'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Clay Pigeon Hunters

Winter is making a slight return. Last week we had rain and gale force winds. The weather is much better in real life than in the forecasts on TV, so I avoid the TV forecasts. It's like hearing the results of a football match before you've had a chance to see the highlights. In gale force winds the weather is a better spectator sport than most football matches. The weather is yet to be ruined by bad refereeing decisions. My great-grandfather used to commentate on the weather. People would travel for miles just to hear his commentary, but part of the appeal lay in the political undertones. He once got arrested for his commentary on a storm.

My cousin Hugh and his fiancee, Annabel, once went for a walk along the banks of a river. They met a woman in a wedding dress. Her name was Kathy. She was looking for her groom, who went missing just before the wedding. A weather forecaster told her he'd be heading south, and that's what brought her here. They said they'd help her look. Annabel didn't believe in astrology, homeopathy or weather forecasting, but she did believe in peas.

A man and a woman crouched behind a ditch. They held paintball guns. Every so often they'd look at a shed in a field. The woman, whose name was Lisa, said, "Even if robots did take over the world, they'd be completely ill-equipped for governance. It would only be a matter of time before they self-destruct."

The man's name was Keith. He said, "They'd need a leader, but if robots reach the point where they decide to seize power, then individual robots will try to overthrow the leader. Tyrants will be created. Opposition will be crushed. Revolutions will take hold."

"It would be exciting to watch it from a distance. Because they're robots you wouldn't feel bad when one of them orders the execution of another. It would be like watching cars fighting each other."

"That sounds like the greatest demolition derby ever."

"Yeah. It's a cross between chess and a demolition derby."

"Or a cross between Macbeth and one of those TV shows where robots fight each other."

The shed door opened and a man looked out. They saw him, and they didn't move. They let him run a few yards away from the shed before they opened fire with the paint guns. He turned around and ran back into the shed.

"Wouldn't it be funny if the robot revolution started on one of those shows?" she said.

The people in the shed had been shooting clay pigeons. Lisa and Keith were part of a protest group who were against the tradition of shooting clay pigeons every Easter. It was a tradition that was started over fifty years earlier by a man called Hogan, who used to hunt in the bogland around the lake. He loved shooting but he hated killing birds. He liked to think of bullets as benevolent bees that could be used for all sorts of purposes, such as removing cans from a fence to save you the trouble of manually removing them. Instead of shooting birds, he'd look closely at the smoke that rose from his pipe, and he'd imagine the smoke turning into birds. He'd shoot at the smoke. He started lighting bonfires to get more smoke, and more realistic birds. He burnt lots of things, hoping to get the right sort of smoke. The fumes affected his head, and the birds he saw seemed more real.

The people who lived nearby were sick of the smoke, and they convinced him to shoot clay pigeons instead. A local man made a mobile clay pigeon launcher. This was a weapon in itself. He saw the clay pigeons as belligerent hawks that could be used for all sorts of purposes, such as making people run in terror from the shed where they were playing poker and joking about a woman who fainted when she saw a man with blood on his arms.

Hogan claimed that he often found chocolate eggs in the clay pigeons he shot. This probably had something to do with the fumes from the fires, but there were plenty of people who'd use any excuse to get drunk and shoot into the air, and the clay pigeon shooting became a popular pastime at Easter.

A group of men on a stag party had been drinking in a pub until dawn. They left the pub to walk back to the house they had rented, but they took a wrong turning, and they ended up in the bogland around the lake, where they met the clay pigeon shooters. The members of the stag party didn't need much of an excuse to get drunk, or drunker, and shoot in the air, so they joined in. About an hour later, the anti-hunt protestors arrived with paint guns. They rounded up the hunters and took them to the shed. The protestors took turns to guard the shed.

The peas proved to be more accurate than the weather forecaster. Hugh, Annabel and Kathy walked to the vast open land with open sky above, where the lines of jets intersected with the lines of overhead wires. They came to a house with a huge window in the front. The woman who owned it put papers over the window pane at night. Local teenagers used to draw a newspaper on the window. This was their form of graffiti. They wrote stories about local events, and they drew very detailed pictures to go with the text.

One of the stories was about the clay pigeon hunters and the protest. They had drawn a picture of Keith kissing Lisa. The caption simply said 'Keith kissing Lisa'. Kathy was shocked when she saw it. "That's my Keith," she said, "the man I'm supposed to marry. The man I was supposed to marry."

"You can't believe everything you see in the papers," Hugh said.

They read the text and they found out where the shed was. They walked in that direction, and they met Keith on the way. He was shocked to see Kathy. She was furious when she saw him. "Why were you kissing that woman?" she said.

"What woman?"

"Lisa. And who is that woman?"

"I never kissed her."

"We just saw it in the paper."

"She blew bubbles at me, and there were kisses in the bubbles, but that's as far as it went. There was certainly nothing on my part that amounted to a kiss."

"Then how do you explain the picture we saw?"

They went back to the house to show him the picture. A group of local artists used to edit the paper every evening. They had tiny scissors, and they'd re-arrange the text. They'd glue their pictures over the ones drawn by the teenagers. The teenagers were always sensationalising stories, but the artists tried to make them sound less dramatic. By the time Hugh, Annabel, Kathy and Keith got back to the house, the artists had altered the newspaper, and the picture with the clay pigeon story showed Lisa and Keith standing ten yards apart, waving at each other.

"You still have a lot of explaining to do," Kathy said. "Why did you miss the wedding?"

"We must have lost a day somewhere in the stag party. I only realised that today. The rest of the party are stuck in a shed. We were shooting clay pigeons, and we didn't realise that some people around here objected to this activity. I had refused to partake in the activity at all because... I had a feeling that some people might object to it. And I was right. The protestors arrived with paintball guns and they took all the hunters to a shed. I had to decide which side I was on. I couldn't just sit on the fence. So I ended up with the protestors. But I've been trying to get them out of the shed ever since. And now I have a plan."

The truth was that Keith had only joined the protestors after being confronted by Lisa. It took six hours before he started to feel guilty about succumbing to her charms and abandoning his friends, and only then did he start to think about getting his friends out of the shed.

"What's the plan?" Hugh said.

"I've just been to see the president of the local gun club to ask for his help. He didn't have any ideas, but he insisted that I took a loaded handgun with me. He said it would get me out of any trouble. I didn't think there could possibly be any use for a handgun, but now that I've met you guys, there's a simple plan. There are two men on guard at the shed. I'll go there now. One of ye will fire shots at the lake. They'll hear the shots, and I'll suggest that someone is shooting ducks. I'll offer to keep guard at the shed while they go to investigate, and then I'll let the prisoners out."

Hugh was given the task of firing the shots at the lake, but he was very reluctant to use the handgun. He was hoping to win a seat in a local election and he was afraid that a photo of him with the handgun would end up in the press. It's just the sort of thing that happened to people who ran in local elections. Annabel convinced him to do it.

As it turned out, the only newspaper to get a picture of Hugh firing a handgun was the one on the window. The teenagers showed him shooting a horse, but this picture was replaced a few hours later by the artists. They showed him holding an ice cream cone.

The prisoners were successfully freed from the shed. Hugh, Annabel and Kathy met them at a pub later that night. The prisoners' clothes were tattered and torn, and they were covered in paint. They were exhausted. The best man said, "This has been the best stag party ever."

Kathy tried to punch him, but they were able to hold her back, which disappointed both Kathy and the best man. Being punched by a woman in a wedding dress would have been the cherry on the icing of the cake of this stag party.

The moose's head over the fireplace correctly predicted that Denman would win the Gold Cup at Cheltenham. He refuses to make any predictions about the weather. Apparently people used to place bets on the outcome of the weather when my great-grandfather commentated on it. The winner was never as clear-cut as in a horse race, and many disputes arose. A referee would have helped, although a current English football referee would only have made things worse.