Monday, July 13, 2015

Round Ireland With a Fridge by Tony Hawks

Henry David Thoreau went to the woods to “live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Tony Hawks hitchhiked around the perimeter of Ireland in 1997 with a fridge to win a one hundred pounds from a drunken bet with a friend.

And then wrote about it in his book Round Ireland With a Fridge, detailing his absurd adventures with his refrigerator (eventually dubbed Saiorse Molloy) and his growing understanding of the Irish character and what it means to “suck the marrow out of life.”

To be fair, Hawks’ journey, like Thoreau’s stay at Walden, was not as difficult as popular history makes it sound. Hawks’ trolleyed around what amounts to a dorm refrigerator, and he had the publicity and goodwill garnered by The Gerry Ryan Show on Irish radio (this was back when we still listened to the radio). So although he did his fair share of standing on isolated Irish roads in the rain, Hawks also gathered rides from people who knew him as the quasi-celebrity known as “Fridge Man,” and many a free meal and lodging as well. He also gains a mobile phone, something of a rarity in Ireland at that time. And a number of free drinks at various pubs.

That number may well be in the thousands, given the escapades detailed by Hawks in the book. The Irish, and particularly the Irish in pubs, have never been known for their reticence; the appearance of a bedraggled man with a fridge only added to the conversation. Many were as quick to kindly dub Hawks a “feckin’ idiot” as they were to buy a round. Like Gerry Ryan himself, most of the Irish saw Hawks’ journey as “a totally purposeless idea, but a damn fine one.”

Hawks believed that it was the very purposelessness of his journey that gave it such an appeal, especially to the romantic Irish mindset that gives value to whimsy. Indeed, though most of the book consists of amusing anecdotes involving Hawks and the increasingly famous fridge, all travels teach us about life, and Hawks realizes that whimsy is sorely lacking in our lives (and this can be no less true almost twenty years later). That is why he christens the fridge “Saiorse,” which means “freedom” in Gaelic. And so the fridge, a literal encumbrance to someone traveling, becomes a figurative icon of freedom, of the open road, of the possibilities life offers.

Hawks shows us the beautiful isolation of many of the more isolated parts of Ireland, and the fridge goes surfing, is blessed by an Irish nun, is signed by numerous well- wishers (some more sober than others), and serves as a shoe repository, among other adventures. I don’t know where I first heard of this book, but it’s the perfect summer book—a reminder that life need not always be so serious, and how much we benefit when it is not.

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