Analysis & Comment

Roddy Doyle's Charlie Savage: 'Brexiety? Keep calm and stockpile the Club Milks'

We’re all set for a no-deal Brexit. We’ve the freezer full of Brennans bread.

No, hang on – that’s the snow. The bread’s for the snow. It’s left over from the last snow, the few days of madness last year when we all thought we were heading into a no-deal Ice Age. We gave all the kids and grandkids a large sliced pan each for Christmas, kind of a bonus to go with their normal presents. But we still have a packed freezer. There’s a tub of ice cream at the back somewhere but we’ll never be able to reach it.

Anyway, we’re ready. We’ve a tent, a torch, matches, a stash of Nurofen in the attic, so well hidden the mice will never find it. We’ve enough chocolate in the house to make Willy Wonka swoon.

It’s funny, the things that become priorities in a time of crisis. I haven’t tasted a Club Milk in years and I honestly couldn’t give a shite if I never tasted one again. But it was the first thing I thought of when we were watching Newsnight and the crack in the House of Commons and Boris Johnson waving his paws and threatening an election.

– We’ll be needing Club Milks, I told the wife.

She didn’t disagree with me.

We can’t have been the only ones watching Newsnight because there were no Club Milks in SuperValu when we got there at seven the following morning. We eventually managed to grab a family pack in a shop just outside Athlone. And that calmed us down – a bit.

But we’re ready. Brexit, no Brexit; deal, no deal. Bring it on – bring them on. Boris Johnson can f**k off with himself. We’re Brexit-prepared.

But we’re not.

I met this chap once, years ago. I think it was at a wedding. There was a spell there, about 20 years ago, when we seemed to be going to a wedding a week. These days it’s funerals. And actually, I prefer funerals; they’re much better crack.

But anyway, I ended up sitting beside this lad – we’ll say it was a wedding, one of the wife’s cousins – and we got chatting while we shovelled the prawn cocktail.

He came from somewhere near Dundalk, very close to the Border. And he told me about how he and his buddies used to smuggle Opal Fruits in from the North. You couldn’t get Opal Fruits in the Republic back then; I don’t really know why – they might have been Protestant sweets. We’d see the ads for them on UTV but we couldn’t eat them. Anyway, this lad used to cycle across the Border, buy the Opal Fruits, take the saddle off his bike, drop the sweets down the tube – the frame of the bike under the saddle – then put the saddle back on and ride back across the Border, home. He realised the Troubles had started, he said, when him and his pals cycled up to the Border one day and saw the soldiers.

– With rifles, he said. – And an armoured car. English lads.

They turned back.

– I haven’t tasted an Opal Fruit since, he said.

It must be more than 20 years ago, the wedding; it was before the Good Friday Agreement.

– I was only a kid, he said. – Only nine or 10. But d’you know what it was like? It was like the world was cut in half – like I woke up one morning and someone had robbed our back garden. Our mother, God love her, kept telling us to be careful. And – sure – we didn’t know what she meant. We had to learn to be careful. It was f**kin’ terrible, so it was.

I keep thinking of that man. We got drunk together and we sang Bohemian Rhapsody together – I think – but I never met him again.

But it’s not him I mean, not literally. I mean kids who live near the Border today and who’ve never seen a soldier, and never heard a bomb.

I’ve always loved history, especially since I left school. I fall asleep most nights with a fat history book sitting on my head and I bring it down with me every morning and read a few more pages before the day gets going. I love the stories – all the hows and the whys, the disasters and the triumphs, the decisions and accidents, the treaties and mayhem. I’m glad I didn’t live through the Second World War but – Jesus now – I love the books.

But today – what’s happening in front of us – it’s a reminder: history isn’t a book. We’re living it. People must have felt like this in the 1930s when they were listening to the wireless. Excited, anxious, scared.

I look at Johnson on the telly.

I turn to the wife.

– Will we crack open the Club Milks?

She looks at me.

– We’d better.

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