Sunday 20 January 2019

Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: A staycation in the Sunny South East

 

Illustration: Ben Hickey
Illustration: Ben Hickey
Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle

I was in the barber's and I thought I was going to get away with it. But then, just when I thought I'd escaped, he asked the question.

- Going anywhere interesting for your holidays?

- Aleppo, I told him.

- Well, it's off the beaten track, he said. - You won't be plagued by the Leaving Cert students. Will I tidy your eyebrows for you?

This conversation took place a couple of months back and the daughter gave out to me when I told her about it.

- Not funny, Dad.

- Ah, I know. Lay off.

But I was just sick of the question and the reaction to my usual answer.

The question: Are you going anywhere interesting on your holidays, Charlie?

The answer: Wexford.

The vast majority of people who've been to Wexford will agree with me when I say it's grand. It's more then grand; Wexford's great. But maybe it's something to do with the economy recovering - although I'm not convinced that it has - but when I answer "Wexford" people look at me like I've just told them I'm going into the hospice.

That's why I said Aleppo when the barber popped the question. I couldn't face the prospect of seeing his face in the mirror, looking over my shoulder, like a man who'd just been told that the chap in the chair is having his prostate pulled out after he, the barber, is finished messing with his hair.

He's a nice enough lad, by the way. He's Turkish but he's lived here long enough to convince himself that he's actually Conor McGregor. I didn't ask him about his own holiday plans but he told me anyway. He's climbing Kilimanjaro for his cousin's liver transplant. I told him I wouldn't climb the stairs for my own liver transplant, but I don't think he was listening. He'd turned on the dryer to blow the ashes - sorry, the hair - off my shoulders.

Anyway.

I've nothing against foreign travel. Myself and the wife were leaning against the Berlin Wall when it fell, in 1989. That's not true, but we were there 10 years later and it was brilliant. We've been all over Europe and the only country we didn't like that much was Austria - although for the first four days we thought we were in Portugal and we couldn't find the bloody beach. But that's a different story.

But anyway, it's Wexford for us this year - again. We've a mobile home down near Kilmuckridge, five minutes from the beach, 10 minutes from the shops, two hours from the house here in Dublin.

Whenever I'm asked what I consider to be mankind's greatest invention, I never hesitate: I always say the Arklow Bypass. In fact, no one has ever asked me what mankind's greatest invention is. But if anyone ever did, I'd opt for the wheel or the printing press or - yeah - the Arklow Bypass.

I've nothing against Arklow. That's not true. I hate the place. A girl I was going with… this was a good while before I met the wife. Actually, it was two days before I met the wife, and the girl left me for a lad from Arklow, a little bollix with buck teeth and a Honda Civic. That was a long time ago, and I know: I was a lucky man the day I met the wife. But it still feels like unfinished business, somehow. (Dorothy McCoy, if you're reading this, I hope your children are heartless.)

Anyway, that's why I love Wexford so much: I can get there without going through Arklow.

My mother's people came from Wexford, and that became important after she died. She'd sit up - she seemed to grow - whenever Wexford was mentioned. She only bought spuds that came from Wexford and she once threatened to sue the grocer, Mister Baldwin, when she found out that the strawberries he said came from Wexford actually grew up in Lusk.

- The chap who delivers them comes from Enniscorthy, Missis Savage, he told her, when he saw she was serious.

She nodded.

- Alright, she said, and she walked to the front of the shop.

She opened the door and the bell went ding. I was there, by the way. I'm not making this up.

- But remember this, she said. - I was a Wallace before I was ever a Savage.

I think of my Ma when I'm thinking of Wexford, when I'm driving to Wexford, when I'm making sure that I don't look left and catch a glimpse of Arklow in the distance. I'm remembering her face when she saw the sign at the side of the road that welcomed us to Wexford. And I'm remembering my Da looking at her as we passed the sign.

- It's only Wexford, love, he said. - It's not bloody Paradise.

- Oh, yes it is, buster, she said.

And she meant it.

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