Thursday 17 October 2019

Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: By my beard - curiosity backfires again  

Illustration: Ben Hickey
Illustration: Ben Hickey
Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle

I’ve never really understood that saying, ‘Curiosity killed the cat.’  But I can tell you now: it killed the flies, the wasps and a fair few of the bees.

I feel bad about the bees. They’re endangered enough as it is; they didn’t need any help from me.  And, really, it wasn’t even curiosity. 

Let me explain.

I found myself in the bathroom, as I often do. I don’t remember getting there but there I am, in front of the mirror. I rarely look in the mirror.  When I want horror, I’ll watch The Shining.

Anyway, there’s this press thing — a cabinet — over the sink. And I rarely look in that either. It’s a woman’s world, really, isn’t it — the inside of the bathroom cabinet? I always imagine it’ll be full of tiny women, swapping skin cream and painkillers.

But anyway, I break my own rule and I open it. And I find a yoke of beard oil — a little bottle. I don’t have a beard and I’ve never had a beard. There are no other men in the house; all the sons moved out years ago. The little grandson is a regular visitor and he probably will eventually have a beard — he already has a tattoo, SpongeBob, although I’m minding it for him on my chest till he’s old enough to carry the burden himself. But anyway, his beard-growing days are a good way off.

I hold the bottle up to the light. It’s half-full. How did it get there? It’s not the wife’s, I think — I hope. I could put it back and ignore it, I suppose. But the Savages — well, we’re scientists at heart. The urge to experiment, to mess, is overwhelming. 

I remember when I was about 14 my oldest brother, Denis, came home with a bottle of Old Spice. We all stood around the kitchen table and gazed at it.

— If any of yis touch it you’re dead, said Denis.

Denis hid the Old Spice but I found it in the coal shed and I carried it back into the house under my anorak.

A fella in my class in school, Buster Wallace, had a cousin in the Merchant Navy and he — the cousin — had a girl in every port, according to Buster. Buster mentioned Rosslare and Fishguard; he might have mentioned Foynes.  Anyway, the key to the cousin’s success was the fact that he dabbed a bit of his aftershave on a place where the manufacturers had probably never intended it to go — south of the trousers belt. So said Buster, and he was top of the class in science. So I gave it a go. It was a mistake, immediately, and agony after five seconds. And utter humiliation up to — well — today.

They found me sitting in the bathroom sink, cold water spilling over the sides, clutching the Old Spice and muttering the Hail Mary. My voice had broken the year before but, somehow, it had unbroken itself and I spoke like a northside Minnie Mouse for six months after the Old Spice experiment. 


I squeeze the bottle empty, onto my palms, and I rub the beard oil into my hair. It’s sticky stuff — it’s unbelievable — and I’m having problems untangling my fingers from my locks.

The flies are already landing and they’re not taking off again; I can feel them dying slowly on top of my head. 

I get into the shower and rinse myself brainless. But it makes no difference.

The beard oil is still like fly paper, and the flies have been joined by the wasps and the poor oul’ bees. I’ve become an insect graveyard — except the insects aren’t dead. It’s only a matter of time before the robins and the seagulls start landing. 

What have I done? It’s a daft question, that, isn’t it? I know exactly what I’ve done. 

I’d go down to the barber and get him to shave my head but I’m genuinely afraid that if a bird or a flock of the bas**rds perch on my loaf, they’ll start pecking through my skull in their desperate efforts to escape. So I get a scissors — it’s a big one from the kitchen that the wife uses for cutting meat. I stare into the bathroom mirror — it’s alive! — and I give myself a haircut. The sink is clogged with dissected flies and wings, my hair and the last few shreds of my self-respect. 

My head’s no longer a graveyard but my homemade haircut has me looking like I’ve just electrocuted myself. So I’m heading down to the barber and I bump into — I swear to God — Buster. I haven’t seen him in years. 

— Buster!

He looks at me. He looks at my head.

— Jesus, Savage, he says. — Have you been riding the Old Spice again?

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