This was weird. No one knew I was here. Correction, one person did.
‘Hello Tony, it’s Dave here. You know, Dave you just met on the pavement Now stay where you are, I’ve been on to my mate who is the features editor at theEvening Echo. Don’t go anywhere because they’re sending a reporter down to meet you.’ Things moved fast in Cork.
One newspaper interview later, I returned to my pint and was soon approached by a young man who told me he could take me to Kinsale in quarter of an hour. Things moved fast in Cork.
Everyone in Westimers thought it was a good idea if I used Cork as a base for a few days’ sightseeing, not least because that meant if Eric phoned they could tell him of my arrival and see if he waited to go ahead with the fridge party. There was much amusement amongst the staff as they watched me pack my fridge as an overnight bag, a role that hadn’t been asked of it since my jaunt to Tory Island.
Okay, the quarter of an hour was closer to an hour, but just as he had said he would, Barry was soon transporting me to my next destination. It was somehow in keeping with the vein of my trip that he should turn out to be a sales rep for Caffreys, and that his first call at the Hole In The Wall pub in Kinsale necessitated my drinking complimentary pints whilst he went about his business. The fridge and beer had developed a truly symbiotic relationship, and together they were unstoppable. Things happened.
A canvassing Labour politician marched past the pub garden with his entourage, and spotted me and the fridge holding court with a number of intrigued fellow drinkers. He obviously felt the notoriety that this fridge had gained in his country meant that being photographed alongside it could genuinely enhance his chances of election. His aides hastily organised a photoshoot, and suddenly there was Michael Calnan with his arm around me, beaming unnaturally and toasting the fridge with a pint of Caffreys, supplied by the equally opportunistic Barry. Kieran, the owner of the pub, was just attempting to usher all of us round to the left so that the name of his pub formed the backdrop, when Barry noticed that a traffic warden was putting a parking ticket on his car. There then followed an extraordinary scene in which Barry attempted to get the ticket rescinded, for which he produced in his defence, a Labour politi-, cian and a man pulling a fridge behind him. Against such formidable opposition, the meter maid put up a sterling effort at insisting that the ticket should stand, but when the chorus of drinkers in the pub garden chimed in with a chant of ‘Let him off, let him off, he’s driving the man with the fridge!’ she finally capitulated. There was no doubting that the politician had borne little influence, and that it had been the fridge which had swayed things. You’ve heard of ‘People Power’, well now please welcome ‘Fridge Power’. Already it had got someone off a parking ticket—there was no knowing what meritorious cause of downtrodden citizen against oppressive State it would embrace next.
When the fridge and I returned from our political struggle, we learned that Kieran hadn’t been idle. He had organised a boat trip, for the next morning around Kinsale’s harbour, and complimentary accommodation at the White House Hotel opposite. Barry then went about arranging me a free bar meal with another Caffrey’s customer, a restaurant just around the corner called the Blue Haven.
Honestly, what a day! I hadn’t been able to put a foot wrong since I had stepped on the ferry at Cape Clear Island. It was as if a spell had been cast in which I could have anything I wanted. It was just a shame the magic had worn off by the time I made my clumsy and slurred advances towards Brenda, the Blue Haven’s waitress. Her haven, whatever colour it was, remained firmly off limits.
Pat Collins’ little fishing boat did us proud. I wondered what instructions Kieran had given to Pat the previous night because he quite happily gave up an hour and a half of his morning, and entirely without motive he was taking a man and his fridge on a tour of the harbour, indicating any points of interest. He helped me on and off the boat with the fridge, and even posed for a photograph with his arm round it, but saw no reason in wasting any time enquiring as to what the hell I was doing with the bloody thing. I suppose he felt that those were questions for a younger man to ask.
As we headed out to sea along the estuary of the Bandon River we passed Charles Fort on our port side. This star-shaped bastion fort was built by the British in the seventeenth century to protect Kinsale harbour from naval attack. However, William of Orange had the bright idea of attacking it by land and took it rather easily, with all its defenders looking out to sea. The Japanese had done something similar to the British at Singapore in the second world war. Simply not cricket At the mouth of the estuary, Pat pointed out the spot where a German submarine torpedoed and sank The Lusitania. Also not cricket. History seemed to demonstrate a tremendous unwillingness by people to play by the rules. Still, as long as the great Umpire in the sky was taking note…
The sea out here was decidedly more choppy, and our small vessel began rocking and rolling like someone’s Dad at a wedding. From the helm Pat turned around and gestured behind us, ‘You want to watch that fridge,’ he said.
I smiled, delighted by Pat’s concern, and the gentle absurdity of his words. ‘Youwant to watch that fridge.’ It was almost as if the fridge had a reputation for profligacy and philandering. God forbid. It hadn’t even been plugged in.
Kieran was a thick-set man in his thirties with an admirable desire to help me out When I got back from the harbour tour he had organised for me, he said he’d drive me back to Cork. On the way, we called at the ‘Moving Statue of Ballinspittle’, a grotto with a large statue of the Virgin Mary, so called because thousands of people claimed to have seen it move. But hang on a minute, Kieran knew exactly where the statue was, and without hesitation drove us straight there. Surely if the Moving Statue lived up to its name, no one would be entirely sure where it was going to be. Wouldn’t enquiries have to be made? Didn’t the local radio station have the latest ‘Moving Statue news’?
‘The Statue was last seen outside a supermarket in Bandon and was rumoured to be heading towards Clonakilty. We’ll be bringing you more Moving Statue news later—now, on with the Death Notices—Rory O’Brien was tragically taken from us when a statue moved in front of his motorcycle on the R600…’
Back in Cork I bought a newspaper and discovered that I had made the front page of The Cork Evening Echo, just alongside a Welsh groom who had finished his stag night in hospital after falling through the glass in a greenhouse. Evidently yesterday hadn’t been a particularly newsworthy day. Never mind, I was the beneficiary, because there it was—a full-page picture of me and Saiorse, just beneath the headline;
HERE’S A COOL IDEA!
There followed a pun-packed article which continued on page three, where there were a further two photographs. Evidently yesterday had been a spectacularly un-newsworthy day. In Cork I was big news. I had made the front page of the Evening Echo, without even having to fall through any greenhouses.
I checked into a hotel which Westimers had booked for me. Apart from the lift being out of action, the bathroom door having no handle, the shower curtain falling down, the window not opening, and the phone providing no outside line, it was just fine. Eric had authorised its booking, having phoned in from his fishing trip and learned that I was in town. He was cutting his fishing trip short especially so that the Fridge Party could be scheduled for the following night. I still had no idea what this party would involve. Whenever I broached the subject, those that I asked shrugged stylishly.
Eric and his wife Caroline were unable to throw any light on the matter when I met them for a drink that evening.
‘We’ll just see what happens,’ said Eric.
Eric explained that he had called into The Gerry Ryan Show on that first day as something of a joke because he had been having some problems with the guys who did the refrigeration in his pub and the suggestion of a fridge party was a way of winding them up.
‘So the joke’s backfired on you now I’m here,’ I said.
‘Not at all. We’ll have a great night.’
It was decided that I should make tomorrow a tourist day, and Eric promised to take me and the fridge to kiss the Blarney Stone. This, as legend would have it, would confer on us a magical eloquence, an area in which for at least one of us there was room for improvement. Most of the Irish I had met needed little assistance in this regard. For myself, I was looking forward to being asked how I had found the whole Blarney Stone experience: ‘It was so moving, I was lost for words,’ was going to be my witty reply.
Not for the first time on my trip I began the day on national radio speaking to Gerry Ryan. He was intrigued by the notion of a Fridge Party.
‘So what exactly do you intend to do at this thing?’
‘We don’t really know.’
‘What about getting people to turn up with the bits and pieces from their fridges, the ice tray or the egg tray or anything else that identifies them as a fridge groupie.’
‘Sounds good to me, although quite where it goes from there I have no idea.’
It didn’t matter. According to the fridge philosophy, we would wait and see.
I got up, made use of the few facilities in the bathroom which were operational and made my way over to Westimers to meet Eric. Outside the pub was a huge blackboard with a misspelled chalk message inscribed upon it;
FRIDGE PARTY TONNIGHT
I felt a tingle of butterflies.
It was the maritime port of Cobh which became my sightseeing venue for the day, Eric having phoned to explain that he had forgotten about his involvement in a charity golf event, and therefore couldn’t make the Blarney Stone outing after all. My winning line about being ‘lost for words’ would have to be put on hold.
From behind the bar, Alan and Noelle were insistent that I should take the fridge on the day trip.
‘Ifll be lonely if you leave it all on its own all day.’
Tough. I needed to conserve energy for tonight and I knew that if I took the fridge with me, some kind of adventure would befall us, and no doubt we would end up getting hopelessly delayed in a watering hole somewhere or other.
Getting to Cobh involved my first train journey in Ireland. It was marred by my having made the mistake of sitting opposite a man whose hair looked as if it hadn’t been washed since 1967. It smelled like it hadnt been washed since 1952. It looked extremely heavy, the equivalent of having three damp cloths placed on his head. The pungent aroma of his hair easily justified a move up the train, but I didn’t do so, partly out of a cowardly wish not to cause offence, and partly because I believed he and his hair would soon get off at one of the many stops which the sluggish train was making.
Cobh is a wonderful example of a Victorian port, commanding one of the world’s largest natural harbours. The only negative thing I can say about it is that the man with the smelly hair lived there, and as a result I was absolutely gasping for fresh air on arrival. I climbed the hill to take a closer look at its magnificent cathedral. With a population of only eight thousand, Cobh didn’t seem to deserve such a sizeable edifice, and the burden on its congregation for its refurbishment was equally disproportionate: £3,700,000. What is it with churches? Without exception all churches in Europe need money for refurbishment, yet in the mid west of America you’ll very rarely see a church appeal for restoration. Which is odd, because they were the ones which were built by cowboys.
On the train home I saw someone reading the Evening Echo with my picture on the front, and I pondered the concept of fame. This was an area where I had found myself in the unique position of having complete control over my status. If I wanted to get recognised and be the centre of attention then I took the fridge out with me. If I wanted to have some time to myself and revert to some semblance of normality, then I left it indoors. It was beautiful in its simplicity. How Michael Jackson and Madonna must long for such an arrangement. Still, they should have thought of that before they sold million upon million of albums and plastered their faces on posters all over the world. I may not have had their wealth, but I had certainly outwitted them on the fame thing, and that was satisfying.
That night in my hotel room, I paced anxiously, rehearsing the speech I was going to make at the party. I had no desire to find myself floundering as I had done at the Bachelor Festival. This time I was subscribing to Baden Powell’s motto for the scout movement—‘Be Prepared’.
I set off for the pub. Things began well. As I crossed the footbridge dragging my fridge behind me, I bumped into a group of about half a dozen girls from Cork school of art who were on their way to the party. If they were a sample of the kind of audience the fridge was going to attract, then things boded well for the evening.
‘Look, it’s the Fridge Man!’ said a pretty girl with a cheeky little face, who I immediately identified as being the one I fancied most There followed a constant stream of questions, all of which I was able to provide answers for, except one. ‘So what exactly is a fridge party?’
‘I really don’t know. We’re just going to have to wait and see. I think it’s up to us.’
These were unchartered waters and there was no previous experience to draw on to ascertain what environment might be the most appropriate for the holding of a Fridge Party. However, there was to be no such difficulty in identifying the wrong environment for such an event, because it awaited us as we entered Westimers. The whole ambience of the place had changed. The lights were dimmed and loud music was blaring out from the stage where a young male duo surrounded by synthesizers and drum machines were performing.
‘What’s going on?’ I shouted to Alan who was behind the bar.
They’re a band called ‘Pisces Squared’. Unfortunately two months ago they were booked to play tonight, and we couldn’t get hold of them to cancel.’
Right So that meant that the background noise for the Fridge Party was cover versions of the hits of Erasure and Soft Cell, all stamped with the duo’s trademark of excessive volume. I shouted hellos to some familiar faces—Dave, my Scottish PR man who had brought Ms wife to meet me, and Barry the Caffreys salesman who had arrived with his girlfriend and chums. However communication was limited to rudimentary greetings, saeh was the noise from ‘Pisces Squared’. Now I’m no expert �n astrology bat here were two Rsceans wife whom I was definitely net compatible.
The boys’ manager hovered proudly by the stage, offering them encouragement and completely failing to notice that their techno pop message was falling on deaf ears. It became clear through the body language of the boys and their manager that this gig was something of a showbiz break and a milestone in their career to date. And so, a wholly unsatisfactory situation existed. An ambitious band, with eager manager in tow, were playing to an audience of the kind of eccentrics and quirky misfits who had been attracted by the concept of a Fridge Parry, some carrying items which they had brought from their home refrigerator. The lead singer of the band looked visibly shaken.
Then there was the other side of the equation. A young Englishman, for whom tonight was to be a celebration of his extraordinary travels with a refrigerator across the length and breadth of Ireland, was unable to understand a bloody word anyone said to him because of the cacophonous din being created by a band sounding like they were in the death throes of their career.
‘They’re good, aren’t they?’ shouted Eric, the architect of this farrago, pointing to the band. He motioned to me and my harem of art students. ‘Sit down over there and we’ll bring you over some beer. Fosters gave us a case of beer by way of sponsoring the evening, so you may as well have it.’
The Fridge Party was sponsored? It was hard to imagine the phone conversation which might have brought that about.
There was one unexpected bonus resulting from this evening’s spectacular shambles, and that was that I could devote my attentions to Mary, my favourite art student. I sat next to her and from close range we shouted intimately, occasionally making ourselves heard over the monotonous strains of the house band. From time to time a fridge devotee would come over to pay homage and sign the fridge, but Piscean decibel levels prevented any lasting exchanges. I didn’t mind. It meant I could carry on my flirtatious bellowing with Mary.
‘SO HOW MUCH LONGER HAVE YOU GOT TO GO ON YOUR DEGREE COURSE?’
‘NOT REALLY, MAYBE LATER. I DON’T THINK YOU CAN DANCE TO THIS, CAN YOU?’
The development of our relationship was temporarily interrupted when I was asked to go outside and give an interview to a media studies student laden with recording equipment. When I returned some ten minutes later, the art students were looking a little sheepish.
‘What is it?’ I asked, but no one could hear me over the music.
Then I saw my jacket.
There cannot be many generic groups who include fabric paint in the list of items which they take with them on a night out, but art students are evidently one. During my absence they had made good use of this fabric paint, and there on the back of my denim jacket was a drawing of the fridge, and above it emblazoned in big bold red letters were the words;
Nervously, the girls watched me to gauge my reaction. After all, they had breached generally accepted social etiquette by painting all over someone’s jacket whilst it had been left unattended. I, however, was delighted with their naughtiness.
‘It’s brilliant!’ I announced, but they couldn’t hear me over the music. Never mind, they could tell from my beaming smile that I approved.
Although the girls were by now quite drunk (substantial inroads had been made into the case of beer that Eric had carried over to us) their artistic ability was apparently not impaired in any way. I was genuinely pleased with their work. What’s more, I became aware of the greater significance of their actions. As I pulled the jacket over my shoulders and stood proudly before them, I realised that I had become the ‘Fridge Man’. The tide, which I had jokingly bestowed upon the solitary figure I had seen by the roadside all those years ago, now belonged to me. I was now the embodiment of my own obsession.
Understandably enough, the band cut short their set.
‘Goodnight Cork!’ shouted the lead singer with a wave, and in a triumphant manner which had to be admired.
The audience, or ‘Cork’, managed a pitiful smattering of applause and the manager gave the boys a shake of the head which must have meant ‘skip the encore’.
I was caught rather by surprise by all this. I had just managed to establish that Mary wasn’t on a degree course at Cork School of Art but was the best friend of one of the others, when I heard a voice over the PA calling me to the stage.
‘Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome the Fridge Man.’
I felt like a ludicrous third-rate novelty act, only with less to offer. I was cheered to the stage by drunken whoops and hollers which were ominously reminiscent of Ballyduff. I quickly rifled through my pockets to find the notes for the speech which was going to set this performance apart from that fiasco. I had followed Baden Powell’s advice and this time I was prepared.
‘Good evening,’ I began solidly. ‘How many people have heard about me and the fridge?’
Cheers from the art students and hardly anyone else. Oh dear. Whilst I had been holed up in a comer devoting my time to Mary, the pub had filled up with an entirely different crowd who were waiting for the dub out the back to open in half an hour. All the fridge devotees had apparently buggered off, presumably having grown tired of both the venue and the lack of interest that I was showing in them.
On an echoey microphone I explained the concept of fridge travel to an audience whose attention span had already expired. Many had given up on me and had begun talking. All the preparation I had made was entirely useless. Naively, I had based it on the assumption that I would be faced with an audience who would be faintly appreciative. The piece of paper I was holding was as much use to me as a handkerchief to a sky diver whose parachute hadn’t opened. For all the advice of Baden Powell—I still found myself going down as well as one of his scouts giving a short talk about reef knots. I abandoned my plans of performing a passionate discourse on how others should set their fridges free, and quickly switched to the much easier option of holding a second-rate competition. It was either that or die on my arse, and dying on my arse might make me less attractive to Mary.
‘Okay, it’s competition time, and the chance to win a two-week holiday in Barbados!’ I announced.
A lot more people started listening now.
‘As you may or may not know, on The Gerry Ryan Show this morning we asked you to bring in various pieces of fridge paraphernalia. The best one will win the holiday. So who’s brought something from their fridge?’
A lady immediately appeared in front of me and handed me an ice cube.
‘Aha! We have our first entry. Frankly it smacks of blatant opportunism but this lady has entered an ice cube. Quite whether she brought it from home or simply plucked it from her drink is a moot point, but nevertheless ifs entry number one. What else have you got out there?’
‘Okay, lefs throw the net a little wider. Ill accept any item from the domestic world,’ I said, desperately trying to prolong my time on stage and salvage some credibility. ‘Come on, you can’t let a lady win a two-week holiday in Barbados on the strength of having lifted an ice cube out of her drink.’
One of the art students rushed up and handed me a pair of scissors. The concept of participation began to catch on. A spoon followed, and then a tape measure.
‘Come on, keep those entries coming. In a minute well have a vote and let you, the audience, decide on the winner.’
A plastic fork was next, then a comb, and quite magnificently, a drawing of a toaster. I could never have expected the standard of entries to be so high. I gave one last call for last-minute efforts. There was a sudden rush, including quite a bulky item, a dishwasher tray which I assumed someone had stolen from the kitchens. It proved very handy as a receptacle for all the other entries, which I now announced.
‘So here is the final list of entries for the 1997 Fridge Party domestic item of the year. Please cheer to indicate your approval, and the one with the loudest cheer will win.’ I cleared my throat. I now had the full attention of the room.
Boy, I was some performer. ‘Okay, we start off with some scissors!’
A cheer from the girls who had entered the scissors.
‘An ice cube!’
A cheer from the gang who had entered the ice cube. A pattern was emerging here. It continued, with each one being cheered by its own self-interest group.
‘…a comb! A small plastic fork! A battery! A paintbrush! A drawing of a toaster!…’
I waited for a cheer here because this was my favourite entry, but sadly the response didn’t do it justice.
‘…A tape measure! A spoon! A sewing kit! A lighter! And an empty glass!’
The empty glass was surely the least impressive of all these entries, and yet received the largest cheer, purely on the strength of having been entered by the largest gathering.
‘I don’t believe this! You’re a partisan lot, aren’t you? Surely we can’t let the prize go to someone who has simply handed in an empty glass?’
‘You haven’t announced the dishwasher tray!’ shouted the man who had entered the dishwasher tray.
‘Oh yes—I forgot that. Okay, who thinks the dishwasher tray should win?’
A huge cheer went up and victory was duly claimed. I invited the entrant on stage and sought confirmation from him that he hadn’t simply nicked it from the pub’s kitchens.
‘No, I brought it from home myself,’ he assured me and the audience.
‘I see. You’ve got an industrial-sized dishwasher at home, have you?’
He deserved the non-existent prize alone for his willingness to lie.
‘Are you sure you’re not lying?’
‘Yes, I’m sure.’
‘Well, in that case you have just won two weeks in Barbados.’ Huge cheers.
‘But unfortunately for you, I’m lying.’ Even bigger cheers. And some laughs too. I had begun to forget what it felt like to get those.
‘Would you like to dance?’ I shouted to Mary from the fringes of the dancefloor.
We were in the club at the back of Westimers which was absolutely packed. Any vestiges of a Fridge Party had been comprehensively washed away by this deluge of revellers.
‘Yes I would,’ came Mary’s reply.
I think I might have gulped. I hadn’t expected her to say yes. I now had to grapple with the possibility that she might fancy me. I certainly fancied her. She had very sexy lips.
We danced like no one was watching, and an hour later, not far from the pub, we sat on a wall by the canal and kissed in exactly the same manner. We were so drunk that we had lost all touch with the fact that we were in a public place and were quite oblivious to the presence of a young guy who was stood over us. When I eventually noticed him, he made no remark about our disgustingly passionate kiss which had presumably resembled two people attempting to eat a meal out of each other’s mouths. Instead he said, ‘Have you got a marker?’
‘Have you got a marker? I want to sign your fridge.’
I had forgotten we had Saiorse with us. How embarrassing, carrying on like that in front of a fridge.
‘Yeah sure,’ I said, and fumbled around in my pocket until I found a marker pen for him.
‘Thanks,’ he said on completing his signature, and off he went into the night.
‘Have you ever had a kiss interrupted for that before?’ she asked. .
‘Oh God yes. It happens to me all the time.’
Although we were disgustingly, hideously, and embarrassingly drunk, we kissed inspirationally. On each break for air, both of us felt moved to say things like That was nice’ or That was lovely’, and the thing was, we both meant it. Mary’s kiss was extraordinary. As far as I could tell she had been chainsmoking all evening but yet her mouth and bream bore no trace of cigarette’s stale taste. You could keep your Moving Statue of Ballinspittle, this was what I called a miracle.
‘I feel really close to you now,’ I whispered, kissing her gently on the neck.
‘And me to you,’ she replied, hugging me with a surprising intensity.
Then I fell off the wall.
‘Do you want to come back to my hotel?’ I asked buoyantly, after we had established that the grazes weren’t too serious.
‘I don’t think that would be a good idea, would it?’ came the sinking reply.
Why do girls do that? Say the ‘I don’t think it would be a good idea’ bit, but then add Vould it’ on the end. Like they want confirmation from you. And like you’re going to give it.
‘I don’t think that would be a good idea, would it? ’
‘Well, of course you’re absolutely right. It was probably the worst idea I have ever had, and I’ve had some crap ones in my time. Your coming back to the hotel with me was a rubbish idea, forget I ever mentioned it.’
The fact is though, I knew that it probably wasn’t a good idea. We needed to pass out in our own spaces.
‘I’ll get you a taxi.’
We kissed again. Kissing her really was terribly good fun.
‘Come with me,’ I said, as we separated ourselves.—‘What? I thought you were going to get me a taxi?’
‘Not, come with me now, come with me tomorrow. Come with me to Dublin. Let’s finish my journey together.’
Mary looked at me like she hadn’t had a drink all night. Shock can have a very sobering effect.
‘Come on,’ I continue bravely, ‘just you and me…well, and a fridge.’
It couldn’t have been more romantic. Remarkably, she was starting to look tempted. I persisted.
‘Mary, do it! Take a chance in life. Come with me. It feels right—we feel so close.’
‘I can’t, I’ve got work tomorrow.’
‘Oh. What exactly is it you do?’
Maybe we weren’t as close as I had thought.
In The Doghouse
I felt battered and war torn as I made the short walk to Westimers to say my goodbyes. As I trundled along, I couldn’t understand why my elbow was aching, but on raising my shirt sleeve I saw that it was grazed, and then remembered the heroic way in which the injury had been sustained. Just like Sir Ranulph Fiennes, who returned from his expedition to the South Pole with frostbite so serious that three of his toes only just escaped amputation, I too had paid a price for my valiant exploration. I studied my wounds and decided that severe though they were, the need for amputation would be unlikely, at least until my return to the UK. I rolled my shirt sleeve back down and resolved to get on with the day without giving it another moment’s thought. I couldn’t complain. I had known the dangers of both sitting on a wall, and kissing, and had chosen to do both at the same time. I was in pain, but the hurt wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t carry on. Heck, you get used to it when you’re a risk taker.