Saturday 19 January 2019

Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: Silence is golden… but laughter is better


Illustration: Ben Hickey
Illustration: Ben Hickey
Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle

We had them all in the house last Sunday - the whole family, all the kids, wives, partners, grandkids and a few other strays. One minute, it was just me and the wife in the kitchen. The next, it was me, the wife and more than 20 others.

Don't get me wrong: they'd been invited - it wasn't a sudden invasion, some sort of domestic Normandy landing. They were all expected and more than welcome.

Still, though - the noise.

I like my silence. And I don't mean total silence. I could be listening to the next-door neighbour hammering through a wall, the dogs yapping, cars reversing, the fridge gurgling, the tap dripping - and it would feel like silence. There's so much constant noise these days but I manage not to hear most of it - just the voices.

When I was a very young kid, I would always notice the sound of a car going past outside, because there were so few of them. There were only two on our road. One of them, a Ford Anglia, belonged to a very nice man, Mister Kelly. The other one - I can't remember what it was - belonged to a not-nearly-as-nice man, Mister Styles.

When we had an away match, we'd all try to climb into Mister Kelly's car, including Mister Styles' son, Eric, because we knew the craic would be better. I remember once, we were going to a game in Finglas. The whole team was squashed into Mister Kelly's car; the wingers were in the boot. And we saw a woman running for her bus. Mister Kelly lowered his window as we passed her and he yelled.

- Jaysis, Missis, mind your tights!

We didn't really know what he meant but it was the funniest thing we'd ever heard.

I don't know why I'm remembering that now. I don't think it's just nostalgia, and it's not because I wish there were less car engines and, generally, less mechanical noises fighting for air supremacy. I kind of do - they would do your head in, sometimes - but it's not really my point.

Silence, I suppose, is about me saying nothing. Actually, it's about nobody saying anything - or, just the occasional thing that's worth saying or hearing. And this thought only occurred to me when one of the grandkids got up on my knee, pulled my ear and brought it down to his mouth.

- Grandad? he said.

- Yes, love?

- Why does Uncle Fran laugh after everything he says?

I'd better explain Uncle Fran. He isn't really the kid's uncle. He was my mother's cousin and he used to come around to the house now and again when I was a kid. Then once - I don't know how it happened - he never went home. His ma had died and his da was a bit of a waster, and my mother took pity on him. There was suddenly an extra body in the boys' bedroom.

We all married young, me and my brothers. And we admitted it one Christmas when we all went for a pint without the wives: we'd gotten married to get away from Fran.

I love my wife and I was head over heels the second I laid eyes on her. But the prospect of going home to Fran… I asked her to marry me about five minutes after I met her.

That seems mean but the thing was, he wasn't one of the Savage boys. He came into the house fully formed; he was a few years older than us. And he never shut up - ever. I can see now why not, but back then I was only a child who had to surrender the bottom bunk to a laughing hyena.

I'm not a hermit, or one of those Howard Hughes lads - a recluse. I like company; I like sitting back and listening. And I like silence; I always feel I'm climbing into it. I can go upstairs, get into the scratcher and listen to the world below - the dogs, the vans, the sirens, alarms, the gulls, the footsteps, car radios, the lot of it. That's silence.

Anyway - poor oul' Fran. He must be 65, and he's still yapping away, filling the air, killing any prospect of solitude - his own.

I'm feeling sorry for him. But the grandson grabs my ear again and hauls me down to his level.

- And Grandad?

- Yes, love?

- Why does Auntie Doris laugh before everything she says?

Doris is Fran's girlfriend, his fiancée. They've been engaged since David Essex was in the charts. And the grandson is right - she does laugh before everything she says.

But this is the lovely bit: they're a team, her and Fran - I've only just noticed it. He speaks, laughs; she laughs, speaks; he speaks, laughs; she laughs, speaks - and they go on, passing the baton back and forth, living happily ever after.

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