Wednesday 26 June 2019

Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: Arrivals, departures and missed connections


Illustration: Ben Hickey
Illustration: Ben Hickey
Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle

It's a good while since we went through Dublin Airport. We stayed in Ireland this summer. The place was so hot and dry, we thought anywhere else in the world would probably be unbearable. We'd been watching the news - forest fires in Sweden, up inside the Arctic Circle. I looked at the wife. She looked at me.

-Wexford it is, so, she said.


So anyway, it's so long since we went foreign, it took me ages to remember where I'd cleverly hidden my passport. I gave up looking, made a cup of tea, and found the passport in the cutlery drawer, under a load of half-rotten wooden spoons.

-Is it still valid? the wife asked.

-Think so.

-Check it there, she said. -What's the best-before date?

I looked at the photograph and panicked a bit. I looked like a teenager. A teenager who'd had a rough few decades, but still a teenager. The passport was grand, though; there's a few years left on it.

We're heading to Newcastle, the one in England. One of our kids has moved over there. His partner's a nurse and she's from there, and she wanted to go home because her father's not well. So our lad went with her. He's a sparks and he's working on a job called Hadrian's Tower, a huge block of apartments, and that'll keep him in work for years, he says.

Anyway, he won't be coming home for the Christmas, so we're going over, to spend a few days with them and to meet her family. I'm dreading it - a bit. The son tells me Newcastle was voted the friendliest place in England. But that's not saying much, is it? With all this Brexit sh**e, England looks like the least friendly place on the planet. The forest fires in the Arctic look more inviting than the heads on some of those Brexiteers. On top of that, he's threatening to bring me to watch Newcastle United, and that's going to be like watching a public execution, something that really should be done in private - or not at all. I love watching their misery on Match of the Day but I don't want to sit and wallow in it.

But anyway, we're at the airport - Terminal 2. We're through security, shoes off, shoes on, jacket off, jacket back on. My toothpaste and deodorant are in a cornflakes bag I rinsed out the night before. But I get away with it; we're through. They don't think we're terrorists. And I can tell: the wife's a bit disappointed.

It's Christmas, so there's all the usual sh**e - the trees and decorations. But something's different about the place.You used to be able to walk past the duty-free cosmetics, the smelly stuff. But now there's a winding path that you have to follow. Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz had the cowardly lion to mind her but there's no one looking after me. It's terrifying. I'm Father Ted, lost in the lingerie department. The wife's gone - she's hopping from counter to counter. I'm alone and I go a bit mad.

I buy a bottle of men's stuff - I'm not sure if it's aftershave or wha'. The young one in the white coat asks me if I want to give it a go. And when she asks me if I like it, after I've stopped sneezing, I haven't the heart to say no. I buy a set of headphones designed specifically for a person with two left ears. But I don't notice that till after I've bought them. Or maybe I just don't know how to get them on properly. I'm carrying half my weight in shopping bags by the time I get to the end of the long and winding road.

I don't want to go. I don't want to go to Newcastle. I don't want to meet the girlfriend's dad, shake hands with a man my own age who has a few months to live.

I want to see my boy. I miss him so much. But that's another problem: I miss the boy he used to be. He's a young man now and soon he won't be young; he'll be a man. That's life, I know, part of the package. But I want the little lad back. I'll be sad and excited all the way to Newcastle.

We have to let them go. I know that, but it's f****n' hard. I can see my father's face, after I'd left home and I'd go to visit them - and I understand it now.

The wife is sitting at the departure gate. I sit beside her. I herd my shopping bags between my feet.

-Will you look at all we're after buying, I say.

-We? she says.

I look: she's bought nothing.

She puts her arm across my shoulders.

-You smell lovely, by the way, she says.

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