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WEST TOWN 12 page

Neither Karen or I made any protest. There were no entreaties of, ‘No, please Dave, you hang on here for another hour or so, it would be interesting to find out more about how seriously rotting wood can lead to a cracked bilge stringer.’ We were unambiguously in favour of him going away.

Our silence ought to have been a cue for Dave to leave immediately, but he just hung on and hung on. He kept looking like he was going to leave, even teasing us with the actual words ‘I’ll go now’ from time to time, but the problem was, he didn’t correctly understand the meaning of ‘now’. Half an hour later I was on the very brink of saying, ‘Dave, will you please, please piss off,’ when, for some inexplicable reason, he pissed off of his own accord. Perhaps he was getting tired, and had finally begun to pick up on telltale signs that he wasn’t that welcome—little things like Karen and I no longer responding to a word he said.

I moved closer to Karen, taking care not to bang my head this time.

‘I thought he was never going to go.’

‘Me too.’

And we kissed. Almost in celebration.

It lacked passion. The past hour had taken its toll. We continued kissing though, initially through a lack of anything else to do, but as the minutes passed the desire began to return. Hands started to make their first exploratory moves. Tentative forays were made beneath garments and it soon became apparent that the need to be tentative could soon be abandoned.

Things were hotting up.

Until a voice outside cooled them down.

‘ARE YOU GUYS REALLY IN THERE?’

Butch had arrived.

‘DAVE SAID YOU WERE IN HERE.’

Cheers Dave.

‘MAKE WAY FOR ME, I’M COMING IN,’ he shouted.

I hoped the neighbours weren’t hearing all this.

Butch was impressively drunk. He treated his reluctant audience to an embittered diatribe, the main theme of which was the present unsatisfactory state of his love life. It was very funny, and even in these circumstances, he had us both laughing. But funny or not, we still wanted him to go. He seemed blissfully unaware that his tirade about unsatisfactory sexual liaisons was preventing the initiation of a new one.

‘Oscar Wilde summed it all up,’ he railed, ‘‘What is love? It is when two fools misunderstand each other.’’

I thought yes, and will you please bugger off and give the two of us a chance to misunderstand each other. We’ve been dying to misunderstand each other for the past hour and a half. In fact the only thing we have been able to understand about each other is that we’re desperate to do a bit of misunderstanding. Understand?

Eventually he left, but not before wheeling the fridge up to the door, saying, ‘I’ve brought the fridge along to keep an eye on you both.’

Yes, yes. Very funny. Now GO!

There is a reason why people don’t make love in doghouses more often. Dogs don’t even do it. They would rather suffer the indignity of doing it outside with people watching than do it in a doghouse. To our credit though, Karen and I had a go, and under the circumstances I think we did pretty well. One of the main problems was that the doghouse was too short for my body, and my feet had to stick out of the door. With this particular evening being a clear and chilly one, this meant that I had cold feet throughout the entire proceedings, in more ways than one. Because of this need for exterior feet dangling, the doghouse had to be left open, and this allowed occasional gusts of cool breeze to penetrate areas where one wouldn’t normally welcome a rush of cold air. The lack of headroom also proved problematical on occasions, and if either of us lost concentration or momentarily forgot where we were (difficult, but hey, I like to think it could happen), then we were all too quickly reminded of our immediate vicinity with a blow to the head. (It is with some regret that in presenting an accurate depiction of the night’s events, I have been unable to use the words ‘blow’ and ‘head’ in anything other than their purest sense.)



All in all, the artificial obstacles which we had to overcome made the whole encounter feel like an event in It’s A Knockout. (The mini marathon, I like to think.) We had represented Banbury as best we could, but it was unlikely that our performance had been enough to nudge us ahead of Kettering and on to further competition in Europe.

I woke in the morning and looked outside. There was the fridge looking back at me. It was jealous, no doubt about it, but that was understandable enough. After all, it had never been plugged in, and now I had.

And I had a splinter to prove it.

Triumphal Entry

(A title I had consideredfor the previous chapter)

Today was a bank holiday Monday. If it had been a Sunday I might have gone to confession. After all, I had something to confess now, praise the Lord.

‘Father forgive me, but last night I slept with a girl in a doghouse, in full view of a fridge.’

I wonder how many Hail Marys you’d get for that It probably wasn’t on their Sin-Penance guideline chart.

As a matter of fact, any confession I might make would have to begin with the words, ‘Forgive me father, for I’m not actually a Catholic.’

That was definitely not on the Sin-Penance chart.

After the emotional highs of a short ceremony overseen by Dave and Butch, in which Karen coughed up her 16p and we all taped the coins to the side of the fridge, I began to feel exceptionally tired. My dwindling energy levels needed to be replenished by the calories which a cooked breakfast could provide, so I walked down to a café on the Quays which Butch had recommended. As I tucked into my scrambled egg, the truth dawned on me that my journey was almost over, and that Dublin was only a few hours’ drive away. Feelings of both relief and sadness were overtaken by concern. I might only be a day away from a huge anticlimax.

Up until now, the policy of ‘just seeing what happens’ had served me well, but now there was a definite case for forward planning. I felt strongly that the finale to such an epic journey required some ceremonial commemoration, and by the time I had finished my breakfast I knew what had to be done.

I ordered a second pot of tea and called the office of The Gerry Ryan Show from the mobile, and outlined my idea. They loved it.

‘Well call you back in ten minutes, Tony,’ said Willy, one of the show’s producers, ‘this is worth interrupting our bank holiday special for. We’ll work out exactly how you should do it and then get you to talk about it to Gerry on air. We’ll have you on as the first item tomorrow morning too, just to give the thing a big build-up.’

Just the response I was looking for.

Gerry waxed lyrical, as ever.

‘I have on the line, Tony Hawks, the Fridge Man, who on his journey round this fair isle has been taken into the hearts of the Irish people, and he has been showered with the kind of hospitality normally saved for a national hero, and he’s sunk a bevy or two along the way too. How are you this morning, Tony?’

‘Oh, I’m fine, Gerry.’

‘I believe that you are about to complete your epic journey, well done. Congratulations to you. Now how do you intend to round off a trip like this?’

‘Well, I want to march into Dublin with my fridge and I want people to join me as I go.’

‘Good idea, a kind of triumphal entry.’

‘Exactly.’

‘Well, you know Caesar never brought his legions into Rome, but I think on this occasion we can make an exception—you can bring the fridge into Dublin.’

‘And I thought it would be a good idea if people joined me on this march with a domestic appliance of their choice.’

‘Even better idea. Some friends for the fridge.’

‘Exactly, because it’s not just about fridges this, so bring a kettle, a toaster or whatever, because there are all kinds of appliances which need liberating from the confines of the kitchen.’

‘You heard him, folks. The man is talking sense, so unplug your kitchen or domestic appliances and join Tony on the march tomorrow, be it with a kettle, a toaster, an iron—or even a cooker, a fridge freezer or microwave.’

A microwave. I should have done my journey with a microwave, I could have done it in a third of the time.

‘Now Tony, listen closely,’ continued Gerry, ‘whilst I outline the planned route for this march. We want people to join you with a kitchen appliance of their choice at Connolly Station at 11 am, and having gathered there with food mixers, spatulas or whatever, the procession will then move, in triumph, up Talbot Street, up Henry Street, and then into the ILAC Centre in May Street where we will have an extravaganza beyond imagination awaiting you there, for you finally to lay this whole trip to rest. So come on everyone—we want to make Tony’s entrance into the capital city a spectacular Disneyesque-style Roman entrance, we want him to be borne, if not on a real chariot then at least on one in the imaginations of the Irish people. Tony, you rest up now and I’ll talk to you tomorrow.’

Good. That was a bit of a result. One phonecall over breakfast and the country was being mobilised in my support. It was going to be difficult to re-adjust to life back in London.

I was rather pleased with the plan, and another pot of tea was in order. I had just begun a daydream in which I was picturing myself being cheered along Dublin’s thronging streets, when a vaguely familiar voice hauled me back to reality.

‘So Tony, how’s the form?’

It was Jim, one of Tom’s mates who I had met in town on Friday night I told him how the form was, and exactly how exhausted I was becoming.

‘Why don’t you stay at ours tonight? Jennifer won’t mind,’ he said generously.

It was an offer I couldn’t refuse, although I suspected that failure to do so, mightn’t meet with universal approval.

§

I needn’t have worried. I had been flattering myself to think that Karen would be remotely bothered one way or the other.

‘God, I wouldn’t want another night in there,’ she said, after I had explained my intentions, ‘besides, I really need to get some sleep tonight too.’

I decided that Karen was a cool girl. That’s not to say that my pride hadn’t taken a slight knock. A part of me had clearly hoped to find myself in the doghouse, for not being in the doghouse.

It was time for me to present her with her gift.

‘Here, these are for you,’ I said with a smile.

‘Wow, fantastic. Are you sure?’

I nodded.

‘Thanks a lot, Tony, I really appreciate that’

They were too big for her, but the red shorts would give her something to remember me by.

The next morning Jim very kindly got up early and dropped me by the Dublin road at 7 am. This gave me four hours to complete the distance which I had been assured was little more than a two-hour drive.

‘You’ll be absolutely fine,’ Niall had said at a quiet dinner party Jim and his wife Jennifer had rather sweetly thrown in my honour, ‘there’ll be loads of cars heading back up to Dublin after the bank holiday weekend.’

It had all seemed plausible enough, but the experience on the ground was offering up another story entirely. Not many cars, and an overwhelming lack of interest in the hitch-hiker with the fridge.

By 8 am I had made it about ten miles, courtesy of a lift from Cyril, a white-haired but healthy-looking man in his sixties. He said that he had thought the fridge was ‘a big white box’, which was accurate enough, and in essence all it had been to me for the past month. I had made no effort to take advantage of its abilities to keep things cool. At this point I was unaware that as the morning’s events unfolded, anything which could keep me cool would be a distinct asset.

I shouldn’t have accepted the lift from Cyril. Evidently when it came to hitch-hiking I had learned no lessons in the last month, because I made exactly the same mistake that I made with my first lift of the journey. In my desire to get the day’s travels kick-started, I had accepted a lift from someone who was only going a few miles, and in so doing I had relinquished a favourable spot for hitch-hiking, only to find it superseded some minutes later by an extremely poor one.

I was attempting another first. As far as I knew no one had ever hitchhiked to a live nationwide broadcast before. Chauffeur-driven cars are more the norm. I had been arrogant enough to assume that the reputation that went before me meant that I could do it with no difficulties, but I hadn’t reckoned on Cyril dropping me at this particular location, the hitch-hiking equivalent of a barren desert with vultures circling overhead.

I was standing beside the R741 at the junction of the turn off to Castieellis. The junction was in the middle of a long stretch of straight road where the cars were getting up far too much speed to consider stopping for any hitch-hiker. The only ones going slow enough to stop for me without causing a major accident were ones who were turning off, and were therefore no use to me anyway. It was a hopeless situation. By 9.00 I was getting desperate. I tried waving at cars, but this made me appear like a crazed convict on the run, and consequently reaped no reward. My growing concern edged towards mild panic when I got a call on my mobile phone from The Gerry Ryan Show asking me to talk to Gerry after the next record finished. I was just preparing myself for the interview when the signal disappeared and the line went dead. Not only was this an appalling stretch of road for hitching, it was in an area where the phone signals came and went with the same regularity as my breaths.

For the first time in three and a half weeks I was distinctly awcalm. I had to be in Dublin by 11 am, and yet I was going nowhere with little prospect of change in that position. I had to try something different.

I left my fridge and rucksack by the roadside and began to walk down the narrow lane towards Castieellis. I had no idea what I was going to do, but all I knew was that I couldn’t afford to stay where I was. After a hundred yards I passed a driveway and saw three men struggling with the task of loading a mare and foal into the back of a horsebox. I waited until the job was done and then called out to them.

‘Excuse me, but you don’t happen to know if there’s a callbox around here do you?’

‘Well, there is,’ one of them replied, ‘but that would be in the village, and that’s some walk now.’

‘It’s just that I’m supposed to do an interview on the radio, and I can’t get a signal on my mobile phone.’

‘Well,’ said another, ‘we’d give you a lift, but the Range Rover’s full of gear and there’s barely room for the three of us.’

They seemed friendly, and circumstances required a degree of pushi-ness. So I pushed it.

‘I couldn’t squeeze in with the horses could I?’ I said, desperately attempting to disguise my desperation. ‘It’s a matter of some urgency.’

I was a desperate man.

‘Well…it’s just that the foal’s not used to travelling in the horsebox.’

‘Maybe I could calm it down. You know, soothe its nerves with some gentle words.’

I was a very desperate man.

Well…

‘I promise not to sue you if I get kicked or anything.’

I was heading off the desperation scale.

Time was an issue now. No lift here and a long walk into the village would mean I’d need Damon Hill for my next lift. It was a possibility because he had a house in Ireland, but even so we were looking at very long odds.

The tallest of the three looked at me, shrugged, and then pointed to the horsebox.

‘Oh, all right then, in you get.’

Yes! Boy, was I grateful.

‘Oh thank you so so much, that’s such a help,’ I said, possibly overdoing the gratitude. ‘I’ve got some luggage I’m afraid.’

‘That’s not a problem.’

They hadn’t seen it yet.

I walked back and waited for them at the crossroads and as the Range Rover pulled up, the driver caught a glimpse of the fridge. His jaw visibly dropped.

‘I don’t feckin’ believe it!’ he said. ‘I’ve been listening to this fella for the past two weeks!’

‘What do you mean?’ said the one in the back seat.

‘I’ve been listening to him. He’s been all round the country with his fridge.’

‘With his what? ‘ gasped the passenger.

‘With his fridge. His fridge—this is the fella with the fridge.’

The passenger leaned out of the window.

‘Jesus Christ, you’re right—he’s got a feckin’ fridge!’

‘Never!’ said the one in the back, whose view was obscured by a pile of saddles.

‘He has! Get out and look.’

He got out and looked.

‘Fuck me, it’s a fridge.’

‘I told you.’

‘This is the fella off the radio. The fella with the fridge.’

‘What in feck’s name do you mean, Des, fella off the radio?’

‘I told you, he’s been travelling round the country—I think it’s for a bet.’

Abet? A fridge?

Lucky I wasn’t in a hurry.

It was a further ten minutes before who I was and what I was doing had been sufficiently discussed for us to consider going anywhere. One of the three fellas simply couldn’t believe what I was doing.

‘But a feckin’ fridgel Why a feckin’ fridge? ‘ he kept saying.

It didn’t matter how many times I told him why, he still shook his head in disbelief.

I climbed in the back with the horses and did my best to be a calming influence on the foal. The reality was though that it was much calmer than I.

Time was ticking by.

This was one of the most bizarre journeys I had made in my life. In less than two hours’ time, the last hour of The Gerry Ryan Show was being given over to a celebration of my journey around Ireland. Yet here I was, the lead player in that event, stuck in the back of a horsebox with a mare, a foal and a fridge, being towed through the country roads of County Wexford by three hysterical horse trainers.

I slumped down on to the hay floor of the horsebox and considered my position. To be precise, it was below a horse’s arse somewhere in southern Ireland. But it had a greater significance, and there was a profound parallel to be drawn, at least for someone with a mind as confused as mine. Three Wise Men. A stable full of hay. A Triumphal Entry into a nation’s capital city. Wasn’t it obvious? I was the new Messiah.

Maybe my journey wasn’t over, but was just beginning. Perhaps the lessons I had learned and the wisdom I had attained in the past month heralded an era of pre-eminence for the fridge philosophy. The future was pre-ordained. I had to take the message of the fridge out to the people, I had to spread the word.

‘I am the Lord!’ I exclaimed. ‘Don’t you see, horses, I am the Lord!’

And with those words, the mare raised its tail and ceremoniously dropped three large dollops of quality manure into my lap. It was too well timed not to be a reaction to my risible claim. Had I made it to another human they might have turned to me and said ‘Horseshit!’ but the mare had been able to offer a practical demonstration of the same sentiment.

Apart from the unholy response of a horse, there was another reason to doubt my Messianic credentials. According to the New Testament, Jesus actually managed to turn up to his Triumphal Entry. It was looking increasingly more likely that I would have to rely on second- and third-hand accounts to find out exactly how mine had gone.

The Three Wise Men dropped me by a callbox in Ballycanew, just out side Jericho.

‘Good luck,’ said Des. ‘We were just saying that we haven’t named the foal yet, so we’ve decided we’re going to call it ‘Fridgy’.’

Fridgy. New life, in the form of a young horse, had been named after the fridge. I was quite touched. The fridge had become part of a family when it had been christened Saiorse Molloy, but now in its own peculiar way, it had started an adopted equine family of its own. I thanked my three friends and told them that if in years to come I saw a horse called ‘Fridgy’ win the Grand National, then it would be the happiest day of my life.

§

‘How is it going, Tony?’ said Gerry, as he kicked off the interview.

‘Not that well, so far. I’ve had a slightly dodgy morning’s hitching, and I’ve only got as far as Ballycanew.’

‘Goodness, if you don’t hurry it up, you won’t make it Well if there’s anyone in a car, bus or van anywhere in the vicinity of Ballycanew, then do look out for Tony and his fridge and speed him on his way to Dublin, it is after all a matter of national importance. We’ve got to get him to Connolly Station for eleven o’clock so you can join him with your chosen domestic appliance, in the triumphal procession to the ILAC Centre. Obviously Tony, people will be turning up in their droves, but have you got any last words which may encourage the undecided to get down there and show their support?’

‘Well, all I can say Gerry is that some marches are for things and some are against things, but never has there been a march for absolutely nothing. Now is our chance to put that right. Grab your toaster and kettle and discover like me, how great it feels to devote yourself to something truly purposeless. By doing something with absolutely no point to it, we eliminate the possibility of failure, because in a sense the worse it may go then the more it can be considered a success.’

‘Absolutely. Very rousingly put Tony, and not at all confusing. Well, there you have it good people of Ireland, now is your chance to join a march which will liberate the nothingness and pointlessness in all of us.’

‘That’s right. Of course we’re using the word ‘nothingness’ in its most positive sense here.’

‘Naturally. Now Tony, good luck on the rest of your hitch this morning, and we look forward to talking to you later on. Both our crack reporters Brenda Donohue and John Farrell will be giving us a detailed word picture of exactly what’s happening during the triumphant march and the ensuing celebration in the ILAC Centre. It’s going to be quite an event, and remember to get yourselves down there because this is the time to make your domestic appliance count. Tony, good morning.’

‘Good morning Gerry.’

When I emerged from the callbox, a lorry immediately drew up alongside me, and the driver wound down his window.

‘I just heard you on the radio there, if you wait here for twenty minutes, I’ll be back and I’ll take you as far as Arklow.’

And he was gone.

I had no reason to doubt that he would be back, but I couldn’t afford the luxury of twenty minutes, and if I could get a lift before, then I would have to take it.

Whilst hitching, I tried to think of chants which I and my fellow marchers could shout as we strode proudly through Dublin. I came up with a few, but my favourite was one I would have to teach the crowd on my arrival.

TONY: ‘WHAT DO WE WANT?’

CROWD: ‘WE DON’T KNOW!’

TONY: ‘WHEN DO WE WANT rr?’

CROWD: ‘NOW!’

It seemed to strike the right chord.

§

Kevin and Elaine beat the lorry driver to me. They had heard the interview and had made a small detour especially, and since they too were going as far as Arklow, I jumped into their small van and we sped northwards. They were a young couple, both about twenty and probably the youngest of all those who had stopped for me.

‘If I phone ahead, Elaine’s mother will cook us all breakfast in Courtown Harbour,’ said Kevin.

‘I’d love to really, but I’m running really late.’

‘That’s a shame, because she does a fine breakfast’

Just beyond Arklow-1 was back hitching again. I looked at my watch and saw that it was 9.45 am. Meeting my deadline was still possible, but a long wait here and The Gerry Ryan Show would need to hastily rethink its last hour.

A red car pulled up, and I ran forward to address the driver.

‘Where are you headed?’ I asked.

‘Dublin,’ came the magical reply.

I was cutting it fine, but it was all still on.

Peter was unemployed at the moment and on his way to visit friends in Dublin. Not long since a student, he still seemed comfortable with a way of Me which was extremely relaxed and laid back. Unfortunately one area where this manifested itself was in his driving. What should have been a horn-honking, tyre-screeching, risk-taking charge into Dublin was a casual Sunday afternoon tootle into town. All we needed to complete the picture was a tartan blanket on the back seat and a tin of boiled sweets.

Because I was spending most of my time looking at my watch and checking how many kilometres were left before we hit Dublin, I failed to focus on the sadness of the occasion. Peter was my last lift. This was it, the hitch-hiking was over. No longer was I to spread myself by a roadside and put myself at the mercy of a nation’s drivers. I would miss it.

Well, bits of it, anyway.

‘I could drop you at Sydney Parade Dart Station, my friends don’t live far from there. It’ll be quicker than suffering the city centre traffic anyway,’said Peter.

‘And do you think I’ll make it to Connolly Street for eleven?’

‘Oh, I’m sure you’ll be fine.’

Why do people do that? Say ‘I’m sure’when they’re not sure at all. So often people will say ‘Oh I’m sure you’ll be fine’ as an excuse for further dialogue on the subject: ‘I’ve got to make this speech to a group of fundamentalist Shi-ite Muslims about the worthlessness of Allah, and I’m a bit worried about how it might go down.’

‘Oh, I’m sure you’ll be fine.’

§

It was just after 10.30 when we arrived at Sydney Parade Station. The barrier was down in the middle of the road.

‘That means a train is coming; if you hurry you might get it,’ said Peter.

‘How long for the next one if I miss it?’

‘They come every fifteen minutes.’

‘Shit, I’d better not miss this one then. Bye.’

I dashed off, barely finding the time to shake Peter’s hand. My last lift, treated with the dismissive familiarity of a spouse on a daily run to the station. Poor fella wasn’t even invited to sign the fridge.

I did the best hurrying I could do given that hurrying with this load wasn’t easy. As I rushed into the station, the train was drawing into the Trains To Dublin’ platform, and I knew this was the train I had to get. Another fifteen minutes would be too late. There was no time to get a ticket, I would have to risk any fines which might be incurred. Just get that train! I ran past the ticket office, fridge rattling and wobbling behind me until there, directly ahead, horror of horrors, were mechanised ticket barriers. I had no chance of getting through, over, or under any of these, and the gate which had been placed there to accommodate the heavily laden, needed to be released by the man in the ticket office. I called out to him.

‘Hello, could you please open the gate! Please! I must catch this train.’

He looked up, casually.

‘Do you have a ticket?’

‘I don’t, but I’ll buy one at the other end or whatever, just please open the gate!’

‘It’s just that you’re not supposed to—’

‘PLEASE! I’M THE MAN WITH THE FRIDGE AND I HAVE TO BE AT CONNOLLY STREET STATION TO BE ON THE GERRY RYAN SHOW!.’

I’m not sure whether this made any sense to him or whether he was simply terrified by the urgency with which he was being addressed, but either way he pressed the button which released the gate. I bundled myself through and reached the train just as the automatic doors were closing. I tried to grab the inside of a closing door to force it back open again, a trick which I knew worked on London’s Underground, but on this occasion the force of the closing door was too great and I had to withdraw my hand or risk losing it. The train pulled out of the station, and with it went my chances of making my Triumphal Entry on time. I got out my mobile phone and called The Gerry Ryan Show. The lines were engaged. No doubt they were busy making last-minute arrangements for a very exciting live link-up with their outside broadcast unit.

While they did so, the main protagonist in all this paced anxiously on a suburban station, somehow believing it would speed the oncoming train towards him. Either Peter had been wrong about the interval between trains or the pacing had worked, because seven minutes later another train rolled into the station.

The train stopped at a disappointing number of stations. Sandymount. Come on train, you could go faster than this. Lansdowne Road. We were just dawdling. At Pearse Street I noticed that passengers were beginning to stare at me. I couldn’t fathom why. Okay, I was sweating, and I had a fridge with me on a trolley, but apart from that I was perfectly normal. Tara Street. Tara Street sounded like a star in a cheap skinflick. A woman got on with twin babies in a double-barrelled pushchair. They were too young to know that there was something odd about me, but they looked up at me in a way which suggested they instinctively knew there was. Bastards.

When we crossed the River liffey I knew that we were nearly there. It was 10.53 am. At Connolly Station a guard helped me down the stairs with the fridge just like a mother might be helped down with a baby in a pushchair.


Date: 2015-04-20; view: 166


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