Thursday 20 June 2019

Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: Three funerals and a marathon


Illustration: Ben Hickey
Illustration: Ben Hickey

I broke my record there, earlier in the week. I made it to three funerals in the one morning. It nearly killed me - I nearly added a fourth to the list - but I did it. And I didn't just go to the masses; I made it to two graveyards and a crematorium, then on to three pubs for the afters.

The cousins are dropping like flies. Three of them died inside 24 hours. Three branches of the family - a Savage, a Clarke and a Mullally. The Savages haven't spoken to the Mullallys since 1977 - don't ask -and the Clarke cousin was on my mother's side. So there was no co-ordination, no consideration. It was up to me - the wife wouldn't come with me.

- Why not?

- You're horrible at funerals, she says.

- I'm not. Am I?

- You gloat.

- I don't. Do I?

- You do, she says. - You'll probably be alive for another 30 years and you're already gloating at other people's funerals.

She doesn't look triumphant or malicious.

- I just don't want to witness it, she says.

She actually looks sad.

- Okay, I say.

I don't want to be the man who gloats at funerals, so I check my face in the bathroom mirror before I set off for Raheny, the first church on the morning's itinerary. And I have to admit, I do look a bit too f***in' eager. It's not a look that suits me. The wife has always said that I'm at my best when I'm cheerfully miserable. So that's the expression I'm trying to achieve as I go down the stairs - I don't skip - and out the front door.

Luckily, the funerals are all on the Northside, so I don't get done for speeding. I make it through the first mass - sit, stand, kneel, sign the book of condolence, hug the widow, and leg it up to my next stop, Kilbarrack.

I'm 10 minutes into the mass before I cop on that I didn't know the Terry the priest keeps referring to. I'm in the wrong church! I'm in Benedict's and I should be in St John the Evangelist. I'm literally on the wrong side of the tracks.

I make it to the right church in time to be seen and give the second widow her hug. Then, before I go on to the last church, I leg it up to Balgriffin for the first burial.

I get drenched and my shoes are wrecked with the muck but I get back to the car and on to the third church, Bayside - then up to the graveyard in Sutton, and back down, across to the crematorium in Glasnevin, where Buttsey Clarke's coffin glides towards the flames while all 17 of his granddaughters sing Ring of Fire, Buttsey's favourite song. The people around me who aren't crying are bursting their s***es laughing - and that's exactly what Buttsey would have wanted.

I get back to the car and check my face in the rear-view mirror. I'm still looking appropriately sombre, especially when I stop humming Ring of Fire.

Anyway, only the pubs and the afters left - and that's when I hit the wall.

I've nothing against oxtail soup. There's no bad oxtail memory lurking in the cupboard at the back of my mind.

When I think of oxtail soup, I see the Royco packet and my mother smiling as she lets me help her stir it.

So I'm not blaming the soup. But I haven't tasted oxtail in years and then, inside an hour, I've swallowed a gallon of it - and a rake of sandwiches.

It must be back in fashion; the hipsters must love it. Because there it is, at all three funerals.

The first bowl's grand. I sit at a table with a gang of the cousins and we all talk about the soup and when we were kids in one another's houses, and the crack we had, and the trouble we got into.

The soup - the look of it, the smell, the taste - resurrects all sorts of good memories and feelings. My cousin, Billy, says it.

- Funerals are a great idea.

And he's right.

But I have to go on to the next one - and the second bowl.

The problem now is that this batch of cousins are having the memories I already had at the first one. I'm way ahead of them, and a bit bored - and this particular soup could have done with more water and a bit less ox.

I'm not feeling the best when I get up and leave.

The third bowl nearly kills me. The ox's tail is lodged in my gullet - and it's wagging.

I hope the cousins think I'm too upset to stay.

Because I have to get up, I have to get home. The wife has to see this: I'm definitely not gloating now.

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