'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, March 09, 2005


The cold spell is finally over. And it hasn’t been replaced by constant rain either, which is nice. I spent half an hour walking slowly around the edges of the garden, through trees, by red brick walls and fences, and I came across two different stray cats. I haven’t informed the dog of this yet. When I figure out how you’d go about informing a dog of something, I probably will let him know about the cats.

My cousin Gary once became a maths teacher when he was just trying to kill a spider with his shoe. He was invited to a party by a woman called Shelley, who was a friend of a friend, and Gary was very eager to make her more than just a friend of a friend, and more than a friend too. She was training to be a maths teacher, and when he got to her house he was introduced to her father, who was a maths teacher, her uncle, also a maths teacher, her grandfather, another two uncles, an aunt and five cousins who were all maths teachers. When he saw a spider on a statue in the back garden he took off his shoe to kill it, but Shelley’s father saw him and asked what he was doing. Gary realised that there was no real need to kill the spider and no need at all to take off his shoe to do something that there was no real need to do. He said, “I’m killing a spider,” in a very half-hearted way, and of course by then the spider was long gone. Shelley’s father seemed slightly suspicious when he asked Gary what he ‘did’. Gary was nervous, and it never crossed his mind to tell the truth - that he was a student. He just said the first thing that came into his head. “I’m a maths teacher.” Normally the first thing that comes into Gary’s head lands him in trouble if it makes it as far as his mouth, but Shelley’s father was delighted with this. And Shelley herself seemed even happier a few minutes later when she went up to him and said, “You never told me you were a maths teacher.” He said he must have just forgotten to tell her, and then he mentioned that it was a bit of a coincidence, him being a maths teacher and her about to be one, but she said, “No. I’m never going to be a maths teacher. At least I hope I’m not. I never wanted to be one and I dropped out of teacher training college a few months ago, but I haven’t figured out how to tell my father yet, or anyone in the family. This is what I wanted to talk to you about. My uncle asked me to teach a few maths classes at a summer school he’s running. I’ve been looking for someone to take my place. Will you do it for me?” Gary could see no good reason why a maths teacher would refuse to teach two maths classes for a girl he’s trying to impress, so he said he’d love to do it. Then he spotted the flaw in his reasoning: he’s not a maths teacher. At least it was just two classes, he told himself. And the kids were all about ten years old. He thought he’d surely survive two classes as a maths teacher to ten-year-olds, as long as he stayed well away from anything to do with maths. So when he stood in front of his students for the first time he said to them, “Why don’t we get the ball rolling with some questions. Does anyone have any questions? About anything at all. It doesn’t have to be about maths. Just think of a question about anything. Actually, why don’t we ease ourselves into the maths by starting with a question that has nothing to do with maths.” A boy put his hand up and said, “Do birds have toes?” That was nowhere near mathematics, so Gary was delighted. He said, “Yes, they have,” but then the boy said, “How many toes do they have?” This was veering towards maths, so Gary tried to steer it back towards birds. He said, “Nine. The thing to remember about birds is that they… the birds you see in the trees, they… they like to fly around fields where… like if you’re having a picnic…” Gary didn’t know anything about birds, but he felt on safer ground here than with the maths, so he rambled on about birds for five minutes until a girl put up her hand and said, “Do they have five toes on one foot and four on the other?” Gary had landed right back in the middle of maths again. He said, “They have four on each foot and one on their… back. Now as I was saying about the bird trapped in a telephone booth, if you leave them there for long enough, they will figure out how to lift the receiver…” The girl put up her hand again and said, “Why do they have one on their back?” “To stop predators from… eating their back.” The questions about birds continued until someone asked who’d win in a fight between a bird and a badger in a tree. Gary said the badger would win every time, but some of the class disagreed. They said that the bird would be much more used to moving about in the tree, and the badger would have trouble even getting into the tree. Gary said that these things didn’t matter because there was such a difference in size that the bird wouldn’t have a hope of defeating a badger, and some of the class agreed with him on this. They spent half an hour arguing about it, but they couldn’t reach an agreement, and then Gary asked the group who were backing the bird if they’d ever seen a badger before and none of them had, so he said he’d bring in Uncle Harry’s stuffed badger on the following day and then they’d see how big these things are. There were just a few minutes left in the class, and Gary asked them if they had any more questions. When a boy put up his hand and asked a question about maths, Gary shook his head and said to himself, “There’s always one.” As he tried to think of an answer, he wondered why he should bother keeping up the pretence of being a maths teacher. He’d have to tell Shelley the truth sooner or later, and he had no idea how he’d go about explaining that one to her, especially after taking these maths classes. So he came clean to the kids and he told them his problem with explaining things to Shelley. The kids tried to help him out, and they proved to be very helpful, or at least the ones who supported his position on the badger were. The others didn’t care a whole lot, but a girl in the badger group came up with a great idea: “I saw this film once and there was a man who had a friend whose sister died and before she died she was trying to set up a business selling… sea shells I think it was, but then she died, so her sister, the friend of this man in the film, decided to set up that business and the man in the film gave up his job to help her.” Gary had figured out what she was getting at before she said, “So that’s what you should say to this woman - that you’re giving up teaching to help the a friend whose sister died.” She recommended coming up with something other than the sea shells, and that sounded like good advice to Gary. And then he saw another feature of the plan that the girl didn’t spot at all: he could use this story on Shelley and tell her that she could use the story on her father. That’s what he did. He told her that he was giving up teaching to help a friend set up a book shop to fulfil her dead sister’s wishes, and to do this he had to study English in college for a few years. She was delighted when he suggested that she use a similar story on her father. She kissed Gary on the cheek and rushed off to tell her father straightaway. Gary went to Uncle Harry’s place to get the stuffed badger, and Harry had a tiny stuffed robin as well. Gary brought them both into class the next day and he spent twenty minutes enacting fights between them, and the idea of the robin winning seemed ridiculous because of the difference in size. The pupils who had taken the ‘badger’ side of the argument had a great time watching these mock fights, but the ‘robin’ side were very unimpressed. The fights came to an end when Shelley’s father came into the class. He said to Gary, “I was talking to Shelley last night. She told me she’s not going to be a maths teacher because she wants to help a friend set up a shoe shop in accordance with a her friend’s dead sister’s wishes. When I asked her if she’d miss the other maths teachers, like her friend Gary, she told me that you aren’t a maths teacher at all.” Gary said, “Well I never said I was a maths teacher.” “What are you then?” “I’m… I study birds.” “An ornithologist?” “No, I study birds.” “Then why are you teaching this maths class?” “It’s not a maths class. It’s a… bird class.” Gary held up the stuffed robin. Shelley’s father turned to a boy in the front row and asked what he had learnt about birds. Thankfully it was one of the ‘badger’ group, and he was only too happy to help Gary out. He talked about why birds have a toe on their backs and fighting with badgers and so on, but as he spoke, Gary noticed that the ‘robin’ group were all smiling. He had a feeling that they were looking forward to landing him in trouble, so as Shelley’s father listened to the boy in the front row, Gary wrote on the blackboard: ‘If ye help me out, I’ll buy ye DVDs’. The whole class was smiling then. They told Shelley’s father everything they knew about birds, which turned out to be a lot more than Gary knew. For instance, he had no idea that some birds sleep in old shoes or empty paint cans. If Gary had been any good at maths he’d have worked out how much thirty DVDs would cost and he’d never have agreed to buy them. He had to get a bank loan to pay for them.

The moose’s head over the fireplace looks very happy when you put a scarf around his neck. The wife first discovered this when I gave her a scarf for her birthday and she put it around the moose’s neck. It’s almost as if he thinks the scarf hides the fact that he doesn’t have a body. I hope he never sees himself in a mirror while he’s wearing it.