'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Regulars

There's nothing more relaxing than standing in the glasshouse and looking out at the birds in the garden. There are few things more stressful than being a member of the local bird watching association at the moment. They've split into two rival groups because of a dispute over who put a ham sandwich into their president's mouth while he was asleep. I spent an hour watching them in the fields on Saturday afternoon. One group were crouched behind a ditch and their rivals were crouched behind the ditch at the opposite side of the field. They were watching each other. I found it very relaxing.

My uncle Harry often went to a pub owned by a man called Dan. The pub was rarely full, but Dan had a loyal band of regulars who kept the business going. For years he saw the same faces every night, and he heard them talking about the same things. They'd tell rambling stories they'd told before and they'd have the same pointless arguments about politics. He'd often been tempted to take up drinking just so he could enjoy these things as much as they did, but a drinking habit was a dangerous thing to have when you had such easy access to alcohol, so he'd always managed to resist the temptation.

He looked for other ways to liven up his life. He started experimenting with new drinks. This didn't go unnoticed by the regulars. Harry went into the pub one evening and ordered a pint of Guinness, and when he got it he couldn't help noticing the fish in the glass. The fish's tail was sticking out of the pint's head. Most of the head ended up on the counter because the tail was still flapping about. Dan put a bowl full of water on the counter and he said, "You can put the fish in here, if you want."

Harry wanted to put the fish into the bowl, and he did. He didn't really want to drink the pint even after the fish had been removed, but he didn't want to offend Dan either, so he drank it.

To his surprise, it was the best pint he'd had in years. All of the other regulars agreed that the presence of the fish brought a pleasant variety to their drinking habits. Only Paddy chose to leave the fish in the glass. He'd swallow the pint and the fish in one go. He saw it as a free dinner, and he loved the feeling of the fish moving around in his stomach. One evening he picked up the pint and he said to the fish, "I've just been eating Ferrero Rocher chocolates. Don't you be eating any of them while you're down there." After swallowing the fish he remained completely still for a few minutes. It looked as if he was trying to determine if the fish was eating any of the chocolates.

Paddy enjoyed the combination of the Guinness, fish and chocolate. Dan and the other drinkers were fascinated by this. They wondered what other combinations of foods they could get him to try. They came up with some strange recipes, like fried robin in jelly, or eel and marshmallows on toast.

Paddy said he'd love to try the eel and marshmallows on toast, so Dan prepared it for him on the following evening. Paddy enjoyed eating it as much as the others enjoyed watching him. This became part of a new routine in the pub. They'd watch Paddy eating something that was cooked according to a recipe they'd discussed on the previous evening, and then they'd discuss other recipes. Dan was delighted with this new routine. It was much more interesting than listening to Owen's story about the time he saw a flying dog.

Things took a surprising new turn one evening when a man came into the pub and said, "I've heard you serve turkey and ham with moths in a Pepsi sauce."

Dan paused before saying, "Yes. I do."

"Can I have that please? With fries."

"I don't think I can manage the fries."

"I'll just have the turkey and ham with moths in a Pepsi sauce so."

Dan prepared the meal for his new customer. The man enjoyed it, and the regulars enjoyed watching someone else eat one of Dan's dinners.

On the following evening more new customers arrived and ordered food. Some of them were so impressed they came back again on the following evening, and they brought other people with them. Within a week, Dan had printed menus and he'd hired a waitress, his niece.

The regulars hated what had happened to the pub. It had become a restaurant, and it wasn't the sort of restaurant they liked. Not that they liked any sort of restaurant, but if they had to go to one they wouldn't choose a place where people talk about what wine would go well with that coriander sauce, and how the matter was complicated by the fact that the coriander sauce went surprisingly well with the beetle.

The regulars tried drinking in another pub, but it just wasn't the same. They knew they wouldn't be happy until Dan's pub was restored to its former glory. They had to put an end to the restaurant. It was for Dan's own good, they said. The fad for pig's tails in white chocolate would pass and he'd be left with nothing.

They had to find a way of repelling his new customers, but how do you repel people who are attracted to a place where they can eat grilled mice with cheese and indigestion tablets? They suspected that most of the customers were only there because it was the fashionable thing to do.

Harry and the other regulars convinced Dan to let a man called Ford perform in the pub. He was known as Ford because he used to live in an old Ford car, until he started living in the woods. He sang songs about his life, and he played a homemade guitar. Dan was reluctant to let Ford play in the pub because he thought his new customers wouldn't like it.

"Did you think they'd like eating donkey liver and paper?" Harry said. "We came up with that recipe, and all of the others. We know what they like, and they'll love Ford."

"Okay then," Dan said. "He can play here tomorrow night."

Ford started his set with a song about trying to coax a squirrel into his mouth. He set a trap by lying on the ground with his mouth open and a nut on his tongue, but the squirrel was too quick for him.

At first the diners seemed to enjoy the performance, but then they started to suspect that Ford really meant what he was singing about. They noticed the scars and the dirt on his hands. The smell made them breathe through their mouths as much as possible, which was awkward when they were trying to chew a mouse's tail.

You'd need a strong stomach to endure Ford's song about his homemade lavatory. That stomach could be severely weakened by the presence of rabbit's ears stuffed with candyfloss. All of the diners had left before the end of this song.

Ford kept on playing for another two hours, a performance that was greatly appreciated by the regulars, who were in a celebratory mood after reclaiming their pub.

They were on their own again on the following evening. Dan was disappointed because he had a freezer full of mice and he didn't know what to do with them. Paddy said he wouldn't mind licking a frozen mouse that had been dipped in whiskey. Within minutes all of the regulars were doing just that.

The moose's head over the fireplace has spent a lot of time reading the newspapers recently. I'm happy to hold them up for him because I want him to read the racing section and offer a few tips, but so far this year he's only made predictions about the weather. This suits the wife's uncle because he bets on the weather with his friends. He had twenty euros on the rain on Sunday and it won by three lengths.