The other day I had some very important business in the Blanchardstown Shopping Centre which involved waiting for hours by the fountain while my wife sought out a pair of boots.
Suspecting that this was not going to be a straightforward task, I had had the foresight to bring along several novels, a flask of coffee, a sleeping bag and night apparel and thus I settled down among the rampaging toddlers for a long wait.
I was about a third of the way through War and Peace – after the first bit of war but before the next chapter became entirely peaceful – when my attention was drawn to the musical entertainment that was lightening up the lives of the Christmas shoppers in the fountain area. This group, who were obviously quite proficient at rag-time jazz, consisted of three rather jovial polar bears, one playing a fiddle, one strumming a guitar in a cello-like pose and the third tinkling the ivories in the rear.
To be fair to them, they had a good sense of rhythm and although they did not seem to encourage interaction with their audience, nevertheless they managed to strike up quite a rapport with the under four contingent, with a fair amount of moshing in the Dry Cleaner section of the crowd.
However, as I studied them more closely, I noticed one very salient fact. There was no drummer among the musicians even though it was the very crisp and controlled drums that seemed to hold the music together.
How could this be, I asked myself. Surely, after all the controversy of Britney miming in Australia, the polar bear trio were not miming to a backing track? I watched them closely but, despite the unusual stance of the guitar player, it was clear that they definitely were playing the music loive, as Bill O’Herlihy would say.
The only explanation I could think of was that they had a drum machine concealed beneath the piano which, was fair enough in my book. I mean, good drummers are hard to find at the best of times but I should imagine that finding one against the backdrop of the Arctic tundra is pretty nigh impossible. Generally I am against synthesised music but in certain circumstances it is justifiable.
The matter would have come to an end then and there if I hadn’t stood up half an hour later to stretch my legs. As I walked over towards Debenhams, for the first time, I noticed one tom-tom (a tom?) standing forlornly, on its own, on the far side of the icy stage that the polar bears were occupying.
This is getting curiouser, I thought. Idly, I wondered if the percussion section of the group had discovered the secret of invisibility but soon dismissed the notion as being too far-fetched. And anyway, the tom was not reverberating in any shape or form.
I resumed my seat, sliding a dribbling two year old off my sleeping bag and pondered anew. I tried to cast my mind back to the year before to remember if the group had been a foursome when they gigged here in 2008 but my long-term memory is sadly restricted to Shelbourne football teams of yesteryear and Lionel Ritchie lyrics. However, one part of my brain insisted that there had been four polar bears at one time. My elbow countered that I had no definite proof of this and the matter was settled when the smooth bit of skin above my ankle advised that I should enquire in Customer Services.
“I don’t honestly know, I’m afraid,” the lady behind the desk told me, eying me suspiciously. “All I know is that the music is driving me mad.” Obviously not a jazz lover, I thought. To be honest, she looked more Anastacia than Alexander’s Ragtime Band.
The more I sat and watched the group, the more I was convinced that one member had been replaced by a drum machine. This view was endorsed by the way that the fiddle player actually stood on top of the piano – not a thing to be encouraged in such icy conditions and I’m surprised the Health and Safety people in the Centre allowed it – and kept turning his head towards Marks and Spencer’s, as if expecting the errant drummer to come bounding down the red mall.
I wondered what had caused the drummer to leave. Was he disenchanted by being asked to play the same song for weeks on end every Christmas and had demanded a bit of variety in the repertoire? Polar bears are particularly susceptible to repetitive strain injury as evidenced by the former inmate of Dublin Zoo who would parade for hours along the front of his stage muttering invective at the crowds on the far side of the fence.
Maybe he was resentful of the lack of seating from which to play his tom, particularly as no expense had been spared in that department for the pianist?
Or maybe it was simply a sex and drugs and rock and roll thing and his erratic behaviour had finally ended in him being thrown out and a replacement advertised for in Hot Press?
Whatever the reason, I pondered how the missing member was surviving in the harsh environs of Dublin 15. I suspected that the absence of fish might be causing him some hardship and wondered how he had fared when he presented himself for his job seekers’ allowance. Drumming gigs for polar bears are fairly thin on the ground at the moment due to the recession and it would doubtless be a lean Christmas for him without the steady income from the Blanchardstown residency.
There and then, I decided that the only thing for it would be to set up a charity for musical polar bears that are down on their luck. I would probably be too late for the Christmas card market this year but I could easily set up a bank account that people could donate to. To be honest, there is nothing worse than coming out of Superquinn car park on a miserable December morning and seeing an unshaven polar bear sitting against the wall holding out a cap pathetically for a few coppers and I hope people will dig deep this Christmas despite the recessionary times.
When my wife returned two days later, triumphantly clutching a pair of ankle boots, I told her of my plan. Strangely she didn’t seem to share my compassion for the fate of Arctic mammals. Nor did she appear to appreciate the music still pounding out from the indefatigable trio in the fountain.
Sometimes I wonder how we get on so well together.