Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: 'His big dopey face landed right on top of my f***in' head'

I get up onto my stool beside the Secret Woman.

– I need a pint, I tell him. ­- Quick. And maybe a small one as well. And a lawyer.

– What’s the story?

He takes his time but he finally looks at me.

– What’s wrong with you?

– I’ve just been attacked, I tell him. – Assaulted, I was.

He’s looking for bruises or blood. He looks a bit disappointed.

– Who attacked you? he asks.

– Barry Andrews!

– Who?

– Fianna Fáil’s European election candidate!

– He assaulted you?

– Just outside, I said. – A minute ago. One of his posters came off a pole and his big dopey face landed right on top of my f***in’ head.

– Ah, Jaysis, Charlie.

– They’re heavy yokes, I assured him. – Especially when you’re not expecting one to whack you. Where’s my pint? I’ve been violated.

Actually, I like all the election posters. I heard a few weeks back on the radio that some gang in Dalkey – the Tidy Towns committee, I think it was – were objecting to the posters. Dalkey wants to ban democracy. I can hear my father’s response.

– Gobs***es.

I always think of my father when I see the posters going up. He loved election time. He’d be shouting all day, at the radios in the house and in his car and later at the telly, roaring at the big black and white heads on the men who thought they should have been running the country. His father – my Granda – had been in the IRA during the War of Independence.

– Did he die for Ireland, Da?

– No, son, he didn’t. But he tried his best.

He was born after Independence, my father, but the way he spoke, he made us believe that Ireland was a new country, made especially for us by our Granda.

– He made a balls of it then, said one of my big brothers, Denis, under his breath. My Da heard him but he was so shocked, he didn’t react. It was the only time I ever saw my father doing absolutely nothing. For a while, we thought he might be dead. Until, after about ten minutes, he blinked.

But anyway, he loved elections. There was once, we even had a referendum to decide what type of ice-cream – vanilla or Neapolitan, or a Golly Bar – we’d have after the Sunday dinner. He built a little voting booth under the stairs and we all made the ballot papers – proportional representation and all. It was a very close contest, and Neapolitan won. But by the time the votes were counted and independently verified the shop was shut, so we got no bloody ice-cream.

We were deprived of our dessert that day but we laugh about the referendum whenever we get together, the brothers and myself. And when the election posters go up, our Whatsapp page starts hopping. Vote Golly Bar – for a better Ireland! So there you go: my Da was a democrat. He beamed when he saw the posters going up. They were the proof that Ireland was a free country.

– That’s what we fought for, boys, he said. – For the right of every eejit to stick his head up on a pole.

The posters aren’t made of cardboard anymore but, really, they haven’t changed that much since I was a kid. There are women now, of course, and some of the men look so young, you’d wonder if their parents know what they’re up to.

But I love them. Myself and the little grandson stop and assess all of them.

– Gobs***e?

– Absolutely.

– Anudder gobs***e?

– The makings of a gobs***e.

I don’t remember if the candidates smiled when I was a kid, in the ’60s. I’ve a feeling they didn’t. I don’t think Charlie Haughey smiled down from the poles, or Liam Cosgrave. Jack Lynch might have smiled but it would have been one of those careful ‘Am I at a wedding or a funeral?’ smiles. The faces looking down at me and the grandson – they’re all smiling, except the Shinner who looks like he’s just been caught raiding the fridge. But none of them are smiling like they really like it up there, like they really want the power. None of them are grinning: This is brilliant!

– I’m half-thinking of voting for the ones with the nicest smiles, I tell the Secret Woman.

– That makes sense, he says.

– Well, it doesn’t, I tell him. – It makes no sense at all.

– That’ll be the knock on your head, he says.

– You might be right, I say. – But I’m not concussed or anything.

– Just stupid.

– Soft in the head, maybe, I say. – We’re supposed not to like politicians. Am I right? We’re not supposed to trust them or anything.

– No.

– Well, I think they’re great, I say. – Sticking their necks out like that. The way the world is going. I think they’re brilliant.

– Still gobsh***s, though.

– Well, yeah.

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