'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Captain of a Ship

Every time I look over the wall at the end of the garden I see a donkey staring back at me. I can detect a look of intelligence in his eyes. I often wonder what he's thinking when he looks at me. Hopefully he's thinking 'I can detect a look of intelligence in his eyes'. According to the wife, he's almost certainly thinking 'Why on earth is he wearing that ridiculous hat?'. There's nothing ridiculous about this hat. My grandfather used to wear it, and tourists were always asking if they could take photos of it. You only had to look at his hat to know that he was a man of intelligence.

My cousin Jane and her best friend, Claudia, joined a nature appreciation society. Their activities ranged from pointing at clouds and saying 'ooh' to pointing at trees and saying 'aah' to pointing at young rabbits and saying 'aww'. One year they decided to have a picnic. A lot of planning and preparation went into this event. Eight rugs were stitched together so they could all sit down as a group. Sandwiches and cakes were made, and various drinks were concocted. A committee was assigned the task of finding a location that would provide plenty of things to point at.

They came up with an idyllic spot amongst the wild flowers on a hillside. The view of the valley elicited numerous 'ooh's and 'aah's and a round of applause. There weren't any clouds to point at, but the uninterrupted sunshine enhanced their view of the valley.

The picnic couldn't have been going any better until an unwanted guest arrived. A bee made everyone stand up, and some of the society members started to panic. Jane tried to take control of the situation. "Just point at it and say 'ooh'," she said. "It can sense your fear."

But no one listened to her. Some of them were pointing at the bee and screaming. The ones who weren't panicking were gathering up the plates and cups as if the picnic was over.

"We can't let ourselves be beaten by a bee," Jane said. "We have to stand up to it. We must sit down and finish our picnic."

The bee won. Within a minute of its arrival, all traces of the picnic were gone. "We have to show the bee that we won't be intimidated by it," Jane said to Claudia as they walked home through the fields.

"It's only a bee," Claudia said.

"Exactly. It's only a bee, and everyone ran as if it was a man with a bomb strapped to his head. We must have another picnic, and stay till we're ready to go home, not when a bee decides our picnic is over."

"I don't think you have much chance of convincing anyone else to re-stage our picnic."

Jane and Claudia came across another group of people having a picnic. They were eating burgers, which Jane didn't approve of for a picnic, but she had to admire their discipline. They all remained in formation on the rug when a bee arrived. They took no notice of their unwanted guest, and the bee left in defeat.

Jane had a chat with the group's leader. He said he was the captain of a tree and the other people there were his crew. They occupied an oak tree on a farm because they wanted to save it. Bernard, the farmer, was planning on cutting it down because it was blocking his view of a shed, and he wanted to be able to see that shed from his house because he was afraid that thieves would break into it and steal his tractor. It was no ordinary tractor. He had been adding things to it for years. When he pressed a button in the cab, a speedboat would be launched from the back.

Bernard tried everything to get the captain and the crew down from the tree. Threats didn't work. Carrying out the threats didn't work either. Not even bullets frightened the occupants of the tree. He tried to tempt them down with a bath full of gravy, but this failed as well. He made a bath of gravy every day. To add flavour, he'd stick his hand into it, but he never told anyone what he did with his hand before putting it into the gravy. This was the secret ingredient.

The captain and his crew were successfully thwarting Bernard's plans until a mutiny occurred on the tree. The crew wanted food from a take-away but Bernard refused to go there, so they took over the tree and set sail for this fast-food place. When they realised that it would take too long to sail there, they got down and walked. They took the captain with them. When they got back to the farm, the tree had been cut down.

They wanted revenge for what had happened, and the crew agreed to let the captain lead them in this mission. In return for their support, he let them have the burgers. He told Jane that it wasn't enough to be a strong leader or to appease your crew with burgers. What you needed was a common enemy, someone or something to inspire hate in every member of your crew.

Jane realised that this is what they needed for their picnic. There was no point in making the bee the enemy because she could never convince her fellow society members to take on a bee. She decided that the common enemy should be Shelly, who was a journalist with the local newspaper. Shelly was always writing stories about locals making fools of themselves. The disaster of the picnic would be just the sort of thing she'd be interested in, as long as it was made to look worse. Jane anonymously submitted the story of the picnic to Shelly. She exaggerated the terror caused by the bee. According to the story that appeared in the paper, some members of the nature appreciation society hid in barrels or under rugs, some fainted, and one of them went to Scotland.

Every member of the society was furious with Shelly when they saw the story. Jane had no trouble convincing them to re-stage the picnic, just to prove that they weren't afraid of the bee. Before embarking on their second picnic, they held a practise session in Jane's back garden. They all sat in formation on the grass, and they focussed their minds on Shelly when Jane imitated the sound of a bee. No one ran away during this practise session, but it would certainly be more difficult to keep their formation if a real bee arrived. Jane hoped that their hatred of Shelly would be enough to counteract their fear of the bee.

A photographer from the paper turned up for the re-run of the picnic. Jane was hoping that a bee would arrive as well, just so they'd have a chance to prove that they wouldn't be intimidated by it. As it turned out, hundreds of bees arrived, and they were all swarming around Bernard. He was fleeing through the fields, trying to get away from the bees. The captain of the tree got this idea for revenge from Jane. His crew put bee hives into Bernard's shed. When Bernard went into the shed to check on his tractor he was engulfed by the bees, and while he was distracted with them, the crew cut down his satellite dish.

The nature appreciation society were very nervous of the bees at first, but they soon realised that their enemies were only interested in Bernard. The photographer was interested in Bernard as well. Shelly wrote a story about him. In the background of the photo in the paper, you could see the nature appreciation society calmly engaged in a picnic without any hint of panic. According to Shelly, Bernard jumped into the river to get away from the bees, and he had to stay there for three hours because the bees waited around for him to come out.

The moose's head over the fireplace enjoys listening to stories from our local newspaper. Some weeks are slow news weeks in these parts. Sometimes the only articles you'll find in the paper are instructions on how to fold the pages into paper airplanes. Last week's edition could be turned into a bi-plane, which is more than can be said of the national newspapers.