Timothy ‘Bud’ Badyna ran the fastest backwards marathon—3 hours 53 minutes and 17 seconds at Toledo, Ohio, on 24 April 1994. 3 page
‘Was that a fridge?’
‘That guy back there—hitching—did he have a fridge with him?’
‘You’re tired, darling. Stop in a minute and I’ll take over driving.’
I thought, don’t talk about it, stop and pick the poor bugger up! Self-centred bastards, you had room in your car. Never again was I going to leave a hitch-hiker by the side of the road.
I started considering the possibility of hiding the fridge and only revealing its existence when the driver had already stopped and had committed to the lift. I concluded that this wasn’t cheating but should be a measure only resorted to after about two hours or if it started to rain heavily. Neither proposition seemed too distant a prospect I stood up. I tried smiling at cars. This didn’t work and probably made me look certifiable. To ease the boredom, I tried to look nonplussed, just to see if it was possible. That must be a mark of a great actor—someone who can look nonplussed at the drop of a hat.
Just when I had least expected it, in fact when I was having a go at looking bewildered, a scruffy red Fiesta van pulled over just in front of me. I couldn’t believe it was stopping for me and ran forward to check. A dishevelled looking old man and his Jack Russell dog surveyed me through the open window.
‘I’m only going as far as Carrerreraragh,’ he mumbled. Not the dog, the man.
At least that was what I thought he’d said, his accent was strong and he obviously felt that talking was best done with the mouth barely open.
‘How far is Carr…err…eraragh?’
‘You mean Carrecloughnarreraragh?’
‘Yes, Car—, yes, there, how far is that?’
‘Carrereraoughnanrrara? It’s about three miles.’
Oh God. Three miles is no use to anyone. From my previous experience of hitch-hiking I had discovered that it was sometimes better to turn down a lift than accept one which can land you in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t like the sound of Carrerrererreragh, or its ability to sound different every time it was said. I tried to ascertain if Carreranoughnara would be any good for hitching.
‘Is there anywhere round there I might—’
‘Throw them in, throw them in.’ He was pointing to my luggage.
‘What’s the road like there in Carra—’
‘Throw them in, throw them in.’ It might as well have been the dog talking for all the progress being made.
‘I’m sorry, it’s just that sometimes it’s best to—’
‘Look, jes’ throw the feckin’ things in the feckin’ back, will ya?’
This did the trick. I responded immediately and against all my better judgement I was loading my gear into his tatty van in order to advance a further three miles up the road. Still, as I’d heard somewhere before, a journey of a thousand miles starts with one step.
Both he and the dog watched with interest as I lifted the fridge into the back.
‘What have you got there?’
‘Ifs a fridge.’
‘Oh. You wouldn’t want to be travellin’ with a fridge for too long.’
Wouldn’t you? No I suppose you wouldn’t. I got into the front seat and the dog jumped on to my lap using me as a means of improving its view out of the front window.
‘Where are you headed?’ I asked.
‘The cattle auction up the road here.’
‘Are you going to buy a cow?’
‘No, I’m just going to kill time.’
I suddenly felt a long way from home. I was in a place where people went to cattle auctions to kill time. Then I noticed something which had been obvious all along but had escaped my attention such had been my preoccupation with trying to decipher what he was saying. The old man was covered in mud. There’s some rubbish that biologists or physicists give you about humans being 90% water, but this guy was at least 25% mud. It looked like he’d been rolling in it Presumably to kill time. The strange thing was, his dog wasn’t very muddy at all. How could that have happened? Dogs pride themselves on getting muddy and to be less muddy than your owner must be deeply shameful. I reckoned that’s why the dog was so keen to look out of the window—keeping a check on the whereabouts of other dogs so it could avoid them and maintain some kind of respect in the area.
We arrived all too quickly in Carrerrerarse, the six minutes spent in the company of this mud-covered man and his dog having afforded me a brief respite from the notion that I had made a foolish error in my life. This hitching with a fridge business was possible. The man had stopped and he had picked up both me and my fridge. It was just bad luck that he was only going a few miles. And it was just bad luck that Carrerrerranoughnabollocks was one of the worst places for hitching in the Northern Hemisphere.
As the old man pulled into the side of the road, he was greeted by three other elderly farmer types who were also covered in mud. They weren’t as muddy as him, obviously, but certainly muddy enough to be on the committee of the muddy gang. I got out, collected my gear and said goodbye, conscious of the fact that I was outside a cattle auction in the heart of rural Ireland, with a rucksack, a fridge and an insufficient coating of mud to be welcome in these parts.
All around me were the scenes of traffic congestion I had been dreaming of only minutes earlier. Trucks, wagons, carts, Range Rovers and tatty red Fiesta vans were arriving for the cattle auction and they were of absolutely no help to me. In fact they were an enormous hindrance, making it something of a problem finding a place to stand where through traffic might see me. I lifted the fridge on to its trolley, hoisted the rucksack on to my back and started to walk up the road. Needless to say it was muddy. I looked round to wave goodbye, but the old man had gone and instead I saw his Jack Russell eyeing me disparagingly through the van’s windscreen. Instinctively it seemed to know the way I had chosen to travel lacked wisdom. I gave it the finger and continued on my way.
As I walked I could hear the monotone machinegun-fire delivery of the cattle auctioneer over the distant PA I hoped for his sake that his entire audience wasn’t made up of those who were killing time. I walked on. A farmer was staring at me. ‘What’s his problem?’ I thought. I had forgotten that he had just seen an unmuddy man pulling a fridge behind him give the finger to a Jack Russell dog.
Presently I arrived at the hitching location which I considered to be the least unsuitable to those available to me. I was still alongside parked cars but I felt it was worth a try. Just as I had finished arranging myself as attractively as I could, it started to rain. Hard.
I had two alternatives. I could either commence an undignified struggle with my rucksack in an attempt to extricate my waterproofs, or I could go and seek shelter. The problem with the second option was that the only shelter available was the building in which the cattle auction was taking place and I was frightened that a combination of despondency and delirium would see me making a successful bid for a cow. Hitching round Ireland with a fridge and a cow really would be pushing it.
With considerable trepidation I took on the rucksack. I had just opened it up and was subjecting the clothes’at its apex to the full consequences of the weather conditions when, thank God, a car stopped for me. A blue Datsun estate car, a Sunny, or a Cherry, or one of those—no, I know what it was—the Datsun Saviour. I scurried to the passenger door and opened it.
‘How far are you going?’ I said.
The driver looked at me with consternation. ‘I’m just parking here,’ he replied.
Oh. I moved away enabling him to complete his manoeuvre without further interference. Ahead of him another car had stopped and was parking. I really was in a most unsuitable spot. I headed back to my roadside encumbrances. The car ahead tooted its horn. It was obviously having some difficulty parking. Forlornly I went back to rummaging for waterproofs. Then the car ahead did something very strange. Quite suddenly it went into reverse and stopped alongside me. The driver leant over, wound down the passenger window and said, ‘I heard you on the radio this morning. I thought you’d be gone by now.’
After a false start, the journey had truly begun.
Who Came Fifth?
Brendan, the saviour, was immaculately turned out in suit and tie and had absolutely no mud on him whatsoever. He’d been listening to the radio that morning and knew exactly what I was up to, and why I was doing what I was doing, which given my recent experiences, was more than I did.
He was a toiletries salesman from Northern Ireland who had recently gained clients down in the republic. He scored well on three fronts—he was charming, he was good company and he was heading for Cavan. As his windscreen wipers worked overtime clearing the now torrential rain, we talked about life, love, politics, religion, and the rising price of deodorants. All in the lovely dry interior of his car. Bloody hell, I’d been lucky.
Before he got to Cavan, Brendan said he needed to make a couple of business calls and he asked me if I minded. Of course not, he was my saviour. He could have asked for anything and I would have obliged. Almost. And so we sped through the rain as far as Cootehill where he sold some toiletries and I took coffee in the quaint tea-rooms. Taking coffee in a tea-room always brings me a certain amount of extra pleasure in that I feel I’m beating the system. It’s like having spaghetti in a pizza house, chicken in a steak house, or having a neck massage in a Bangkok massage parlour. We headed north to Clones, in County Monaghan, which Brendan explained was republican ‘bandit country’. I wasn’t sure how to tailor my behaviour for this area but I decided that if we were stopped by a man in a balaclava wielding a shotgun, I’d cut the light-hearted banter right down and try not to get chatting about my days in the Combined Cadet Force at school. When we got to Clones, I waited in the car whilst Brendan did his stuff in a moderately-sized convenience store. He was quite a while, which surprised me, because I figured that the one place where toiletries would be easy to sell would be a convenience store. He must have started to feel guilty because after a quarter of an hour he brought me out an ice cream, apologised and said he wouldn’t be much longer. I liked this. It was like being eight years old again. Forty minutes later we were in Cavan, my destination for the day. I was feeling rather pleased with myself as we drew close to an area where Brendan knew there were guest houses. It was only five o’clock or so, but the next part of my journey, zipping in and out of Northern Ireland, could be the most hazardous, and I didn’t want to find myself wandering into a paramilitary training camp at dusk and asking directions to reasonably priced bed and breakfast accommodation. In a bleak residential road we stopped outside an unwelcoming hostelry, and I got out and began unloading. I was sorry to leave Brendan, it was like he’d been on my side when the others had been ganging up on me. And he had bought me an ice cream.
I kicked off the playful goodbye stuff, ‘If ever I see you with a fridge by the side of the road in England, I’ll definitely stop for you.’
‘If ever you see me with a fridge by the side of the road in England, you will have just taken hallucinogenic drugs.’
‘Have a good journey back to Northern Ireland.’
‘Have a good journey home.’
‘I’m not going home.’
‘Where are you going then?’
‘I’ve got some business there in the morning.’
We’d got on so well with each other so quickly that we’d forgotten to do the Smalltalk establishing these kind of essential details. I felt it was worth pointing one out now.
‘Well, I’m headed for Donegal.’
‘Cavan was only a stopping off point for Donegal.’
‘Right. Well, you’d better jump back in again.’
And jump back in again I did, with some delight.
The day had been an exhausting maelstrom of emotions, but now as we drove through the breathtaking lakeside scenery of County Fermanagh, along the banks of the beautiful Lough Erne, I allowed myself to indulge in a new one—triumph. The sun even broke through for five minutes and the freshly doused countryside glistened much in the same way as I did, only with a touch less smugness. I proudly traced our progress on the map and pointed out the absurdity of Lower Lough Erne actually being above Upper Lough Erne. Brendan explained that according to my perspective as a North-South map reader it was above, but the physical reality was that it was nearer sea level and therefore most definitely the lower of the two Lough Ernes.
Triumph was immediately usurped by shame. History had delivered enough cartographical colonial incompetence in this part of the world without my own ignorant contribution. We were, after all, in Northern Ireland. We only had to pass a police station with all its preposterous fortification to remind us of that.
Soon we were in the capital of County Fermanagh, Enniskillen. Enniskillen. The name itself was enough to trigger TV memories of one of the all too frequent atrocities of the Troubles, but here before me was a real town, not a news story viewed from the comfort of England. I had grown up with Northern Ireland always in the headlines, but had built up an immunity to it, never really registering that the people there shopped in high streets like ours, used British Telecom phoneboxes and voted MPs into our government. I mean their government—well, whatever—therein lies the crux of the problem, methinks. The apparently peaceful border town of Belleek behind us, we slipped through one final deserted checkpoint and re-entered the Republic. I had been disorientated by a part of the United Kingdom that I couldn’t recognise or understand but now, as Donegal Town grew ever closer, once again I was filled with a sense of achievement. I know it was only the first day, but I’d covered a lot of miles, and proved to myself that I wasn’t attempting the impossible.
In reaching Donegal Town I had arrived at a point which would be both the beginning and end of a circular tour of Donegal County, and which would therefore have the privilege, along with Dublin, of being the only place in Ireland which I would visit twice. The entrance to the town was marked by a small harbour and delightful views across Donegal bay.
Brendan dropped me outside a B&B displaying a ‘Vacancies’ sign and we arranged to meet for a pint at his hotel later on. There was no need for directions; it was in Donegal Town and given the size of the place, that was sufficient information. There were probably vacancies at his hotel but I felt, and I think there was tacit agreement from Brendan on this, that we were starting to spend so much time together that the taking of different lodgings was somehow an important affirmation of our heterosexuality.
I was greeted by the lady who ran the B&B as if greeting Englishmen with rucksacks and fridges was quite the norm. She had a wavering voice and spoke at a frustratingly dawdling pace in the manner of one who had only just got the hang of this talking business the previous week. In one agonisingly long sentence she explained how I could leave the fridge by the front door, how the shower worked and how she’d prefer it if I paid her in advance. By the time she’d finished it was nearly time to meet Brendan for that drink. I holed up in my tiny room and thought about my amazing day, what I would attempt tomorrow, and whether I’d ever been in a bedroom with less floor space.
I only had time to do a quick circuit of the town before meeting Brendan. It was a shame I didn’t have a little longer because I could have done it twice. Donegal Town is tiny, with not much to see other than the castle, which appeared to be a nice old house with some fortifications thrown in just to get ‘Castle’ status.
Brendan and I drank in three pubs, the last being far and away my favourite. From the exterior there had been very little about it to suggest it was a pub; net curtains, an old lamp and a faded old sign with a surname on it. In much of Ireland they don’t go in for grand pub names like The Coach And Horses’ or The Prince Of Wales’; they simply name it after the proprietor—‘Daly’s’ or ‘McCarthy’s’, the first indication of the more personal experience that awaits you within. I came to call these establishments the old boys’ pubs, where everybody talks to everybody else regardless of who they are, partly because the clientele are very friendly and partly because the clientele are very pissed.
Just like an orchestra will have a Lead Violinist, most pubs will have a Lead Drunk. Or Drunk in Residence. He must have some arrangement with the landlord that he doesn’t have to pay for any drinks which he can still say. His main role seems to be to welcome newcomers with the emission of a loud wailing noise and by flailing his arms about like a drowning man, until his already precarious hold on his own centre of gravity is upset to the point of liberating him totally from his bar stool. This is where the Second Drunk instinctively reaches out with his left hand to stop him falling to the ground and continues drinking with his right, as if the whole manoeuvre has been carefully rehearsed. Which of course it has. Every night for decades.
It wasn’t long before Brendan and I were embroiled in a conversation with the regulars, the theme of which was prompted by highlights of today’s Grand Prix on the TV screen behind the bar. I took a back seat in the discussion, largely due to an ignorance of motor racing and an inability to understand anything that was being said. As far as I could make out, the main thrust of it was the establishment of who came first, second and third.
The Lead Drunk was now almost comatose, the exertions of his initial greeting for us having taken their toll. Many names were put forward and rejected but after ten minutes of animated debate, the fact that Schumacher had won and Eddie Irvine had come third was settled upon and those present seemed content with what had been achieved. Suddenly, and out of nowhere the Lead Drunk blurted out, ‘Who came fifth?’
Everyone turned to him in shock. Where had this come from? This, from a man who had been folded up on top of his bar stool for the past quarter of an hour. Three questions troubled all of us. How had he followed what was going on, how had he managed his first intelligible sentence of the evening, and why did he care who came fifth?
‘Who came fifth?’ He repeated his extraordinary question but this time he felt it would be better bellowed. For the first time that night, (and I suspect for a number of years) the bar’s customers were completely silent. No one knew what crossing of wires in the drunk’s brain had caused this enquiry, when ‘Who came second?’ had been the more relevant and ‘Help’ the most suitable. More importantly there was silence because no one actually knew who came fifth. When discussions finally got under way to solve this mystery Brendan and I decided it was a signal to turn in for the night. Our ‘one for the road’ had turned into ‘three for the road’ and there was a danger of granting the road too much respect.
In the morning, I successfully completed a shower in a much quicker time than that taken for the previous day’s explanation of how to use it, and got dressed with extreme difficulty standing on the narrow stretch of carpet between bed and door. This was quite literally a bedroom. Just room for a bed. Any additional space was there simply to accommodate the opening of the door. As I headed on to the landing, the sudden introduction to wide open spaces frightened me as it would an agoraphobic.
At the foot of the stairs I was a little taken aback to see that the fridge had gone, but it hadn’t been stolen, as the lady of the house painstakingly explained at breakfast.
I wasn’t sure what this meant but decided that I would find out sooner by not asking. I was joined at my table by the only other guest, a travelling salesman who had one eye which looked at you and one which didn’t. The trick was deciding which one to focus on. Whilst eating my cereal I plumped for the left eye but by the time I was on to my toast I had switched allegiance to the right, although I was starting to have doubts about that In the end I gave up and focused on his nose, which was quite an unnatural thing to do and had an adverse effect on my appetite. The man was a souvenir salesman and he spent most of breakfast moaning about how souvenirs were hard to sell when it was rainy and cold, as it was at the moment. I felt that it was more likely to be an ocular thing which was frustrating sales.
The previous night Brendan had offered to take me the forty miles or so to Letterkenny after he’d done his morning’s business in Donegal Town, but after that he would be heading back to Northern Ireland, and once again I would have to subject myself to the uncertainties of the roadside. Whilst he made his morning calls I had enough time to visit the tourist office and establish the best method of getting out to Tory Island. I was told that a mail boat left every morning at 9.00 am from a place called Bunbeg, and so reaching there became my goal for the day.
As it turned out, my fridge had been placed ‘for safety’ in the butcher’s shop next door. Why, I don’t know, because when I went round to collect it I found that ‘safety’ had involved it being set down on the customer’s side of the counter in a totally unmanned shop. I coughed to gain attention in the hope that the butcher might appear in anticipation of a major pork chop sale, but to no avail. So I lifted the fridge on to its trolley and headed out of the shop, at which point the butcher emerged, ‘Is that your fridge?’
‘Oh. Very good.’
My God, security was sophisticated here. If the fridge hadn’t been mine and I hadn’t been able to come up with that clever answer, my life of crime would have been over.
‘How much did you pay for that?’ the butcher added.
‘A hundred and thirty pounds.’
‘Ah, we paid roughly the same. We have one like that upstairs in the flat.’
‘Are you happy with it?’
‘Oh Jesus, yeah. They’re great for a wee place.’
Before we could become involved in the kind of conversation about fridges that motorcycle enthusiasts have about motorcycles, I bad him farewell and he wished me luck, happily reassured that the Donegal branch of Fridges ‘R Us hadn’t ripped him off. I hoped that this knowledge would give him the extra tonic he’d need to make it through another stressful day as Donegal Town’s premier butcher, and watched him as he disappeared out the back to carry on doing whatever butchers do when they’re not out the front.
Brendan, brilliant Brendan, waited patiently in his car whilst, from a phonebox in the square, I gave The Gerry Ryatt Show a quick update on my first day. He was most impressed by my progress so far and declared that Donegal Town by the end of Day One was ‘absolutely bloody marvellous’. I explained my plans to reach Bunbeg and then Tory Island and he told drivers to look out for me just north of Letterkenny in around an hour’s time. This really was most kind of him, and given the threatening rain clouds above, could make the difference between good health and a lengthy hospital stay for pneumonia. At the end of our interview, I was told that someone had called in whilst we’d been on air and offered me free accommodation in Bunbeg, and I took down the details, staggered that my quest was being greeted with such a positive response. I hung up the phone and looked nonplussed, but with underlying gratification. It was a difficult face to do.
I read somewhere that Letterkenny has the only set of traffic lights in the county of Donegal, which is either a measure of the remoteness and tranquillity of this province or yet another example of the denial of basic human rights to people in side roads. If it was the former, which could be more likely, then hitching around these parts mightn’t be that easy. When Brendan dropped me on the roadside just north of Letterkenny, I was mightily relieved that it coincided with a temporary respite in the continuous heavy rain which had accompanied the drive there. Having already rehearsed the goodbyes once, they were performed proficiently, and Brendan said he’d come back to see if I was still stranded there after he’d finished his business in town. Quite what he was going to do if I was still there other than offer commiserations, I didn’t know.
Fortunately I never found out. I had just arranged myself in an appropriate position for hitching and was considering what course of action to take in the event of the next imminent downpour, when a huge truck, and I mean huge, slammed on its brakes and came to a standstill forty yards ahead. Leaving my stuff, I ran ahead to see if it was stopping for me or to avoid running something over. The truck was so big, I could only just reach the handle of the cabin door. I opened it and the driver said, ‘Are you Tony?’
‘Well, go and get your fridge.’
Things were going rather well.
It was a long way up into that truck, and the cabin was surprisingly small, its crampedness compounded by a fridge wedged behind my seat The lack of space seemed a little ironic given that we were pulling a forty-five-foot trailer behind us.
After formal introductions (well, as formal as they could be in this situation), I learned that I was in the company of Jason, a man beaming with excitement, in his early twenties who wasted no time in peppering me with questions.
‘What are you doing with that fridge anyways?’
‘Well, I’m travelling with it to win a bet with someone.’
‘You’re mad. I was listening to you on the radio this morning and I was in stretches.’
I wasn’t sure what stretches were, but Jason was smiling so I assumed they were good.
‘I was just on the way down to Donegal Town when you were saying you were going to be starting in Letterkenny, so I’ve been keeping an eye out for you.’
‘Brilliant. That’s very kind of you.’
‘I didn’t know who you were until I saw that fridge, and then I thought…’
Laughter took him over for a while, before he managed, ‘Ah, it’s all a good laugh.’
Good, he understands.
I took a moment to digest all that was happening. The fridge, far from being a hindrance, had become a positive boon, and the protagonist in; an excursion which was growing ever more surreal.; From the haven of the truck’s cabin I watched the driving rain I pelt against the windscreen and felt somehow invincible, especially I when Jason announced that he was going to my chosen destination—Bunbeg. All right, I’d have to wait while he did some deliveries but I I didn’t mind that. Why should I? Yesterday I’d done toiletry sales—today groceries, deliveries thereof. And I was seeing at first hand what makes the world tick over—good honest labour.
Our first stop was McGinleys in Dunfanaghy, and watching Jason struggling with boxes and crates, I felt as heartened by the sight of his dogged industry as I was reassured by my own lack of involvement in it. It looked hard. Some people are born for this kind of work and others are born to watch it I had no difficulties in identifying to which of these two categories I belonged. For many years I had measured success in my chosen career in terms of how little heavy luting I had to do. Heavy lifting is good for the soul but bad for the back, and tends to interfere with lolling about.
The Mace supermarket in Dunfanaghy suitably replenished with groceries, we embarked on a journey through some of Ireland’s more wild, unkempt and windswept scenery. Austere grey mountains towered over dark tranquil loughs, boglands and streams bordered the apology for a road, and stubborn sheep blocked the route wherever and whenever they felt the urge. Never mind that there was a bloody great lorry hurtling towards them, they were going to move as and when they were ready, and not a moment before. As far as I could see, there were miles and miles and miles of open spaces all around these sheep offering excellent grazing facilities and yet they still chose to congregate in the middle of the road. You’re not telling me they don’t take some perverse pleasure in the inconvenience that this causes. Sheep aren’t stupid. They’re petty, spiteful and bloody minded. Well, fuck ewe’ I thought as the truck was forced to a standstill for the umpteenth time, deciding there was a case for popping mutton on the menu that night.
Somehow we left the sheep ‘conference area’ behind us and Jason made headway through the ten gears of his giant lorry until we started to experience something like its top speed. A lot of European Commission money has gone into the improvement of the roads in Ireland but there was exiguous evidence of any of it having been lavished on the road surfaces of Northern Donegal. Jason had his own particular method for dealing with the road’s over plentiful relief, his policy being to accelerate into the bumps.
When we crashed over the bigger ones, I took off, my arse momentarily liberated from all things solid, and I was rewarded with an all too brief taster of unassisted flight. The uncomfortable downside came a fraction of a second later in the form of landing, and was immediately followed by the sharp top left-hand corner of a small fridge impacting at force with my defenceless shoulderblade. On each occasion this happened, which regrettably was about every twenty seconds, I tried not to recoil in pain and instead smiled at the unflinching Jason, unflinching because he had the advantage of knowing where the bumps were, and was spared the fridge slamming into shoulderblade’ pain which I had to endure.