Thursday 23 January 2020

Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: A Christmas shopping trip with the grandson really is something to trumpet about


Illustration by Ben Hickey
Illustration by Ben Hickey
Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle

We're off into town again, me and the little grandson. We're going in search of the Christmas clothes. I used to bring him. This time, though, he's bringing me. He's holding my hand, he's taking me to the bus stop.

He has the shopping list on his phone. It's an old one of the wife's, and it doesn't have a sim card in it. But, still, it's huge in his hands; his head disappears behind it. He's just after walking into the kitchen door.

- Is this a good idea? I ask.

- It's like a toy, like, says the daughter.

- Is he not too young, but? I say.

- You had toy guns when you were his age, says the wife.

- I'd never let him have a toy gun, like, says the daughter.

The wife grins at me, over the daughter's shoulder.

- Did you grow up to be a gunman, Charlie?

I hesitate before I answer. The pregnant pause allows the possibility that I was - I am - Clint Eastwood or Jack Palance.

- Not professionally, I eventually answer.

Anyway. We're on the bus. Upstairs, of course - we're living wild. He lets me sit at the window.

He has the phone squeezed into the pocket of his Gareth Southgate waistcoat.

- Add to the list, I tell him.

He takes out the phone. He pats the screen.

- Trumpet for Granny, I say. - Add that.

He has to hold the phone carefully, like it's a baby and he's about to give it its bottle, so he can use his right hand to tap in the words. I wait for him to ask me how to spell 'trumpet'. But he doesn't. I look at the screen.

Tumpit 4 granny.

The child's a genius. And that makes me his - well, his grandfather. I look out the window. I'm afraid I'll start blubbering. I don't mind crying, now and again. But blubbering - upstairs on a half-full bus, going through Fairview - that's a bit over the top.

Anyway. We're off the bus now and it's raining. It's been bloody raining since - I can't remember. I've forgotten what dry cement looks like. He wipes the water off the phone screen.

- Tumpit for G'anny first, he says.

- D'you think?

He nods, and his hood falls back. He nearly drops the phone as he gets the hood back up over his head.

- What about the Christmas clothes? I say.

- Tumpit first, he says again.

He grabs my hand. I know where we're going. I know where the shop is: he doesn't. But, still, he's the one who leads us up Talbot Street. He turns left at O'Connell Street and brings us along the quays, to the Ha'penny Bridge. He's a bright kid, a chip off his mammy's block. But I'm beginning to think - and to worry - that he might have supernatural powers. He hasn't hesitated or been distracted by buses or seagulls.

He stops halfway across the bridge, and I relax. That's why he brought us here: he loves the river, the water flowing below us. He holds the railings and gazes down - and I gaze at him. The water dropping from his hood onto his nose. His fingers clutching the wet, cold silver bars.

My water-proof jacket is as water-proof as jacks paper. There's rain on my neck, getting ready to charge down my back. I don't care. I could stay here forever. As long as he wants.

He looks up at me and grins.

- It's waining dogs and cats, he says.

- And donkeys.

He laughs.

- And monkeys.

- And reindeers.

- And g'andads.

- And rain.

This knocks him sideways; he thinks it's hilarious.

- It's waining wain!

We go up Eustace Street, to an instrument shop I've never been in but have passed thousands of times. It's hidden away, but there to be seen; up steps, and a little bit magic.

- I'm looking for a trumpet, I tell the chap who lets us in.

I see it immediately: this man loves talking about trumpets. I'm hearing words and phrases - embouchure, valve oil - I've never heard before. I'm mesmerised.

- Who's it for? he asks me.

- What?

- The trumpet.

- Oh, I say. - It's for a woman with a pension.

I'm tempted to buy one for myself, but this is what I'm giving the wife for Christmas, the world of scales and sheet music, of golden brass and Louis Armstrong. The trumpet he's giving me - the trumpet I'll be giving her - is beautiful. Even the case is beautiful.

I look to see where the grandson is. I see him staring at a trumpet, a very red, plastic trumpet; it's another beautiful thing.

- Is it real? I whisper to the chap in the shop.

He nods.

- I'll be back in tomorrow, I whisper.

He nods again.

I'm spending money I don't have. And it's f**kin' thrilling.

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