Wednesday 21 August 2019

Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: Not strictly ballroom


Ilustration by Ben Hickey
Ilustration by Ben Hickey
Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle

Myself and the wife are just back from the hospital. We were there with identical injuries. We even shared the same ambulance, and saved the State a few bob. It must the sign of a successful marriage - is it? - when yourself and your beloved can sit side by side in A+E, sharing the groans and bandages. And after all that, a night and most of a day in sunny Beaumont, we're still talking to each other. Although in my case that's not easy, because I bit off the tip of my tongue. And the wife still isn't certain who I am.

Let me explain.

The little grandson is going to dance lessons, in a place that used to be an office suppliers, at the back of an industrial estate that doesn't really have any industries left in it. Anyway, it - that's the Itchy Feet Junior Dance Academy - looks a bit threadbare at the moment. Actually, it's like stepping into the GPO in 1916, the day after the lads surrendered. So they need to raise funds for a few cans of paint and a ceiling.

- So, they're doing a 'Strictly' night, like, the daughter tells us.

- Great idea, I say.

I'm lowering the needle onto a record. The little lad has been showing us his moves, to Love Train by the O'Jays. I was a big fan of Philly disco back in the day and I still have the record. It's the sixth or seventh time I've played it but the little lad is a joy to watch and so slick on his feet, the record only skips now and again.

Anyway, I drop the stylus onto the O'Jays and turn - and the daughter and the wife are smiling at me.

- What?

Apparently, my words, "Great idea", mean that I've just agreed to participate in the Strictly Come Dancing fundraiser and that the wife is going to be my dance partner.

I love disco but I don't dance. Ever. I could sit through Boogie Wonderland or The Hustle and it wouldn't occur to me to tap a foot, let alone get up and slide across the kitchen. It's just not in me. The rest of me is content enough but my feet have never been happy.

But - there you go. It's too late to object and, before I have time to panic, we're going to lessons.

And I love it.

It's the classic 'Step-step-cha cha cha' stuff and, apparently, I'm a natural. I've never been in a ballroom in my life but I'm skipping across the dancefloor like Fred Astaire on crack cocaine and the wife - when I remember to bring her - is hanging on for dear life.

- Jesus, Charlie, she says, after I throw her six foot in the air and shuffle across in loads of time to catch her. - Warn me first, will yeh. I'm supposed to be your partner, not a f***in' kite.

She's right, and I calm down. It takes two to tango and I rein in my new-found need for self-expression. I can go solo after the fundraiser. And to be fair to the wife, she might not be Ginger Rogers but her foxtrot is competent and anyone watching our rumba would find it hard to guess which of her knees is arthritic.


It's my fault.

In my defence I'll say this: when you've gone through more than six decades thinking you're a legless camel and then you discover that you're an authentic genius of the dancefloor - well, it's a bit overwhelming. It's also agony when I stop, and that's the problem. I ache in every joint when I sit down after I've been dancing. So I don't stop and I dance head-first into the wife.

This happens in front of an audience of about 200 people, upstairs in the local. We've just cha-cha-cha-ed through Ay Morena by Miami Latin, and it's been a triumph. The wife is getting ready to take her bow - she deserves her applause - and our heads meet at a combined speed of 40kph.

We wake up in Beaumont A+E. A slice of my tongue is still back in the local and the wife's memory is back in the late 1970s. She looks at me.

- Howyeh, Liam, she says.

- Who?

There's a nurse cleaning the blood off my head.

- Why are you serving him first? the wife asks.

- It's not a restaurant, love, I tell her.

In fairness, there does seem to be more blood on me. Granted, most of it is hers but I don't tell her that. I'm stunned but I'm not completely stupid.

Actually, it's oddly pleasant sharing the adventure. And we're home now, safe and almost sound.

I look at the wife - at her bandaged head.

- I 'ove 'ou, I say.

- I love you too, Liam, she says. - From here to eternity.

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