Books have seen me through the most trying of times. For instance in a time when devestation set up its stall in my life it took 6 books by the same humourous author got me through some of the numbness and pure phsyical pain of it all. Although my now regular friday slot is indicitive that all reviewed are fictions - this is not entirely the case. All the books featured here are from my library, each one significant and special to me. And whilst this authour I speak of writes in a non fiction genre Im sure there are pockets of embelishments that make it borderline fiction..
Tony Hawks (not the skater) is a British comedian and author of this memoir and was drunk when he bet a friend 100 pounds that he could hitchhike around Ireland in a month--taking along a refrigerator. But he kept his bargain, and in the process met an intriguing cast of Irish Characters. During his hobo travels around Aul Eyerland he also became a minor celebrity when he was made the subject of a daily radio feature the annoyingly housewifes favourite here in these Isles known as Gerry Ryan (whom I think is a padantic git). Here recounts his travels and celebrates the culture of helpfulness that made his preposterous journey possible and is determined to prove his friend wrong, Hawks purchases the smallest fridge he can find at the time before the advent of the personal mini fridge and sets off on his mad adventure. I have painstakingly typed out the introduction to the book just to give you the general flavour of what to expect, but be warned dont eat/drink when reading a copy of this in public the humourous moments are fast paced and plenty but they are of the pie in the face variety and catch you unawares. You have been warned.
In 1989 I went to ireland for the first time. I dont know why it had taken so long. Some parts of the world you make a consious effort to visit and others have to wait until fate delivers you there. When the moment arrived for me to set foot in the eEmerald Isle, it was a result of a badly written song. An irish friend from London, Seamus, had urged me to compose a piece for him and his mate Tim to sing at an international song competition which was held each year in his hometown. Qualification for the final , he explained, was a formality provided I agreed to do a twenty minute stand up set for the audience when the judges where out. Seamus wanted to do a humourous song and had asked me to come up with something that would 'set it apart' from the mundane entries. In the event, what would set it apart would be a significant drop in standard.
The song I had written was called ' I wanna have tea with batman'. Now I consider myself to be a good songwriter (in spite of my only commercial success being a one off record called 'stutter rap - by morris minor and the majors) but this song was... how can I put it?... Yes, thats it - poor. To their credit Seamus and Tim conjured up a perfect performance to match it.
In an extraordinary gesture which was at best surreal and at worst embarrassing , they dressed as batman and robin. At least that is what they aimed to do, but a limited costume budget had left them in borrowed tights, miscellaneous lycra and academic robes doubling as capes. They resembled a couple of children entered for a fancy dress competition by uninterested parents. Seamus seemed unconcerned, his theory of comedy being that if you had an outrageous outfit that was enough; and then he announced his master stroke that one of them would carry a teapot and the other a kettle.
One had to admire his courage, for he was performing in front of his hometown and everyone who he had grown up with was there. Friends, family, teachers, shopkeepers barmen, drunks and priest were all rooting for him. If one was going to let oneself down very badly- and Seamus was most definately going to do that- it would be difficult to imagine an assembled throng with which it would have more resonanace.
Seamus and tim took centre stage. The audience responded with an inhalation of breath. For them, there was little to suggest that the two characters before them were supposed to be Batman and Robin, and they were clearly taken aback with the magnificent fusion of colour, tights and kitchen appliances.
I watched from the back , experiencing for the first time a curious blend of wonderment and discomfort, and could see in the faces of both performers that their self belief in the costume selection was ebbing away with each elongated second. Thankfully, from the congregation, astonishment subsided to applause. The conducter caught the eye of our superheros and they nodded to establish themselves as ready. The band struck up. The musical introduction finished, but neither Seamus or tim began singing. The looked accusingly at each other. Paralysed with nerves, one of them missed their cue. Someone near me allowed their head to drop into their hands. Seamus, man of the moment stepped forward and signalled to the conductor to stop the band.Astonishingly the maestro ignored him. He was pretending that he could not see Shea's frantic signals. For gods sake , how bad could his eyesight be ? was it not possible to notice the flapping arms of the caped crusader brandishing a teapot in anger?
The conductor was more focused than most of us could ever hope to be. He had a long evening to get through and he was going to get through it in the shortest available time. Going back and starting again for those who screwed up wasnt on the agenda, even if it was 'good ol sheamus' from down the way. And so with all the abduracy of a first world war general, his head stayed down and the band played on. Time went into statis. I have simply no way of knowing how long it was before Seamus finished his gesticulations , punched Tim and they both began singing. Indeed I cant recall how badly they performed the rest of the song. Who cares? The audience applauded, they won most entertaining act and so began my fascination with Ireland.
Aside from the song contest debacle, there was another incident which made my first trip to Ireland stand out in my mind. On arrival at Dublin airport, I had been met by Sheamus's lifelong friend Kieran and driven to Cavan. As we headed north and discussed Batman and Robin's prospects I noticed a man at the side of the road hitchiking. I looked closer as one does with hitch hikers to make that split second assessment of their appearence to make that split second assesment of their suitablity for travel companionship. This was odd, very odd. He had something along side of him and he was leaning on it. It was a fridge. 'Kieran, was that man hitch hiking with a fridge?' 'oh yeah' there was nothing in Kierans tone of voice to suggest the slightest hint of suprise. I had clearly arrived in a country where qualification for 'eccentric' involved a great deal more than that to which I had become.
Years passed, the anecdote of the fridge was brought up from time to time at dinner parties and one in particular in my friend Kevin’s in Brighton. A vast quantity of wine had been consumed and the atmosphere was, shall we say, lively. Round about midnight those present settled on a short discussion on the merits of the new fridge which had been bought, and then, by a series of turns, our rattled attention was given to the trip Kevin was planning to Ireland. The juxtaposition of the two triggered a triumphal re-mergence of my fridge hitch-hiking story which I relayed to the guests via a long winded collection of badly slurred words. Kevin’s response was unambiguous. ‘Bollocks’ ‘Its not bollocks’ I countered. I had hoped this would see him off but there was more. ‘Yes it is. Nobody could ever get a lift with a fridge’ ‘They could in Ireland , it’s a magical place’ ‘Magical?! So is my arse!’ I let the subject drop. Experience had taught me that someone mentioning how magical their arse was tended not to precede stimulating and considered debate.
When I awoke in the morning, in a physical condition which served as a reminder as to what had taken place the night before, I found a note by my bed:
I herby bet Tony Hawks the sum of one hundred pounds that he cannot hitch hike round the circumference of Ireland, with a fridge within one calendar month. And there was Kevins Signature, and below it , an illegible squiggle, which I took to be mine.
And so the bet was made.