Tuesday 21 May 2019

Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: January blues? Try box sets and Berlin


Illustration: Ben Hickey
Illustration: Ben Hickey
Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle

'We'll go to Berlin, says the wife. - Will we?

- What? I say. - Now?

We're spread out on the couch, the pair of us. We got into our jammies earlier - well, yesterday - because we knew we'd be too tired to manage all the buttons by the time we'd finished. The table in front of us is covered in empty bowls, bottles, mugs - and a sleeping dog.

We let the dogs into the house for an hour or so most days, if they're not too mucky, but not when we're watching the telly. The dogs - one, or all of them - always object to something that's on. A dog in an ad, a horse in a film, Martin Keown on Match of the Day. Anything they don't approve of, they charge at the telly and try to eat it or climb into it.

This lad asleep on the table has no interest in the telly, so we sometimes forget he's with us. He howls when the wife puts on her Roxy Music CDs. But that's a different story.

Anyway. We've been bingeing on quality TV drama again. All three series of The Tunnel, then The Handmaid's Tale and Alias Grace. And now this new one, Babylon Berlin.

The daughter recommended all of them.

- Great roles for women, like, she said.

I don't need to be converted. As far as I'm concerned, a drama without women is like two teams without a football - it's just not worth watching. The wife, though - surprisingly - doesn't like the sound of Babylon Berlin. Until the daughter gives her the news.

- Bryan Ferry's in it, Mammy.

- Oh, that sounds interesting, says the wife. - It's on Sky Atlantic, is it?

Now, I've no objection to Bryan Ferry. Well, I do. I f***in' hate him.

But, anyway, here we are. We're well into the second series and we're loving it. Everything about it - the story, the music, the history, the acting; I feel like I did when was 10, watching The Man From Uncle.

Mind you, the subtitles are heavy going. I love the sound of the Germans speaking German, especially the women. But understanding them, that's a different story. The words at the bottom fly across the screen like hundreds of midget racehorses. I can't keep up. But I say nothing. I have a sneaky look ahead when the wife is out at the jacks or putting on the kettle. That way, I fool myself that I'm not just thick.


It's about 10 minutes after Bryan Ferry's appearance. It's 1929, and he's been singing in a cabaret while the main girl in the story has been earwigging on a conversation between some dodgy cops and politicians. And the wife takes the remote from the breast pocket of my dressing gown and she puts the whole thing on pause.

- We'll go to Berlin, she says. - Will we?

- What? I say. - Now?

- You're gas, she says. - In the spring, I mean. In a few months. For a break.

- Is it not a bit far? I ask. - It's Berlin, like, not Bray.

- Ah, Charlie, she says.

- And it's not 1929 either, remember, I tell her. - It'll be nothing like that now.

- Okay, she says. - Forget it.

- And come here, I say. - Bryan Ferry won't be there either, waiting to greet you at the bloody airport.

And I know I've gone too far. I've bullied her into silence, and I hate that. It's one of the things I've always loved about the wife, her enthusiasm. But I've somehow smothered it. I hate to think that I could do that, that I'm capable of it.

Mind you, she's shut me up once or twice, herself.

I'm blaming Bryan Ferry.

- Sorry, I say.

She says nothing. The dog looks at her and drops his head again. His ear knocks over a bottle.

- Sorry, I say again. - I'd love to go to Berlin.

- It's not Bray, she says.

She thinks she's doing an impression of me but she sounds more like Minnie Caldwell from Coronation Street - which, for several reasons, is worrying.

But anyway.

- I want to go to Berlin, I tell her.

And, actually, it's true. Just this minute, I'd go anywhere with her. Even Bray.

She says nothing but she's grabbed her iPad and she's flicking through the flights - and she's even faster than the subtitles.

She smiles - she smiles at me.

- Nothing like booking a holiday for lifting the gloom, she says.

- What gloom? I say. - Who's gloomy?

- You are, Charlie, she says.

I don't bat it away. I let it settle. Then…

- Am I? I say.

She holds my arm.

- You've been a bit low, she says.

- Have I?

- You have.

And she's right. I know it. I know it now. Because she told me.

- I love you, I say.

- I love you too.

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