Wednesday 23 January 2019

Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: The December pilgrimage…


Illustration: Ben Hickey
Illustration: Ben Hickey
Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle

I check to make sure I have everything. I pat my pockets and recite the line my father delivered every time he was leaving the house.

- My spectacles, my testicles, my wallet and my watch.

- You're gas, says the wife.

She's smiling.

Because we're all set, me and the grandson. We're men on a mission and we're heading into town - for the Christmas clothes.

The Christmas clothes is a tradition that goes right back to the time when the Savages were savages. We had new clothes for Christmas centuries before Christ was even born. The shepherds in the stable were dressed in the rags they'd been wearing for years but one of them, Ezekiel Savage, was wearing a brand-new jumper and slacks from the Bethlehem branch of Dunnes.

Anyway. It's just me and the grandson and we're getting the grandson's Christmas clobber, with no interference from women. Strictly speaking, he doesn't need the clothes; the daughter has him dressed like Leo Varadkar: stripy socks and all. But it's tradition we're talking about here. The Savages, like half of Dublin, always had new clothes for midnight Mass.

There was a chap in my class in school, Terence Halpin, and he wore the Christmas clothes into school after the holidays, and that was what he wore every day - every day - right through the year, until they fell off him. They were the only clothes he had. I remember once - I think we were in second year, in secondary school - he came in after the Christmas holidays wearing a yellow waistcoat.

His mother had opted for the waistcoat instead of a jumper. The poor lad was freezing; it was early January. We gave him a terrible time. We called him Tweety, after the bird in the Looney Tunes cartoons. I'd apologise to Tweety - sorry, Terence - if I met him today.

I actually did meet him about 40 years ago. He was with this gorgeous-looking young one.

- Howyeh, Tweety, I said.

I couldn't remember his real name.

- Fuck off, Shirley, he said back, but I'm betting he could remember my real name. His mott burst out laughing, and I came away feeling happy for him.

Kind of.


It was Shirley Temple, by the way. I had a head of hair that my mother loved and I detested, until I was old enough to shave it off and become Dublin's least-frightening skinhead - and my mother didn't talk to me for seven years.

Anyway. The daughter has shown me pictures of some of the clothes she wants for the grandson, and the shops where I can get them - and the Credit Union where I can arrange the loan. But I ignore her. She wants him ready for The X Factor, but I want him ready for middle age. He's getting jeans and a jumper. The jumper will be grey, black or blue.

Anyway. Here we go. His hand is in my hand. Down Talbot Street, across to Henry Street. I look at what he looks at; I stop when he stops. I'd forgotten that about kids: everything fascinates them. The Christmas lights are on but he's counting the cigarette butts on the path.

It takes us three days to get to the Spire. Well, an hour - it's a journey that would normally take five minutes. He doesn't notice the Spire when we get there. He's still looking at the ground.

So am I.

- There's one that's hardly been smoked, look!

But he's moved from butts to chewing gum. He won't budge off North Earl Street until he's counted every gob. His concentration is frightening; whoever keeps saying that the young have no attention span hasn't a clue.

He ignores two dreadful choirs, three pissed Santies, four calling birds, and a gang of Italian tourists who seem to be trying to get the statue of James Joyce to talk back to them.

The day isn't going as planned but I don't think I've ever been happier.

Eventually - he stops.

- Hard 'ork, G'anda!

- How many was that, love?

- Un t'ousand, t'ee hundit and nixty-six!

- My God, I say. - You must thirsty after all that, are you?

He nods, and he nods again.

- We'll go for a drink, so, I say. - But first we need to get you a drinking jumper.

He loves that.

- And d'inkin' t'ousers!

- Now we're talking. Drinking trousers.

So, off we go again, across O'Connell Street. And now, for the first time, he notices the lights.

I can feel it, from his hand to my hand - his delight, his excitement. I'm holding his hand but I'm holding all of my children's hands, and my ma's hand, and my da's. I'm holding more than 60 years of living and love, sadness and joy, regret and acceptance.

- What colour drinking jumper do you want, love?

- G'ey!

- Grey?

Ah Jesus, I'm starting to cry.

Weekend Magazine

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss