'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Tuesday, May 25, 2010
A Mouse with Big Plans
Leo was a mouse with big plans. He wanted to move into a mountain, and excavate a magnificent house in it. Mice, other animals, birds and people all made fun of him, but within a year of moving into the mountain he had created an enormous house with hundreds of rooms. He was proud of his achievement, but there were drawbacks to such a large dwelling. The biggest problem was that the kids had a limitless supply of hiding places. His house was too big for his family. There are very few mice or people with nineteen children who can say this. It's something to boast about. Moving into a smaller house wouldn't be a good solution for someone who likes to boast about things. Getting a bigger family would be a better solution, but this would raise other problems. And he'd need hundreds of kids to fill his new house, so this was out of the question.
The solution he came up with was to hire servants and to station them all around the house so they could keep an eye on his kids, especially the teenagers who'd spend many hours in their hiding places. He was kicking himself for not thinking of hiring servants sooner. Not only would they keep an eye on his kids, but they were also the perfect ornament to a house like this. Within a few weeks he had a domestic staff that was bigger than his family, and he kept hiring more servants. All of the mice and other animals who worked in his house thought he was only hiring them to show off, but they had to admit that he was a good employer.
Leo had a Rottweiler called Dave to guard the mountain, but Dave was really more of a pet. He slept in a kennel outside because he was too big to fit in through any of the doors. Some of Leo's kids used to take him for a walk every day. They'd cling to his lead with the same determination they showed in clinging to their delusion that they were controlling where he was going.
The cook, Mrs. Rogers, was a robin. Her husband was the gardener. She was always complaining about all the work she had to do to feed everyone in the mountain, but she'd never let anyone help her in the kitchen, and she still didn't have as much work to do as the unfortunate mice who had to prepare Dave's dinner every day. Mrs. Rogers spent a lot of time complaining to Leo about how little time she had. He was often tempted to point out that if she gave up complaining she'd be able to make a three-tier wedding cake every day in the time she saved, and if she gave up smoking she'd be able to ice it as well, but he knew he'd only be unleashing a ferocious torrent of complaints if he said this, so he kept quiet. He had enough problems to contend with.
His eldest son, Graham, was going through that difficult teenage phase. He wasn't in the least bit impressed by the mountain. He told his father that it was just an inanimate object. You wouldn't be impressed by a pebble, he said, and a mountain is no different. There's just more of it there to unimpress you. You could spend all day being unimpressed by a mountain, and Graham frequently did. This is why he got on so well with Mrs. Rogers. He started spending more of his time in the kitchen with her, where they could be unimpressed together. She liked him, and she introduced him to a wide variety of things to be staggeringly unimpressed by, things that inspire awe in idiots. She taught him how to cook as well. He was the only one she'd let into the kitchen while she was cooking. Everyone else in the mountain was an idiot who might break down in a fit of awe at any moment. Graham enjoyed cooking, and he was good at it. His family were hugely impressed by the meals he made, and he was delighted with their admiration because he was able to dismiss them all as idiots who'd succumbed to awe. Leo was always glad to be regarded as an idiot if it formed part of a solution that worked out for the best for everyone.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
A Stockpile of Peas
I used to look at my watch a lot when I was young. Watch-watching was the only way to pass the time when the TV was broken. I convinced myself that I was actually making time go quicker, but I was able to convince myself of a lot of things that seemed far-fetched. Over a million things. Actually there were only three things. Of four if you count the belief that I had convinced myself of over a million far-fetched things. Of the other three, one was that I could make time go quicker by staring at my watch, another was that I'd counted to over a million on a wet Sunday afternoon when I was cataloguing all the far-fetched things I'd convinced myself of, and the other was that I could breathe through my ears. I thought I had found proof of this at dinnertime when I'd survive until dessert despite my mouth and nose being constantly full. I used to breathe in and then put peas into my ears so they'd go shooting out across the room as the air looked for an exit. My brothers told me that the peas came shooting out. I had to take their word for it because I couldn't convince myself that I had eyes on the sides of my head to see the peas' majestic flight across the kitchen, ricocheting off pots and pans and travelling through keyholes, as my brothers claimed. But I think they were just saying that so I'd keep putting more peas in my ears. I doubt if any of those peas ever came shooting out.
After a few years, I noticed that my brothers were counting every time I put a pea into one of my ears, and I realised that they were counting the peas I was putting into my head. Their count was approaching a hundred-thousand then. I decided to give up putting peas in my ears, despite their earnest appeals that I keep going until I reached a hundred-thousand. Ever since then I've been finding peas in my shoes, in my hair and in my pockets. I've counted every one, but I've still only found sixteen-thousand of them, which is a bit of a worry.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
We needed a holiday. The world was making us feel old and we needed to feel young again, just for a week. We considered going to all sorts of exciting places that promised adventures with adrenaline junkies who shout every time they have to say something, even when they're talking in their sleep. But we couldn't convince ourselves that this is what we really wanted. We couldn't resist the idea of doing nothing at the seaside, of wearing cardigans and staring out at the sea, and being even older than we were. We did make an effort to resist this option and to convince ourselves that we were still young, but the lure of the seaside won.
We appreciated the peace we felt as we stared out at the sea, but after a few days, boredom started to creep in. Geraldine suggested taking a break from the sea and looking in the other direction, so we tried that for a while, but it wasn't long before we ran out of things to look at.
We met a couple called Padraig and Eileen at the hotel we were staying in. They were in their sixties. They had a motorbike and a side-car, and they used to go for trips on that every day. In the morning, they'd randomly point at a place on a map, and then they'd set out for this place. One of them would ride the motorbike while the other was in the side-car. When they reached their destination they'd switch places for the return journey.
We decided to copy their method. We needed new things to look at, and we also felt an urge to prove that we weren't older than them. It was difficult to convince ourselves of this as we set off in our car while they sped away on the motorbike with the side-car. Geraldine pointed at a spot on the map and we went in this direction.
After driving for nearly an hour, we came across a castle, and we decided to stop to have a look at that. There were many items of furniture, rugs and suits of armour on the lawn in front of the castle. It looked as if they were in the middle of their spring cleaning. Children wearing school uniforms were polishing the furniture and the armour.
A man came over to us and welcomed us to his castle. He told us his name was Jeremy. The children were on a school tour, he said. Polishing furniture would give them a fuller appreciation of castle life.
As he was giving us the history of the building, a dark red cloud appeared overhead and it started raining apples. The school kids hid under the furniture. Jeremy didn't seem to mind the apples raining down on his head. He invited us to hide in the suits of armour, and we did.
As we were waiting for the cloud to pass, he told us that the shower of apples was part of the latest efficiency drive by the castle's wizard. Instead of picking the apples, the wizard cast a spell on them so that they'd float up into clouds. Sometimes the clouds would stray a long way from home, but they always came back to the castle and deposited their load of apples. "He's become obsessed with efficiency," Jeremy said. "He wants to find a better way of doing every job, no matter how big or small. I find it more efficient to get school children to do these things. As part of his new method of sweeping floors, he has to hypnotise people into believing that they're dancing in a huge ballroom, and his dish washer involves frightened ducks. It's more trouble than it's worth, if you ask me. And you should see how he milks the cows."
When it stopped raining, the school kids emerged from underneath the furniture, but we couldn't get out of the armour. Jeremy told us that the wizard must have cast a spell on it, and we'd need another spell to get back out. He went into the castle to phone the wizard.
When he came back out a few minutes later he said, "The wizard is busy at the farm right now. One of the servants thinks he's a wheelbarrow and he's after getting away. They have to catch him before he injures himself. I think this is part of the wizard's new method for picking potatoes. He says he'll be here as soon as they catch the servant."
"Isn't there any other way out of the armour?" I said.
"Possibly, but I wouldn't recommend messing with his spells. You could go away thinking you're a wheelbarrow or a kennel."
"Would ye mind picking up some of the apples while ye're waiting?"
When we'd finished collecting the apples we did some other jobs for Jeremy. We swept floors and cleaned windows. The work was gruelling because of the armour. We were exhausted by the time the wizard arrived in the evening. He freed us from the armour. As we were stretching our arms and legs I heard him whisper to Jeremy, "I told you this would be the most efficient way of doing it."
Despite this, our time at the castle was still the most enjoyable part of the holiday.
Tuesday, May 04, 2010
It was a lazy Sunday afternoon in July. Louise, Giles and Janet had a picnic in a small field at the edge of the woods. After they'd finished their strawberries and cream, jam tarts and salmon sandwiches, Giles turned on the radio to hear the commentary on a football match. The team he supported were tormented by diverse manifestations of misfortune, from partially-sighted officials to a pitch invasion by a man who put a bucket over their goalkeeper's head. But the enforced laziness made it difficult for Giles to care. He couldn't even smile at the commentator's description of attempts to remove the bucket.
Janet decided to make a stand against the lethargy by going for a walk. She was gone for half an hour. When she returned to the picnic rug she said to Giles, "I found this peanut. I thought you might want to use it."
She gave him the peanut. He examined it closely, and an idea came to mind. His grandmother was once given a pheasant by a neighbour who loved doing anything he could do with a gun. He'd even discovered a way to shine his shoes by firing a gun. Giles's grandmother couldn't eat a creature after seeing its face, so she had the bird stuffed instead. But she couldn't stop seeing the face then. She felt that the eyes were always following her, and that the bird was looking at her accusingly, as if she was complicit in its death. So she removed the eyes and she kept them in a box. She put a patch over one of the pheasant's empty eye sockets. She was going to put a patch over the other one as well, but it didn't seem likely that a bird would have two eye patches. It wouldn't have survived for long enough to become plump enough for her neighbour to shoot it, and her neighbour would never have shot a creature with two eye patches anyway. It would have been like shooting fish in a barrel, which seems like a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon until you realise you're making holes in your barrel.
She tried lots of things to fill the eye socket. Marbles, bits of chewing gum and mashed potatoes all failed. She eventually settled on a diamond. Giles inherited the bird, and he hated it because the diamond was too ostentatious. He didn't like anything that elevated the material world. This is why he decided to put the peanut into the pheasant's eye socket. He felt that he was making an important statement by replacing a diamond with a humble peanut.
Giles and Louise had a visitor a few days after their picnic. When Giles answered the doorbell a middle-aged woman was standing on the doorstep, and she looked angry. She said, "I've heard from a reliable source that you have something that belongs to me. A peanut."
Giles didn't want to give up the peanut. He said, "I'm afraid your source is mistaken."
"I trust my source. She hasn't let me down in the past."
"There's a first time for everything. Being in possession of other people's peanuts isn't something I've ever aspired to."
"There's a first time for that as well."
"Maybe next week."
The woman went away without her peanut. Giles said to Louise, "How exactly did Janet acquire the peanut?"
"Didn't you ask her?"
"I assumed she had gone to a shop, bought a packet of peanuts and eaten all but one of them. I very nearly ate it, until I realised that it was just the thing I needed for the pheasant."
"I thought she'd found it stuck in some mud. That's where she finds most of the things she thinks other people might use. I was disappointed when you didn't eat it."
"I suppose we should find out where she got it."
Janet was in Switzerland on business, but he managed to contact her on the phone. She said she found the peanut on a plate on a picnic rug. A note on the plate said 'This belongs to Rita'. Janet believed that a peanut doesn't belong to anyone, so she took it. Giles thought she had done the right thing.
Rita returned on the following evening. She said, "My source is certain that you have the peanut. Certain."
"Well she's wrong," Giles said. "And anyway, it's only a peanut. It's wrong to be too attached to any material object."
"Why are you so attached to it?"
"Because... I'm not attached to anything. There's an important principle here. Two important principles. Firstly, you can't really own a peanut."
"Of course you can. If you can own a house or a car or a dog you can own a peanut."
"You can own these things, but you shouldn't really possess them. And it doesn't really matter, because the second important principle is... Well, the second principle is that you can own these things but you shouldn't really possess them."
"Doesn't that contradict the first principle, that you can't really own a peanut?"
"The point is this: you might have possessions but you should be able to let them go, and not be in the slightest bit concerned about their loss."
"Another important principle is that you shouldn't let people steal for you. I was just about to eat that peanut when I was informed of something I had to see, so I went to investigate. It was a message carved on a tree. It was a deeply offensive message, though we had to admire the craftsmanship. And when I came back the peanut was gone. I want to retrieve it because someone stole it from me."
"I'll make you an offer. I'll give you a diamond instead of the peanut."
"No. I want the peanut."
"I can make you a better offer. I'll give you two glass eyes. They used to belong to a pheasant."
"If the pheasant had two glass eyes, how was he able to see?"
"He acquired the eyes after his death."
She thought about the offer for about a minute before saying, "I'll take the eyes."
Giles congratulated her on valuing two glass pheasant eyes and a peanut more than a diamond. He said he admired her character. They had an interesting conversation about society's immersion in material things, and they found that they held similar views on many issues. She invited him around to her house to see the glass eyes in their new context.
He called around two days later, and she took him to the eyes' new home in her living room. A few years before this, she had bought a one-eyed stuffed peacock at an auction. She used to have it in her living room, but it made people feel uncomfortable so she put it in her attic. With the pheasant eyes she could bring the peacock back down to the living room. She put one of the pheasant eyes into the empty eye socket and she kept the other one on the plate where the peanut had been, next to the note that said 'This belongs to Rita'. The peacock with odd eyes was guarding the plate with the peanut. Giles found the scene disturbing. He had to go home to the re-assuring gaze of the single-peanut-eyed pheasant.
The Tree and the Horse
A Walk in the Rain
The East Cork Patents Office
Words are my favourite noises