Sometimes you can lie in bed looking around the room, the dim light and your horizontal perspective bringing a totally different reality to objects that you see. A belt can resemble a snake, the folds of a jumper thrown on the floor might look like a small dog curled up and fast asleep. This morning I could see a small alien rocketship undergoing a mid-air re-fuelling. The more I looked at it the more I became baffled as to its real identity. What could it be? I lay there trying to think of something I had in my luggage which could come to represent such an image, but I drew a blank. I remembered Peter’s words, ‘You see, life is little more than a dream, the world isn’t a physical reality, but a three-dimensional illusion.’
I knew that to sit up and turn the light on was to accept defeat, but I needed confirmation fast that I wasn’t part of a three-dimensional illusion.
No longer reclining, and with the bedside lamp on, I could see clearly that I had been looking at a lead coming from a plug half way up the wall, leading to my new mobile phone which had been charging up overnight. Of course. I had forgotten all about that—my own personal alien rocket-ship for use during my voyage of discovery. I thought of using it to call Anne Marie to ask her if she would come and help me down to breakfast, but it seemed to be an irresponsible use of space hardware.
Beside the mobile phone was a note written in my own drunken scrawl. ‘Meet Bingo at 11.00.’ Of course, the surfing. Last night anything had seemed possible, and now, just a few hours later, even breakfast was a challenge.
When Anne Marie graced the dining room with the tea and toast, she was quite blunt. ‘You had a late one last night.’
‘Yes, I think it was quite late.’
‘Half past three.’
‘I don’t think so, it was closer to two.’
‘No, it was half past three, because my husband and I looked at the clock.’
‘Oh God, I’m sorry, did I wake you?’
I sighed with relief, but then she added, ‘Your fridge did.’
‘The sound of your fridge falling off its trolley woke us up.’
‘Oh. I’m so sorry.’
The tea and toast were deposited in front of me. Anne Marie was showing no sign of any anger, but it was as if she just had a need to let me know.
‘My husband and I were wondering why you didn’t leave the fridge downstairs—you know, in the hallway, where you left it before you went out’
Oh no! They were thinking I had taken it to bed with me, that I was some kind of fridge pervert I had to call on all the wit at my disposal to avert an embarrassing misunderstanding.
‘Err, well…that’s a good question Anne Marie, and I…well…I don’t really have an answer for it.’
Unfortunately I had absolutely no wit at my disposal. I simply had a headache and that was all.
The local commercial radio station, North West Radio, was my only company during breakfast, and at ten o’clock I found myself listening to a phenomenon called the Death Notices. An announcer, doing his best to sound sombre and respectful, read out a long list of people who had died recently. North West Radio were clearly of the view that their listeners would be able to make it through today a lot better if they were provided with a comprehensive list of those who had failed to make it through yesterday. It wasn’t so much the late news, but news of the late.
‘Declan O’Leary from Sligo died at his home after a long illness yesterday afternoon, and the funeral is next Tuesday. Margaret Mary O’Dowd from Inishcrone passed away peacefully in her sleep at half past six yesterday morning. The funeral will be at St Meredith’s Cathedral, Ballina. And that concludes our death notices. A reminder that our next bulletin will be at five o’clock this evening. North West Radio extends sympathy to the relatives of the deceased. May the soul of the departed rest in peace.’
The mournful mood was then brutally punctured by a lively advert jingle and a chirpy voice declaring, ‘Right now at McDonagh’s it’s time to get your new home in order with a vast range of home appliances to choose from…’
Was it just a coincidence or were we witnessing McDonagh’s, at lightning speed, attempting to secure the business of those who were inheriting the properties of the deceased?
I was fascinated by the inclusion of these death notices in the radio station’s scheduling. How necessary were they? Did it matter that much if you were blissfully unaware that the man who once sold you a pair of shoes in Drumcliff had passed on? Surely you were only really interested in the deaths of those with whom you were reasonably close. Had inter-familial communication in this part of the world faltered to such a degree that the radio had to be relied on as the bearer of such news?
‘Hello darling, Grandad’s died, you know.’
‘Really? How do you know that?’
‘Heard it on North West Radio this morning—the death notices.’
‘Oh right. When’s the funeral?’
‘I don’t know, the lads at work were talking and I missed that bit.’
‘Never mind, we’ll catch it on the five o’clock bulletin.’
This is why it was so important to have the two bulletins a day. Plus of course, the listener would be kept up to speed with any additions to the ten o’clock total. The way I was feeling, I was tempted to call North West Radio and tell them to put me down as a definite for the later bulletin, promising that I would have the good manners to call if for some reason I hadn’t actually died by five o’clock.
Anne Marie brought in a plate piled high with a full Irish breakfast which looked a touch too much for a fragile stomach to handle.
‘You’ll have to eat this in a minute because there’s a phonecall for you. Very odd. I answered the phone and they said ‘Have you got the man with the fridge staying with you?’ It’s North West Radio.’
‘How did they know I was here?’
‘Search me. Word must be out.’
Anne Marie led me to the hall where I took the call and listened as a secretary explained to me that the manager of Abrakebabra in Sligo had called the radio station to say that if I turned up at their restaurant today, with my fridge, then I could have a free lunch.
‘That’s nice,’ I said, almost patronisingly. ‘I tell you what, I’ve got a mobile phone now—let me give you the number in case any more exciting offers come through.’
Abrakebabra. What a truly awful name for a restaurant. Still, bang went the there’s no such thing as a free lunch theory.
‘Do you want a coffee?’ said Bingo from his familiar position behind the bar.
‘Thanks, that would be nice.’
‘I’ve sorted you out with a wet suit.’
‘Well, you’ll need a wet suit in there, it’s pretty cold you know.’
‘Do you mean to tell me Bingo, that we’re really going to have a go at taking the fridge surfing?’
‘But I thought that was all just drunken high spirits.’
‘You were drunk. I wasn’t. We’ll do it all right.’
Surely not. But I looked at Bingo and saw that he wasn’t joking. Then I heard a female voice behind me.
‘Ah, there you are!’ It was Antoinette, perky and alert, a picture of abstemious freshness. She eyed me cannily, ‘Tony Hawks, I hope you have left this establishment since I last saw you.’
‘Oh, I had a couple of hours over the road.’
‘So, what are you up to this morning?’
I looked at her, and saw a woman who had been in the company of friends. Sane, sensible, balanced individuals. ‘I think you had better sit down.’
God, it was a struggle. A wet suit is possibly the last thing you want to try and put on when you have a severe hangover, especially a wet suit which is a size too small. Back at Anne Marie’s, I grappled with it in my room, cursing and stumbling and banging into things, and generally creating sounds consistent with the theory that I was a pervert. Fifteen minutes of physical exertion resulted in both legs being ‘in’, but then came the disappointment of discovering that it was on the wrong way round. I let out a wailing sound which might have suggested to anyone within earshot that whatever deviant activity I had been participating in had reached a successful climax. Twenty minutes of further tussling later, and I had succeeded in getting the wet suit on. It wasn’t a comfortable feeling, there being absolutely no doubt in my crotch that this wet suit was too small for me.
I opened the bedroom door to see Anne Marie facing me at the other end of the landing. I don’t know why, but I felt strangely self conscious emerging from my bedroom pulling a fridge on a trolley and dressed in a wet suit. Anne Marie wasn’t someone with a ruddy complexion but the little colour she did have in her cheeks had vanished, leaving a pallid ghost-like figure before me, appearing to be in need of resuscitation. I had never, even at the most inspired moments in my life, had the amount of wit at my disposal that this situation demanded, so I chose to smile inanely as I pulled the fridge gingerly down the landing.
As I shut the front door behind me, I was fairly confident that Anne Marie’s next action would be to call the police. I didn’t worry though, knowing that by the time the Garda arrived, I would be surfing with the fridge, and everything would make sense.
Antoinette and Bingo were sat on the beach wall giggling as I advanced towards them, the loud rattling vibrations of the fridge on its trolley compounding the intensity of an already well established headache. It was a Saturday morning and those who had chosen to spend it enjoying a pleasant beachside walk were understandably bemused by the unusual sight before them.
Surfing is a glamorous sport. Mention suffers to most of the girls I know and they will make a funny kind of grunting sound which I have always taken to mean that they expect hunky, healthy and sexy men to be involved. And rightly so. Most of the TV footage of this sport that I have seen, has involved hunky, healthy and sexy men in abundance. But there are two simple ways to take the glamour out of surfing. The first is to wear a wet suit which is a size too small for you, and the second is to bring a fridge along. To be fair to Bingo, he looked the part, but he suffered by association. There was no doubting that he was with the bloke who looked very stupid and was carrying a fridge, and it was difficult to be truly sexy if you kept that kind of company. When girls buy ‘sexy’, they buy the whole deal, and unfortunately for Bingo he was part of a double action package in which one half was incontrovertibly sub-standard.
We set off from the beach wall on our journey to the sea’s edge. This involved a short walk along the promenade and then clambering over some rocks before reaching the vast expanses of open sandy beach. The wet suit was getting tighter and tighter around me, and I was finding it increasingly difficult to bend my limbs. The effect of this was to diminish still further my overall sexiness. I was moving like a monster from a 1930s horror movie, the only clue for observers that I wasn’t such a creature being the presence of a brilliant white kitchen appliance, which was clearly one of the more recent models on the market.
When I nearly fell over, Bingo, in a big-hearted gesture, gave me his surf-board and took over the burden of the fridge, thus relinquishing any ‘beach cred’ he may have still had. I was now able to see for myself just how ridiculous a man in a wet suit carrying a refrigerator really looked. As we started clambering, I could see a small crowd gathering by the beach wall in wonderment.
The conditions were by no means ideal for surfing, the sea being altogether too calm, but this probably favoured the fridge which was new to all this and hadn’t been designed with this kind of activity in mind.
‘What’s the plan then?’ I said to Bingo as we began wading out to sea.
‘I think what we’ll do is balance the fridge on the board, and then I’ll try and jump on with it and ride in on a wave.’
To think the previous evening I had taken him to be responsible.
‘Good idea,’ I lied, and held the board steady as he lifted the fridge on to it.
It looked surprisingly stable on the board, a fridge’s centre of gravity being one of its strong points. However its ability to adjust it in the face of a wave is not, and unfortunately the first wave to come its way was quite large in stature. Despite his prowess in the realm of surfboarding, Bingo had no experience in the art of keeping a fridge balanced on one, and as the wave suddenly forced the board upwards, he lost his grip on the fridge and it slid sideways into the sea. Fortunately, it just remained afloat long enough for Bingo and I to dive towards it and reinstate its position above the salt water. That had been a close one. If it fell in again and we failed to get to it quickly enough, it might fill with water and sink, and the weight of the water within it would make it difficult or even impossible to raise without professional underwater lifting equipment Foolishly, I hadn’t packed any professional underwater lifting equipment.
If I was to lose the fridge in such a way as this, it would make for a difficult explanation as a reason for failure to win my bet: ‘Well, it all went very smoothly indeed until I reached Strandhill and I had a touch of bad fortune when the fridge sank just off the coast, and we were unable to raise it.’
If the fridge did sink, it would also be a considerable inconvenience to bathers who would have to learn the exact position of the wrecked fridge or risk the agony of their toes ramming into its rusting metal shell. In the future, it might even appear on naval charts of these waters, novitiate navigators baffled by the small white cuboid marked as a hazard just off the shore.
We lifted the fridge back on to the board and Bingo pushed the two of them further out to sea, this time paying more attention to oncoming waves. I watched him as he waded out a good distance, my camera poised ready to capture this lunacy on film. He turned and waited, watching each wave in anticipation of his moment. Suddenly a bigger wave appeared and Bingo leapt on his board to join the fridge. The most extraordinary sight followed. A man and a fridge riding the waves in perfect harmony. For a few glorious yards the two of them coasted in with such ease that Bingo looked to have time to open the fridge door and take out a refreshing drink. The onlookers on the promenade broke into a spontaneous round of applause, and from the water’s edge Antoinette cheered gamely. It had been done, the fridge had surfed, and what is more I had photographic evidence, provided I didn’t screw up with the film again. Okay, the surfers hadn’t exactly covered a huge distance, and it hadn’t been long before Bingo had needed to leap off the board quickly and save the fridge from another drenching, but nonetheless for a matter of seconds it had been a magnificent victory for Man and Domestic Appliance over the turbulent and untamed sea.
‘Congratulations, Bingo, I think that’s a first,’ I said.
‘Thanks. The trick now is to get the thing coming in on its own.’
‘We’ve got to get the fridge to surf on its own.’
Have we? Why? Honestly, with these people if it wasn’t one thing, it was another. Here was me, innocently trying to hitch round Ireland with a fridge, and I kept running into people who wanted to find all kinds of new and exciting things for the fridge to do.
‘Oh, all right,’ I said cravenly. ‘What’s the best way to do that then?’
‘Well, what I propose is that you wait about here and I’ll wade a bit further out, and when I see a wave that looks suitable, I’ll give the board a shove and with any luck the fridge will ride in on the board until you catch it.’
What could be simpler?
The whoops, hollers and applause we received from the shore were entirely deserved.
‘We’d better not do it again,’ I said. ‘It would never go as well as that again. Ever.’
It had gone like a dream, exactly as Bingo had planned, the solitary fridge riding in on the wave and the surfboard arriving on cue before my outstretched arms as if guided there by remote control. And what a sight it had been. Surreal, funny and somehow inspiring. For the benefit of a crowd of about fifteen people who wouldn’t be believed when they got home, the kind of stunt you might expect to see in a big-budget movie, had been carried out for nothing by a couple of jokers. The euphoria even served to clear my head. Compared to a single Drambuie before leaving the pub, it was an immensely complicated hangover cure, but most efficacious.
‘You guys are something else,’ said Antoinette as we came ashore, delivering a line which could have been lifted directly from the movie in which our stunt belonged.
She had hit the nail on the head. We were, undoubtedly, something else. But more likely than not, in the pejorative sense.
Eat Your Heart Out, Michael Flafley
Well, it’s ringing for me all right,’ said Antoinette, coffee in one hand, mobile phone proudly held aloft in the other. Obviously I hadn’t consulted the instructions, and consequently had been unable to make any kind of progress with my new toy, but Antoinette experienced no problems and was straight through to whoever she had phoned.
‘Hello, Peter?…Oh I’m fine, you’ll never guess what we’ve just done…shit, how did you know that?…Oh…listen are you still on for this reflexology?…yes…right…well I’ll tell him.’
‘Was that ‘Wise Peter?’’ I said, studying the phone as Antoinette handed it back to me.
‘Yes, he says hell see you directly after me, probably around 2.30.’
‘Right,&dsquo; I waited for a moment, not knowing what I had said ‘right’ to, hoping for an explanation which was not forthcoming. ‘Er…what exactly is he going to see me for?’
‘Well, reflexology, obviously. He said that last night you were really keen that he fitted you in.’
‘Oh I was, I was.’ Frightening. I honestly had absolutely no recollection of that. ‘It’s just that…well…’
‘Well, it’s just that the cup final starts at three.’
Antoinette pulled a face that only girls can pull when they are fed up with boys and football.
‘Tony, at worst you’ll miss the first quarter of an hour. You need to relax down after all that you’re going through. Are you really going to turn your back on a potentially profitable new experience forfootball? ’
How is that done? How is so much venom incorporated in the articulation of one word? Football.
Of course she was absolutely right cup finals come and go and are habitually disappointing, and here was an opportunity to discover something new. I’d never had the soles of my feet massaged before. Certainly not by a bloke who I’d met in the pub the night before.
‘Before you do all that, you’ve got to see the Glen,’ said Bingo. ‘You can’t leave here without seeing the Glen.’
‘What’s the Glen?’
‘You’ll see. You’ve got a car, haven’t you? It’ll only take us half an hour.’
And so the relentless programme of events continued with a visit to the Glen. Neither Antoinette or I had any idea what it was, but we had been assured that we shouldn’t leave this place without seeing it, and for two followers of the ‘faith’, we knew it would be wrong to let the opportunity pass.
Bingo must have had second thoughts when he saw Antoinette’s car. He said nothing but his expression suggested that his thought was, ‘And you want me to getin it?’
In the past, Bingo had given detailed directions to holidaymakers but none of them had managed to find the Glen. It was like a secret place, not in any guidebooks and accessible only to a select few who were in the know. After ten minutes of driving, the road started to carve its way round a hill, giving us views across the beautiful bays and inlets of the coast on our right hand side, and steep grassy banks on the other.
‘Right, just pull over on the left here,’ said Bingo.
He led us across the road where there was a tiny gate almost completely hidden by overgrown bushes and long grass.
‘This is it.’
A short walk down a narrow path and we were in a place which was truly special. Just like three children on an adventure, we found ourselves descending into a narrow passage at the foot of two huge walls of stone. There were two theories as to what had caused this vast fault in the limestone rock around the time of the Ice Age, either an earthquake, or the top collapsing in on an underground river. We were now the fortunate witnesses to the spectacular result. Vegetation growing over the rock face and water trickling over limestone stalactites had created in microcosm, Sligo’s very own tropical rain forest The narrow shafts of light battling through the overhanging branches and leaves above us, the sound of running water, and the echoes of our voices, gave the place a mystical quality which required us to stop talking and just listen. Listen to the voice of Nature.
I walked on ahead, sat down on a tree stump and looked up at the huge limestone walls which encased and sheltered us. As I watched the youthful water of a mini waterfall cascading over a narrow strip of stone, I allowed its gentle sounds to waft me into a faintly meditative state. A rare moment of peace in a journey which had become a hectic and clamorous celebration of the absurd. I felt suddenly grateful for all that had happened to me and I looked up and gently whispered Thank You’. This was directed to no one and no thing in particular, but to anyone or anything who was listening and fancied taking the credit I looked around me and saw that both Bingo and Antoinette had found their own private locations for a moment’s quiet contemplation, and I felt deeply privileged to be here in this unique and spiritual place.
But if I had attained some momentary balance, inner calm and enlightenment here in the ‘Glen’, then my next action served as a reminder that I had undergone no lasting conversion to a spiritual path. I looked at my watch and noted that the cup final started in just under an hour.
With the unwelcoming piercing sharpness of a car alarm, my voice punctured the tranquil atmosphere, ‘We’d better go if I’m going to catch the cup final.’
The others turned, initially startled by this intrusion into their solitary reflections, but then became suddenly aware of who they were, where they were and, above all, who they were with. And unfortunately for them, they were with the bloke who wanted to go and watch the cup final.
‘Oh right, no problem,’ said Bingo accommodatingly. Antoinette said nothing, but didn’t need to.
On the walk back to the car we noticed the evidence of trees having been cut down and used as firewood.
‘This has become a popular spot for the occasional rave party, and unfortunately the kids don’t always treat the place with the respect it deserves,’ explained Bingo.
‘Is there much of a drug problem in this part of Ireland?’ I enquired.
‘The police don’t admit that there is, but it’s there all right.’
He went on to explain that an unpopular Chief Superintendent had proudly boasted the absence of any kind of drug problem in Sligo in a quote which the local newspaper had lifted for a banner headline;
WE DON’T HAVE A PROBLEM WITH DRUGS
The wind was somewhat taken out of his sails by the opportunist who cut out the headline and used it as the first line for a poster which was duplicated and then plastered all over the town.
WE DON’T HAVE A PROBLEM WITH DRUGS
WE CAN GET THEM ANYWHERE
Whatever your views on drugs, it was clear who had won that particular battle.
Time was running short but ‘Bingo Tours’ included another brief stop at a derelict old landlord’s house which a local businessman was restoring to its former extravagant grandeur, with the intention of soon opening it as a hotel. The countryside of Ireland is littered with roofless derelict houses, each of which mark an isolated moment in its troubled history. A government tax on roofs had meant that landlords in England had arranged for the roofs to be destroyed on their Irish properties which they could no longer afford to run or be bothered to visit. Britain had seen its own idiosyncratic and unsightly physical manifestation of man’s obsession with tax evasion when the introduction of a ‘Window Tax’ resulted in the owners of many large houses in England having their windows bricked up. It seems that the more privileged in society you are, the more convoluted, devious and determined your efforts became in the evasion of putting a penny back into it Certainly the scars on the Irish landscape of these old and roofless landlords’ houses are monuments to the human weakness for accumulating personal wealth at the expense of social justice. Just at a moment in history when the basic human right of a ‘roof over your head’ was being denied to large numbers of the Irish population, roofs were actively being destroyed in order to preserve healthy bank balances on an island across the Irish Sea.
A pivotal moment in my own personal history was marked by the mobile phone ringing for the first time. It was North West Radio giving me the name and address of a woman who ran a bed and breakfast in Ballina, and had offered me free accommodation if I turned up there. A roof over my head.
Antoinette shook her head in disbelief. ‘Honestly, the doors that are opening to you! I’ve got to get myself a toaster and travel round Ireland.’
‘Ballina? Is that where you’re headed next then?’ asked Bingo.
‘It is now.’
I’m not proud of having missed my reflexology appointment with Peter. To choose watching a game of football in a noisy Sligo pub ahead of a relaxing massage from one of life’s natural healers was shallow and immature, but an FA Cup final is an FA Cup final, and if you miss one there is a gap in your personal experience which could put you at a serious disadvantage in a pub conversation at some time in the future.
The honour of being the first person to sign the fridge was bestowed upon Bingo when we had dropped him back at the Strand pub. With a green marker pen, the words ‘Cheers! Love Bingo’ heralded the process of transforming an ordinary household fridge into a personalised oddity.
The irrational need to watch a game of football had left me with a deadline, and I had been forced into the unusual position of needing a game plan.
‘I thought you didn’t have game plans,’ said Antoinette, as I outlined it to her.
‘I don’t, but today is different.’
It wasn’t actually. It was exactly the same as the previous day, in that I had to be somewhere by three o’clock.
By rushing away from the beauty and peace of the Glen, and denying the soles of my feet the luxury of a good massage, I had freed up enough time to grab a quick bite to eat before the match. So when we reached the centre of Sligo and I got out of Antoinette’s car for the last time, my intention was to find Abrakebabra, claim my free lunch, dump my fridge with them, and go and watch the game in the nearest pub. It was a good plan, although I was the only person in the car who thought so.
Antoinette and I hugged and wished each other good luck.
‘Thank you for the most surreal weekend of my life,’ she said and then drove off back to Dublin and relative normality. In stark contrast, I turned, hauled my rucksack on to my back and wheeled my fridge through the hordes of hurried shoppers in Sligo’s city centre.
Abrakebabra turned out to be a fast food restaurant, and although it wasn’t quite what I had imagined, the ‘fast’ element of its service was going to be crucial, since time was ticking away. The boss, who had come up with the magnificent marketing ploy of donating a free lunch to anyone who wheeled a fridge into his establishment, wasn’t there, but a confused lady called Mary honoured the agreement and allowed me to leave my fridge and rucksack around the back.
At two minutes to three I rushed out on to the street, steak sandwich in hand, and went into the first pub I saw. It was empty, and the reason soon became apparent. It wasn’t showing the match. Time was running out. I dashed outside and there were no pubs in sight. What was it to be, left or right? I went left.
Turning left was a mistake, and led me into the only populated square mile in the whole of this country which had no pubs, but I ran my heart out and made it to one in a time which, had it been in a formal athletics event, would undoubtedly have been a personal best. It had a big blackboard outside advertising ‘Chelsea vs Middlesbrough’. I looked at my watch and saw that it was one minute past three. Not bad. Not bad at all.
Well, that is in normal circumstances. In normal circumstances both teams cancel each other out for the first forty-five minutes in a dull and nervy first half, the game coming alive in an enthralling last twenty minutes which makes the whole experience worthwhile. On the day when I was one minute late—one miserly minute late, Chelsea scored after thirty-five seconds. Thirty-five seconds! That never happens, not in a cup final. I was furious. I badly needed some reflexology to calm me down. Instead, I chose a far less healthy relaxant, and sat back, occasionally sipping at it, hoping that the early strike might open the game up and we might be on for a goal fest.