The Hound of Culann

To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, here is an Irish tale. It is based on “Táin Bó Cúalnge”. In English, that’s The Cattle Raid of Cooley.

The Blood of Cu Chulainn

In the long long ago days before Patrick came to the Emerald Isle, before the Holy Man chased the snakes away, before the Blessed Saint converted the Irish folk away from their pagan ways, there was a mighty mighty man. Mightier than Hercules of the Romans and the Greeks, Mightier than Thor of the Norsemen. Mightier than Paul Bunyan.

His name was Cu Chulainn, the Hound of Culann. Known by some as The Cuke. For one thing, it was easier to pronounce. For a t’other, the mighty mighty man had a tendency to run amucksky from time to time. His amucksky was enough to throw the Incredible Hulk into a corner, crying for his mommykins. That’s how badass The Cuke was.

Now that we’ve met our hero, it’s time to meet the Villain. Notice I capitalize Villain. Her name was Medb, but we’ll call her Maeve. Take Catwoman, stir in a dose of Mystique, throw in a dollop of Bella Lestrrange, then toss in a dollop of Morgan Le Fay, and you’ve got Maeve.

Being bested in a contest could get her dander up. She did not take lightly to losing. Take the time she was runner-up for Miss Teenage Celt of Ireland. Miss Teenager Celt dropped dead the day after her coronation. Everybody said it was poison but they couldn’t prove it. There was no CSI in those days.

Before that, she was supposed to be Paris’ lady love. Maeve was none to happy that he ran off with Helen. Maybe that was why Troy ended up the way Troy ended up. And when Arthur came calling, then change his mind and went after Guinevere. Well, it was bye-bye-Miss-American-Pie for Camelot. As you can see, Maeve was used to getting her way. When it came to Maeve, it was like Nancy Sinatra sang. You didn’t want to go messing where you shouldn’t be messing. Just ask her four husbands. After all, she was the daughter of the High King of Ireland.

One night, after playing a game of frisky with her fourth husband, Ailill, King of Cannaucht, the two got into an argument of who had the bestest–and the mostest–stuff. Laughing, she said, “I’ll show you.” So they jumped out of bed and had their servants bring all their treasures to the Great Hall: silver buckets, golden pots, rings, jewelry, sheep, horses and pigs. People were really into livestock in those days.

When they got to cattle, Maeve turned up one bull short. That just wouldn’t do. There was no way that the daughter of the High King was going to be one bull short.

Now she figured that since she was one bull short, why not get the best bull. She decided she wanted Donn Cualinge, The Brown Bull of Cualinge. But he was up in Ulster. There was nothing to do but go and get him. Unfortunately, the bull was guarded by none other than The Cuke.

Maeve called in all the favors owed her and Ailill. She sent messengers to the Four Counties. “We’re going to war.”

To ready herself, she gave her fashion designer, and all-around good dress maker, a hoot and a holler. He was someone who had dressed queens from one end of the planet to the other. You name the princess and he’d done her get-up. Now Maeve needed some get-up and go for her ownself. And she was about to get it. He had saved his best work for Maeve. After all, his blood bled green. “I have just the thing for you, dahling,” he said.

And it was just the thing. A silver helmet that left her long red hair free to flow in the wind. Golden armor that reflected the sun, and yet revealed the physicality of her physicality. In it, her curves had curves.

And the piece de resistance was her makeup. Her makeup artist painted her face with such war paint that it could’ve scare the bejeesus out of Hades. She looked her best kick butt. And, of course, her chariot was the Ferari of Chariots from none other than Chariots Ellite. It was the latest CE-337.

She seated herself beside her driver, then the chariot pulled out in front o her army. With her green eyes ablaze with war, she commanded, “On to Ulster.” Away she went, leading her troop to war. As they made their way through the countryside, people lined the roads to watch the parade go by.

Since every war needs a theme song, her men marched onward, singing, “Faigh scuab agus nigh do chuid fiacia.” Translated, it meant “Get a brush and clean your teeth.” Maeve was way ahead of her time when it came to hygiene. She showered twice a day. She’s the one who came up with “cleanliness is next to godliness.”

Guiding the way to Ulster was Fergus mac Roich. Once upon a time he was King of Ulster, but no more. Though he was on the outs with the current king of Ulster, he was still buddy-buddy with The Cuke. He secretly did a Paul Revere and sent his friend a message, “The Irish are coming, the Irish are coming.” Then he led the queen here, there and everywhere, but not to Ulster. To give his friend time to prepare.

“Fergie, what are you trying to do, Big Boy?” Maeve asked with her best Mae West. “Why’s it taking so long?”

“Well,” Fergus answered, “it’s a long way to Tipperary.”

“We’re not going to Tipperary.”

“That’s not what your husband told me.”

Ailill defended himself. “I didn’t say Tipperary. I said temporary. We’re going to Ulster, you goof.”

“Don’r call me a goof. Apologize or I’ll have you for lunch.”

Not wanting to distract from the current campaign, Ailill apologized.

“Just watch it,” Fergus said.

Queen Maeve was tired of the tit for tat. “We’re going to Ulster, and you are a goof.”

“Why didn’t you say so?” Fergus asked. “Ulster’s that way. At least, I think it is. Without the gps, I’m not for certain.”

“You’re just trying to put things off,” Maeve said. “Now let’s get to it before I turn you into a frog.”

“You can do that?” Fergus wanted to know.

“You bet your sweet booties. Now on to Ulster.”

“Would you like to go  the secret way? That way we’ll get the Bull without anybody knowing. And we’ll avoid The Cuke.”

“Cuke, smuke. We have an army. We have two armies Ulster will be no match for us. Besides they have the Curse.”

The Curse? you ask. Years earlier, a witch, one of Macbeth’s three-bies, placed a Curse on the Ulstermen. When an army approached, they would go off into a little snooze. Because The Cuke was a superhero, the Curse never affected him.

Maeve’s army came to a river. The heads of four of her warriors were facing her, sticking out their tongues.

“Who did this?” Maeve demanded.

“Only The Cuke could do such a thing,” Fergus answered the sixty-four thousand dollar question.

“We’re just going to have to whop up on this Cuke,” the queen said, and she meant it.

The great warrior Froech of the mac Fidaigs stepped forward. “Your majesty, I’d be pleased as punch if you would let me do the pleasure.” And off he went, taking nine buddies with him. The Cuke took them out like Captain America took out Red Skull.

Next up was another group of warriors with muscles up the ying-yang. The Cuke did a Muhammad Ali on them, KO-ing them like there was no tomorrow.

Over the next few days, The Cuke stacked up the bodies and begged Maeve to keep ’em coming. There was no way she was going to get past him if The Cuke had anything to say about it. Unfortunately he didn’t have anything to say about it. All the rough housing and beating the crap out of guys who wanted to be the next champion of the world had worn him out.

Maeve managed to sneak past him without her army. She picked up the Bull and slipped him past The Cuke. And then she took off, heading back home.

The Cuke gave chase. But it wasn’t much of a chase. His energy had sapped out and he dropped. That was when daddy showed up. Lugh was a god and he had come to get his boy back in shape. Fro three days and three nights, Lugh put his healing magic to work.

The Cuke recovered and chased Maeve and her army. Then he wreaked his vengeance on her men. Maeve begged for more folks to go out and take on The Cuke. “Are you crazy?” the asked, knowing that she was half cuckoo. She promised them gold and sex, and silver and sex, and sex and sex. She was very persuasive. So they went after The Cuke. They met him in the swamp known as Blood Iron. They did not make it back.

Finally she called for The Cuke’s foster brother, Ferdia. She promised and she promised and she promised. But he kept saying, “Ain’t no way, lady. He’s my bro.” Then she lied, “He said that slaying you would be so easy peasy.”

Ferdia had his pride. There was no way he was going to take that from anybody. Even a brother. So he armored up and headed down to the river.

“Bro, I am not going to fight you,” The Cuke said.

“You got no choice,” Ferdia said, no realizing he’d been tricked by the Wicked Witch of the West.

First it was short spears they fought with. The it was long spears. Then it was large stabbing spears. Each time The Cuke protected himself with a shield that would take three large men to lift. Ferdia was elegant with his shield maneuvers as well.The next morning it was stabbing spears. The day after that, swords were the weapons. After each fight, the two spent the night, reminiscing and toasting each other and feasting till their bodies were filled. Then they slept like logs.

Finally, on a bright summer’s morning, the two met for one last battle. They put on their best armor. Then, like Hector and Achilles, they charged each other. Ferdia swung hard, each swing barely missing. The Cuke’s temper got the best of him. He leaped in the air, brought the spear down, drove through Ferdia. Ferdia dropped to the ground.

The Cuke’s temper left him. All he was left with was sorrow. Uncontrollable sorrow. Holding his brother in his arms, tears ran down his face. Then Ferdia died. The Cuke lowered the limp body to the grass. Then he sang a lament.

The next morning he was joined by the men of Ulster. The Curse had been lifted. Then they went to battle. When Ulstermen went to battle, they really went to battle, slashing and bopping and cutting and thrusting and do all sorts of un-choreographed maneuvers that looked really cool. They fought the men of Connaught and they fought till the men of Connaught had no more fight in them.

Realizing the foolishness of it all, Ulster and Cannaught smoked the peace pipe. Fergus was the one who summed it up best. “What was it all about? A cow. Can you believe that?”

The Cuke joined in with the sentiment. “Let her have her stupid cow. Let’s go home.”

And for seven years there was peace in the land. And when men gathered around a fire, they sang of the Cattle Raid of Cooley. And remembered fondly the deeds of Cu Chulainn, the Hound of Culann.

 

 

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My Old Man, Santa Claus

My old man was a hoot. Everybody in the neighborhood said, “Tom Pickering does have one heck of an imagination.” The thing was that his inventions seldom worked. His imagination seemed to be larger than his abilities.

There was the bicycle he believed would fly. He believed it so much that he rode it off the roof of our two story house. All the neighborhood saw it and there were those who shouted, “It’s a bird. It’s a plane.” When my Dad and the bike crashed through our neighbor’s first floor window, they were sure it wasn’t Superman.  Dad landed on Mr. Adams as he was trying to get some shut eye after a long night’s work. Needless to say Mr. Adams was not pleased and neither was the bicycle.

But Dad was no quitter. He had just the right thing he thought would get him into the Inventor’s Hall of Fame. An underwater car. It was a Saturday afternoon when he drove the Chevy off the pier. Little did Dad know that the water was deep. Very deep. So deep in fact it could have made the Challenger Deep look like a sinkhole. Down, down, down the car went as its engine stalled, then stopped. It had putted its last putt.

It was then that Dad realized he had forgotten one essential piece of equipment if you want to travel underwater. He forgot oxygen tanks. Fortunately there were three scuba divers who followed Dad into the water. It took several minutes for them to make the jailbreak out of the car. It’s a good thing that Dad was a deep breather.

Then there was the time Dad went about saving Christmas. At least for my kid brother, Jimmy. It was the year I told him there was definitely no Santa Claus. The whole thing was made up.

At first, Jimmy didn’t take my word for it. Then several of the the kids in his school  confirmed my testimony. They too told him there was no Santa. Jimmy did the math. He added and subtracted, multiplied and divided. He was nowhere near having an answer how Santa and his reindeer made it to every house in every country in the world on Christmas Eve.

When Dad saw Jimmy with qualms of disappointment on his face, he knew he had to come up with a solution to the Santa Claus issue. He remembered way back when he was young. A similar thing had happened to him. Only it wasn’t a kid. It was Old Mr. Creepers next door. He wanted to make Halloween the biggest holiday of the year. There was only one way that was possible. He had to take down Santa Claus.

That year Santa missed Dad’s house. All because he doubted Santa. Now Dad was determined that was not to happen to his kid. His solution: he would appear on our roof as Santa, then slide down the chimney with a bag of goodies.

Now Dad had the heft of a Santa and he carried it with grace. Six weeks before Christmas Eve, he began the preparations for what he called “the Santa’s Caper.” He went down to the local Santa store and bought his fake beard and his fake hair and his suit, which was not fake. And he did not cut corners. Only the best for his little Jimmy.

When Mom got a clue to what Dad was up to, she asked, “You fool, how are you going to get down that chimney?”

“Oh, it will be a tight squeeze. But I have the perfect solution. Grease.”

Mom shook her head, knowing there was no changing his mind. “Just be careful and please don’t break the chimney.” But she gave him that worried look. With Dad, what would go wrong would go wrong. So much so that she had taken to calling him Murphy behind his back

Christmas Eve came. Jimmy and I were sent to bed early with a “Santa won’t come if you’re awake.”

Though we absolutely knew there was no Santa, still we were taking no chances. By ten p.m. we were in our beds, pretending we were zzz-ing off to Never Never Land. Despite our best efforts, we nodded off. Then we heard a noise on the roof.

It wasn’t a clatter we heard. It was more like a bomp. One thing was sure. Santa was making his rendezvous. It was a definite that he was on our roof. Clomp! Clomp! Clomp! went Santa’s boots.

We jumped out of bed and hurried to the window. No sleigh on the lawn. Rudolph must be on the roof. Along with Dasher and Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. We just knew it.

But it was not Santa. It was Dad. And he had spotted his target. The chimney.

All dressed up in his Santa suit, he lugged his bag over to the chimney. He sat down on the chimney’s side. With the bag lifted over his head, he gave himself a push. As he shoved off, he heard a giant ripping sound. His red pants had caught on a nail. The nail tore not only his pants but his bright red Santa underpants with white Rudolphs on the bottom as well.

That night gravity did its mighty work. Down the chimney went Dad and his bag. Until he didn’t. Like a balloon blowing up, Dad filled up the chimney, then stopped half way down.

Mom took out her flashlight and pointed it up the chimney. What she saw made her throw herself onto the floor, laughing uncontrollably.

In all the history of Santas, this must have been the first time Santa found himself unable to reach the cookies and milk. The grease had not worked.

Jimmy and I rushed into the living room. “Where’s Santa,” we screamed in unison.

“Boys, go back to bed,” Mom said. “Otherwise Santa won’t come out of that chimney. And there’ll be no presents. Right, Santa?”

From the chimney came a muffled voice that was half Santa and half Dad.”Ho, ho, ho. Listen to your mother. Moms are always right.”

“Okay, Mom,” we said, disappointment in our voices.

We left the room and closed the door, but we were not about to go back to bed. We’d be kicked out of the All American Kid Society if we did. We took turns peeping through the door.

Somehow Dad squeezed himself almost to the floor of the chimney. His black boots were about three feet in the air. If you’ve never heard a man cry, you would have heard a man cry that night. “What was I thinking.”

“You weren’t, as usual,” Mom gave him one of her what-fers.

“Well, can you give me a hand?”

Mom grabbed onto Dad’s boots and gave them a tug. “Ouch,” the chimney said. The boots dropped onto Mom’s foot and her ouch joined the chimney’s.

“Do you still have those rockets you bought for the Fourth of July?” Mom asked.

“What are you going to do with them?”

“I’m going to stick them up your rear end and send you into the Great Beyond. Otherwise it will be the waste of a perfectly decent chimney. Why do you ask?”

“No.” The chimney was emphatic. “Absolutely not.”

“Do you have a better suggestion?”

For years afterward, my family called this horns of a dilemma The Horns of a Dilemma.

Behind the slightly open door, my brother turned to me. “Where’s Dad? He could get Santa free. He’s smart like that.”

I just didn’t have the heart to tell Jimmy where Dad was.

Then a thud. And not just any thud. It was The Thud.

Mom’s eyes and Jimmy’s eyes and my eyes shot to the ceiling and the footsteps. Could it be?

Of course, it was.

From above, we heard a deep bass voice. “Fool, get out of my way.”

Dad dropped to the chimney floor and crawled out, his suit all in tatters. Behind him were a pair of boots. They stepped over Dad and into the center of the living room. There was a glow about The Man. He wore a suit of the brightest red I’d ever seen. I swear the white beard shined.

Mom rushed over and grabbed the glass of milk and the plate of Oreos. She timidly handed them to The Man.

He looked at Mom and smiled and took the refreshments. He gulped them down, then headed for the work of the night. The Christmas tree.

Frozen in our places, the four of us watched. He set his bag on the floor, reached up and adjusted the star and several of the ornaments. Then he opened his bag. He looked over at Jimmy and nodded. “This one is for you.” He placed the large gift under the tree. “For believing.” Next came my gift, then Mom’s.

Finally he looked over at Dad. Tears were in The Man’s eyes. “Thanks for the help.” Out of the bag came a very small package. He placed it under the tree, giving it a bit of extra care as he did.

In a flash, he was back at the chimney and up on the roof. But he wasn’t done. Back down the chimney he came. Standing before us in all his glory, he said in that deep deep voice of his, “I forgot.” Then he sent us a “Ho! Ho! Ho!”

From our toes to the tippy tip top of our heads, our bodies filled with joy and love and peace and hope.

“And one final thing. Merry Christmas and a very good night.”

On the roof, we heard, “Peace on  earth and goodwill toward men.” Then he disappeared into the night, heading onward to fulfill the mission he has been on for centuries.

And now, from Uncle Bardie, Merry Christmas to one and all. May you and your loved ones have a wonderful holiday this year. And one final thing. As Tiny Tim said, “God bless us everyone.”

Micropoem for Thanksgiving: stuffing

It’s Thanksgiving, and oh, do I have much to be thankful for. Most of all it’s the beginning of that season we call The Holidays. The bright lights that come with Christmas and Hanukkah. And it culminates in the end of the year celebration, New Year’s Eve. Then we’ll get another eleven months to recuperate before we’re called back into combat. But for this moment, let’s think about what we have to be thankful for. That special Someone. Family. Friends. Work. Our health. The food we have on the table. Life is good. Now, let’s eat.

Oh the turkey,
oh the dressing,
oh the pecan pie.
Now I’m bursting.

Uncle Bardie’s Spotlight Song: Something a little different for Halloween

Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. With Halloween coming up, I thought why not have some fun. Each year the band Lake Street Dive does a special video at Halloween. This one was for 2015. Enjoy:

And just in case you want to know what they are like when not doing Halloween, here’s a taste of their regular sound:

Halloween Decorations

Oh, it’s autumn and the trees surrounding the house are a flaming red. And so are the plants. That’s cause the sun is rising and impressing the world with its colors. There’s a stone walkway up to the porch and some chickens in the yard and the house is real homey. Yes, it is an autumn of a day. Just like Clint likes it.

Clint finishes his coffee, standing in the front yard. He’s trying to decide what Halloween decorations to do this year. Last year it was the Walking Dead. The house was all zombied up. Well, that’s not this year. He could go in for vampires. The problem with that is that a lot of other peeps do that.

What about witches? Especially the WWW, the Wicked Witch of the West. But the local coven wouldn’t be happy. They feel that it gives witches a bad rep. And Clint surely doesn’t want any evil spells tossed his way. He remembers that Macbeth spell. It got Mac into deep trouble, and that wasn’t good.

Killing the king was like killing a president. Only it wasn’t the Secret Service that went after him. It was the king’s relatives. It was a family feud. Not the TV game show but the Hatfields and McCoys, the Montagues and Capulets kind of feuding. And with swords and everything. So maybe he’d better lay off the witches this year.

Werewolves? Nobody had done werewolves in a month of Sundays. But werewolves didn’t have the sex appeal of vampires or witches. Then again that was because of all the p r attached to witches and vampires. If werewolves were given that kind of p r, they’d be sexy too.

Then it hit him. Why hadn’t he thought of it before. It was like the stroke of midnight, only it was late in the day. He would do up the house as Frankenstein’s castle. The Creature would hand out the candy to all the trick or treaters.

Clint goes back into the house to tell Alice. Yes, that Alice. The one from Wonderland. She’d gone down the rabbit hole and suddenly she was in a time travel machine. She met Clint, they fell in love, and that was that. Here they are this very day, living in the ‘burbs with their 2.5 kids, Candy and Dandy and Bitsy. Bitsy is the cute one. Clint fell in love with Alice’s English accent. Alice fell in love with Clint’s accent. That and it didn’t hurt that he was tall, dark and handsome.

“We’re doing Frankenstein this year,” Clint tells Alice.

She’s in the kitchen, making herself a cup of Earl Grey. She just can’t get through her day without a cup of tea. It’s in her English blood. If she were Irish, it would be Guinness but she isn’t.

“That’s a fine idea,” Alice tells her husband of ten years. “The kids will just love it. Perhaps we can see that film, ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’, to celebrate. There’s a wonderful Halloween scene. Would you like that?”

Clint still loves his wife. After ten years in the same house, he still loves his wife like they just met. Their love is like the Fountain of Youth. It keeps them young.

Clint takes Alice in his arms and they kiss like it’s their first kiss. It’s as if he’s her Prince Charming and she’s his Snow White. Only there’s no dwarves. There’s 2.5 kids but no dwarves.

They finish their smooching and then Clint describes the castle he has in mind.

“The kids are going to absolutely love that,” Alice encourages him. “Especially little Half Pint.” All in the fam call Bitsy Half Pint cause she’s the point-five kid. But they love her like she’s a whole person.

“Well, I’m off to the Emerald City to see the Wizard of Decorations. If I get there early, I might just get my discount.”

One last smooch and Alice says, “Don’t forget to tell Dorothy I send my love. I’ll give her a ring in a few days. I really am anxious to see Kansas but I just haven’t had the time lately.”

“Bye, Sweets,” Clint says.

“Bye, Yourself,” Alice says.

Then Clint’s in his 1968 red Mustang and on the Yellow Brick Road. He’s whistling and thinking, “It is so good to be a Munchkin.”