In homage to Hollywood suspense films, I headed for the rendezvous outside the station at 10.59. Any second now I would be hailed by cheering crowds, thrilled that I hadn’t let them down after all.
I emerged from the main doors and on to the steps, and there before me was—wait a minute, this couldn’t be right—an ordinary street on a Tuesday morning at 11.00? Where were the adoring fans? The hordes of well-wishers? The supporters of the cause with their domestic appliances by their sides? Nothing. No one. Just cars.
I realised that I must have the wrong spot. ‘Outside the main doors at the front entrance’ I had been told. This must be some kind of side entrance. This meant I had missed the eleven o’clock welcome live on The Gerry Ryan Show, silly idiot that I was, because I had not been bright enough to go to the right entrance.
I turned round and started to head back into the station. To my left, an old man in a kilt and carrying some bagpipes was approaching me.
‘Is that a fridge?’ he said.
It was going to be difficult to adjust to not hearing that question quite so often in the coming months.
At least the answer was simple.
‘What’s your name? Is it John?’ the man asked, gently caressing his bagpipes.
‘No, it’s Tony.’
‘Oh. Right, that’s odd, because I was told to meet a John Farrell here at eleven o’clock.’
‘Well I’m definitely not John Farrell.’
‘But they did say something about a fridge.’
‘I don’t know. My wife took the call.’
‘Have you been booked to come here by RTE?’
‘I have, yes.’
‘Oh, I get it now. They’ve got you to play us through the streets on my triumphal entry. John Farrell is the reporter on the ground. I’m supposed to meet him too. The trouble is, we’re both in the wrong place, we’re supposed to be at the main entrance.’
‘This is the main entrance.’
My heart fell.
‘This is the main entrance of Connolly Station.’
Well, maybe for some reason the crowd had assembled somewhere else. At that moment a man came towards us, holding a mop in his hand, and gesticulating. He may have looked a worn out, intense, and slightly crazed individual, but you couldn’t expect to attract the most balanced members of society to march through Dublin with kitchen implements. At least we had one marcher.
‘Hello Tony, I’m John,’he said.
Make that no marchers. This was John Farrell, the crack reporter.
‘Nice to meet you,’ he continued. ‘God, you look great—look at the colour on you, you look like you’ve been round the West Indies, not Ireland.’
Suddenly he didn’t look crazed at all. It’s amazing how something as little as a person holding a mop can change the way you view them.
‘Come on, we’d better get going,’ he said, eagerly.
‘But hang on John, there’s no one here. Are you sure we’re in the right place?’
‘We’re in the right place all right. These things tend to kick off slowly.’
He’d done this before? He went on, ‘When you start it then everyone sort of finds it and gets involved. Have you got a radio walkman with headphones?’
‘Well, put it on, and listen. Gerry is just setting the whole thing up now, and if we cross over there to that callbox, I’ll give him my first report. Keep listening because I may put you on to him at any point.’
As we crossed the disappointingly uncrowded street, I put on my headphones and couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Dramatic music, in fact the soundtrack from Ben Hur, was building to a climax. Then Gerry Ryan’s voice cut across it, in a sensational and melodramatic tone.
‘He came across from the pond, the young man and his fridge travelling over land and sea searching for a meaning and purpose in their lives. We speak of Tony Hawks, the Fridge Man. Tony Hawks who came to live amongst us for all but a short while, a Messiah of sorts. We felt ourselves not worthy to touch the hem of his fridge, but then we realised that he was but an ordinary man, his fridge but a little fridge, the son of a bigger fridge—the Big Fridge—the huge, gigantic Fridge in the Sky.’
My, he was certainly going for it.
‘He travelled the length and breadth of our nation—he became part of our lives. We received Tony Hawks and his fridge into our hearts. Today is the end of his fruitful odyssey.’
His tone now changed and the epic music faded as he tried for the first live link-up.
‘Brenda Donohue is in the ILAC Centre in Dublin, wondering where Tony and his fridge are. How is your wondering, Brenda?’
‘Good morning to you Gerry Ryan. We have a big crowd here just by the fountain at the ILAC Centre and we are awaiting the arrival of Tony Hawks. This is his final destination, this is his final port of call, and people have turned up from all over the country and I have to say that the atmosphere this morning is one of high expectation. You know that feeling of calm before the storm, there’s tension in the air, there’s longing, there’s expectation—we can’t wait to see him, we’re curious about what he and his fridge look like. We have Mrs Burn who has come all the way from Drogheda, I am surrounded by the women of the Portobello School of Childcare who’ve all turned up with some domestic appliances, and not just that, they have a chant for Tony, so if he’s listening, if he’s making his way to the ILAC Centre here in Dublin, we have a chant for you Tony, on the count of three, tell Tony what you want to say to him. 1…2…3…GO TONY GO TONY GO TONY GO! GO TONY GO TONY GO TONY GO!
This was all unbelievable. What was happening at the procession’s point of destination was in stark contrast to the scene at its inception. Where I was, there was no real feeling of ‘calm before a storm’, more a worry that not even a light breeze was on its way.
Meanwhile, back on national radio, Gerry Ryan responded passionately to the girls’ chant, ‘Isn’t that wonderful! If I was Tony Hawks, and I was standing beside my little fridge outside Connolly Street ready to make my triumphant entry into Dublin, then that would touch my heart.’
Well, I was. And it did.
John started waving to me from inside the callbox where he was waiting with the receiver to his ear. On air, in my headphones I heard the reason why, from Gerry himself.
‘We now make our way to Connolly Station in Dublin where John Farrell our reporter on the ground is with Tony. John?’
From the callbox, John gave me the thumbs up. How was he going to deal with this situation? Compared to what was happening at the ILAC Centre, in fact compared to anything anywhere, our march was an abject failure. How would John handle this? I soon found out.
‘Oh Gerry, I’m so excited. This man has been going all over Ireland for the last three weeks and two days and he has made a profound impression wherever he has gone. I came here today with my humble kitchen mop and my ice tray, so I am a man prepared. Although, having said that, nothing could have prepared me for meeting the Fridge Man. First of all I should tell you that he has a tan which makes him look like he has been camping in the outback of Australia for the last three weeks, it’s amazing. His fridge has been autographed by hundreds of people who are wishing him well and saying how much they enjoy and love his fridge, and now his fridge has come home. We have a bagpiper here, Christy Riley is here to welcome him and I think in the background you can hear him starting to play again…’
John had clearly french-kissed the Blarney Stone. He had chosen to describe the scene, to borrow a word from the politicians, disingenuously. The rest of us call it bullshit. What a day! It began with horseshit, now it was bullshit—I was just pleased there were no elephants on the march. I looked into the callbox and saw John frantically signalling to Christy to start playing. ‘…Christy has been entertaining the crowd here with his bagpipes for the last hour or so—ah, there he goes! It’s a very loud, full sound Gerry, and it’s drawing lots of attention. We’re about to start our procession, but I thought maybe first you’d like to have a word with Tony.’
It was my turn now to be waved at frantically. I moved forward and took the receiver as John handed it to me.
‘Tony, how are you?’ asked Gerry. ‘Is the excitement mounting?’
‘Gerry, it’s at a fever pitch here. I can’t tell you the excitement there is around the place.’
What the hell, I thought I might as well play ball. A bit of mythologis-ing never hurt anyone. Well, apart from the millions of victims of cruel and repressive fundamental religions. It hurt them a bit.
‘I don’t think I’ve ever seen a people like it,’ I suggested, ‘I have captured the hearts of the Irish people, no question. I am overwhelmed by the response here.’
‘I think it now behoves us to prepare for you to continue on your triumphant march,’ announced Gerry, silkily leading the show into a commercial break. ‘Caesar enters Rome, ladies and gentlemen.’
And so the march began. It wasn’t the exact scene I had pictured in my mind’s eye over breakfast in Wexford the previous morning. By now though, my initial disappointment had subsided and I was beginning to draw some perverse satisfaction from this pitiful response to my radio appeals and rallying cries. I had now decided that for a march which was truly pointless, it was entirely fitting that it should be met with such spirited apathy.
I took a moment to observe John, and saw that he wasn’t remotely surprised by the lack of numbers on the ground. He had expected as much. I had been naive. Of course, it had been a form of naivety which had borne me so successfully to this point, but this was Dublin, and Dublin was reality. Dublin was to be the big slap round the face. This was a thriving city of commerce, and it was a Tuesday morning just after eleven o’clock. People had work to do, lives to lead, mouths to feed and, thank God, radios to listen to.
Radio listeners were sharing in one of the more spectacular and strangely moving days in their capital’s history. There was however a substantial gap between the listeners’ perception of what was going on and the events which were actually taking place. For those tuned into RTE2 on FM, whether they were in Donegal, Galway or even up in Tory Island, this event was an emotional climax to a touching story, as throngs of well wishers lined the route, tossing garlands and waving to their hero. For the marcher, just setting off from Connolly Station, it was difficult to view it quite like that. There were three of us. Myself, a roving reporter with a mop, and a pensionable bagpipe player who didn’t have the first clue what was going on.
We made our way down Talbot Street and into a pedestrianised shopping zone. Dublin’s busy shoppers, sadly out of radio contact, looked on with stunned bemusement. Were we making our way to a fancy dress function? Why were a man with a fridge, a fellow holding a mop, and a bagpipe player, marching proudly through a shopping precinct?
There wasn’t a hint of self consciousness about the three of us. Why should there be? Presumably Christy dressed up in his kilt and went out with his bagpipes several times a week; I had spent an entire month in the company of a fridge; and waving a microphone about was John’s chosen metier. As for the mop, well I think we’d all forgotten about that, and John was using it as a staff to assist his marching gait. For a few minutes we all chatted freely, oblivious to our surroundings and the alleged momentousness of the occasion.
As we crossed O’Connell Street and made our way up Henry Street, Christy told me a story of how an irate wife, who had grown tired of her husband’s sloth, had hired him to come and play the bagpipes outside their bedroom window at the crack of dawn in order to get the idler out of bed. The man hadn’t appreciated the joke and had pelted him with shoes, perfume bottles and whatever was to hand. Christy pronounced it the worst gig he had ever had. I hoped that after today it would still occupy the number-one slot.
For a while the fridge had seemed heavier than usual as I dragged it on its trolley behind me. Perhaps fatigue was setting in, because for almost the first time, it was beginning to feel like the burden I had expected it to be at the outset, but which it had never become. Then I looked behind me and saw the reason. A small boy on roller blades was rather cheekily hitching a lift, holding on to the handle of the fridge door and allowing himself to be pulled along. I smiled. Although he was getting heavy, I didn’t tell him to let go.
This was fitting and proper. This was a gesture I was happy to make, a symbolic repayment to all of those who had given me rides in the last month and made my journey possible.
Just before the junction of Henry Street and Upper Liffey Street, I noticed that we had lost a third of our marchers. John was nowhere to be seen. This was slightly worrying since he was the only one who had any idea where we were supposed to be going. The numbers now involved in the Triumphal Entry had plummeted to two. As if two people marching triumphantly wasn’t embarrassing enough, Christy and I might soon have to suffer the further indignity of asking directions. Biblical comparisons were no longer appropriate.
As I stood on a bench looking back down the street to see if there was any sign of John, I could hear in one ear Brenda Donohue’s voice coming from the earpiece which was relaying me The Gerry Ryan Show.
‘We have a huge crowd here in the ILAC Centre and we’re all desperate to see Tony. We were hoping that he might have made it here by now, and we seem to have lost all contact with John, so we simply don’t know where they are…’
A few hundred yards away I could just make out John running towards us, his mop looking like an oversize relay baton. When he caught up with us I asked where he had been and offered my available ear for the answer.
‘Sorry about that, Tony, this guy called me on my mobile and it would have been awkward to get rid of him,’ explained John.
‘Couldn’t you have told him that you were involved with a live nationwide radio broadcast?’ I enquired.
‘Well, it wasn’t that easy. You see he’s in prison, and he said that this was the only time he was allowed to use the phone.’
I didn’t bother to find out any more, thinking that it might be better not to know.
Interruptions from convicts behind us, we were now ready to complete the march to end all marches. With our numbers once again bolstered to three, we were feeling pretty good about ourselves. I was just considering introducing the ‘What do we want? We don’t know’ chant—when Christy launched into a spell of uplifting bagpipe music. This certainly made us the centre of attention.
John gave Gerry another update, which I could barely hear over Christy’s now slightly jarring bagpiping. Brenda O’Donohue was interviewing people who had brought along domestic appliances to the ILAC Centre. Amongst the paraphernalia was a hairdryer, washing powder and some dirty laundry, a tin opener, a whisk, some curling tongs, and one woman had turned up insisting that her friend was a charlady she had brought along specially.
‘That’s marvellous, Brenda,’ said Gerry. ‘Stay tuned, fridge followers. I don’t think since the Eucharistic Congress of the 1950s, have we seen such an outpouring of love for one man returned back home.’
He was upping the ante at each commercial break. This was going to take a lot of living up to.
‘I think we’re going to have to hurry now,’ said John, on returning from the callbox where he had reported in to Gerry. ‘If we don’t get a move on, we won’t reach the ILAC Centre until after twelve, and then the show will be over.’
The show will be over. I felt a pang of sadness. For me too, the show would be over. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted it to be.
‘Come on!’ said John, with surprising urgency, ‘I think we’re going to have to run.’
Dublin’s shoppers were treated to a new spectacle; that of the three adults running through the city centre with their burdens of eccentric and assorted accoutrements. Christy wasn’t a natural runner. He was in his sixties now, and had probably not had any reason to run anywhere for twenty years or so.
As I ran, fridge rattling noisily behind me, I glanced at him, flushed and bathed in sweat, and felt pretty confident that he was experiencing something which would push the ‘waking the lazy husband at dawn’ gig down one place to number two.
We turned a comer and ahead of us I could see my unlikely and unglamorous journey’s end—a shopping mall poetically called the IIAC Centre. With the end in sight, we moderated our sprint into a more dignified jog, and made our way into the centre, not knowing what lay in store. A huge cheer greeted us, emanating from a much larger crowd than I had expected. Okay, it wasn’t as huge as Brenda had made out, but there must have been about a hundred people all gathered in the central concourse of the shopping centre. A woman with a microphone was waving me over. This must be Brenda, because her mouth movements were synchronised exactly with the words I was hearing in my earpiece.
‘Gerry, Tony has made it! We’ve got the fridge! We’ve got John Farrefl, we’ve got our piper—my, he looks a little tired, and we’ve got this huge crowd who I’m sure are going to show their appreciation for Tony and his fridge who after a month of travelling round the country have made it here to the ILAC Centre in Dublin. So, let’s hear it for Tony!’
Another huge cheer went up as I bowed before them. John signalled to poor Christy to start playing, but he was woefully short of that most precious of faculties for a bagpipe player—breath. He .collapsed exhausted on to a bench next to two old ladies and did his best, desperately trying to puff air into his instrument’s windbag. He looked like a dying man. All he could manage was a sound which resembled a police siren struggling to run on a dying battery. In the studio, someone had the wisdom to feed in more of the rousing Ben Hur music to drown him out. Brenda ushered John over to the microphone.
‘Before we talk to Tony, John Farrell, what was the journey like for you?’
‘It was a real religious experience for me Brenda, because I had no idea how much people’s lives were affected by humble domestic kitchen appliances. But the Fridge Man has let me see the light and I see it in the faces of all the crowd here. It’s been a wonderful, wonderful day.’
‘Brenda,’ said Gerry back in the studio, ‘get Tony over to the microphone, I want to ask him how he feels.’
Right on cue I joined Brenda at the microphone.
‘Tony, you’ve done it, well done,’ said Gerry. ‘You must be very proud. How are you, and how is your fridge?’
‘We are both absolutely thrilled. As you know this fridge was christened Saiorse, which means freedom in Gaelic, and everyone has recognised that it is a free fridge, free to do what it wants, free to go where it wants and free to be what it wants, and if a fridge can achieve that, then what are the limits on us?’
‘A profound thought indeed, Tony. Tell me, would it be fair to say that this fridge is the closest thing in the world to you?’
‘Yes,’ I laughed, ‘that’s my own personal tragedy, thanks for highlighting it’
‘Now in a minute we have a little ceremony to perform but before we do that perhaps you’d like to say a few words to the crowd there—Tony Hawks—your final thoughts.’
It was time for another impromptu speech. I wanted to do this moment justice.
‘Gerry, I can’t tell you how moved I am by the response here—there are literally thousands of people, possibly. They go back for—if not for miles, then for yards, well a number of feet anyway. I just want to pay tribute to the people of Ireland and to the people who have given me lifts along the way. This fridge here is the first fridge to have hitch-hiked round this fair isle of yours. Presumably it won’t be the last, I expect there to be a lot of copycat incidences, people taking different domestic appliances out on the road with them, and I’m proud to have opened up that avenue for them. There have been highs on this trip, like taking the fridge surfing in Strandhill, and there have been lows, like when the fridge kept falling off its trolley on the long walk through Galway town centre, but throughout it all there has always been someone on hand with a friendly word and more often than not, a pint of beer, and for that I just want to say a resounding thank you.’
A warm round of applause greeted my words. Gerry wound things up, ‘Well, it only remains for us to complete this odyssey with a special ceremony. Brenda has with her The Gerry Ryan Show fridge magnet mayoral chain of office to bestow on Tony, complete with a selection of fridge magnets specially sewn on. Brenda, over to you.’
‘Tony,’ announced Brenda formally, ‘Ireland now pronounces you its Fridge Man.’
The crowd cheered, the music from Ben Hur reached its crescendo, and I bowed before Brenda like a victorious Olympic athlete as she placed the mayoral ribbon around my neck. I looked out at the unlikely scene before me and waved to the smiling and laughing onlookers with genuine affection and gratitude.
To my surprise, a tear was rolling down one cheek.
For Sale: Fridge, One Careful Owner
It was a case of the Emperor’s new clothes. Once the radio broadcast was over, so too was the fantasy which had sustained it. All of a sudden the Fridge Man felt rather ordinary. The feeling of triumph had disappeared into the ether as quickly as the airwaves. It had all been great fun, a bit of a laugh all right, but it had all been a bit silly and now the silliness was over. The crowd dispersed almost immediately. People had meetings to attend, jobs to go back to, or children to collect from school. No one could afford the time that had been granted to me on the rest of my travels. City life didn’t permit such obeisance to whimsy.
The finale might have been fakery, but everything which had preceded it had not For me this was real. The journey may not have changed the lives of the people of Ireland, but it had changed mine. I was a different, a better person. I had made discoveries, learned some important lessons. From this day forth I was going to stop for hitch-hikers, laugh along with happy drunks in pubs, and respect the right of the bad guitarist to play along with the rest I had learned tolerance, I had learned that you could trust in your fellow man for help, and I had learned a new and pleasurable way of acquiring splinters.
Of course, in an ideal world The Gerry Ryan Show would have been an evening radio show and we would have had the night ahead of us to keep on partying. But it wasn’t. It finished at twelve, midday.
‘Are you up for a quick drink?’ asked Brenda.
Was I up for a quick drink? I was up for twenty-four hours of non-stop parrying.
‘Yes, that would be nice.’
‘Just give John and me ten minutes to sort a few things out and well be right with you.’
I stood there feeling lost. I felt lonely too. I had spent a month travelling on my own and I hadn’t once felt lonely until now. I wanted my new Mends to be with me. I wanted to see Andy and his family from Bunbeg. I wanted to see Geraldine, Niamh, Brendan and all the gang from Matt Molloys. I wanted to see Bingo with his surfboard, Tony from Ennistymon with his accordion, the Mother Superior, Brian and Joe the hardwood flooring boys, and my friends from Cork and Wexford. I wanted to hug them all. I wanted to see someone who had been touched in the same way as I had by this fanciful and fantastic experience. Someone whounderstood.
There was such a person here.
‘Tony? How the hell are you?’ said a woman’s voice.
It was Antoinette, from the the Live At Three TV interview I had done in the first week.
‘Antoinette! I’m just fine, how are you?’
And I gave her just the biggest hug. It was my hug for everybody, but poor Antoinette had to endure it Rather shaken, she freed herself and introduced me to Kara, who had kindly organised the mobile phone for me.
‘We heard you on the radio,’ said Antoinette, ‘and it sounded so amazing, we just had to leave work and come down here.’
‘You should have come on the march. Why didn’t you come on the march?’
‘What, and make eejits of ourselves? Not likely—we leave that stuff to you.’
The difference between their jobs and mine, summed up rather neatly.
‘I’m going for a drink now,’ I said, ‘with Brenda and John, will you join us?’
‘We’d love to. Are you all right, you look a little confused.’
‘I am a bit. It all feels so odd—it having finished. Such an anti-climax. I think I might go to pieces.’
‘Oh, I’m sure you’ll be fine.’
The journey may have been over, but one consistent theme endured. Someone being there to save the day. This time it was to be Antoinette and Kara. As the low-key celebration drink drew to a close Antoinette turned to me.
‘What are you going to do now?’
‘In all honesty, I haven’t got a clue.’
‘Why don’t you come with us?’ said Kara. ‘Mary from the office is leaving and we’re going to her leaving lunch.’
‘I’d love to, but I can’t just crash it.’
‘You can and you will.’
It had been an odd way of celebrating my achievement, crashing someone else’s do, but it had served the purpose and taken my mind off the fact that it was all over. After the meal had finished I took a cab to Rory’s, the bed and breakfast where I had stayed when I had first arrived, thus giving my journey a nice symmetry.
There seemed to be traffic everywhere. Everything seemed to be happening quickly and lots of people seemed to be doing it. It was a shock after the calm of rural Ireland. In those quiet backwaters I had discovered a direct correlation between the pace of life and the amount of time it took a barman to serve you with a pint of stout It was most endearing because although it might take the barman an age to spot you, serve you, fill the pint glass three-quarters full and then wait an age for the head to settle; when you were passed that pint, it came with an introduction into their conversations, and into their lives. That probably existed here in Dublin too if you were in tune with things, but I wasn’t ready to readjust, I was so unsettled by the sheer volume of people. If Dublin was a shock, how was I going to feel when I hit London?
In the cab I changed my mind about staying on. Formerly, I had planned on remaining in Dublin for a few days, taking a look around and generally wallowing in the glory. However, now it didn’t seem right, partly because the job I had come to do felt like it had been done, and partly because there wasn’t sufficient glory for satisfactory wallowing. Wouldn’t it be better to go home, recharge the old batteries, and come back to look up old friends refreshed and reinvigorated? That was decided then, I would sort out a flight in the morning and head off in the late afternoon.
One question remained. What was I going to do with the fridge? Again I had another rethink. My first idea had been to try and sell it I was amused by the idea of taking out an ad in the local paper:
FOR SALE: FRIDGE, ONE CAREFUL OWNER, LOW MILEAGE, TRAVELS WELL, POSSIBLE SEA WATER DAMAGE, NEVER PLUGGED IN, MUST BE SEEN.
My second idea had been to get Gerry Ryan to auction it off on air and to donate the money to charity. This was the most noble course of action and probably what ought to have been done, but the trouble was I was too damn close to the thing now. When I looked down at it I felt a genuine affection for it. I knew that these weren’t normal feelings to have towards a fridge, but I simply couldn’t let it go. We’d been through too much together. This wasn’t any ordinary fridge, this was Saiorse Molloy, completely covered from top to bottom in signatures from well wishers and friends. These were my memories. I would keep it in my office at home. After all, a bottle of mineral water would become holy water when it was placed in a fridge which had been blessed by a Mother Superior. And late at night I could drink the odd toast by mixing it with a drop of distinctly unholy spirit.
Rory was pleased to see me.
‘Ah, you made it then. Can I sign the fridge?’
‘If you can find room.’
He scanned its surface and could find no available space.
‘Ill have to sign it underneath,’ he said, and lifted it up and did just that.
‘You’ll be out tonight having a big celebration I suppose.’
‘Well, it hasn’t really come together, and I don’t think I really want to do any celebrating tonight.’
Rory looked at me much as he had when I had first arrived ajl those weeks ago with a fridge in tow. like I was mad.
I could have gone out and made a night of it, Antoinette and Kara had been kind enough to invite me to join up with a group of friends for a drink, but I simply wasn’t up to it. Instead I went for a walk, ate a quiet meal alone and returned to watch TV in my room.