.
It's not great.
Martin parks himself beside me. It's a few nights after the last time we met.
- Calcium, he says.
- That's what made the dog s***e white, he says. - Too much of it.
I don't know why but this information seems to fill me. I smile; I sit up.