Thursday 17 January 2019

Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: Why it's NOT a perfect day…


Illustration: Ben Hickey
Illustration: Ben Hickey
Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle

Everything's bloody perfect.

- What are you muttering about? says the wife. I wasn't aware that I was muttering. I'm going to deny it. I have to.

- I wasn't muttering.

- You were.

- I was talking to myself, I tell her.

- Charlie, she says. - There's a difference between talking to yourself and muttering. You were muttering.

- I was muttering to myself.

- Okay.

We're in a café in town. It's grand but I miss Bewley's - the one on Westmoreland Street. That place was a bit magic and I'll tell you why: it was democratic. There was a corner in there for everyone. A gang of old women could be sitting at a table next to a group of heroin addicts and there was never any aggro; the oul' ones always left the junkies alone. Bus drivers, people just getting in out of the rain - they were all in there. You could sit all day with an empty mug in front of you and just watch.

But I know: I was probably bored and miserable and I'm remembering an atmosphere that was never actually there. Even bad memories become fond if you hold onto them long enough - or something.

But anyway. The café's grand. It's a small place on South Anne Street and we're the oldest people in it by about 30 years. But that doesn't matter; we're used to being the oldest citizens in the room. Even the graveyards are full of people who used to be younger than us. We kind of like it - being the oldies. We never object to the music, and we don't raise our eyes to heaven when we hear some little 40-year-old behind us saying something daft. We're cool, a great ad for the grey years.

Well, the wife is. I'm not. I'm giving out s***e - and out loud, apparently.

- What's wrong this time? the wife asks me. She likes my rants - or so she said once, in 1989.

- Perfect, I say.

- What?

- The way they use the word, I say, and I nod at the big lad with the beard behind the counter. The beard is the same shape as a shovel and all his tattoos are located on his right arm; they look like they're fighting for space there.

- I asked for an Americano and he said, "Perfect," I say.

- Ah, he's nice.

- I'm not saying he isn't, I say. - I agree with you, he's a nice young lad. But then I asked for your flat white there and he said it again: "Perfect." Then you wanted your bun…

- It's a raspberry pistachio tart.

- Grand, and it was bloody "perfect" as well. And when I paid for it all, he said, "Superb." I pick up the coffee.

- It's not perfect or superb, I say. - It's slightly above f***in' average. How's yours?

- It's fine.

- It's not perfect, but, is it? I say. - When did it start?

- What?

- The whole "perfect" thing, I say.

- It's just enthusiasm, she says.

- It's not, I say. - It's dangerous.

When I was a kid, when I was the same age as the young lad behind the counter with the shovel on his face, everything was grand. The weather was grand, the dinner was grand, the world in general was grand. How was school? Grand. What's she like? Grand. How did the job interview go? Not too bad - grand. Nothing too much was expected; disappointment was easily shaken off. The school holidays were only a month away, the two-faced wagon had a nicer-looking sister, there'd be other, better jobs. Don't worry, Charlie - it'll all turn out grand.

Now and again, once or twice a year, something would go right past grand and become lovely or brilliant. If the sun was like a hammer and people were fainting on the streets, it was lovely. If Ireland actually won a match, it was brilliant. These were moments to savour because normality would soon be back. There's the rain now. Ah well, grand - the garden needs it.

I'm no economist, but I think the country changed - the boom years arrived - when we started saying "great". We became more ambitious, somehow; we began to expect more from life. The step from grand to great wasn't impossible, and if it wasn't turning out great, you could always beat a dignified retreat back to grand. How's the flat in Bulgaria? They never built it. Oh - grand. But perfect?

There's a generation of kids who are being told that every decision is perfect. The only way is down. It worries me - it really does.

There's a young one beside us now; she's come out from behind the counter. She's cleaning the table next to us. She smiles at us - at me. Her eyes - Jesus!

- How's the coffee? she asks.

- Perfect, I say.

The wife grins - and winks at me.

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