Saturday 21 September 2019

Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: The death of innocence


Illustration by Ben Hickey
Illustration by Ben Hickey
Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle

We all have our heroes. We often forget about them as we get older - the footballer, or the singer, or even a politician - but they're still there inside us hidden away, keeping us company.

Until we find out they're dead.

It took me more than a day to figure out what was wrong with the wife.

She looked up from her phone and put the reading glasses back up on her head.

- Mark E Smith's after dying, she said.

- Who?

We were in the bed. It was about midnight or so.

- Mark E Smith, she said.

- Is that the chap who runs the Vincent De Paul shop? I asked her.

I was reading a book about Dunkirk and just getting to the end of a good bit. When I dog-eared my page and looked up, half my head was still on a fishing boat on the English Channel, looking out for low-flying Messerschmitts.

She was staring at me.

- The chap who runs the shop, she said, - is called Mary Smith.

- Oh, I said. - Was she ever called Mark?

- No, she wasn't.

- Oh, I said, again.

I never used to say, "Oh". Is it a even word or just a noise? Whatever it is, I'm hearing myself say it a lot. I walk through the day, going "oh", "oh", "oh", like a character in Little Women who suddenly wakes up in The Wire. I get to the top of the stairs and go, "Oh", because I don't know why I came up the stairs in the first place. I've tried to stop saying it but it's like the creak in my knee. I think it might be beyond my control.


- Who's Mark Smith, so? I asked her.

- It's Mark E Smith, she said. - And he was the singer and the song writer in The Fall.

- Ah, I said.

It made a change from "oh".

- Now I get you.

But I didn't - not really.

She'd liked The Fall; I knew that much. When we started going with one another, back in the days when Ireland was still in black and white, her big heroes were both Smiths - Patti Smith and Mark E Smith. If I could count the hours I sat on the floor in her parents' house listening to The Fall and Patti Smith, they would add up to weeks of my life, even months. But, actually, I wasn't really listening. I wasn't there for the music. We'll leave it at that.

She still loves her music, the wife. When she's playing Roxy Music in the kitchen, I know there'll be something a bit special for the dinner. It doesn't matter where I am, if I smell roast chicken I think of Bryan Ferry.

She plays The Clash, Joy Division, The The, The Smiths - more bloody Smiths. And, of course, she plays the drums in her occasional band, the Pelvic Floors. But I haven't heard The Fall in the house in years, not since before the kids started arriving.

So I didn't appreciate what had just happened.

When I heard George Best had died, my legs went from under me. They did. Luckily, I was in the kitchen, so I was able to grab the table and land on a chair. I was upset but - more.

I hadn't seen George Best kick a ball or go on a run down the wing in years - decades. I'm not a man for CDs of Manchester United's former glories or for searching on YouTube for matches I can half-remember from childhood. I'd seen him on telly a few times, and never looking well. But when the lad reading the news announced that he'd died, that he no longer existed - well, it felt like something vital had been pulled out of me.

That's exactly what it felt like.

For years I was George Best. I woke up thinking I was him. Not just like him - I was him, just with a different name. I was 10 or 11 and the actual George was probably still in his bed with a bottle of vodka and a former Miss World, but I was bounding - that's the word - down the stairs and out onto the street, to thrill the world with my ability to kick a ball at a kerb and get it to bounce back to me. The commentator - usually Brian Moore - kept me company all day. Savage - to Best - and back to Savage - and, my word, what a goal!

Now George Best was dead and a part of me was too. I was grieving for myself.

It's the feeling a lot of us had when Bowie died. And Prince. And Cyrille Regis.

I bring the wife a cup of coffee.

- Alright?

She nods, eventually.

She has Spotify on her iPad and she's going through The Fall albums, all 63 of them.

I leave her to it.

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