Sunday 15 December 2019

Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: Redecorated with love


Illustration: Ben Hickey
Illustration: Ben Hickey
Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle

I'm standing on a ladder and I'm holding a roll of wallpaper, more than 20 years after I swore I'd never do it again. I've paste in my hair and all over one lens of my glasses. My arms are aching and the trousers are starting to slide off me. And, really - I swear to God - I don't really know how I got here.

I'm blaming the wife. And her mother. And Senator David Norris.

The wife was going over to spend the night with her mother and she asked me to come along with her. The plan was, I'd watch telly with them for a bit, then go on home, and I'd come back in the morning to collect her.

So that was grand - no bother.

But I end up wedged between the wife and her ma as they watch - and discuss - some of the greatest s***e ever shown on television. The gardening programmes and the make-up programmes, and the 'I'm a Celebrity Up in the Pine Forest' programmes - not a football or a gun in any of them. So, I quickly lose the will to live and I drift off to sleep.

But the wife keeps digging me.

- Could you not stay awake for Mammy?

- What? I say. - Are we in the Garden of Gethsemane or something? Is she being crucified in the morning?

I have to admit, I've impressed myself. Because my religious knowledge hasn't always been the best. I remember once in school, the Christian Brother nearly nailed me to the classroom door when I asked him why the Romans were so keen on crucifying Santy.


I like the wife's mother, so I stay awake. And, actually, it's easy enough. She always takes her hearing aids out at night, so she won't waste the batteries. She's in charge of the remote control, and the volume - Jesus. Not just the telly, the whole house is vibrating. There are bricks coming loose in the walls and the fillings start to drop out of my teeth.

But anyway, they've moved on to this programme called Celebrity Home of the Year. It's on RTÉ, and all the celebrities are Irish, so we've never heard of any of them. Except Senator David Norris.

- Who's he?! the wife's mother wants to know.

- David Norris.

- Who?!

- David Norris, Mammy. He's a Senator. He's gay.

- Oh, I like the gays! says the wife's mother. - I voted for them the last time!

Despite the noise and because of the heat, I'm in and out of consciousness. All the celebrity houses become one mad pink and yellow house, and I dream I'm a giant rabbit running from room to room, trying to get back to the safety of Sky Sports.

Until the wife gives me another dig and I hear her mother.

- I'd love a house like that!

I sit up straight.

- Grand, I say.

And the wife smiles at me for the first time since the dinner, and I know I'm in trouble.

What happens is: the wife and her sisters get together the day after with their mother and they design the house of their mother's dreams. Which, when you give it a bit of thought, is lovely.

All the women around the table with the colour charts and the fabric samples, and the cups of tea and the laughter, the screams, the childhood stories, the tears. It's like a scene from a film I'd never want to see, and I'm betting Sally Fields is in it - but it's still lovely.

Their mother is well over 90, so doing this is a bit special - the last hurrah, I suppose. And it's not the whole house they're designing, just one of the rooms, where she spends nearly all of her time these days.

The wife shows me the plans.

- What's that? I ask.

- A fountain, she says.

- It'll drench the telly, I tell her.

She looks at me - she looks at me - and delivers the terrifying words.

- Her heart is set on it.

So here I am, up a ladder with my trousers falling down. Paddy, the brother-in-law, is out on the street somewhere, running a pipe straight from the mains to the fountain because he's keen on bypassing the Irish Water meter.


It's been a journey but we're nearly finished. I've only a few rolls of paper left, then we'll get the new carpet in and tacked down. The women are in the kitchen putting new covers on the couch and armchair. The last thing will be the fish for the fountain. We've a pair of Siamese fighting fish. Lovely looking lads they are too, and we'll be launching them with a bottle of champagne.

The wife's mother is at the door, leaning on her walker, looking in.

- Alright? I ask her.

- Do you know what, Charlie? she says. - It's nice to be loved.

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