'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Mrs. Lowdelerry's Tea Room

I've been thinking about doing something with the rockery, now that I've found it again. It often goes missing. My great-grandfather once spent years looking for it. When he found the rockery it had nearly escaped from the garden. He was glad he had caught it, but he missed the chase, so he deliberately lost it again just so he could look for it.

My aunt Joyce has a rockery in her back garden. A few years ago she wondered if she could re-arrange the rocks to better effect, to create a more welcoming sight for visitors when they stepped outside the back door. She wanted them to feel as if the garden was saying 'hello' to them. The whole world would seem like a nicer place then. A warm feeling would spread across the land. Clouds would hurry away and birds would sing. The cows in the fields would moo happily. People who sweep the streets in cities would start whistling. Traffic wardens would dance. Dinner parties would be greatly improved by the warm welcome of a garden. It wouldn't give the guests anything more to talk about, but it would give them the will to talk at length about subjects that otherwise would be exhausted after the words 'It was just a stick'. The guests would go home with smiles on their faces, and remnants of these smiles would remain throughout the night. They'd wake up with a will to fit as much as possible into the new day. So it was hugely important to get the rockery right.

Joyce asked a neighbour called Harriet to look at the rockery and come up with a different arrangement of the rocks. Harriet was practically an expert on rockeries, and she was delighted to have a chance to spend more time with rocks. Her nerves had been shattered by trees. They never did what she wanted them to do. Rocks were very well-behaved in comparison. She spent a few days working on Joyce's rockery and this left her feeling completely at peace. Joyce was delighted with the result. Everyone smiled as soon as they stepped out into the garden.

Harriet had a warm smile on her face when she went home after finishing the rockery, but the smile seemed long gone when she came back to Joyce's house on the following day. The trees had been at her again, and her dog had got sick on the lawn. He kept barking at whatever it was he threw up. She needed to get away from her garden, to clear her mind of it before she could figure out what to do about the trees and the dog's present. So she was taking a train journey to the coast that day. She asked Joyce if she'd like to go with her, and Joyce said she'd be delighted to go.

The closer they got to the coast, the more Harriet seemed to forget about the trees. They got off the train at a station in a small seaside town. Harriet suggested they begin with tea and cakes. "You should always begin with tea and cakes," she said. "It's important to have a pleasant beginning because this will colour everything that follows. You're unlikely to enjoy a pleasant end if the beginning isn't right. Of course, it's not always appropriate to have tea and cakes. At breakfast time tea and toast will suffice, but there should certainly be marmalade. Sometimes it's not possible to begin with tea and cakes, like when the starting pistol is fired to send marathon runners on their way. That's why I've never run a marathon."

She said she knew of an exceptionally good tea room on the seafront. It looked just like a normal house from the outside. This was because the owner, Mrs. Lowdelerry, wanted to keep undesirables away. If she didn't want to let someone in she'd just pretend that this place wasn't a tea room at all, that she'd just invited some friends around for tea and the cash register was an ornament.

Harriet rang the doorbell at this house and Mrs. Lowdelerry opened the door. She invited them into the tea room. There were ten other women there, all drinking tea and eating cakes. Harriet and Joyce sat down at a table, and while they were waiting for their tea and cheesecake to arrive they overheard a conversation at a nearby table. A woman called Gillian was saying, "Nothing ever happens. Thank God. I wouldn't know what to do if something actually happened. I'd be picking daisies for cows and knitting dungarees or flags for the people at the bus stop, depending on which one they'd prefer. 'Would you like a flag or dungarees?' 'I think I'll go for some dungarees today.' There's a chance that something might happen, but I don't think it's going to come to anything. Two young men are camping in the field behind my house. They're nephews of the man who owns the field. They're only staying until tomorrow. They're going to a bible studies conference."

Mrs. Lowdelerry had been listening to this conversation as well. She said to Gillian, "I don't wish to alarm you, but my sister had similar visitors in a field near her house. They said they were nephews of the man who owned the field and they were on their way to a bible studies conference. They said they'd be gone again on the following day. She didn't think it would come to anything either."

"And did it?"

"On the following day there were over a hundred people in the field and they didn't look as if they were on their way to a bible studies conference, unless fire-eating classes are part of bible studies these days. Some of the things they were drinking were worse than petrol. These intoxicants made them behave erratically. They kept forgetting to put their clothes on, and even when they remembered they often put on someone else's clothes. They shouted relentlessly and my sister didn't understand any of it, but she was still shocked by everything they said. The music would go on all night and this went on for weeks. My sister couldn't sleep. Towards the end of the first week she was getting visits from leprechauns who told her they'd put a stop to the party in the field very, very quickly with a word and a nod to a friend who could frighten a mountain out of its socket, or even just by playing music on a flute, music that would attract the little red creatures with the gold wings, and these creatures would fly around the flute, making a buzzing sound that exudes menace, a liquid menace that would pour into the heads of these field-dwellers through the holes in their faces, and when their heads were full the liquid would solidify and make them run from the field in terror. My sister thought that these red creatures were just figments of the leprechauns' imaginations. She asked them to do something about the people in the field, but they never did. She ended up spending most of her time working on a homemade gun, one that would shoot mashed potatoes, but her mind wasn't operating at full capacity because of the lack of sleep and she couldn't get the gun to work. It could shoot wine alright, but she could just throw wine at them. It never crossed her mind to throw mashed potatoes at them. Thousands of other things crossed her mind, like a plan to write a musical about a twenty-seventh letter of the alphabet. This letter was called Bob. That turned out to be a surprisingly good idea. The people in the field left because they couldn't stand listening to her composing songs for this musical."

Gillian looked shocked. She said, "Oh. Oh dear. I see. Oh dear. Do you... Would you like dungarees or... No. That's for the people at the bus stop. I see. Oh dear."

"Don't worry," Mrs. Lowdelerry said. "We'll nip this thing in the bud. We'll get rid of those two well-behaved young men before they break out into a hundred hooligans who can't remember the fundamentals of clothing themselves."

Harriet, Joyce and all of the other women in the tea room agreed to help. The plan they came up with was to fight fire with fire. They'd have a tea party in the field to get rid of the campers. They rounded up as many of their friends as they could find and they all went to the field. There were over forty middle-aged women in the field with the two young men, who were clutching their bibles. Mrs. Lowdelerry was there with her sister, who had brought the wine gun. Someone fired the gun accidentally. It caused consternation at first, but within minutes it was causing laughter and singing. Loud music and dancing followed soon after, and not long after that the two campers were seen running from the field, singing hymns as they fled. Most of the women in the field didn't notice their departure. They were too busy shooting wine at each other and dancing.

Harriet felt much better after the party. She saw that trees were nothing to worry about, and she informed them of this when she got home.

The moose's head over the fireplace is listening to the sound of the trees in the wind. It looks like summer is nearly over for another year. Rose, one of our neighbours, says she can't wait for autumn because she loves stuffing dead leaves into empty vampires. They want her to do this.