'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Going Gong

Summer is definitely in the air. The leaves are appearing on the trees again. The lawns are like carpets after they've been cut. My great-grandmother loved to see the garden like this, and she hated the thought of someone putting a foot in the wrong place and ruining everything. The way I look at it, if you put a foot in the wrong place you can only ruin everything beneath your foot, but she was a perfectionist. She used to tell visitors that she'd hidden snares around the garden, just to make sure they'd be careful about what they did with their feet.

My cousin Jane and her friend, Claudia, once went to a museum in an old manor house. After spending an hour looking at the exhibits they took a walk around the garden, but they couldn't help noticing that the gardener was keeping a very close eye on them. He was obviously very protective of his creation. Jane tried to put his mind at ease by complimenting his work. She thought this would be a way of letting him know that they weren't there to vandalise his creation, but he seemed to take it the wrong way. He said, "If either of ye go blinko, ye'll regret it. I'll make sure ye'll regret it."

They decided to leave the garden and return to the museum. On the way back, Claudia said to Jane, "What does going blinko mean?"

"I have no idea. We should ask my uncle Harry. He often comes up with strange words and phrases, and he uses them as if they're the sort of things everyone should know."

They went to see Harry and they asked him about going blinko. He said, "It sounds familiar alright. I think it's more-or-less the same thing as going gong while your cheese is in the parlour."

"What does it mean to be going gong while your cheese is in the parlour."

"Ah, now. Now there's a question. You'll have to ask Clinky about that. Only don't call him Clinky. Call him Owen."

They went to see Owen, who lived nearby. Jane asked him about going gong while your cheese is in the parlour. He said, "To understand that you need to familiarise yourself with a woman called Rebecca. She's always hiding in the shadows and observing people. She has a way of making herself invisible. I've found her in the most unlikely places and there must have been countless times when I didn't spot her at all.

"One afternoon I was sitting at my typewriter, working on my memoirs. I was writing about driving across the desert in an old car, and I couldn't remember if I'd actually done this or just written about it in the past. I got up and I walked to the wall. I climbed a ladder to a wooden platform ten feet above the ground. From there I climbed another ladder to another platform. This one was three feet beneath the ceiling, so I had to crouch. I went to the corner of the room and I opened a small door. I took out a bottle of brandy and I poured myself a glass.

"A few days later I was reading the newspaper in the same room. I always read a column by a woman called Brigitte. On that morning I came across something very familiar in it. She wrote about a man who climbed a ladder to a platform, and then climbed another, and then poured himself a brandy. I wondered if Rebecca had been hiding in the shadows, and if she was really Brigitte. It was also possible that someone else was living in the house. There are lots of small doors and passageways in the place. A man got lost here once and we didn't find him for three years.

"To determine if Rebecca was writing the column I decided to spend a day with her, and to fill that day with as much adventure as possible. If she was the writer then surely some of the day's events would make it into her column.

"I used to wear blue shoes then. I bought them in a shoe shop from a man who wore a top hat. When I told people about this they always wanted to know more because not every shoe shop worker wore a top hat. In fact, very few of them did. This man claimed he was over 150 years old, but he didn't look a day over fifty. He said it was a very long day. He hadn't slept since 1904. He once had a wife, but she went away and she never came back. She sent him a postcard from where she went to. She said she was enjoying herself but she didn't like the plants because they were all so big and green, and they all looked as if they'd try to eat you if you let your guard down. So she never let her guard down, and she hadn't slept in months. She was planning to give up sleeping for good, so she could still be alive too, for all he knew.

"So I decided to go looking for his wife and I asked Rebecca to come along. I knew where she went to because of the postmark on the postcard. And I thought it should be easy enough to find her there because her dress sense would be stuck in the past.

"As we approached the place I warned Rebecca to be wary of the plants that could consume the unsuspecting. We noticed that the trees and wild flowers and bushes and ditches seemed different. The trees were thicker, leaving less sunlight through, and they seemed to be leaning over the roads and paths. We got the impression that some of the flowers weren't rising towards the sun, but instead were moving to the music of a snake-charmer.

"We came to a small town that was full of old-style shops and pubs. Everyone looked as if they hadn't caught any new fashion viruses since before the second World War. I asked a man if he knew of a woman who didn't sleep, and I was pointed towards the haberdashery.

"So we went there, and the woman behind the counter wore a dress that seemed to pre-date the first World War. I asked her if she knew a man who worked in a shoe shop. She kept looking at the plants all around her as she said, 'He compared my mother to a man with a hole in his head.' I said, 'That isn't really my area of expertise, but if you went back to him you could get away from the plants.' She said, 'I could just as easily get rid of the plants. But they keep me awake.' I said that wouldn't really be my area of expertise either. She asked if there was any way she could help me in her position as a haberdasher? I told her I was just looking for a bit of adventure, something to fill my day with Rebecca. She said she might be able to help.

"She took us down a path that led from the garden at the back of the shop. It led us to a man who held a small telescope. Butterflies were flying around his head, and he seemed to be observing them, or trying to observe them, with the telescope. When she introduced him to us he pointed the telescope in our direction. I waved into it. She said to him, 'I remember you said you needed someone to help you with those things that try to steal your iron roof every night. I think Owen and Rebecca would be just right for the job.'

"I didn't like the sound of 'things'. The man lived in a white wooden house. It was three storeys high, with two rooms on each floor. He had put an iron roof on it because he loved the sound of the rain on the iron. But over the previous year people had been trying to steal his roof every night. The only thing that proved an effective deterrent was shooting into the roof, but that had the unwelcome side-effect of filling the roof with holes. Instead of shooting he threw stones at the roof, but he had to throw a lot of them before they'd eventually go away.

"I asked him why he doesn't wait outside at night and try to catch them. He said he had to be asleep by ten o' clock each night because the plants seemed to be getting bigger during the day, and at that time they'd be so big they'd try to take him on, but they never touch him when he's asleep. The people on the roof would wake him up in the middle of the night. Myself and Rebecca agreed to wait in the shed behind the house that night and we'd look out for those people.

"At two o' clock in the morning we saw six little people climb a tree and jump onto the roof, but they showed no intention of taking it. They only wanted to dance. I couldn't help smiling and tapping my feet. It was more entertaining than anything Michael Flattley had done.

"A Renaissance painter lived nearby. He hadn't been around since the Renaissance -- Renaissance painting was just a profession handed down from father to son, and it only went back as far as his grandfather. He paid people to pose for his paintings each evening. After hours of standing still they'd explode into life. They needed to climb trees and dance, and the house with the iron roof provided an opportunity to do both.

"When the owner of the house found out that they were really there to dance he was delighted. He heard the sound in his sleep, and it filled his dreams with Renaissance art.

"A few days later I had proof that Rebecca was Brigitte. She did use an event from that day in her column. She told her readers about a dog who followed me for two miles. There was something about my smell that made him happy.

"With regard to going gong while your cheese is in the parlour, the man who owned the house told us that when he believed the dancers were trying to steal his roof, every time he thought about them he'd hear the sound in his head, and it seemed as if his head was a gong. He'd have to eat some cheese in his parlour just to calm down. Going gong while your cheese is in the parlour means getting angry about something and immediately trying to calm down because you don't want to get angry about this thing."

"What does that have to do with going blinko?" Jane said.

"Who said it had anything to do with going blinko?"

"Uncle Harry."

"It has absolutely nothing to do with going blinko."

"What does going blinko mean?" Claudia said.

"I have no idea, but the gardener at the museum might. He's a bit of a horse-pop, but he seems to have a good knowledge of these expressions."

So Jane and Claudia went back to the gardener and they asked him what going blinko means.

"I don't know," he said. "It's just something my grandfather used to say."

"What did you mean when you said it?" Claudia said.

"I meant 'Don't do anything ye shouldn't do'. Like stand on the flowers or steal my wheelbarrow."

"That's outrageous," Jane said. "We had no intention of doing either of those things."

"People are always standing on the flowers or stealing my wheelbarrow. It's safer to point these things out."

"Do we look like flower stampers or wheelbarrow thieves?" Claudia said.

The gardener looked closely at both of them before saying, "I really can't say."

Jane and Claudia were certainly going gong and they had no intention of eating cheese in the parlour to calm down. They came back later and they stole his wheelbarrow instead.

The moose's head over the fireplace would have experienced my great-grandmother's perfectionism. She dusted his antlers every day. I dust his antlers every day as well, but only because he seems to enjoy it. The wife's uncle says he used to go out with a woman who brushed his hair every day because she enjoyed it. She used to buy clothes for him too. When he met her father for the first time they were both surprised by how similar they looked. He tried to get out of the relationship by telling her he liked wearing dresses, but she just bought him a dress. It was a lot like one her mother wore.