Monday 21 January 2019

Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: The foods of love


Illustration: Ben Hickey
Illustration: Ben Hickey
Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle

The daughter's after dropping the little grandson in to us, with a sack of avocados. She wants to have the avocados out of the sack and into the little lad, half a one a day, by the end of the month. She's insisting on it.

- We'll be tripping over the bloody avocados, I say.

She ignores me.

- They contain acids that lower the risk of heart disease and high cholesterol, like, she says.

The little lad isn't in the room but I can hear him. He's the only child I've ever known who can charge up and down the stairs at the same time. The noise - Jesus! It's not his heart I'd be worrying about.

But I know: arguing with the daughter about food and nutrition is pointless.

- Grand, I say. - We'll see he gets them.

I have one out of the sack now, and I'm staring at it. Don't get me wrong: I'm not pretending we've never seen an avocado before, or eaten one. They're nice enough; I'd never complain if I found one on my plate.

- They're a bit primitive-looking, but, aren't they? I say. - For a kid.

- If we were shoving them whole into his gob, says the wife. - But it's only the inside he'll be eating. And if he doesn't want them…

- He won't.

- Then we'll eat them. Who'll know?

- She will.

And the wife nods.

- Yep.

I've never been able to lie to the daughter, not successfully. Even when she was a baby, she'd stare up at me from the pram and I'd confess to things I'd never done.

- We'll think of something, she says.

- Okay.

I look up from the avocado.

- It reminds of when my ma brought home the spaghetti, I say.

- What?

The day is suddenly looking up. She hasn't heard this one - or she's forgotten; it doesn't really matter. One of the few great things about ageing is that you get to repeat the same stories like they're new, both to yourself and the person who's listening - as long as that person is at least as old as you are and, preferably, deaf.


It was some time in the early '70s, and my mother came home and took a packet of spaghetti out of her bag. She held it up.

- Look, lads!

We were all in the kitchen, pretending to do our homework.

Ma's face that afternoon: she might as well have been showing us the Queen of England's crown that she'd found outside on the road. She was thrilled.

We'd seen spaghetti before on the telly, and the oldest of my brothers had seen it at the pictures, in The Godfather. But we'd never eaten it.

She put the packet on the table so we could see it.

- Don't touch it, boys, she said. - You might break it.

It didn't look like a thing you'd eat. It was more like something you'd assemble, just a bag of skinny sticks.

But her excitement was always infectious and we were soon standing around her while she stood at the cooker waiting for the water to start boiling. She was holding the spaghetti in the steam, like she was about to start casting a spell.

- What happens to it?

- Wait and see.

- Is there a noise?

- I hope not.

The second the water started bubbling, she dropped the sticks into the pot and we all stood back, half-expecting an explosion or a howl of rage. We crept up to the pot and looked in. I got up on a chair so I could see in properly.

- Cool.

I'd seen water boiling before but this time the water seemed to be more organised; it had already made the spaghetti softer and it was attacking it, pushing it out from the centre of the pot, turning it and turning it.

We were eating it when my da came home. He stepped in through the back door and looked at us - at the plates, at the table, the floor, the walls.

- What's going on?

A single strand of spaghetti dropped from the ceiling onto his head. It slid down over his glasses and his nose; the dog was at his feet, waiting to catch it.

By the way, that was all we ate: the spaghetti. It was another year-and-a-half before my mother invented the sauce.

Anyway. My father declared war on it. If there weren't spuds on the plate, it wasn't a dinner; that was his philosophy.

- So, I say. - That became our favourite dinner, for years. Spaghetti and potatoes. Then she took the spuds off the plate and he never noticed.

I look down at the avocado. I'm surprised it's still there.

- She won that war, I say, and smile. - Actually, she won all the wars.

I look up again.

- I miss her.

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