Tuesday 21 January 2020

Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: Getting away from it all…


Charlie Savage. Illustration: Ben Hickey
Charlie Savage. Illustration: Ben Hickey
Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle

The holidays used to be easier. They were nearly always disastrous; I'm not denying that. But they were more straightforward. You went into Joe Walsh or Budget Travel just after Christmas and got their brochures. You went home and sat with the wife until she decided where you were going. Then you went back in the next day, got into queue and booked it.


You'd seen a photograph of the outside of the apartment in the brochure. You knew it would be "a two-minute walk" from the beach and five minutes on the bus from the 'old' town.

Disappointment was inevitable - "That was the longest two minutes of my life; I've worn a hole in my f****** espadrilles" - but that was part of the package. You could sit around the pool, if there actually was a pool, and give out.

We're good at that, the Irish, having a laugh at our collective bad luck. We never really minded when we discovered that the apartment was miles from the beach, or that it wasn't even in Spain. We'd burst our s***es laughing as it dawned on us that the locals weren't speaking Spanish.

As long as we got badly scorched and at least one of the kids had to be rushed to the local hospital, we were happy enough. Just as long as we had a good story to bring home with us.

- I was sitting on the jacks all of the second week.

- That's gas.

- Ah now… it was a bit more than gas.

These days, though, booking a holiday is as tricky as open-heart surgery. I wouldn't dream of performing surgery on myself or anyone else. I'm not a surgeon or a plumber or a chef, but I'm expected to be my own travel agent. It's terrifying. One mistake and you're broke or lost.

Last year, we - myself and the wife, the daughter and her little lad - went to the Algarve. It's a nice enough spot but it took us five days to get there.

The wife booked the apartment and that was straight-forward enough. We went on an online tour of it - and there it all was, the kitchen, bedrooms, sitting room with a bowl of fruit, a little balcony with a chair.

- That'll do us, I said.

I was standing beside her, looking at the laptop.

- I don't know, she said. It won't let us see the view from the balcony.

- More balconies is my bet, I said. With loads of Paddies waving back at us.

The problems were planted when she booked the flights. It's a rule that will never make any sense to me: the more connecting flights, the cheaper the journey. We'd left it late, so a direct flight to Faro was going to cost us an arm and a good bit of a leg. But we could get there for €37 each if we went via Tirana, Prague and Samarkand.

- Four countries for the price of one, I said. Brilliant.

She laughed and booked us.

I'll say just one thing: the full Irish breakfast in Tirana Airport isn't the best. The Albanians are a proud and hospitable people but they haven't a clue what to do with a rasher.

We lost the grandson in Prague Airport and found him just as he was boarding a flight to Chile.

But anyway, we had four terrific days in Portugal before we had to head home.

- Never again, said the wife.

She actually got the words tattooed on her shoulder - in Tirana Airport, during the 17-hour stopover.

So this year we decided to go nowhere. We told the family we were doing the Camino, from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela. But we're hiding in the house.

I had to sneak out last night to get milk but, other than that, we've been at home, behind closed curtains, for the last two weeks.

And it's been brilliant. We've been going through all those programmes we can't watch when the grandson's in the house. We're well into the second series of The Affair. It's absolutely filthy.

- Beats the Camino, says the wife.

And I'm with her.

We've got through all of Game of Thrones and I've started calling her Cersei. She stares at me.

- Everyone who isn't us is our enemy, she says, and takes a bite of the beef and bacon pizza I'm holding out for her.

Her phone rings.

It's the daughter, checking on us.

- Hi, love, says the wife. No, no, it's not too hot today. It's just nice.

I get her iPad and turn on the thing we found on YouTube - a gang of nuns saying the Hail Mary in Spanish.

- I can't hear you, love, says the wife. I'll phone you back when the nuns have passed.

She throws the phone on the couch.

We look at each other and howl.

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