Sunday 20 October 2019

Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: 'The most dangerous phrase in the English language? It's free. Now I'm hooked'


Illustration by Ben Hickey
Illustration by Ben Hickey
Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle

My phone is up in the attic. And it's staying there. I don't need it, I don't want it. If I need to phone anyone, I'll use the landline, the yoke on the wall in the kitchen. If I want to stick a fiver on a horse, I'll walk down to Paddy Power's. If I want to know the time, I'll ask the wife or look at the clock in the microwave. If I want to know what the weather's like, I'll look out the f**kin' window.

Useless bloody thing - I won't miss it.

If I want to text someone, I'll shout. If I want to book tickets for anything - I won't. If I want to stick a few quid into the daughter's bank account - I won't. If the little grandson sends me a photo - I won't see it.

Ah, sh**e. I'm addicted. So the wife says. She's probably right but it was her who got me started. She showed me the bloody game.

- You've an addictive personality, she told me.

I thought that sounded great, something positive and upbeat to be hearing at my age. I think I was mixing it up with 'magnetic personality'. Mind you, she'd just grabbed the phone off me and threatened to shove it up my arse. So I probably should have been paying more attention - to the nuances and that.

Anyway. We're up in the bed. I'm reading my book, Last Days of the Reich, and the wife - unusually - isn't reading anything. She's messing with her phone.

- What's that? I ask.

- A game, she says. I lean across and watch her. She's matching coloured cubes with other coloured cubes and I cop on quickly; when she gets three of the same colour, they disappear and she gets points.

- Did you buy that? I ask her.

- No way did I, she says. - It's free.

Is there a more dangerous phrase in the English language? It's free. Goebbels whispered that into Hitler's ear, although in German - Es ist kostenlos, mein Fuhrer - in 1939. He was referring to Poland, and look where that got them. Anyway, the wife shows me how to go to the App Store on my phone and download the game. It's called 1010! Colour, by the way. And in less than a minute, I've thrown the Third Reich to the end of the bed and I'm flinging coloured cubes all over the screen. There'll be no sleep till I catch up with the wife's score. I'm still at it, still trying to reach her 1,216 points, when she wakes up in the morning. I've recharged the phone seven times.

- It's yourself you need to recharge, she says.

- D'you want coffee?

- Yeah, you can bring it up to me.

- Yeah, right, she says, and I don't see her again for a while - three days, in fact.

I have a look at my social diary - also on my phone, by the way - and I cancel all of my engagements. Okay, the only thing in the diary for this week is a reminder to put out the green wheelie on Wednesday night. But the point is, I'm addicted to a stupid bloody game. Two things about this really hurt: (a) It's a shocking waste of an addiction; why didn't I fall for alcohol or gambling, or sex or OxyContin? (b) My best score is only 473!

I deny it at first, of course.

- Don't be daft, I say.

- I'm telling you, you're addicted!

- Sorry, I say. - What?

She pulls back the bedroom curtains.

- Don't!

- You're not bloody Dracula, Charlie. Get your funeral jumper on, quick. My cousin, Gerty, died three days ago, remember?

I don't remember but I say nothing. I get dressed; I think I get washed. I get into the car and I even volunteer to drive. But she catches me at the traffic lights.

- Jesus, Charlie!

- What's the problem?

I know those lights; they stay red for ages. But she grabs the phone from me.

- Give us it!

- We need to talk, the wife says, gently.

- What about? I'm grand. Just give us back me phone - please!

- Charlie.

- Okay.

So we bury Gerty and we come straight home and we have a chat - the chat. She holds my hand; we have a good cry. And I put the phone up into the attic. I'll be grand.

I hear the wife now, from downstairs.

- Charlie?

- What?

- Where are you? she asks.

- Upstairs, I shout.

- I'm upstairs, she shouts back. - You're in the bloody attic again, aren't you?

I say nothing. She'll forget I'm up here if I stay quiet. She's been forgetting loads of stuff recently - her keys, her passwords, me.

- Aren't you? Charlie?!

There's a spider climbing into my left ear. I don't shift; I don't budge. I've got my score up to 476.

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