There was a split second of silence followed by overwhelming approval. That was it; the mob had their hearts on my reaching Tory Island by helicopter. There wasn’t one dissenter. “Come on Tone, let’s go and have a word with them, “said Andy, his accent a reminder of home, and a more rational world I had left behind. And off we went to the public bar where I was encouraged to stand before a group of servicemen and make my pitch for a helicopter.
I wasn’t sure about this at all. I made a poor start which deteriorated rapidly when I attempted to casually throw in the involvement of a fridge in all this. I could see the expressions of servicemen changed from curious to baffled. I lost my way and Andy took over, “Now boys, we’re not being silly here. This man has got to get out to Tory Island, he’s got national coverage on the radio and if we can get him out there, it’ll be good for tourism.”
We emerged from the bar unsuccessful, in spite of Andy’s glib sales pitch having eventually fallen on sympathetic ears. The pilots said they were up for helping out and gave us the name of a woman from the Ministry of Defense in Dublin who we would have to ask to authorize such a mission. We returned to the main bar fairly confident that she would accompany the situation.
We allowed drink to inflate a moderate success into a magnificent triumph. It was taken as read by all and sundry that in the morning I would be flying to Tory Island by helicopter. Any doubts I may have still had were soon vanquished by the constant flow of pints which continued into the night.
I tried to make the explanation quick but they kep firing questions at me like “What sort of people are stopping for you?” and “Do you keep food in the fridge?” and before we knew it we’d been chatting for half an hour. Both women had a groomed scruffiness about them which seems to me to be the trade mark of artists. Lois was a distinguished woman of mature years who I was surprised to learn had a gallery on New York 57th Street.
I realized she must be an artist of some renown because I knew you didn’t get a gallery automatically on leaving art school. Elizabeth, who was much younger, was married and lived in New York, although she was originally from West Cork. I guessed that she was less successful but may have been Lois’ protégé, perhaps a budding star for the future. I learned that for the last two days it had been chucking it down with rain and the ladies had decided to sketch a barn which they had discovered at the end of mudtrack on some farmland.
They were sat in their car with sketchpads on their laps drawing this barn when they saw an old farmer standing very still and watching them from a distance. To him it must have appeared that two women were sat in a car directly in front of his barn, staring at it. Elizabeth and Lois explained that he would come back every two hours or to see if they were still there—the women who were staring at his barn.
Continuing rain the next day meant a return for the completion of the sketches, and the farmer was even more perplexed by the women’s decision to put in another day’s full staring. “Who are they? And why are they staring at my barn?” These were obvious questions which he chose not to ask. Instead he just built a two-hourly check on the starters into his day.
It was no more than a narrow inlet with five fishing boats, three in the water and two in dry dock being painted. The quay was flanked by two buildings, one a hostel which was closed and the other Bunbeg House, a bed and breakfast guesthouse and the reason for my being there. I rang the bell and went through the motions of adjusting my clothes and generally preparing myself, but then gave up when I realised that I didn’t know what I was preparing myself for.
It didn’t matter anyway because no one was there, which was a novel approach to running a guesthouse but not one that was altogether unexpected. I then noticed a hand written note in the window saying “BACK SOON”, which suggested to me that I was dealing with people who had their fingers on the very pulse of entrepreneurial commerce. Back soon had an ambiguity about it which worried me a touch though.
Soon, by any reasonable interpretation, would be a couple of hours, but this was Bunbeg, County Donegal, and there was no guarantee that this didn’t mean somebody would be with me by mid October. I was in the middle of nowhere with no accommodation, no reason for being there and no bright ideas. I decided to forget about my agenda and allow myself to wind right down to “local speed”, so I dumped my rucksack and fridge outside the front door and embarked on the twenty-minute walk to the pub.
If the proprietor of Bunbeg House were back soon they would see the fridge and be in no doubt as to who was going to be their extra guest for the night. As calling cards go it was effective, if a little bulky. On the way back I passed my two lady painters and the younger one called out. Naturally enough they wanted to know more about why I had a fridge with me; in fact I suspected that they had talked of little else for the past ten minutes.