'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Baking Chairs

We had snow last week, and it stayed on the ground for a while too. Everything in the garden was covered in snow, but I'm sure the dog likes to think he buried it all.

My Uncle Ben was in a restaurant with some friends of his, and about half-way through the main course, one of the friends, Stan, recognised the waiter at another table. A man had called the waiter over to complain about his meal. He said, "Tell the chef I've seen things stuck to buildings that are more appetising than this."

"Certainly, sir," the waiter said. "I'm sure he'll appreciate the opinion of the furniture."

"Are you trying to imply that the chef appreciates the opinion of furniture?"

"No, sir. You're an idiot and there's a cat on your lap."

"That's my grandmother's cat. Are you trying to insult my grandmother?"

"No, sir. I'm trying to insult you, and so is the cat."

"Just because it's digging its claws into my groin, don't assume it's trying to insult me."

Stan told them that the waiter, Frederick, used to be a brilliant butler, but he had a habit of insulting people. And when he couldn't insult people he'd start swearing. But he had to work as a waiter because there wasn't much call for butlers any more, especially one who either swears or insults people.

Ben always wanted to have a butler, but he couldn't afford one. When Stan said that Frederick still works part-time as a butler, Ben called him over and asked if he'd do a bit of butlering at a garden party in a few weeks. Frederick said he'd be delighted to, although not in so many words. Or actually in one word more, and this other word made Ben wonder if it was wise to hire him after all. He had to choose between allowing the butler to swear at or to insult his guests at the party. Neither of these options were desirable, but by the end of the meal he'd come up with a plan to avoid both.

He asked Frederick if he'd work at his house for a few hours, a few times every week, just to get used to the place, and to make sure the house was in perfect condition for the party. When he turned up at Ben's place on the following day, my cousin Jane and her friend, Claudia, were there too. Ben had told them about the swearing, and he wanted them to teach the butler all of the latest swear words. When Frederick was looking through the cupboards in the kitchen, Jane said, "That baking kettle is always on the blink."

"Sorry about her," Claudia said to Frederick, then she turned to Jane and said, "You can't use language like that in front of a butler."

"You don't mind words like 'baking', do you, Frederick?"

The butler used the words 'absolutely', 'not' and one one other word in between.

"And I wouldn't use the dishwasher," Jane said. "The man who came to repair that is a baking sandwich."

"They're all bakers," Frederick said. Jane and Claudia were delighted to see that they were having such an effect already. He picked up a lot of other new swear words from them, like 'chair' or 'dynasty'.

My cousin Ronan had started playing chess with his girlfriend, Audrey, and he really enjoyed it at first because she was so easy to beat, but then she tried to figure out how to actually play the game. It was still just as easy to beat her, but the whole process was much more difficult to endure. He was constantly explaining the rules to her. It got worse when someone gave her a weasel glove puppet for her birthday, and she thought the chess would be more fun if she got the weasel to play for her.

It wasn't more fun for Ronan. He still had to explain the rules every few seconds, but Audrey made him talk to the puppet on her hand. The weasel would nod as Ronan spoke, but then the puppet would look around the board, wondering what piece to move, and Ronan would have to explain the situation again.

Things got worse when she wrote a song to remember the rules of chess. It was much more difficult to endure the games while the weasel was singing the song (and he sang it before every move), but it was also becoming more difficult to beat Audrey, or the weasel. The fact that she refused to call any of pieces by their correct name annoyed him too. The song started with the line 'The little prawny things are very, very shy'.

He called in to Ben's house one day. Jane and Claudia were passing on some more swear words to the butler. They were watching the racing on TV while Frederick polished the silver. One of the racing pundits said, "He beat Baker Tom at Leopardstown when the going was good, but I wouldn't be betting a doghouse on him."

"He'll probably get fired for saying that," Jane said.

Claudia said, "I never thought I'd hear anyone say 'doghouse' on TV at this time of the day."

Ronan had backed a horse in the next race, but it fell at the first. He didn't want to swear in front of the butler, and the only way he could express his frustration was by reciting a few lines from Audrey's song. "The plastic horsie can't jump over any other square, and the little royal crown is mostly sitting on his chair."

He said it with such anger and resentment that the butler was convinced it must be even worse than what the TV chef said about the F-ing bakers.

"Where did you learn language like that?" Jane said.

"Audrey. I'm very sorry for saying it at all, but I have to put up with that stuff all the time."

Ben was delighted with his decision to hire Frederick for the party. His new butler took care of all the preparations, and everything was looking perfect. He chose the very best food and wine.

Before the guests arrived, Ben said to Frederick, "I know this might be a lot to ask, but would you mind keeping the insults to an absolute minimum? You can swear as much as you like, but no insults, if at all possible."

"That's baking fine, sir."

Frederick continued using words like 'baking' and 'sandwich' after the guests arrived. When someone complimented him on his choice of wine he said, "Thank you, sir. I'd have got another case of it but the supplier is a royal dynasty."

When people wondered about these expressions, Ben said, "His mother is Spanish." This was the best explanation he could come up with for the butler's colourful language.

Jane and Claudia decided to taste as much of the wine as they could, taking just a tiny amount from each bottle. Their estimate of 'tiny' became more unreliable as the evening went on. Most of the guests were still in the garden as the stars came out. Jane and Claudia joined them on the lawn after re-filling their glasses with one of the final wines. Jane took a 'tiny' sip from it and said, "It tastes like... fruit of some sort."

"That's absolutely nothing like fruit," Claudia said. "Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing at all like fruit. It's more like... flowers."

"You're a royal sandwich if you think that's like flowers."

"Me? A royal sandwich? You were the one who said that bottle of Chardonnay tasted like paper. You're a plastic robot."

"You've been sitting on your chair all night like a baking horsie, saying everything is like flowers. You'd get more sense from a baking square."

The other guests all looked towards them as the argument became heated.

"I was just thinking that about you," Claudia said. "You keep saying 'fruit' or 'paper' or 'the colour of those curtains'. You sound like a royal, baking crown."

"Right, that's enough," Frederick said. "Go somewhere else if ye're going to use that sort of language."

"But you've been swearing all night," Claudia said.

"Yeah, but I never used the 'C' word."

The other guests all saw the reason for the butler's strange statements, and it was a much more convincing reason than a Spanish mother. One woman was too shocked to say anything when he offered to fill her royal glass.

Ben wanted to get people's minds off the butler's language, so he suggested that they all go inside for a bit of music. He convinced a few people to sing a song, and he accompanied them on the piano. His guests forgot about the swearing, and the atmosphere of earlier was restored.

Ronan and Audrey dropped in on their way back from the theatre. Audrey was only too happy to sing a song. She said, "See if ye can guess what this one is about."

She started singing the song she wrote to remember the rules of chess, and no one guessed what it was about from 'the little prawny things', but then she sang about the royal crown, and the lyrics suddenly made sense to everyone there. They assumed that words like 'prawny' must be swear words too, maybe even worse than 'crown'. The song was non-stop swearing.

When she got to the end she smiled and waited for the round of applause, but everyone just stared at her in horror. One woman fainted.

"Get out," Frederick said to Audrey as he pointed at the door.

The moose's head over the fireplace is doing his best to look unimpressed with my break of 58 in snooker. Of course, he wasn't actually there to see it - I just went through the whole break shot-by-shot in front of the fireplace - so maybe he doesn't believe me. I did lie about scoring the winning goal in a preliminary round of the FAI Cup. But then the moose's head seemed very impressed with the wife's uncle's story about accidentally setting fire to a hotel room, and I didn't believe that at all.