'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Shed Fashion

I decided to clean out part of the garden shed on Saturday. The shed was built by my great-grandfather. He made sure it was big enough to store his collection of bicycle wheels, as well as the tools for the garden. There are parts of the shed that I haven't ventured into in years because I'm afraid of what I'll find there. You tend to become more afraid of things like these if you leave them alone for a few years. They'll have evolved into something with eyes and sharp teeth by the time you finally get around to looking at them, and when they look at you for the first time they'll figure out what their teeth are for. I didn't venture into the darkest corners of the shed, but I still found some interesting things during my spring-cleaning. I came across the motorbike helmet my grandfather made, and I found bits of the motorbike he made as well. He crashed it in the fog. In my grandmother's version of the story, he crashed it into the fog, but in my grandfather's telling he was sure he had crashed into something more solid than fog. He just couldn't see what it was because of the fog.

My aunt Bridget once decided to renovate her garden shed after a craze for shed renovation swept the locality. It was started by a man called Cedric, who kept his grandfather's bagpipes in the attic of his house. He expected them to give him some peace at night, but the bagpipes were always snoring or playing in their sleep. People told him he should put them in the shed, but he couldn't do this. His grandfather had made a comfortable bed for them in the attic, and they were happy there. So he started sleeping in the garden shed himself. He made it more homely by putting a carpet on the ground and he brought some of the furniture out of the house. He added an extension to the shed, and then he added another storey to it. Over the course of a year he kept working on it until it was more of a home than his house.

The neighbours started working on their garden sheds as well, and soon everyone was doing it. Patio doors were installed and extensions were added. Bridget thought she had to do something about their shed after Mrs. Ryan had her swimming pool converted into an underground shed. She thought she was making a powerful statement with this. It was like wearing glasses with frames made of gold. Her shed was made out of a swimming pool.

There were a few shed designers operating in the area. One of them was a man called Neil who'd keep making small changes to the design, and he'd purposely avoid thinking about what the final design would look like. It would be a surprise for himself and for his client. Bridget decided against hiring him after inspecting his work at a neighbour's house. You could try to view this construction as a big garden shed but it looked much more like a very small cinema.

Bridget decided to hire a designer called Ellen, who used to be a wedding planner. She'd use potatoes to represent the bride and groom in her models of the weddings. This probably had something to do with the failure of her career as a wedding planner. She found that she was much better suited to designing and building sheds. Her sister, Ruth, would help her with the building.

The sheds were always much bigger after she'd finished working on them. People with small gardens would be expected to sacrifice most of their lawns. Ellen believed that for too long the sheds had been seen as instruments to serve gardens, but the gardens should serve the needs of the shed. There was a bedroom in all of her designs. She said that you'd need to dream in your shed before you could say that it was really yours.

Uncle Harry didn't care in the slightest about the shed, but he didn't object to the renovation because he thought he wouldn't have to do anything. Bridget was very impressed with the design Ellen came up with, and she gave the go-ahead for work to commence.

Ellen and Ruth were making good progress with the renovation, but then one morning they didn't turn up for work. Bridget got a phone call from Ellen, who said that Ruth had run off with a surfer called Stuart. Ellen believed that her sister was making a terrible mistake. Stuart's only achievement in life was winning a trophy at a surfing contest, and if you believed the inscription on the trophy, he won it for eating cardboard. Ellen thought he'd never amount to anything. He believed that he'd already amounted to whatever he was going to amount to, and that this was more than what most people would achieve. He'd show you his trophy if you doubted him.

Ellen went after Ruth to stop her from marrying Stuart. Three days later, Bridget got a phone call from Ellen, who said she was trying to find her sister in Australia, and it could be weeks before she returned. Bridget couldn't wait that long for her new shed, so she made Harry finish the job.

He resented having to work on something he only agreed to because he thought he wouldn't have to work on it. He thought that because he was doing the work, it gave him the freedom to change the design. He started building a tower, much to the annoyance of Bridget. He would have enjoyed building the tower anyway, and a chance to annoy his wife make the task even more enjoyable.

When the tower was higher than the house he decided it was finished. He spent hours on top of it, admiring the view of the fields. When Bridget came into the back garden and told him there was a phone call for him, he was about to leave the tower, but then he noticed that she was trying to hide an axe behind her back. He knew she'd try to knock the tower if he left it, so he stayed up there.

Over the following four days, he only left the tower in the middle of the night or when Bridget had left the house. She had to find a way of luring him out of the tower. She thought about getting one of his friends to tell him about some event or fire or animal he had to see, but his friends wouldn't agree to deceive him, even if she paid them. She'd have to organise something that he'd really want to see, and then let his friends tell him about it.

Seven years earlier, a man called Tommy performed a song in the pub. He was singing it for nearly two hours. The song concerned a mountain he climbed with his brother when they were trying to find an extremely ugly statue of a man examining a dog. The statue was made of gold. The performance became legendary, and people often asked him to sing the song again, but he always refused because of the mental and physical strain he'd have to endure during the performance. But he agreed to give his song its second outing when Bridget paid him to sing it again. At three o' clock on Saturday afternoon he'd stand up in the pub and announce that he'd be singing the song in half an hour (he needed half an hour to do his breathing exercises and to plant his feet firmly on the ground, and with a good distance between them so that he wouldn't fall over during his performance).

At half-past-two on Saturday afternoon, Bridget went out to the back garden and she told Harry she was visiting her sister. "I'll be having dinner with her," she said. "If you want dinner, you might be able to scrape something out of the oven. I haven't cleaned it in a while."

From his tower, Harry could see her driving away. He started thinking about what he might find in the oven, and whether or not he'd be able to identify it.

At ten-past-three, Paul arrived in the back garden. He was one of Harry's friends, and a regular in the pub. He was excited about something, and Harry felt the same excitement when he heard about Tommy's performance. He left the tower and went to the pub with Paul.

The song lived up to expectations. Some people took notes of all the slanderous accusations contained in the lyrics. Tommy timed his collapse perfectly. He summoned up all of his remaining energy for the final note before he passed out to a standing ovation.

Harry was humming the tune as he walked home, but he could see that something was wrong before he reached the house. His tower was absent from the skyline. Bridget had come home after he abandoned his tower, and she had knocked it down. He went around to the back of the house and he saw her smiling as she held an axe. This was just as disturbing as the sight of the shattered remains of his tower.

Bridget's satisfaction didn't last long. She hadn't realised that Harry had triggered another fashion craze when he built the tower. Everyone was adding towers to their sheds, and these made Mrs. Ryan's swimming pool shed look hopelessly old-fashioned. Bridget had to have a tower as well. She wanted Harry to re-build his, and he wanted to build it, but he refused because she wanted him to do it. This is typical of their married life, though it's more common for them to do things that neither of them want to do.

The moose's head over the fireplace is enjoying the snooker on TV. He appreciates any sporting contest that can take a few days to complete. The wife's uncle says he plays a sport he invented with some friends of his, and some of their matches can go on for weeks. The game involves imagining a herd of pianos roaming across the field of play. It can take a few weeks before the players develop an adequate mental image of the pianos. They sit on deck chairs and contemplate the field, and they drink whatever substances that might aid them in imagining a herd of pianos. The wife's uncle isn't entirely sure of the rules governing the remainder of the game. The winner is normally decided by tossing a coin.