'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Pickhead and the Syllables

A small stream flows through the field behind the garden. It's nice to sit amongst the trees near the red brick wall and listen to the sound of the flowing water. My great-grandfather once came up with a plan to divert it into the garden, but he gave up on the advice of a leprechaun. He was always afraid of offending the little folk. Leprechauns stopped him from going to numerous dinner parties at his mother-in-law's house.

My uncle Ben once ended up managing a punk band called 'Pickhead and the Syllables'. He wasn't entirely sure how it happened (it had something to do with a card game and a hole in the wall), and if he had been aware of what was going on, it wouldn't have gone on. Managing Pickhead and co was the last thing he wanted to be doing. Nearly everything they did descended into violence, apart from their music. Ben thought their songs were so bad that he considered the ensuing violence to be an ascent. Songs like 'A Piece of a Swan' made him long for the fight at the end. He thought their name was ironic, given their preference for single-syllable words.

One day he watched them throw marbles at each other. That became violent after about two seconds, and he knew he couldn't put up with this for much longer. He remembered when he was hiding in an attic with some friends of his. One of them was called Siegfried, and he smoked a pipe, but he didn't like it. He held the pipe as far away from himself as he possibly could. Siegfried didn't like a lot of things, and he always looked for ways to avoid them while still retaining control.

Ben wanted to keep the band as far away from himself as possible and still retain control over them, which would allow him the freedom to do other things, like hiding in attics.

There was an old house near where Ben lived. It was hidden amongst the trees at the bottom of a hill. No one had lived there for nearly ten years. Ben came up with a plan to keep the band walking around the house for a few hours.

He told Pickhead and his band-mates that the house was haunted. He gave them a tin opener and he told them that it was found by a ghost who lived in that house. He suggested that they give it back to the ghost.

He was surprised at how easy it was to talk them into returning a tin opener to a ghost. He left them in the hall of the old house, and he closed the front door. It was dark, and they couldn't see the other end of the hall. They walked very slowly. The drummer held a box of screws. "Ben said to throw some screws at the ghost if we meet him," he said.

"How are we going to give back the tin opener if we have to throw screws at him?" Pickhead said.

"Why don't we just throw the tin opener at him?"

"It depends on what sort of a ghost he is. We might just have to fight him."

They all nodded.

Ben was hiding in an attic. At first he was relieved to get some peace from the band, but he got bored in the attic. He liked the way he dealt the band. It showed a real flair for management, and he thought he shouldn't let that talent go to waste. If he could manage an act that avoided regular violence, he wouldn't have to hide in attics so often.

The first act that came to mind was a harpist called Avril. She thought violence was wrong. When she wasn't playing the harp she was skipping barefoot through fields and picking wild flowers. He went to see her playing in a nearby field.

He asked her if he could be her manager and she said, "That's just what I need right now. My last manager left because someone buried his foot in the sand, and it just upset him. He needed to spend some time by himself."

"Well spending time by myself is the thing I want to get away from."

Ben's niece, my cousin Jane, was in the field too. She was with her friend, Claudia. As they listened to Avril play, they ate cream crackers. Claudia had won a biscuit tin full of cream crackers in a raffle. A man called Joe said, "Can my weasel have some of your cream crackers?"


"Or just one then?"

"Where's your weasel?"

"He's... He's waiting in the car. I gave him a puzzle to play with."

"The cream cracker isn't really for your weasel, is it?"

"No really, it is."

Back in the 'haunted' house, the band were listening to a cupboard in the kitchen. They thought they heard a noise from it. They all turned around suddenly when they heard footsteps behind them, and they were just about to throw the tin opener and the screws when they saw a woman standing there, dressed all in white.

"Are you a ghost?" Pickhead said.

"No, of course not."

"Are you an angel?"

"No. Not really. Well, sort of. What are ye doing in here? It's a beautiful day outside.

"We're supposed to return this tin opener to a ghost. Our manager told us to stay in here."

"I can manage ye outside the house. When I say 'boo', that means ye should stop doing what ye're doing, especially if ye're doing something to someone's feet, and when I say 'buzz', that means... ye should just continue what ye're doing to someone's feet."

In the field where Avril was playing, Joe left Jane and Claudia, and he came back a few minutes later with a sheet of paper. "My weasel finished the puzzle," he said.

He held up the sheet of paper. It was covered in lines drawn with blue and yellow markers. Jane and Claudia looked at that without saying anything.

Avril sang as she played the harp. Every time she played she became immersed in the songs, and she always came to believe that she was gooseberry jam.

When she got to the end of the song and looked up, she saw Jane and Claudia eating cream crackers. She felt threatened by them, being gooseberry jam. She ran away screaming.

"It was your weasel's puzzle that made her run away," Jane said to Joe.

Avril went to a nearby farm owned by some friends of hers. They own copper pipes that say 'moo', and lots of glasses of milk, and blue plastic chairs. Spending time here always reminded her who she really was and what she wasn't, even though the copper pipes were partly responsible for the confusion in the first place. She loved the blue plastic chairs, the glasses of milk and the pipes. They made her forget about herself and becomes immersed in the world around her again, a world in which she was looking at a blue plastic chair.

She retured to her harp in the field, and she was just about to play another song when Pickhead and the Syllables arrived with the angel. Her name was Triona.

Tension filled the air, but for once it didn't emanate from the band. Avril and Triona had known each other for years, but they were always fighting. They fought over everything. Their latest dispute was about which one of them owned someone else's weather vane.

When Triona saw Avril she said, "Buzz, buzz."

The band moved towards the harpist. They knew they should do something to her feet, but they weren't sure what. Almost everything they did involved voilence, but that was normally directed towards each other. They couldn't attack a woman. They wondered if there was something non-violent they could do to her feet, but non-violence wasn't really their area of expertise.

They stopped when Avril held up a copper pipe. She smiled a menacing smile, or maybe it just looked menacing because of the way she held the pipe. This sort of thing was more in the band's territory. Being hit with a pipe was something they could understand, but it didn't solve the problem of what to do to her feet.

Ben was getting ready to go back to his attic and forget about his career as a manager, but Joe's weasel sorted it all out. When he arrived, Avril was afraid of him because he kept moving towards her feet, and she was barefoot. She'd gladly have hit the band with the copper pipe, but she didn't want to hit the weasel. She threatened to hit the band if they didn't keep the weasel away from her. Normally they would have enjoyed being hit with a pipe, but the idea of being hit by a barefoot woman scared them. It was the fear of the unknown. So they kept the weasel away from her feet. The weasel enjoyed the challenge. Joe said, "You need to give him some sort of a puzzle to keep his mind occupied."

Ben started managing the weasel and Triona too, and there was a permanent state of harmony between the four acts. Not that Ben did much in the way of managing. He spent most of his time hiding in the attic. Avril was happy just playing the harp in the fields and running away, while the band and the weasel kept each other occupied. It kept them out of trouble. Triona taught the weasel what 'buzz' meant, so he'd keep going for Avril's feet. He wouldn't need to know the meaning of 'boo'. She was always excited at the prospect of the weasel getting at Avril's feet, even though he was always foiled by the band.

The moose's head over the fireplace loves anything to do with Vikings, so we got him a Viking helmet. He enjoys wearing it, even though the horns are superfluous, given the fact that he already has antlers. I suppose that's why he likes the Vikings. They're beings with weapons on their heads, like himself. That's probably why he looks on me with such disappointment at times.