Saturday 25 May 2019

Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: Keeping my options closed


Illustration: Ben Hickey
Illustration: Ben Hickey
Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle

I'm glad I never have to make my mind up. It must be hard for young people. They're presented with so many choices, it must be crippling. I'm sitting in my local with my buddy, the Secret Woman. We're in our usual spot, two stools in front of the taps. And they've installed another new tap since the last time we were in here, this morning.

Just to be clear: I don't usually drink in the mornings. I actually can't remember the last time I had a drink in the morning - probably because I'd been drinking all night. But that must be more than 30 years ago, after my little brother's wedding.

But anyway, we had a pint - just the one - this morning because we had to abandon the pitch and putt after eight holes. The rain was so heavy, we couldn't find the 9th tee and a chap over on the 13th shouted across that there was a beached whale lying on top of the 10th hole.

So, we got out of the wet, had the one very slow pint, and went home. And here we are again, and there's a brand new tap where the Guide Dogs collection box used to be.

There was a time, and it's not that long ago, when there were only three taps, Guinness, Smithwicks and a lager, usually Harp. But now the line of taps is so long, we can hardly see Jerzy the barman behind them. He might be doing his ironing back there, or his Polish crosswords.

Anyway, the new tap is another of those craft beers. M50 I.P.A., it's called - It Never Takes a Toll. It's a nice decoration, the tap itself, all lit up and inviting, but I don't know if anyone will be ordering it.

- Are you curious? I ask the Secret Woman.

- Yeah.

- Enough to buy a pint?

- God, no.

Where I'm sitting, I can see three types of Guinness, at least three kinds of Smithwicks, about 10 different lagers, and a dozen beers named after different parts of Dublin or monasteries or pirates. If I'd just arrived in Ireland, thirsty after the long journey, I'd probably start crying now because the choice in front of me would be too overwhelming.

And the other drinks - there's no such thing as a straightforward gin and tonic anymore. I've seen women break down when Jerzy points at the gin shelf.


There's no sign of the Guide Dogs box, by the way, which I think is disgraceful. I never put any money into it, myself, but that's not the point.


When I was a young lad the choice was simple: Guinness. It was what we aspired to, the ability to drink a pint and keep it down and, eventually, enjoy it. We were shaving, occasionally, and now we'd be Guinness drinkers as well: we'd be men. It was a tribal initiation. The young lads of other tribes were sent out into the wild and they had to come back with a lion or a buffalo on their backs. We had to knock back three pints, then make it out to the jacks without falling over a table.

Look it: I know life is - and was - much more complicated than the drink you choose to hold in your hand. And I'm not saying for a minute that a man who doesn't drink Guinness isn't a man. Although, I'll be frank here, if Guinness isn't his nectar of choice - if he drinks Budweiser, say, or he doesn't drink at all - he'll have to prove his manhood to me in some other way, by foiling a major terrorist attack, say, or presenting photographic evidence that he used to go with Meghan Markle's ma.

It's like Passport Control. Guinness drinkers join the 'EU' line; Heineken sippers have to line up at the much slower 'Non-EU' hatch, behind the Brits.

But anyway, it's not just about the drink. There's way too much choice, in every aspect of our lives. An apple used to be an apple, but now it can be one of dozens of varieties - Granny Smith has loads of opposition. And the question, "What's on?" when you sit down in front of the telly no longer has any real meaning. The phrase, "We're spoilt for choice," used to be good news - a rare treat. Now it's a constant threat: "Make your mind up, go on - I dare you." Anxiety is replacing the bad back as the country's ailment of choice - there we go again: choice.

It's the youngsters I feel sorry for. I'm grand, myself - it's years since I had to make my mind up.

- D'you fancy a package of crisps, Charlie? the Secret Woman asks me now.

- Okay. Yeah.

- Cheese 'n' onion, salt 'n' vinegar, sea salt 'n' kale, black pepper 'n' walrus? What are you doing?

I can't cope, I have to lie down.

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