'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Pub Orchestra

The days are getting shorter and we're still waiting for summer to start, unless you count the summer we had in April. The unusual weather has inspired me to do my part for global warming. Or against global warming. Although some people I know have come out in support of global warming because they hate being told what to do by celebrities. The Beckhams make a good case for ignoring celebrities, but I've decided to listen to their advice on global warming by turning off the TV every time one of them appears on it to lecture me about the environment. The electricity bill is down by twenty percent. I'll be recommending this to all those who support global warming. It's possible to be anti-celebrity and save energy. You can leave your carbon footprint on the rear end of a Hollywood star.

My cousin Hector once joined an orchestra. If they hadn't been known as an 'orchestra' no one would have guessed that their purpose was to make music. The group's founder was called Giles and he made all of the instruments himself. He was always looking for things that could be used to make an instrument. One of his creations featured feathers, a fish tank and a vacuum cleaner. The feathers blown around the fish tank were there just for the visual effect. He was more concerned with the appearance of the instruments rather than with the sound they made.

He had once written a poem from a former girlfriend. When he read the poem he thought it wasn't good enough, but he didn't know how he could change it to make it better. So he used a red marker to write the poem on a pane of glass, and the red words on the glass seemed to improve the poem. He said it was like the way music could lift the most banal of lyrics. This is when he got the idea for the orchestra. The interesting visual appearance of the instruments would compensate for their poor sound. He spent years collecting things to make the instruments. He had a huge collection of bottles and glasses, but he used just a small percentage of them in the instruments. The bottles and glasses became a collection in their own right. The poem on the window didn't last as long as his orchestra (neither did his relationship with the woman he wrote the poem for). It contained the words 'My butter-wuttercup', so he 'accidentally' broke the window.

He thought he'd need at least ten musicians if he wanted to call the group an orchestra. Most of the musicians were regulars in his local pub. He convinced Hector to join, despite my cousin's lack of musical ability. Giles said, "You'll be playing an instrument made out of a paint tin and some copper pipes I found in the skip outside Janie's house. It's not musical ability you'll be needing at all. It's balls." Hector was always susceptible to any appeal to his balls, so he agreed to join.

There was one regular in the pub who they were desperate to keep out of the orchestra. Ron used to play the spoons until the police took them off him. It made everyone feel safer, until he started playing a fork instead. Giles knew that Ron would force his way into the orchestra if he knew it existed, so they couldn't let him find out about it.

They used to practise in a room over the pub. They were due to play their first gig at a village concert. There was a porch at the front of the pub, with an outer door that was only closed at closing time, and an inner door with a pane of frosted glass. Smokers used to stand in the porch. Giles made sure that there was always someone there to look out for Ron. If they saw him approaching the pub they'd pull a string just inside the outer door, and this would ring a bell in the room above.

The bell was a remnant of a time when drinkers used to move upstairs after closing time so they could drink for another few hours. They'd have someone on lookout duties on the street below. This person would ring the bell if they saw the police approaching. The people in the room above would then hide their drinks, get out easels, canvasses and paint brushes and pretend to be taking part in an art class. Their excuse was that the teacher slept until eleven o' clock at night. They started out pretending to paint bowls of fruit. From there it was a short step to pretending to paint nude models. The bar man eventually shut the operation down because it was effectively a strip club.

The orchestra were able to get a lot of practise in every evening before the bell rang and Ron appeared in the pub, but on one evening, the man on lookout duties got a phone call from his wife, who told him that their dog had got his head stuck in the gate. He was so distracted by this that he failed to notice Ron walking past him into the pub. Ron heard the sound from upstairs and he went up to investigate.

He caught them red-handed. When he realised that their purpose was to make something approaching music he said, "I want to join."

Giles said, "I'd love to have you on board, but... there's no room for anyone else because..."

Ron put his hand into his coat pocket and tried to find something. It sounded as if there was a lot of cutlery in there. Giles said, "But I suppose I could create a place for you."

Ron stopped looking in his pocket and he smiled.

They needed to give him an instrument that couldn't be used as a weapon, so Ron ended up playing a version of the bagpipes, only without the pipes. But he still managed to play it in a way that made all of the other musicians nervous.

Giles wanted to find a way to control him. Hector said, "If you want to keep a greyhound occupied, you give it a hare to chase. In other words, get Maeve to join the orchestra. Ron hates her."

"If you put a hare and a greyhound together in the same room, you're just making it easier for the greyhound."

"Not if it's an exceptional hare. It's the same size as the greyhound, and the greyhound is afraid of it. It'll be stalemate."

"They're playing chess now, are they? The greyhound and the hare?"

"It's an exceptional greyhound as well."

"I suppose it's worth trying anyway."

Ron's rivalry with Maeve started when she commented on his spoon-playing in the pub one evening. She said that he might as well be shoving the spoons up his nose. She agreed to join the orchestra because she had always wanted to be in a band. When they practised, Maeve and Ron sat at opposite sides of the room. They often stared at each other. They were focussing all of their anger on each other, and it put the other musicians at ease.

A few days before their first gig, they were on their way to the village hall one evening to practise on the stage. Ron stopped when he saw a woman at the other side of the street. Her name was Hilary. Ron was once engaged to her, but their engagement didn't last long. He'd be just the man to go to if you needed someone to partake in a bitter split. He'd perform the male role, and Hilary would be ideal for the female part. She filled his car with prawns after the break-up. He was always trying to come up with ways to get revenge. It was difficult with women. He found planning revenge on a woman to be as difficult as buying them a present, although most women he's bought presents for have interpreted those gifts as revenge for something they did wrong. For men you could buy them a bottle of something as a present and break it over their heads as revenge.

When she saw Ron she stopped as well. They stared at each other until she focussed her gaze on Maeve, who was staring back at Hilary. They all walked on again. Ron asked Maeve how she knew his ex, and she said she had been in school with Hilary. They started a band with some of their friends. Hilary was the lead-singer and Maeve played drums. But Hilary convinced the others to vote Maeve out of the band. She said it was because of musical differences. What she really meant was that she didn't like the way Maeve treated the drum kit as a way of releasing her anger. Sometimes she went on 'playing' long after the song had finished. Hilary said it was making people cry.

When Ron and Maeve discovered that they had a common interest in getting revenge on Hilary they agreed to put their differences behind them and work together. The rest of the orchestra didn't mind because now they had two greyhounds and they were both focussed on the same hare.

Hilary realised that she was in trouble if Ron and Maeve were working together. When the orchestra were practising in the hall on the following evening, Hilary arrived with two cakes, one for Ron and one for Maeve. She apologised to both of them. She told Maeve that she was wrong to throw her out of the band, and that the band were never as good afterwards. She told Ron that she'd always felt guilty about what she'd done to his car.

They both accepted her apology. Ron invited her to join the orchestra and she agreed. Giles didn't have much say in the matter. The other musicians were more nervous than ever. Now they had three greyhounds in search of a hare. The rest of the orchestra were terrified of doing something hare-like.

Giles was convinced that Ron, Maeve and Hilary were up to something. The three of them would often be whispering amongst themselves during rehearsals. They were definitely planning something.

The results of their plans were seen on the night of their performance at the village concert. Some people ran from the hall, trying to get away from the sheep and the bees. A few people stayed to put out the fire with fire extinguishers, and others tried to catch the man who was singing 'The Rose of Tralee'.

Giles was approached by the head of the concert's organising committee, who emerged from the hall with his clothes torn and singed, his face black with soot. Tears left tracks through the soot. He shook Giles's hand and said, "That was the best show I've ever seen in my entire life."

The moose's head over the fireplace can only observe the effects of global warming through the window. But he's certainly felt an increase in temperature after his move from a frozen landscape to a comfortable spot over the fireplace. The TV was turned off for a long time after Waterford beat Cork in the hurling last Sunday. At least we still have the football to look forward to, and Waterford can still redeem themselves by beating Kilkenny (assuming they beat Limerick first).