Roddy Doyle: Two Pints
Jonathan Cape 2012
It’s 2011, going into 2012, a tumultuous year or so in Europe affecting everyone from the great and the good down to the two old soaks in a Dublin bar. The Eurozone crisis, a succession of deaths in the pop world, visits to Ireland by the Queen and Barack Obama, the London Olympics, other sporting events, tribal loyalties—they’re all up for discussion by these worldly-wise observers meeting up for the odd jar or two.
Nameless, though with individual voices, this middle-aged pair come together to chew the fat on family, fame, news and other miscellanea in short conversational vignettes. In some ways they are a modern equivalent of Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon: the spotlight is totally on them and their inconsequential chat full of what might or might not be of meaningful significance: always humorous, sometimes poignant and for us now, at a few years’ remove, it’s even somewhat nostalgic.
I did so enjoy these dialogues, each one headed by date and yet not dated, if you see what I mean: often they referred to that day’s happenings, as reported by news outlets—the death of one of the Bee Gees, how does Facebook make its money back, the candidates for the Irish presidential election, for example—but they also might mention something personal such as the crazy exploits of a grandson or a wife raiding savings to travel to a celebrity funeral. I could hear the asides, liberally sprinkled with colourful language, almost as if I was eavesdropping at the bar or at an adjacent table. At times the scenarios became surreal (a hyena? a polar bear?!), even metafictional (Sydney, Australia, where the writer happened to be on that self-same day).
But in many ways this is a cross between a journal and an exercise in nostalgia. Why else do we record daily thoughts except to revisit them at some future date and consider Is that really what happened then? Is that how I thought at the time? In the dialogues (how I’d love to hear them as a recording or a broadcast) there is a looking back to past popular culture and received opinions, musings on current trends like tweeting or digital enhancement, all of which suggest to me the reflections of a couple of men at some notional crossroads, one that they’re not quite consciously aware of but somehow know is there.
It’s a state that many of us recognise right now, and no doubt will continue to recognise. Dare we hope? Can we laugh in the face of a looming disaster? Can we take refuge in bar room banter and a beverage in the faint expectation that when we leave the pub the weather will not be as bad as we feared?
Do yourself a favour when you’re feeling low: pick up a copy of this slim volume and rejoice in the homespun wisdom and incidental humour of a 21st-century Estragon and Vladimir.
My first pick for Reading Ireland Month 2019 hosted by Cathy Brown at 746 Books