Sunday 20 October 2019

Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: 'Ploughing move over. Dublin is the centre of the universe, right?'


Illustration: Ben Hickey
Illustration: Ben Hickey

A strange thing happened a few weeks back. I went to bed in Ireland and woke up in a foreign country.

I don't want to be over-dramatic: it's happened before. I've gone up to the scratcher feeling perfectly at home, knowing every step on the stairs, reaching out for the light switch, the tap, my book, without having to look; and waking up in the morning feeling - knowing - that something is different.

There was once, I fell asleep in a yellow room and woke up in a blue one. The wife had painted the walls while I was out for the count. She came running when she heard my screams.

- What's wrong with you?

- The walls!

- They're exactly where you left them.

- They're blue!

- I told you I was going to paint them.

- They're talking to me!

- Get your head out from under the pillow, Charlie. You're being silly.

- The smell of the paint is atrocious.

- It's not nearly as bad as the smell of the drink. Get up.

I haven't trusted the walls since. They move sometimes; I'm nearly certain of it.

There was another time I woke up and there was a child staring at me. She didn't look familiar; I was nearly positive she wasn't one of mine.

She was a small kid. Her face was six inches from mine.

- Who are you? she said. I should have said 'Charlie', but I didn't. She was one of those evil looking children.

- I don't know who I am, I answered.

This time she screamed. This happened, by the way, on the same day the walls turned blue. The kid was my niece, Stacey.

- Why did she ask me who I was? I asked, later, after the wife let me back into the house. - She knows who I bloody am.

- Have you looked at yourself in the mirror? said the wife.

Anyway, I'm no stranger to the unsettling feeling that I've woken up in a place that isn't quite my own home.

But this time it's different. It isn't the walls talking or the Daughter of Satan waiting beside the bed with the breadknife. Everything's grand until I get down to the kitchen and stick on the radio.

I'd gone up to the bed the night before feeling happily Irish - or, more accurately, Dublish. The Dubs had won the Five in a Row, the Dublin women had won the Three on the Trot. Dublin was the capital of Ireland, the centre of the universe; all was exactly as it should have been.

Then I turn on the radio, and Morning Ireland. The wife is right behind me. I listen for a bit.

- What in the name of Christ is the Ploughing? I ask the wife. - Is it a horror film, is it?

- You're gas, she says.

I'm messing. I know exactly what the Ploughing - the National Ploughing Championships - is, and I've no real objections to it. But could they not have had their bloody ploughing at some reasonable time after Dublin's triumphs in the All-Irelands? Could they not have let us bask in our glory for a couple of weeks, just - at least?

We feel left out. We don't do any ploughing in Dublin. I cut the grass about twice a year but I don't think there's a decent festival in that. An annual get-together for men who cut the grass - I can't see that one taking off.

But maybe I'm wrong. We could call it the Front Garden - or, the Front. We'd have a 10 sq m site on the Northside of Dublin, and Morning Ireland would come from there. Good morning from The Front. We're in Coolock today and it's raining. All the politicians would have to make an appearance. Blue Shirts who've never been north of the Liffey would have to stop by and look like they're loving it.

It's growing on me, this. And so is the grass. We'd have men showing one another their lawn mowers. (I don't mean to exclude women but I just have a feeling they'd be elsewhere.) I can see it now: thousands of middle-aged men with their lawn mowers.

- Is that a Victa Imperial?

- It is, yeah.

- My God - where did you get that baby?

- My da left it to me.

- Suu-perb.

Government ministers would stand on front step and announce new initiatives for urban Ireland. No more homelessness, affordable homes for all citizens, jobs with decent pay and proper contracts. Maybe not, though; maybe I'm losing the run of myself. A decent standard of living for our children is probably a bit far-fetched.

But, still and all, there'd be loads of photo-opportunities. Imagine looking out your window and seeing Leo Varadkar cutting the grass. Or Paschal Donohue cutting the grass. Or Shane Ross cutting the grass.

The poor f*ckin' grass.

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