'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Goodbye, Mr. Badger.

It’s cold again, but the end of these cold spells can’t be too far away. Things are starting to spring back into life again. The grass is growing, daffodils are flowering. The mice and rats are out and about. Wordsworth gave a very one-sided view of these things when he stuck to the daffodils and stars and stuff and left out the rats completely. I suppose poets appreciate things like daffodils, dogs appreciate rats, and for people like me it’s somewhere in between. Grass and things.

My cousin June’s son, Graham, had his birthday party at his grandparents’ house because they have a much bigger garden. They have a peacock too. Graham wasn’t entirely sure how the peacock would take part in the birthday celebrations, but even if it did nothing at all it would do a lot more than the crows or the magpies. They brought their pet duck, Sleepy, to the party too. Graham’s grandfather, my uncle Harry, was always fascinated by Sleepy, or any duck. He has a huge collection of books about ducks falling off chairs, but Sleepy never did anything as exciting at that. He spent most of his time asleep. My cousins Ronan and Hector were watching the kids play ‘pin the tail on the donkey’ at the party, and Ronan said, “Do you remember that scene in Karate Kid where he killed a fly with a thumbtack?” “No.” “That donkey must be really annoyed now after having all those pins stuck in him.” Hector didn’t listen to what Ronan said about the donkey because he was still thinking of killing a fly with a thumbtack. When he met his cousin Jane a few minutes later he said, “How would you kill a fly with a thumbtack?” Jane said that killing a fly with a thumbtack would be extremely unlikely, and when he told her about what Ronan said, she said, “Yeah but he also once talked about the bit in ‘The Wind in the Willows’ where the toad flies away in a helicopter.” Hector thought about this for a few seconds and said, “Yeah, I think I remember that bit.” Ronan was in another room, standing in front of a painting of a horse with a pen in his hand and his eyes closed. He walked towards the painting but he missed it, and he dropped the pen when he hit the wall. The pen fell into a vase, so he put his hand in to get it, but he couldn’t get his hand back out. He had assumed that if he was able to get his hand into something he’d be able to get it back out, but no, his hand was stuck. He thought about breaking the vase, but then he wondered if it was a valuable antique. He knew that Uncle Harry had a book about vases in his study, so he went there. To discourage people from visiting him, Harry only has one chair in the study, and this also ensures that they don’t stay for long when they do visit. When Ronan went in the chair was occupied by the duck, and the book he was looking for was on the top shelf. He needed to stand on the chair to get to the book, but he couldn’t lift the duck off the chair because of his hand in the vase, and every time he woke the duck up, Sleepy would be asleep again within seconds. He could push the duck off, and he was about to do this when he wondered about the safety of this course of action. There was no guarantee that the duck would land on his feet, like cats. He remembered his father’s collection of books about ducks falling off chairs, and the very existence of these books seemed to suggest that it would be unwise to push a duck off a chair. A book would hardly be written about a duck falling off a chair, then landing on its feet and going about its business as if nothing happened. Ronan took one of the duck books off the shelf with his free hand and opened it on the desk. He read a few lines about an English spy using a specially designed screwdriver to blow up a library. That didn’t sound good. Ronan looked for an alternative method of removing the duck. He put a pile of books next to the chair, and then a slightly smaller pile next to the first pile, and then another pile and another, creating a stairs that led from the chair to the ground. Then he gently pushed the duck over onto the books and Sleepy rolled all the way down the stairs to the carpet. He woke up briefly and looked around him, then he waddled out of the room. Hector was looking in the window at this. When he saw the duck roll down the stairs of books he was sure he’d seen that before, but he wasn’t sure if it was in Karate Kid or in The Wind in the Willows, though he thought it was probably the latter. He went back inside to where the kids were playing ‘pin the tail on the donkey’, and he told Uncle Harry about the toad flying away in the helicopter and the duck falling down the stairs in The Wind in the Willows. Harry had never read the book, but it seemed to make his books on ducks falling off chairs look very one-dimensional. He had been thinking of writing a book about a duck falling off a chair, but he had trouble coming up with ideas for it. The Wind in the Willows seemed to offer countless possibilities. He said, “Excuse me a minute, Hector,” and left the room. Graham was delighted when he pinned the tail with the thumbtack on the donkey’s head, and this confused Hector even more - that could have been in Karate Kid or The Wind in the Willows. The picture of the donkey was on the back of a door, and when Ronan opened the door, a blindfolded boy who was walking towards the picture went past him and kept on walking, holding the tail in his hand. Ronan’s hand was still stuck in the vase. He had looked in the book about antiques and the vase was expensive. Harry had a stuffed badger in the shed, so he went to get that. He wondered what he could do with it, something more exciting than falling off a chair. There was a plank in the shed. He could get the badger to slide down the plank. It didn’t sound much more exciting than falling off a chair, but it was a start. So he took the plank outside and put it on a low wall to create a hill, and he put the badger on the top. It slid slowly down the plank and stopped about half way down. Harry gave it a push and it slid down to the bottom of the plank. That was a bit of an anti-climax. As he stood there looking at the badger, wondering what to do next, people came out to see what he was up to. When Hector went into the back garden, the duck and the peacock were getting ready to fight. Sleepy was standing on one leg on top of a fence post, and the peacock raised his feathers. “Now that’s definitely from Karate Kid,” Hector thought. There was a big crowd around Harry when the boy in the blindfold appeared. He was still holding the tail with the thumbtack in front of him. People got out of his way, but Uncle Harry only saw him at the very last moment. He tripped over a kerb when he tried to get out of the way. He fell onto one end of the plank, and the other end flew up, launching the stuffed badger into the air. He flew over the trees and into a field. When Harry fell over, Ronan let go of the pen in the vase and the vase fell off his hand, breaking on the ground. Then he realised how he was able to get his hand in but couldn’t get it out. “Ronan, you idiot!” Hector said. “That wasn’t from Karate Kid at all. It’s from The Wind in the Willows.”

The moose’s head over the fireplace does look like James Bond when he wears the hat. Every time we put it on him he always looks as if he’s trying to raise one of his eyebrows, but he fails completely. I can only raise one of my eyebrows. Well, I can raise both of them at the same time but I can only raise one of them without raising the other, if that makes any sense. I avoid raising an eyebrow in front of the moose. My ability to do it and his inability would surely spoil the illusion of being James Bond, especially in the light of my inability to open tins.