30 August, 2008

'Round Ireland with a Fridge' - Tony Hawks

It's a famous book, made huge by its unlikely premise: hitchhiking around the emerald isle with a bulky kitchen appliance. Author Tony Hawks is a comedian by trade and it is perhaps telling of his demeanour that he came to the journey by way of a bet; as in, somewhere between the ninth and tenth round of beers the gauntlet of 'bet you 100 quid you couldn't do it' was thrown down. Whether or not there's anything further to be derived about his character by the fact that said fridge cost more than the bet is something the reader can make up their own mind about.

The absurdity and perceived impossibility of his journey are assuaged somewhat by, firstly, the size of his fridge (think of the kind squeezed into a hotel cupboard) and, secondly, by his regular phone-ins to a morning radio show, which prompt some drivers to call him up and arrange to collect him from a pre-arranged spot. We've seen the emergence of 'flashpacking'; in the late 90s Hawks pioneered swishhiking (not to be confused with the far more effortful swisshiking - rather more bergs involved in the latter).

The book is certainly funny. In its initial stages, particularly, as Hawks describes preparations for the journey and reactions of his English countrymen, he can prompt snickering, snorting and the odd guffaw (a discussion with HRH Prince Charles is certainly worth a chuckle). His occasional musing about a religion or spiritual cause based on the philosophy of his quest and beliefs is at times both diverting and worth a few moments' cogitation. Further, there are moments of notable lyricism: 'With caution I stood by the boat's siderail and viewed the sea respectfully, a little confused by its jet black, inky colour and its refusal to reflect the blue sky above it.'

It's a fun and original story, told by someone confident in the art of engaging an audience with tales to get them laughing. On occasion, Hawks falls into the comedian's trap of milking a joke for too long, of going for one more laugh when he could have quit when ahead. Some recollections seem only to be in there for him to get a laugh, rather than to help flesh out detail of the trip. Given the genre, that's justified to an extent, but it's more forgiveable when those extra jokes are delivered with a little more panache. This next point isn't necessarily Hawks fault: the book is terribly edited. If a comma between a subject and its verb gets your hackles up do not attempt to read through any chapters of this book. It may be a personal sensitivity, but this reviewer also struggled to countenance Hawks's attitude to women. Too frequently he picks out a 'pretty' girl from a group as the one he 'fancies most'. His repartee after a successful encounter with a woman from New Zealand in Wexford is disrespectful to say the least.

It's important of course to keep in mind the book's genre and market. It falls into the category of travel writing where the idea of writing a book about one's experiences comes well after the crazy idea that led to the adventure in the first place. It's not a market craving travel literature, but instead laughter and enjoyment from another person's idea of fun. And to that end it meets its mark spot on: it is fun and diverting and it was a crazy idea, which begs further investigation from the reader to find out how it was done. Leave your prejudices and higher expectations at the contents page, and you're guaranteed an enjoyable read.

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