Friday 18 October 2019

Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: Were the good old days really that good?


Illustration: Ben Hickey
Illustration: Ben Hickey
Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle

I worry about nostalgia. I spend most of my days privately, and sometimes not so privately, weeping for the old days. And at the same time I know well: most of the old days were sh**e. But I hear a song from the early Savage years, and I'm off. I don't even have to like it. I can hate the song - Sylvia's Mother, for example - but still listen, and sit back and remember a life that I never actually lived. I'm dancing with a girl; she has her head on my shoulder and she pulls me closer to her. I am, as we used to put it, away on a hack.

But this is the truth: the girl was called Pauline Mooney and she vomited on my shoulder. My Levi's shirt smelt of recycled rum and black for months - years - afterwards.

That's the thing about nostalgia. I'll see a small, ladylike pile of vomit outside the boozer, say, and I'll think of Pauline Mooney with her cheek on my shoulder, with her arms tight around me. I won't think of her puking on me. I won't think of her wiping her mouth, swaying in front of me and asking - Is your brother going with anyone?

Sylvia's bloody mother.

Nostalgia, though - it's probably a trick the mind has to play on us so we can avoid reaching the conclusion that our lives have largely been a waste, a long line of missed opportunities and misery.

Without the rose-tinted glasses we'd sink into despair as we get older and forget that, in fact, much of the life we've led has actually been grand; we've known love, children, nature, beauty, crisps.


She lives in England, by the way - Pauline Mooney. I hugged her at her brother's funeral a few years back but, thank Christ, she didn't put her head on my shoulder.

But anyway, more often than not it's music, any oul' sh**e from the '60s, '70s or '80s, that sparks off the rosey visions. But, really, there's no escape.

A smell, or the way the rain runs down a window, a colour, a collar, an old car, laughter - virtually everything seems to haul the tears from my normally cold, cold eyes. It's dreadful - it really is. I don't want to be this ancient crybaby, bawling when I hear My Eyes Adored You or see a picture of a Fiat 127. The buses rescue me. When I go upstairs on a bus, I climb up into my childhood. I can feel it in my legs, and there's something about the quality of the light when I get to the top. There's the thrill of being high above the street, of being able to see things that the people down there can't see. I have to stop myself from pressing my nose against the glass.

I'm on a bus now. It's going-home time, so it's full upstairs. We're on that slow stretch between Abbey Street and Busáras.

When the bus is moving at all, it's crawling. I went to the jacks in the Flowing Tide before I got on the bus, so I'm grand. I've my emergency Mars Bar in my inside pocket, in case the bus never makes it off Beresford Place. I'm happy enough and I look around, to see if there's anyone else looking happy enough to share the moment with. I even have my line ready.

- We'd be quicker walking, wha'.

But there's no one looking my way. There's no one looking out the window. They're all looking down at screens. There's no one talking, except for a young one down the back who's on her phone.

- Yeah... no... no, like... with what's-his-face, yeah... I swear to God... that's what she said, an'anyway... God, no... yeah ... no, yeah.

She's the only bit of entertainment on the bus.

But she's not.

The chap beside me has an iPad on his lap. He has headphones in and he's watching something. I glance at the screen - and see an arse.

The first shock is the arse. The second shock is the fact that I recognise it. I've seen it before - it's your man from The Affair.

I'm no prude and I've seen The Affair, myself. But a bum on the bus? Even if it's upstairs - it's just not right. It isn't even dark out there.

I look around again. They're all staring at their screens. Someone behind me sighs. Someone else sighs, and someone else. It's a horrible sound - give me shouting and roaring any day. I sit there. I try to think of the good old days. But I can't. I'm stuck in the present. I listen to the young one at the back.

At least she's talking.

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