Tuesday 18 June 2019

Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: Give a man a hobby and he can ruin his world


Illustration: Ben Hickey
Illustration: Ben Hickey

The wife's on at me about getting a hobby.

- I'm too old for hobbies, I tell her. It's true. When she mentioned it, I had to remember what a hobby actually was. I don't think I'd heard the word being spoken since I was 10 or 11, when my hobby was collecting frogs in a bucket - until my Da took the bucket back and flung the frogs over the back wall into Kelly's.

Anyway, it's her latest campaign. She's started walking and doing embroidery and - I don't know - panel-beating. So she's decided that I desperately need things to do too.

- Football, I tell her. - I like the football.

- You don't play football, Charlie.

- Not professionally, no.

- Is there an over-60s league? she asks.

- If there is, it's illegal.

- There has to be something that interests you, she says.

- I read, I tell her.

- Yeah, she says. - In bed. When you're asleep.

- I'm awake enough when I'm reading.

- Charlie, she says. - I've seen you turning the page when your eyes are shut.

- I open them for the good bits.

We're walking along the seafront, at Dollymount. And let me be clear, I've no objection to walking. I enjoy a good stroll. I just know that if I start calling it a hobby, it'll ruin it. I'll have to bring trekking poles and salt tablets. I'll never be let sit down again.

Anyway, we're near the wooden bridge when I see a heron flying - or, trying to fly - with a rat in its beak.

- Will you look at that!

- Ornithology, says the wife.

- Rat watching?

- Bird watching.

- I'm already watching them, I say. - There's a seagull over there, look it.

- You're gas.

I've a birthday coming up and I'm doomed. I know: I'm going to be given a hobby. I'm not mad about birthdays at the best of times. I went out on the night of my 21st with a new shirt and 50 quid and I woke up three days later in a ditch, behind the Iron Curtain. Nothing as geographically challenging has happened since but, still, the birthdays have been disappointing. Even the roundy ones - 40, 50, 60 - they've all been a bit s***e.

But this one, I'm dreading.

The battle of the hobbies continues in the run-up, and it's relentless. My pleas for a ceasefire are being ignored.

- Have you seen some of the bikes they have these days, Charlie?

- You won't be getting me into Lycra.

- I see there's ballroom dancing down in the community centre.

- You won't be getting me into tights.

It's the wife and the daughter in a pincer movement that would have cracked Stalingrad.

- There's a Men's Shed opening in Coolock, says the wife.

- Would you walk into a shed full of men?

- Ah, Charlie.

- Deck chairs and a lawn mower, I say. - That's all that should be in any self-respecting shed.

- Keith says the benefits men feel when they do yoga are insane, like, says the daughter.

- Pass the salt, love, I say.

- He has a spare mat.

- Grand.

Keith is her new boyfriend. He seems like a nice enough lad but he can shove his bloody mat. He has a tattoo on the side of his neck: 'What We Think, We Become'. The Buddha said it, apparently, although it sounds more like Barry Manilow.

Keith works in the City Council Waste and Recycling Department, so Christ knows what he was thinking the day before he got the job - or the Buddha might know. Anyway, there's no way I'm becoming a Buddhist for my birthday. Is Buddhism even a hobby?

- Fishing looks very relaxing.

- No.

- I saw a man wind-surfing this morning and he must have been at least 60.

- Come here, I say. - Do you really want to see me in a wetsuit? Seriously, do you?

She walks out of the kitchen and I think I can hear her laughing in the hall.

I wake up screaming on the morning of my birthday. It isn't the dream I've been having that has me screaming; it's the day ahead. I've to go downstairs now and become a stamp collector, or a deep-sea fisherman, or a dry-water astronomer, or some bloody thing. Whatever it is, I'll never be the same man again.

The wife hands me a package wrapped in paper left over from Christmas. It's square, flat.

- It's not flippers, I say.

The day is looking up.

- Open it, she says.

It's a record, an LP. It's an old one by The Pogues, Rum, Sodomy & the Lash. I used to love it, but we don't have a record player.

- Turn around, says the wife.

- A record player!

There's a deck, an amp, two speakers. They're all shining and black and perfect.

- Oh, God, I say. - Is messing around with records a hobby?

- Happy birthday, Charlie.

I charge at it.

Irish Independent

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