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Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: 'Me and the wife. We've started living in a box set'



Illustration by Ben Hickey

Illustration by Ben Hickey

Illustration by Ben Hickey

By New Year's Day I'd had enough. And I slid out for a pint - early. I texted my pal, the Secret Woman. "Pint?" He got back to me before I'd even sent mine. "Pint?" We were reading off the same desperate hymn sheet. We were sick of the holidays, sick of food, sick of everything. We'd had enough good cheer and were both dying for a good whinge.

The house, of course, is full of grandkids. I'm sure they're mine but I don't recognise half of them. But they must know who I am because they keep throwing themselves on top of me every time I shut my eyes.

- Enough, I say to myself… I think. So I text my buddy and escape. I start digging a tunnel in the kitchen. Actually, I go out the front door. But very quietly - I don't put my shoes on till I get outside. Then I put my hood up, so they won't know it's me running down the road - or, trying to - as if I'd just shoved a banger through the letterbox.

Anyway, I'm parked on my stool with my buddy beside me and a nice pint in front of me. We're the first customers in. The barman is still in his pyjamas; he's rinsing his toothbrush under the Heineken tap.

- How was your Christmas? I ask.

- S***e, says my buddy.

- The New Year's?

- The same.

- Grand.

It's great to be in the company of a man my own age.

- Get anything nice?

- No.

- Same here.

- Any thoughts? says the Secret Woman.

- What about?

- Ah, he says. - The year ahead and that.

I don't do resolutions and I hate all that '10 Tips That'll Make the Last Few Years of Your Life Perfect' drivel. You can do your Pilates and swallow pints of green tea but you're still going to wake up dead one day. That's my philosophy. But there is one part of my life I've decided to change.

- Box sets, I say.

- Box sets?

- The telly, I say. - The drama series.

- What about them?

- I'm not watching any more, I tell him.

If you're like me when you meet up with your friends, you'll get Brexit out of the way first.

- You'd lose the will to live.

- The f***in' heads on them.

Then you'll spend the rest of the night chatting about the football. - He's on a hundred grand a week. At least.

- That's 50 grand for each left foot.

And the box sets. - He's brilliant, but, isn't he?

- She's great too, in fairness. She was in that other thing, remember?

We've a dictionary at home, a big one. The Oxford Dictionary of English. We got it about 10 years ago, when the daughter was still in school. It's huge; it's only slightly smaller than the GPO. It fell on the wife once, when she was checking a word in her crossword. It took three of us to get it off her - I had to get the neighbours in to give us a hand - and she was threatening to sue the City of Oxford.

But anyway, my point is: 'box set' isn't in the dictionary. So it went from not being anything to becoming the thing that consumes even more of our time than sleep.

- You're sick of them, says the Secret Woman.

- It's not that, I tell him. - I keep thinking I'm in one.

- What?

- We've been watching so many of them, I say. - Me and the wife. We've started living in a box set. I sit down for the dinner expecting something dramatic to happen. Because that's how it works on Netflix.

- That sounds a bit mad, Charlie.

- I know, I say. - But you know the way whenever you see a family or a couple on the telly having their dinner, you know one of them's going to announce that they're having an affair or they're gay or something. Or the FBI comes charging through the back door. Well, that's started happening to us.

It's true. At the breakfast this morning, I was putting the toast up to my mouth and I saw the wife staring across at me. - Who is she? she said.

- What?

- I know there's another woman, she said. - Who is she?

And the really mad thing is: I told her.

Just to be clear: I'm not having an affair and I've never had an affair. The only thing on my mind was making sure I didn't get jam on my shirt. But the minute she said it, there I was - there we were, bang in the middle of a box set called The Savages. And I shouted.

- Tiffany!

- I knew it, the wife roared back, and she stormed out of the kitchen and out of the house.

- Who's Tiffany? the Secret Woman asks me now.

- I haven't a clue, I tell him. - But the wife's out there looking for her.

Weekend Magazine