'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Ski Ship

When I was walking around the garden I found a black button on a stone path. It must have been dropped there by a bird. I've noticed that they've been collecting buttons recently. I don't know what they're up to. After months of collecting parts from clocks last summer, they unveiled a machine for predicting the weather. They must have ruined hundreds of clocks, but this destruction served an important purpose. The weather machine isn't always accurate, but it's operation provides an amazing spectacle. Thousands of cogwheels move at once. Brass pistons move wings made of white silk. It's difficult to know what the birds were trying to achieve with these wings, which seemingly serve no purpose. Some people have said that the birds are using the wings to make a statement. Many interpretations of this statement have been put forward, and it's proved to be a source of much debate in the pubs. Other people have claimed that this weather machine is really a way of instigating weather systems rather than predicting them, and that the wings are capable of starting storms. I can't wait to see what they'll do with the buttons.

My cousin Ronan once tried a bungee jump. One of his neighbours, a man called Tim, tied a bungee cord to an old viaduct across a valley. He'd charge local people five euros to plunge towards the river below, springing back up shortly before reaching the cold water, or shortly after if he didn't like them. News of the bungee jumping spread, and people from beyond the locality came to try it.

As the bungee jumping grew in popularity, local businesses did their best to cash in on the influx of visitors. Ronan's girlfriend, Audrey, sold food at a market on Saturday mornings. She started advertising her creations as food that could be eaten while bungee jumping, something to fight hunger on the long journey to and from the river beneath the viaduct. It was meant to be an advertising gimmick, but people took it seriously. They ate her food while jumping, and they found that it greatly enhanced the experience. Her food would have greatly enhanced the experience of standing still as well, or even sitting at a table, but the jumpers never thought of this. They'd buy more of her bread or biscuits or cakes and they'd go on a bungee jump to eat the food.

Some of the regular jumpers were getting fat and Tim was making a fortune because of Audrey. He kept his money under his mattress. When he found that his nose was touching the ceiling he realised that he needed to spend some of his money if he wanted to get a good night's sleep. He decided to go on a skiing holiday. He wanted to reward Audrey for all the customers she'd sent his way, so he brought her and Ronan along with him on the trip. He paid all of their travel expenses.

They found that skiing wasn't as enjoyable as bungee jumping because they kept falling and there was no elastic to pull them back up before they hit the cold snow. They looked for other activities they could partake in on the mountainside.

They saw a ship on top of a peak. It had been adapted so that it could slide down the mountainside. The captain of this ski ship was dressed like a pirate, as were his crew. He needed another three passengers before they could make their voyage to the bottom of the slope, so Tim, Audrey and Ronan agreed to climb on board.

To set sail, the crew used oars to push the ship off the top of the peak. As soon as they began their descent, most of the passengers wished they'd stuck with skiing or snowboarding. It was a terrifying voyage. The sails were used to steer the ship around trees and rocks. The captain's manic smile suggested he was looking forward to a crash. He said, "If we hit a tree, the tree will come off worse. That's not to say we'll get out of the wreck without a scratch."

Somehow they made it to the bottom of the slope in one piece, and the passengers disembarked. The crew emerged with ropes, which they attached to the back of the ship. The captain told his passengers to start pulling the ship back up the mountainside. Most of them started laughing, but their laughter ceased when the crew drew their swords. The captain explained that if they read the small print on their tickets they'd see that pulling the ship back up the mountainside was part of the experience they had paid for, and that it might even be more enjoyable than going down the slope. It was the crew's turn to laugh then.

After pulling the ship for hours, it started to get dark. The captain instructed the crew to anchor the ship for the night. The passengers were herded back on board. They were given tins of baked beans and a tin opener for their dinner. Audrey offered to cook something more appetising, and the captain allowed her to work in the galley. She created a meal that delighted the passengers, the crew and the captain. He sent his first mate out to a shop to buy provisions so Audrey could cook breakfast, lunch and dinner on the following day.

After breakfast, she was allowed stay on board to make lunch while her fellow passengers pulled the ship up the mountain. As she was stirring her vegetable soup she got the impression that the ship was moving quicker. She looked out and she saw that many more people had joined the effort to pull the ship. They had heard about her cooking and they thought that it was worthwhile dragging a ship up a steep slope to get a free lunch made by Audrey. The smell of the soup filled them with enthusiasm.

Lunch went so well that the number of passengers doubled in the afternoon. More provisions were purchased in the shop, and Audrey had to take on assistants to help her cook enough food to feed the growing throng. With all these extra passengers they were able to get the ship to the top of the peak before darkness fell. Dinner was served shortly afterwards. The passengers were very appreciative of the food after a long day of physical labour. They felt that the food was a just reward for their endeavour, and the whole experience proved to be rewarding.

This gave Audrey and Tim an idea for how to deal with the problem of obese bungee jumpers. Instead of dragging jumpers back up to the viaduct, they'd drop them down to a boat in the river. The jumpers would have to climb back up a steep embankment, and when they got to the top they'd be rewarded with some of Audrey's coffee cake or her chocolate biscuits.

The moose's head over the fireplace looks strangely distinguished when he wears his red clown nose. I found it in a box full of clown noses in the attic. These have been there since the days when my grandfather formed a circus with some of his friends to make some extra money. His act was jumping off the roof of a house and landing in a bath full of custard. The danger increased as his act became more popular. The spectators would bring spoons with them. By the time he had climbed onto the roof they'd have eaten all of the custard.