I found myself watching a political debate between Bertie Aherne and John Bruton, the two contenders for the top job in Irish politics. With only a few days of the election campaign to go, the two of them slugged it out with the same accomplished caution that I’d seen only a month ago in the British general election. There was very little to choose between them. Both were smarmy and both were brilliant at manipulating and evading questions. Were they like this all the time I wondered?
‘How are you today, Bertie?’
‘I’d like to answer that question in two parts if I may, but first let me deal with the question you asked last Thursday…’
It was by no means ideal, spending my last night in Ireland watching TV in my hotel room, but nothing else had transpired and I simply didn’t have the energy or will to force anything to happen. Maybe this was good for me. This was ‘back down to earth’ time. I had been living a fantasy and now it was time to re-enter the real world where smug politicians slugged it out on TV for the votes which would enable them to shape our futures. The real world, the future. Where fridges stayed in kitchens.
I tried to lift my spirits with a phonecall before I finally turned in for the night. I rang Kevin to tell him that he owed me a hundred pounds. He was out. I wasn’t having much luck tonight. Then I rang Saiorse’s family at Matt Molloys in Westport to let them know of their relative’s success. I spoke with Niamh. She was thrilled.
‘I can’t wait to tell the others. Well have our own little celebration. Thanks a million for calling,’ she said.
I could turn in for the night now, knowing that somewhere someone was as excited as I was about having accomplished something quite this silly.
You can always count on family. I went to sleep with a warm feeling in my heart.
Rory’s establishment must have gone up in the world because breakfast was cooked by a member of staff, and the improvement was considerable. So too was my general mood when I received a call on my mobile from Deirdre, one of the team on The Gerry Ryan Show.
‘Tony, I think with all the excitement yesterday, we forgot to mention that we want you to come to lunch with us today. We thought you might like to meet Gerry and the team. We’d certainly like to meet you.’
‘That would be wonderful, thanks.’
Maybe things weren’t to end quite as unceremoniously as I had expected.
In the cab on the way to the restaurant, I started trying to guess what Gerry Ryan looked like. It was strange to have spoken to someone so much over the course of a month, but not to have any idea what their appearance might be. He and his team were probably equally intrigued as to the nature of my physical characteristics, but at least for them I would be easy to recognise. Unless anyone else entered the restaurant pulling a fridge behind them, there was unlikely to be any mix up.
The waiter informed me that the Gerry Ryan party of eight were at the rear of the restaurant. I made my way through and a little cheer went up from the relevant table as soon as the fridge was spotted. The man at the head of the table immediately got to his feet and came forward to greet me.
‘Tony,’he said,’it’s great to meet you at last.’
It was weird because Gerry was exactly as I had pictured him—slightly receding reddish hair, trendy glasses and a light stubble.
‘Gerry, it’s great to meet you too,’ I replied.
‘I’m not Gerry, I’m Willy. That’s Gerry over there.’
I looked across. Gerry stood up. How odd. He wasn’t supposed to look like that. He was tall, well built with a healthy head of black hair, and the beginnings of a slight paunch.
‘Tony,’ he said, coming forward to shake my hand. ‘You look great. You have no right to look so well, not after what you’ve been through.’
I was introduced to the rest of the party, all of whom I had spoken to on the phone at one point or another. Willy, Paul, Jenny, Siobhan, Deirdre, Joan and Sharon. I was invited to open the champagne. I struggled with it, I always do, but eventually out popped the cork and the celebration began that I had so longed for yesterday.
At one point Gerry leant forward, filled my wine glass with the beginnings of yet another bottle of white wine, and said, ‘Tony, there’s one question I’ve been longing to ask which I couldn’t ask you on air. Did you have sex at all on your travels?’
Giggles and teasing whoops and hollers greeted the question.
‘Well, I finally started to get a little more attention than the fridge after I reached Cork, but you’ll have to read the book to find out’
‘You’re going to write a book about this?’
‘Yes, I decided that last night.’
‘Good idea,’ said Gerry. ‘I suppose that means I’ll be in it You’d better be nice, and don’t mention this.’
He smiled and patted the beginnings of his slight paunch.
‘I won’t,’ I replied with all the sincerity I could muster.
‘Hollywood will probably make a film about it one day,’ said Paul.
‘Yeah, if they do, who do you think they’ll get to play Tony?’
Deirdre’s query prompted furious debate. Johnny Depp was a favourite choice, as was Mel Gibson, but most votes went to Bruce Willis. Yes, I could see that working. I had always seen myself as a kind of Bruce Willis who didn’t rush around and blow things up quite so much.
After dessert I invited the party to join me at the fridge for photos.
Then I tore off the ‘Mo Chuisneoir’ sign which had adorned the door of the fridge since Donegal, allowing the signatures and messages of Gerry and the team to have pride of place on the front of the fridge where they belonged. After all, without their help it might have been a different story.
Gerry looked down at Saiorse.
‘I can think of easier ways of making a hundred pounds,’ he said.
‘I know, but can you think of a better one?’ I replied.
He thought for a moment.
‘No I suppose not Not really.’
We returned to the table for dessert wine. These people knew how to have lunch. It was nearly five o’clock, and what’s more the restaurant was still full. My taxi arrived and I got up to go. Gerry Ryan stood and raised his glass, and the rest of the table followed suit.
‘To the Fridge Man!’ he said, loud enough for everyone in the restaurant to hear.
‘To the Fridge Man!’ came the response.
As I walked out of that restaurant pulling my fridge behind me for the final time, everyone on Gerry’s table began applauding politely. Astonishingly, some people on a few of the other tables started to join in. Others looked up to see what was going on, and when they saw me and a fridge, they too joined in, possibly thinking it was somehow expected of them. Soon everyone in the restaurant was applauding, with cheers, whistles and laughter thrown in for good measure.
I felt great The anti-climax of yesterday didn’t matter anymore. I understood now. Yesterday had been phoney, this was real. Yesterday I had been saying ‘Look at me’. It hadn’t been right and it hadn’t really worked, and I should have known that having learned that lesson when Elsie had showed me off in the golf clubhouse in Ballina. Now it was working, and it was working because I was walking humbly out of a restaurant with no airs and graces, affectations or histrionics. The restaurant’s diners picked up on this and were offering their spontaneous and unaffected appreciation of someone for whom they had a peculiar nagging respect. This moment was a special one and I cherished it.
I looked round and saw that the Gerry Ryan table were still all on their feet, and others in the room were rising to theirs. Just incredible. When the Hollywood script is written this ending might be considered too schmaltzy. Tough. They wouldn’t be interested in this anyway—this happened.
So it was that a Triumphal Exit and not a Triumphal Entry was to prove the fitting climax to this strangely moving adventure. I was glad that I was to leave Ireland exactly as I had found it over the previous four weeks: warm, accommodating and enjoying a drink.
By the time I reached the taxi, my eyes had welled up with tears.
‘Are you all right there?’ said the cabbie as he opened the door for me.
‘Yes, I’m just happy.’
‘Oh right. Where to?’
I was leaving Ireland. The affair was over, but the friendship had just begun.