Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: A secret rendezvous with a Bond Girl
It's quiet in the local. I'm there before my pal, the Secret Woman. There's racing on the telly but the sound is down. The sun is exactly as I want it, outside but sending a solid-looking beam through one of the windows, across the floor. I have to wade through sunshine to get to the bar.
We're having a sneaky daytime pint.
After the wheel and the internal combustion engine, the sneaky pint is mankind's greatest invention. That's what I'm thinking as I park my arse and order my pint.
- One nice one, Jerzy, please good man.
I sit back and watch as the Secret Woman strides out of the sunlight, and blinks.
I wish I'd filmed it - the Secret Woman appearing out of the golden haze. There's Ursula Andress walking out of the sea in Dr No, and then there's the Secret Woman stepping out of the sun. For a second, less than a second, he looks lovely there, washed in the light, his hair - what there is of it - ablaze, his eyes huge as they adjust to the relative gloom. Then he coughs.
- It's fuckin' boiling, he says.
He's not Ursula Andress anymore and it's probably just as well. A pint with Ursula might be heavy going. I read somewhere that she's a Manchester City supporter.
Anyway. He's still wearing his gardening trousers and he pulls them up as he approaches. He climbs up on the stool beside me.
- How's womanhood? I ask him.
- Well, I'll tell you, Charlie, he says. - D'you know what it is? Between you and me now. I'm a woman when I'm out in the garden.
I'm tempted to tell him that a minute ago I'd mistaken him for Ursula Andress. But I decide against it. It would just be interrupting him, and he's keen to talk. The boozer's so quiet, it's as if we have the place to ourselves.
- With the soil between my fingers, he says. - Helping things grow - nurturing them. I just feel it.
He fills his mouth with Guinness, and swallows. He parks his pint on his beermat.
- I'm a woman, he says.
- In the garden?
- Grand, I say. - But what about when you're cutting the grass?
- What about it?
- Well, you're killing it, I say. - Aren't you? When you're cutting it.
- I'm not cutting it, he says.
- Who is?
Don't say 'Eileen', I plead - silently. The Secret Woman and Eileen Pidgeon, a girl I went with for a few days when I was 16, have been 'in a relationship' since I introduced them a couple of years ago and my life became suddenly very complicated. My best pal had told me he identified as a woman and then, almost immediately, he got off with the first love of my life.
- No one, he says. - I'm letting it grow - letting nature take its course. I'm getting a beehive as well.
- Go 'way.
- Yeah, he says. - I've ordered one online, and all the gear as well. The headgear and all.
- The crash helmet thing?
- Yeah, yeah, he says. - The net that goes over your face so you don't get stung. D'you know what they call it?
- Go on, I say. - Educate me.
- The veil, he says.
- Hang on, I say. - Just to be clear. Am I having my sneaky pint with a nun?
- Ah, well, he says. - I wouldn't go that far. But you should see the gear, Charlie. It's fabulous.
One thing: the Secret Woman doesn't grin. He smiles - very occasionally. But grinning isn't in his repertoire. But here he is, grinning. And I know: his daughter has been talking to him.
Like me, the Secret Woman has a daughter. In fact, he has two but there's one in particular, the younger one, who is responsible for virtually every opinion he's had for the last 10 years.
I'm at the stage where I imagine how the daughter - my daughter - will react; I can see her before I say or do anything. And I think the Secret Woman is the same. His daughter has filled his head with bees. From what he's told me, she's big into saving the planet.
We hear a sob behind us - now, in the pub. We don't have to turn; we know who it is.
- Poor Larry, says the Secret Woman.
Larry the sobber has a daughter as well. She's a vegetarian and Larry's a butcher and now, after a 10-year campaign waged by his daughter, he's a vegetarian butcher. He comes into the local after work every day and cries into a slow pint before going home to a dinner of green beans and walnuts.
The daughters: they're either going to save the world or destroy it.
- Come here, I say to the Secret Woman. - Are the bees just an excuse to get into the clobber?
He grins again.
- F**k the bees.