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WEST TOWN 9 page

‘The fridge! It’s the fridge!!!’ cried excited voices.

Brian drew it up alongside me and laid it to rest by my side. He withdrew and left the two of us, an Englishman and his fridge posing like oddities before Ballyduff’s revellers. We must have looked quite a pair because someone called out, ‘Hey, look how good they are together! I reckon he’s not a bachelor after all!’

‘I am,’ I replied. ‘But we’re part of a team. There’s room for another, but it’s a case of ‘Love me, love my fridge’.’

The audience liked this and rewarded it with a polite round of applause. The sound of a polite round of applause must have been so unusual as to cause Callum the DJ to curtail his bathroom activities and to reappear looking mildly panic stricken. He looked at me and shrugged, as if to say ‘How did you get a polite round of applause out of that lot?’ I shrugged back. By the end of this trip I would certainly be all shrugged out I wanted to lean into the microphone and say, ‘I have to go now, my work here is done.’

Perhaps a little too grand.

‘I’m going to hand you back to your DJ now,’ I said with immense relief. ‘Goodnight, you’ve been great!’

Ugh! ‘Goodnight, you’ve been great! ‘ Well, I had certainly drawn on all my show business experience there to leave the audience with one of the all time offerings of trite insincerity. No one minded though and for the second time in the night, I left the stage to rousing cheers. One familiar female voice cut through the rest, ‘HAS THE FRIDGE GOT A FREEZER COMPARTMENT!?’

She would make someone an interesting wife.

Half an hour later the winner was announced. Brian, who knew the organisers, had already informed me of it.

‘Well the good news is Tony, that you won. The bad news is they can’t give it to you, because they’ve got to give it to a local.’

This wasn’t such bad news. I wasn’t sure if I really wanted an entire week of nights like this in Ballybunion. Besides justice was being done. The main reason for my gaining favour had been that I was travelling with a fridge, and that is by no means sure fire evidence of one man being any better a bachelor than the next.

I sat down and watched the fridge at the end of the dancefloor completely surrounded by young people anxious to sign it with pens, crayons, and whatever else they could lay their hands on. Beside it stood Paddy, the winner of the 1997 Ballyduff bachelor festival. No one was paying a blind bit of attention to him. A similar fate befell the rest of the bachelors, including myself. It seemed that the few females of Ballyduff who had turned out to this special night preferred the company of a small appliance to a man. For some, it would be a preference which would continue well into their married lives.

As the DJ wound up the night I wrested my fridge from its deranged inscribers who were continuing to cover it with names, messages and jokes. For a moment, I felt strangely protective of it. I realised that in the interests of sanity, these weren’t feelings I should look to encourage.



Eye make-up pencils, felt pens, and a ubiquitous maroon crayon had all been used to transform the fridge into a modernistic objet d’art. A closer study revealed that the Mother Superior’s message had been almost obliterated. Her words ‘God bless you Tony and Saiorse’ were barely visible beneath the profane scrawlings of Ballyduff’s youth. Almost a metaphor for the Church’s present standing in society.

Apart from a particularly crude joke which now adorned the fridge door, one other message caught my eye. On the back, just below ‘Stay Cool!! Luv Chris and Jean’, it read, ‘Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved.’

There you go. Even amidst the most disorderly inebriated rabble, wisdom is to be found. Brian, Joe and I drew on some of ours, and called it a night.

I Did It Dunmanway

I had been lucky with the changeable weather. Up until now, when it had been raining I had been fortunate enough either to have been inside a vehicle or a pub. I had been granted periods of precious sunshine but clouds had always been hovering impatiently, threatening a return to the climate for which Ireland had made something of a name. Today was different Clear blue sky without a hint of cumulonimbus or stratus to stop the radiant sunshine from prevailing. The refreshing unpolluted Kerry air was up for grabs and the door needed only to be thrown open for a glimpse of a lush green landscape basking in the healthy rays of an inviting sun. A beautiful morning awaited.

Unfortunately we spent it in the dark, dingy windowless back room of a pub in Tralee.

‘You can’t lay a hardwood floor without wood,’ Brian had said.

He knew his stuff. His mobile phone was turned on, and as soon as news of the required delivery of wood reached him, we would proceed to Kllarney, but until then, what better way to while away a morning like this, than by playing countless games of darts.

Darts. Dart players. Unlikely to conjure up the same levels of excitement in females as, say, your average surfer might. For some reason, the fit, muscular, tanned and scantily clad brute gliding across the waves will always edge it over the pasty fat bloke drinking beer and aiming his diminutive projectile at a small target. I longed to be outside in the sun, and the longing affected my darts. Whatever variation of the rules was adopted, I consistently claimed third place for my own, whilst Brian and Joe traded victories in a titanic struggle for outright supremacy. It was almost enthralling.

‘How far is it to Killarney from here?’ I asked, having just scored sixteen with three darts.

‘Oh, about another hour,’ said Joe, doing some mental arithmetic. ‘Sixteen eh? Not bad. Better than your last two goes.’

Once we had word of this eagerly awaited delivery, darts’ would be abandoned for the day and Brian and Joe would have to begin smothering themselves in glue and seeing to it that a floor would get laid. Lucky old floor.

By lunchtime, there was still no word of the delivery, but we headed off to Killarney anyway. I didn’t understand the thinking behind this, but I didn’t question it since Killarney was where I had set my sights on being by the end of the day. When we arrived there, Brian and Joe took me on a tour of the town which involved showing me the interiors of three pubs. Thankfully, all were without windows and offered a dimness which was a welcome contrast to the resplendent sunshine which those who had been foolish enough to venture outside had to suffer. In one of the bars a gaunt old man who looked like he was stony broke, on learning that I was the fellow who was travelling with a fridge, leant over to me proffering a pound coin.

‘Here, take this and God bless ya,’ he commanded.

‘What’s that for?’

‘For whatever charity your collecting for.’

‘I’m not doing it for charity.’

‘Yes, you are now. C’mon, now take the pound.’

‘Honestly, I’m not doing it for charity.’

‘C’mon now, why else would anyone bring a fridge round the country with him? Take the pound now, c’mon.’

It was a full five minutes before I could convince him that I wasn’t a registered charity and was by no means worthy of his pound.

‘Ah well, please yourself,’ he said eventually, and promptly spent double the amount by buying me a pint when I wasn’t looking.

Brian and Joe’s delivery of wood never came. It was close to five o’clock when we said our goodbyes after a meal in a basement Chinese restaurant swathed in artificial light Brian and Joe dropped me at a bed and breakfast on the outskirts of town and headed back for Ballyduff. It was all in a day’s work for your average hardwood-flooring boys.

I took a shower and made the two-mile walk down to Ross Castle on the shores of Lough Leane. As I walked, the tourists rode by on their pony and traps. A pony and trap idea if there ever was one*.

*Please check your cockney rhyming slang dictionaries.

Killarney appeared to be the tourist capital of the west of Ireland, no doubt because it is the gateway to some of the most breathtaking scenery in the country.

Ross Castle was the last stronghold under Irish control to be taken by Cromwellian forces in 1653.1 arrived there at 18.53, which was perfect timing since it closed at 18.00. The final tourist dregs were returning to their lodgings to clean themselves up for dinner, and I was left to enjoy the beauty of this spot in relative solitude. I struggled along the shore of the lough, climbing over rowing boats and through bushes until I had found the ideal location for enjoying the sunshine for the first time in the day. It was a totally secluded and magical spot, perfect for viewing the sun setting over the lough and the distant mountains, Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, which were reflected in the waters. Nature’s way of recognising that they were worth seeing twice.

As I sat looking over the reflective waters with their stunning backdrop, I too became reflective. I began to wonder whether my ‘fridge journey’ could be considered an allegory for life. I decided that there was some persuasive evidence. Each day I was faced with a number of choices, some were easy and others were harder. The same was true of life.

I had learned not to worry; to make my choice and allow things to happen. For the most part they turned out to be good, and when they weren’t—like the night from hell in a hostel—then they were character building. There weren’t any wrong or right paths to choose, just different ones, and where they led was governed by the attitude adopted towards them. It seemed to me that was true of life also.

So what else? Well, I couldn’t manage alone. The nature of hitching, especially when encumbered by a kitchen appliance, is such that you are reliant on others. We may not expect it, but there may come a time in all of our lives when we have to hitch, either physically or figuratively. It doesn’t matter how important, wealthy or talented you are, if your car breaks down somewhere and you are forced to stick out your thumb and hitch, then your fallibility and the fact that you are no betterthan the next person will become abundantly clear to you. You need someone else’s kindness to take you to safety. What I was beginning to discover was that signing up to this Trust was as liberating as it was fun.

Fun. That brought me to the final thrust of my lakeside dialectic—my purposeless journey was, like life itself, cyclical. My starting point, Dublin, represented the beginning of life, and throughout my journey, it was destined to be my eventual ‘resting place’. Since my fridge had cost more than the £100 bet itself, I had no valid economic motivation for the trip, and in terms of great human achievement it would go down in the annals of history alongside Timothy ‘Bud’ Budyana and his backwards marathon. Given this ‘purposelessness’, the only justification for my exploits was that I ensured they were fun. It was apt that the Irish themselves had invented the only word that really embraced the spirit of it all. The ‘craic’. Once the people in this country realised that what I was doing I was doing purely ‘for the craic’, they understood fully what I was about, and took me to their hearts. Here, dangling my feet in the waters of this splendid lough, I resolved to take the same approach to life itself. The fridge philosophy’ was taking shape. One thing was sure though. It would need another name before it went on general release.

§

I took it easy that night, leaving the fridge holed up in my room and keeping out of pubs. I walked around the busy Killarney streets in search of a suitable restaurant for an unkempt individual, dining alone. I considered treating myself to lobster in an expensive-looking fish restaurant, but the sight of the lobsters displayed in a tank, struggling around with their claws taped up, put me off the idea. On the menu in the window it said;

YOU PICK YOUR OWN LOBSTERFROM OUR TANK.

I didn’t like the sound of that either. This would change my status entirely from diner to God-like figure. Instead of ‘innocently’ ordering something off the menu, suddenly I was being asked to exercise an executive decision over which creature should actually die that night, in the interests of my palate.

I dined in a quaint, homely little restaurant where no demands were made upon me to select any animals for slaughter, and I ate an Irish stew which reassuringly felt like someone’s Mum had cooked it I walked home debating whether I should continue hitching in the morning, even though it was a Sunday when there would be none of the commercial traffic which had been my bread and butter. By the time I reached the guest house I had decided that the following morning I would give it two hours by the roadside and if that brought no reward then I would abort and return to the lakeside for more amateur philosophy.

I sat on my bed and surveyed the map. I felt immensely proud when I saw what ground I had covered. I had broken the back of the journey. My next goal was to get out to Cape Clear Island, and once that had been achieved I was surely in the home straight. I gave myself the mental equivalent of a pat on the back. Then I realised. Bad news. Today was May 24th!

Bugger. I had missed ‘SHEEP ‘97’.

§

We all make mistakes. All are forgivable in the end. But after five hours standing by the side of a deserted road in the wilds of West Cork, I was finding it very difficult indeed to grant myself absolution just yet.

It had been going so well. At breakfast in theuuesthouse I had made the acquaintance of two Australian tourists, Chris and Jan, and talked them into making their journey to Cork with an Englishman and a fridge for company.

It hadn’t been easy at first, since Chris and Jan hadn’t been in the best of moods, as our opening exchange had proved.

‘Good morning,’ said I. ‘Beautiful day isn’t it?’ And it most certainly was. The good weather seemed to have broken out and looked set to stay.

‘About time,’ countered Jan. ‘We’ve had nine days of rain in Scotland.’

Chris and Jan were doing Europe. Much of it was leaving them unimpressed. They weren’t easy to please. An interesting yardstick was Chris’s opinion on Venice.

‘Venice? That’s over-rated isn’t it? We thought it was just a grotty old place with a load of water running through it.’

I seemed to remember it having one or two other redeeming features.

Once again, it was the fridge to the rescue. Mention of it, and its role in my travels lightened their mood considerably and resulted in smiles and the offer of the lift which I had been angling for all the time. I even persuaded them to go to Cork via a place called Skibbereen which meant I could alight there and continue hitching down to Baltimore where the ferry left for Cape Clear Island.

We set off, and I was entrusted with the map reading, Chris and Jan maintaining that they ‘didn’t have a clue’ in that department It was a measure of the beautiful views of Killaraey’s lakeland scenery that my Australian friends enthused about them and even stopped the car to shoot video footage. One bonus of travelling through this region with tourists was that I got to stop and see the panoramic views and places of interest Bantiy House, a magnificent statety home with spectacular views overlooking the bay, received meagre praise from Chris.

‘The toilets are free, and that’s aa improvement on a lot of the places we’ve been.’

We didn’t go inside the house, because the £5.50 entrance fee was deemed to be too expensive.

‘We saw a load of these old places in Vienna,’ said Jan, ‘and there’s onfy so much old furniture you can look at.’

Fair enough. I wasn’t really bothered about going in either. The architecture, grounds and its overall setting were of more interest to me than the roped-off rooms and endless portraits of ancestors. Unlike Chris, I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the toilet arrangements. Free they may have been, but one cubicle serving both sexes meant standing in an extended queue when one could have been exploring the Italianate gardens. In a rejection of my British heritage, I shunned the queuing option and slipped between two hedges into a secluded area where I disgracefully gave the plants a generous watering. I then heard a voice and saw a woman leaning out of a top window in what were obviously the private living quarters of Bantry House.

‘Do you mind?’ said an aristocratic English voice. ‘That is our private garden!’

‘Sorry,’ I whimpered, like a naughty child who was secretly feeling rather pleased with himself.

‘Honestly!’ said the woman, and slammed the window closed.

The ‘honestly’ had a ring about it which suggested that this incident was the last straw and that she would storm down to her husband and say, ‘Right, that’s it! No more tourists! I simply cannot abide these awful people coming on to our land one moment more.’

I walked back to the car with mixed feelings. I was glad I had urinated where I had, but was disappointed that all I’d managed by way of a riposte when challenged, was a feeble apology. Where was the feisty ‘If you don’t like it, get yourself more lavs, you posh old cow!? Childish, yes, and possibly unjustified but I was feeling some degree of anger that the British still lived in some of these magnificent and ancestral homes. Change obviously doesn’t come about overnight.

When I told Chris and Jan the toilet story, they warmed to me enormously. I was almost an honorary Australian now, having metaphorically at least, pissed all over the British. We began discussing life in Australia and paid little attention to the road signs and our general route. When I saw a sign saying that Skibbereen was sixteen miles in the direction we had just come from, I began to become suspicious that all wasn’t right here. We pulled over, collectively studied the map and concluded that somehow we had overshot Skibbereen. It wasn’t clever of me to have secured a lift to go exactly where I wanted it to and then to have allowed it to go sixteen miles too far. It was too much to expect Chris and Jan to double back on themselves, and I was left by the roadside to face the consequences of my mistake.

And boy, did I pay the price. Dunmanway on a Sunday afternoon. A ghost town where the phantoms had moved out because it was too quiet Not a soul to be seen and one vehicle about every ten minutes on one of the bleakest stretches of road I had ever laid a fridge on.

Five miserable hours in Dunmanway. It was so, so boring. No one was going anywhere. Fast. I searched for the good things about my predicament. The sun was out, and that was it. To try and liven things up I played games with myself, awarding myself points if I correctly guessed the colour of the next car, but the fact that I was alone made it difficult to introduce any real competitive edge. I even tried to write a parody of the Frank Sinatra hit ‘My Way’, in tribute to this particular leg of my journey. From time to time I sang its last few lines at the top of my voice, to prove to myself that I was still alive.

I’ve hitched around this land,

Me and my fridge, in a crazy plan way

But more, much more than this

I did it Dunmanway.

Okay, I admit I didn’t spend all of the five hours by that barren track of road. At one point I walked into the assortment of buildings which masqueraded as a town and found a bar where I drank two pints of Murphys. I then walked into the main square and fell asleep on a bench. Boy, I knew how to live life. When I awoke, a confounded woman was nervously surveying me and my baggage, and when I smiled and hauled myself and my fridge to the roadside and began hitching, she rushed into the church behind her. If nothing else, this ghastly experience I was having had brought someone closer to God.

She must have said a prayer for me, that lady, because a mere two and a half hours later a young lad called Kieran pulled up and drove me ten minutes up the road to Drimoleague. Drimoleague was much like Dunmanway, only less frenetic.

An hour and a half after that I finally arrived in Baltimore thanks to Barry and Moira, a lovely couple from Bandon who supplied the last leg in this marathon journey. Passing through the town of Skibbereen was particularly galling, since it was taking place almost seven hours later than it would have done had I not been such an arse with the map earlier in the day.

In Baltimore, an enchanting little fishing port, I checked into a guesthouse with views over the pretty harbour and sat down outside the pub next door with Barry and Moira. I bought them both a drink by way of thanking them for driving well out of their way to bring me here. As the sun set, and the beer hit its mark, the horrors of the day evaporated and my placid mood returned. When Barry and Moira left, I fell in with an English crowd from the Tunbridge Wells diving club. For a while I was confused as to what sort of diving they could do since I had always believed that Tunbridge Wells, like Switzerland, was landlocked. Anyway, once this lot had heard of my adventures, they declared that they had airbags and an underwater camera and would dearly love to take the fridge scuba diving. I thanked them, but declined the offer. Maybe I needed to slow up a little now. And Cape Clear Island seemed just the place to do it.

In Search Of A Haven

When the ferry docked at the jetty which the locals laughingly called the harbour I seemed to be the only passenger who was seeking accommodation for an overnight stop. Cape Clear Island was going to be my retreat from the mayhem of the last two and a half weeks. It had all the qualifications for the job, being a kind of Tory Island of the south, with trees instead of a King, and a more hospitable climate. Today it was swathed in warm sunshine. As we had arranged after my phonecall from the mainland, I was met by Eleanor, one of the few islanders who rented out rooms, and whose car even nudged ahead of the one belonging to Toothless Ian and the Travellers for decrepit dilapidation. She made no comment as I lifted the fridge on to her back seat, and the car struggled up and down the island’s single-track roads until we reached her house at the top of a hill.

I intended to remain here for three or four days, to dry out, rest up and generally prepare myself for the final week soldiering on towards Dublin. However at four o’clock, the ferry took all the day trippers back to the mainland and the island completely emptied of all its walkers, sightseers and birdwatchers. I felt isolated and alone. In a moment, the plan to stay three or four days turned into one night at Eleanor’s.

I was back in one of those areas where they don’t pry. Throughout my brief stay in the house of Eleanor and her family, the fridge sat in the hallway, but not a single remark was made about it It must have been a talking point, a fridge sitting in their hallway absolutely covered in signatures and good will messages, but there was only one brief exchange on the subject. That night I ate with Eleanor, her family and the two lodgers. As we tucked into our apple crumble, Eleanor’s husband Crohuir leant towards me surreptitiously.

‘Is that your fridge in the hall?’ he asked timidly.

‘It is.’

He took a moment to gather himself for his next assault. ‘It’s very small, isn’t it?’

‘Yes.’

Subject closed.

After dinner, I walked back to the harbour, described to me by one islander, without irony, as the hub of the island. On the way I passed a tennis court which had been built in the most dramatic of locations, almost on a cliff edge, overlooking the Atlantic. That would be some place to play, I thought.

When I arrived at the ‘hub’, someone must have dismantled the neon lights and advertising hoardings and sent the hordes of partying jetsetters home, because all was quiet. There were two pubs and absolutely nothing else. Both of them were empty. I took a drink in one and was eventually joined by an Englishman who told me that he brought his family to the island every year for the walks and the birdwatching. Tonight he’d left them indoors so that he could taste some of the crazy nightiife alone.

‘Have you played tennis on that tennis court?’ I asked.

‘Oh, don’t talk to me about tennis,’ he complained, ‘my kids have been dying to have a game ever since we got here, but they can’t’

‘Why not?’

‘There aren’t any tennis balls on the island.’

‘You’re joking.’

‘I’m not. Not one. The shop’s run out and the guy who was supposed to bring some out from the mainland forgot’

Island life encapsulated.

On the walk home the sky was clearer than any sky I had ever seen before. The stars twinkled like teeth in a glitzy TV toothpaste ad, and the Fastnet lighthouse lit up the island every six seconds almost as if it was strobe lighting slowed down to match the pace of life here. On reaching Eleanor’s, I looked out to the horizon and conceded to myself that this was a unique place indeed. It wasn’t for me though, and I would be leaving on the nine o’clock boat in the morning. For some, this isolated tranquillity would be a boon but I had learned that although I enjoyed peace and quiet, I liked to have access to an alternative. Call me whacky, but I needed to be someplace where you could get tennis balls when you wanted them.

§

Unexpectedly, I travelled to Cork by taxi. I met an English couple who had been on the island to attend the first protestant wedding there for over one hundred years. They had viewed me with some amusement as I had lifted my fridge on to the ferry, and after some initial English reticence they informed me that they had booked a taxi to take them and their elderly aunt to Cork airport, and if I wanted to squeeze in I was more than welcome. It was a tight fit and the taxi driver was a mite unsure of what to make of a man who had taken a fridge to a wedding. He said nothing, partly because his hands were more than full with the slightly eccentric aunt who kept him busy chatting in the front.

‘This road is very tidy,’ she said pointing ahead of her.

The taxi driver nodded non committally, a response he was to rely on more and more as the journey progressed.

‘Did you enjoy the wedding?’ the aunt asked me.

‘I didn’t go, I wasn’t a guest, I’m just travelling around the country.’

‘Oh. How lovely. What you should do is go to Seattle, and then head up the coast from there.’

She appeared to think we were on the west coast of America. I thanked her and said that I’d give it some thought after I’d reached Dublin.

After I’d spilled out of the taxi in front of the City Hall in Cork and waved it goodbye, I looked with some satisfaction at the considerable traffic and substantial buildings around me. It had been some time since I had been anywhere with this much vitality. Although it didn’t strike me as being a particularly beautiful city, nonetheless I had a good feeling about it I was just considering my next course of action when I was approached by a middle-aged Scot.

‘You must be Tony, and that must be your fridge,’ he said forthrightly.

‘It is and I am. I mean, I am and it is.’

I was making no sense, but he didn’t mind. He had been following my progress on the radio and kept insisting how wonderful an idea it had been to travel with a fridge. Then, two minutes into our acquaintance, came the offer.

‘K you’ve no sorted anywhere to stay, ye can come and stop with me and me wife Sheila. Well sort ye out, give ye a chance to clean up, do your washing and all the rest of it’

‘That’s very kind…er—’

‘Dave. The name’s Dave Stewart.’

‘Thanks, Dave. It’s just that I haven’t made any plans just yet I thought I might head to a pub called Westimers.’

‘Oh aye. Do you know someone there?’

‘Not really, it’s just that on the first morning I spoke to Gerry Ryan, they called in and said if I ever came to Cork, they’d throw a fridge party for me.’

‘Oh aye. I heard that Good idea.’

Dave gave me directions to Westimers and wrote out his address and phone number should I want to take him up on his kind offer. I crossed the road and a student came rushing out from inside a pub demanding to sign the fridge. I had re-entered the world of the ‘splendidly off kilter’, and I liked it.

At Westimers there was much surprise that I had responded to an offer which had been made nearly three weeks previously.

‘Eric will be sick that he’s missed you,’ said Alan the barman.

Eric, the boss and original instigator of the offer, was away on a fishing trip in County Mayo and couldn’t be contacted. Still no matter, that was no reason for the rest of the staff not to make a fuss of me, and I was given drinks and the now standard free lunch. The decor of the pub explained its rather odd name, Westimers. The Wild West was its theme and the walls were adorned with saddles, stetsons and gun wielding cowboys. Perhaps it was his love of the American West that had originally caused Eric to take my pioneering quest to heart.

I had just begun talking with a lunching businessman at the bar about how I was considering making a trip down to Kinsale, when Alan interrupted, ‘Tony, there’s a phonecall for you.’


Date: 2015-04-20; view: 231


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