Mucking About

Mucking About

by John Chambers


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We are in Ireland and it’s an awfully long time ago. Centuries and centuries. The country is supposed to have gone Christian, but there’s still magic in the air, druids in the forest, fairy music in the distance. Manchán’s mother wants to make a monk of Manchán. Manchán most emphatically does not want to be made a monk of. He’d rather sing songs with his father, or go fishing with his friend, Pagan-of the-Six-Toes, or go charging through the forest with his pet pig, Muck, or go bare-back riding over the bog on the chieftain’s mad ram, Balor. Anything fun or adventurous or magical, and absolutely nothing to do with turnips, penance, prayers, monks, and chanting. Poor Manchán! The more he mucks about having fun, the more his mother is determined to tame him.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781912417056
Publisher: Little Island Books
Publication date: 03/01/2019
Edition description: None
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.75(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range: 9 - 12 Years

About the Author

John Chambers is the author of Granny Samurai, Granny Samurai and the Brain of Ultimate Doomitude, The Monkey King and I, and The Seven Deadly Finns.

Read an Excerpt


In which Manchán's Mother tries to force him against his Will to become a Monk. Manchán's Father's three favourite Things. An Introduction to Manchán's annoying Sister Méabh. A Pig called Muck and Pagan-of-the-Six-Toes. A brave Escape.

It was a fine sunny day, and the only dark cloud around was Manchán's face, scowling at his family. For a week now his mother had been hinting at a surprise and at last he had found out what it was. Her brother, the abbot from the monastery across the lake, had come to collect him, for Manchán was going to be sent to become a monk. A monk for heaven's sake!

'Don't say that,' said Brother Abstemius.

'Say what?' said Manchán.

'You know what,' said Brother Abstemius, and Manchán sighed.

'Right,' he said. 'Sorry.'

'For your penance,' added Brother Abstemius, 'you shall peel two bushels of turnips for Brother Cook. He needs them for breakfast in the morning.'

Turnips! For breakfast, moaned Manchán, though not out loud. Brother Abstemius was watchinghim much too closely for that. Was this how being a monk was going to be?

'There's nothing wrong with monking,' said Manchán's mother, glaring at him. 'It's a very respectable profession. People will look up to you.'

Great, thought Manchán, his mind still reeling from the turnips.

'Is "monking" really a word?' asked Manchán's sister Méabh. 'It doesn't sound like a word to me.'

'Of course it's a word,' said Manchán's father, who couldn't read. 'It's a word like fishing, or hurling, or singing.' He listed off the three things in life that were the most important to him. Now monking was added to the list. 'Good man, Manchán,' he said. 'You'll bring honour to the family.'

Manchán frowned. 'Why can't I bring honour to the family by fishing or hurling or singing?' he asked. 'Like you do.'

His father scratched his head but couldn't come up with an answer. He gave up and waited for Manchán's mother to explain.

'Because,' she said, 'monking is a respectable profession.'

'That's it,' replied Manchán's father, nodding. 'Respectable.' He said the word as if he wasn't quite sure what it meant, which he wasn't.

'It is the most respectable profession there is, after chieftain,' said Brother Abstemius modestly, 'and that is something.'

Manchán's mother smiled. Brother Abstemius was her actual brother and had brought much honour to her family with his monking, as opposed to messing, or mucking about, which Manchán was very good at.

'Being a monk,' said Méabh. 'Not monking!'

In fact, Brother Abstemius had brought so much honour to Manchán's mother's family that he very nearly made up for her marrying Manchán's father. And now Manchán was about to make up for the rest.

'Anyway, Manchán's good at singing,' continued Méabh, 'and hurling. And two out of three's not bad.'

Thanks, thought Manchán, and blew his cheeks out so hard his ears popped. Things had to be really bad if Méabh was defending him like that. Or maybe she just didn't want him to leave home because there'd be nobody around to bully after he was gone.

'But Manchán's terrible at fishing,' said Méabh. 'Once he caught a hunter from the kingdom across the river on his hook and nearly started a war. Do you want to hear the story?' she said to Brother Abstemius, who looked mildly interested.

'No, he doesn't,' said Manchán. 'So shut up, all right?'

'He hooked him by the seat of his pants,' said Méabh, 'while he was crouching in the reeds, and dragged him into the mud.'

'It wasn't my fault,' said Manchán. 'It was the wind. And you weren't there either, so you don't know!'

Méabh laughed. 'Stop lying,' she said. 'You're not allowed to lie while you're monking. Isn't that true, Brother Abstemius?'

Brother Abstemius's eyebrows wriggled like caterpillars. 'It is true in any case,' he intoned sternly, 'but it is especially true for monks.'

'And what's the penance for lying?' asked Méabh innocently. 'How many bushels of turnips do you have to peel?'

'It depends on the lie,' said Brother Abstemius. 'I work with a scale of one to ten. But go on with the story.'

Manchán sighed. It looked like the stupid story was going to be told whether he liked it or not, and then they would all have a great laugh at his expense. To cheer himself up, he would do his trick of imagining it had happened to somebody else. That would nearly turn it into a good story, except for two things. It didn't happen to somebody else, and these kinds of things were always happening to Manchán.

'It was a fine summer's morning when Manchán set off in his coracle,' Méabh declaimed. 'There wasn't a cloud in the sky and the water was as smooth as Daddy's head.'

'It wasn't always smooth,' said her mother, sighing. 'When I met your father he had hair all the way down to his waist. And lovely plaits.'

'Aye,' said Daddy, remembering. 'But they were a lot of work.'

'Manchán took the coracle without permission and headed off down to the lake with it,' said Méabh.

'No, I didn't,' said Manchán. 'I asked the day before if I could take the coracle out by myself and Daddy said I could. Didn't you, Daddy?'

'When you were older, is what I said,' his father corrected him.

'But I was older,' said Manchán. 'I was a whole day older.' He glanced over at Brother Abstemius, who was shaking his head and doing his eyebrow wriggle again. You could practically see him counting bushels.

Manchán's mother said, 'This is part of the reason we are sending you to be a monk, Manchán. It will teach you not to stretch the truth. Now, Méabh, you can tell the rest of the story some other time. Manchán has to pack.'

'Wait a second,' said Manchán. 'I thought you were justdiscussing sending me to be a monk. Nobody said you'd made up your minds.'

'Well, we have,' said Manchán's mother, and looked at her husband for support.

'Er ...' he said. 'Your mother thinks it will bring honour to our family. And it's just for a year,' he added quickly. 'If you don't like it, we'll think of something else.'

Manchán turned and stamped away. What else can you do when your entire family has turned against you? And the last thing he wanted was for Méabh to see him crying, especially if it was because he was angry, not sad. He stamped into their hut and untied the door so it fell closed behind him. That was the thing about deerskin doors. They kept the wind and the rain out all right, but you couldn't slam them the way you could the wooden ones. But only the chieftains had wooden doors, and Manchán's father was a very long way away from being a chieftain.

Outside he could hear Brother Abstemius speaking to his mother. 'Don't worry,' he was saying. 'We'll take very good care of Manchán. He'll be settled in no time whatsoever.'

'I'm not a bit worried,' answered Manchán's mother. 'It will do him a lot of good.'

'You're the one who should be worried,' said Méabh. 'Not us.' She gave a short, sharp laugh.

Go on and laugh, thought Manchán bitterly, standing in the middle of the hut. He wiped the tears from his cheeks and waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. There were no windows in the hut for light because nobody had invented glass yet, at least nobody local, and a window without glass is just a hole for rain and wind.

'Manchán,' shouted his mother from outside, 'pack your things and get a move on. Brother Abstemius hasn't got all day, you know.'

Manchán started packing. He only had a few things anyway, like most people back then. He packed them into a bundle and tied it to his hurley stick. Then he went and quietly kicked a hole in the wall at the back of the hut. The hut was built of sods and sticks, so the wall gave quickly enough and made hardly any noise. With a bit of luck, he could make it to the river and borrow a coracle while everybody else went haring off in the wrong direction. That will show them, he thought, getting down on his knees and widening the hole. Behind him his father's voice drifted in through the deerskin door.

'You know,' he was saying, '"Honour to the Family" could be a really great title for a song.' He started humming like a bee, settling the tune in his head.

'Why don't you compose the song after my brother has gone?' said Manchán's mother, interrupting him. Then she raised her voice again. 'Manchán, what's taking you so long?'

'I'm packing,' shouted Manchán. 'There's no law against packing, is there?'

The hole was wider now and he could see daylight.Nearly there, he thought. Soon I'll be on my way and then they'll be sorry. He pressed the palms of his hands together and shoved them forward into the hole like a swimmer practising a dive. He had just managed to force his head through after his hands when Muck appeared.

'Muck,' said Manchán, 'move. You're in the way.'

Muck was Manchán's pig, a small dark pig with pink ears and a tail that wagged like a dog's. He was smarter than a dog too, and followed Manchán everywhere. Now he pressed his snout up against Manchán's nose and grinned at him. Muck loved Manchán. And why wouldn't he? How many other pigs had owners who liked to grub around in the dirt with them? None, was the answer. Of course he adored the boy.

'Muck,' whispered Manchán, pressing his head forward and trying to twist his shoulders through at the same time, 'I said, get out of the way.'

But Muck just pressed his forehead against Manchán's and started shoving back. He thought the whole thing was a game. Muck loved playing games.

'Muck,' groaned Manchán, because a pig, even a small one, is as solid as a rock and twice as heavy. With his shoulders still pinned, all Manchán was able to do was prod Muck with his fingers to try to get him out of the way, which to Muck was like being tickled.

Wheee wheee wheeee, squealed Muck in delight. Muck loved being tickled.

'Muck, stop squealing,' hissed Manchán, scrabbling with his toes on the floor of the hut behind and getting nowhere fast. 'Somebody will hear you.' By 'somebody', of course, he meant his mother.

'You can say that again,' said Muck, and Manchán blinked. Muck was the best pig in Ireland but even Muck couldn't talk. Not human talk anyway.

A pair of feet appeared under Manchán's nose. One of them had six toes. There was only one foot that Manchán knew with six toes on it.

'Pagan,' he said with a sigh. 'Thank Crom. Get me out of here.'

Pagan-of-the-Six-Toes was Manchán's pal, his best pal. Everything that Manchán wasn't, Pagan was, and then some – like with the sixth toe. And that included the bad stuff and the good stuff too. For example, Manchán could hit a sliotar farther than most men, but Pagan, who couldn't hit the ground if he fell on it, could run so fast he could belt after the sliotar with a good chance of catching it at the other end. And Pagan was clever. That was the only area in which he and Manchán were nearly exactly matched; though Pagan had better luck.

Pagan shoved Muck out of the way and reached down to grab Manchán's hands.

'On the count of three,' he said. 'One –' Manchán shouted, 'It's an emergency for Crom's sake, just pull!' 'Three,' said Pagan, and pulled.

Nothing happened. Manchán felt like his arms were about to pop their sockets, but didn't budge.

'Breathe out,' said Pagan. 'Make yourself thinner.'

Manchán breathed out and Pagan pulled again. He pulled and pulled and still nothing happened.

'Manchán's stuck,' said Méabh, suddenly appearing. 'I bet his tunic is caught in the wall! Hi, Pagan,' she added and wiggled her fingers at him.

Méabh liked Pagan, which made Pagan very uncomfortable. The last thing a peaceful person like him wanted was Méabh turning her attention on him.

'I heard Muck squealing,' said Méabh, 'and I knew something was going on. I'd say you have about the space of five breaths before the parents come looking. Five, four, three ...' Méabh started counting as well. But being Méabh she counted backwards to heighten the tension. 'Two, one!'

In the hut behind him, Manchán felt, rather than heard, the deerskin door being pushed to one side. A cold wind soughed over his backside, presenting, as it did, a tempting target sticking out of the wall for anybody who might be annoyed enough to give it a good kick.

'Manchán,' roared his father, and everybody heard him.

'Manchán,' screamed his mother, who had just joined her daughter at the corner of the hut.

'Told you,' remarked Méabh to Brother Abstemius, who had just joined his sister to watch Manchán's disgrace.

'Pagan,' said Manchán desperately. 'PULL!!!'

Pagan pulled. With a sound like a foot being tugged from the Bog of Squelch, he yanked Manchán straight out of the hole. He hauled so hard that he tumbled backwards and Manchán continued on over his head and sprawled into the mud behind. His tunic stayed caught in the wall.

'Manchán,' shouted his mother, 'put some clothes on right now!'

But Manchán was already up and running. Naked or not, if he could make it to the coracle he still had a chance to escape the fate his parents were forcing on him. He ran and ran. And Muck ran with him. Just a boy and his pig setting out into the great world beyond the river. Who knew what adventures would befall them? Maybe some day, somebody would even write those adventures down.

Behind him Brother Abstemius picked up the hurley stick that Manchán had abandoned and weighed it in one hand. From under his tunic he produced a turnip, a hard, round root about the size and shape of a baby's head. An ugly baby's head! Quick as a greyhound he took two steps forward and flipped the turnip into the air. There was a dull crack as the blade of the stick met its target and the whole family watched, including Manchán's father, now peering through the hole in the hut, while the turnip rose in an arc against the grey sky, then swiftly dropped and connected with the running boy below. It hit him right between the shoulder blades. Manchán stumbled and fell. A second later the noise of his shout floated back to his family on the breeze.

'Good shot, horse,' said Manchán's father, impressed, despite himself. He hadn't known that Brother Abstemius had an arm for hurling. He had thought him more thereading type.

'He's not hurt, is he? asked Manchán's mother.

'Hurt?' said Brother Abstemius, lifting just the one eyebrow this time. 'A punt from a turnip is no more serious than a good thump of a hurley stick,' he said.

Méabh frowned. 'Does that mean no?' she asked.

Manchán sat up and groaned. A few short beats of the heart ago he had been getting ready to call on Pagan and go off fishing, or maybe do a bit of hunting, but in any case just generally hang out and have a brilliant time. Now he was sitting in the mud beside a pig and a turnip, without any clothes on. How in the name of Crom had that happened? And why were those kinds of things always happening to him?

He looked back towards his traitorous family. Méabh was grinning from ear to ear and he could just see her doing a brain-polish on the story she would tell to everybody later on, making sure that the whole village had a giant laugh at him. And Daddy's face was red because his head appeared to have gotten stuck in the hole in the hut and serve him right. But most dangerous of all, Brother Abstemius was aiming a finger at him and crooking it like a hook to haul him in, and there was nothing he could do about it. Caught is caught, thought Manchán furiously, eyeing his hurley stick in the brother's other hand. Who knew how many other nasty, lumpy turnips the man had up his sleeve, and where in the name of Crom had he learned to hit a target like that, anyway?

'All right, all right, I'm coming,' shouted Manchán, standing up and feeling behind his back for the sore bit where he had been thumped out of the blue.

'Don't forget the turnip,' called his mother, across the field. 'Pick it up and bring it back with you. That's your dinner.'

Manchán looked at the turnip. It was a horrible thing, warty and leathery, like a shrunken head, and the coating of mud didn't make it any more beautiful. Manchán looked at Muck. When he wasn't messing around playing games, Muck was a well-trained pig and Manchán had put a lot of work into training him. Muck could be very obedient when he liked. Now Muck stared at the turnip and waited. At least somebody gets something out of all this, thought Manchán, and clicked twice with his tongue. Muck pounced on the turnip and started munching.

'Manchán,' shrieked his mother, but it was too late.


In which Manchán is forced by his Mother to get up early and do Chores on the Day of Rest. A brief Incursion to the Land of Dreams. A Boat Trip and an Introduction to the Lake Fairies. The Worm. A narrow Escape. Penance.

It was the Day of Rest, but Manchán's mother wasn't having any of it, not for him anyway. 'Get up, Manchán,' she snapped, and jabbed his foot with the bundle of twigs she used to sweep the floor of their hut. 'Get up,' she said again and, stepping across the room, she yanked back the deerskin door. An axe-shaped wedge of light split the room in two.

Manchán groaned and squashed his eyes shut tight behind his eyelids. He knew from experience that he had about the space of two breaths before he heard the swish of the twigs as his mother stepped up her efforts to encourage him to leave his sheepskin bed. And once his mother had made up her mind to do something, there was little anyone could do to stop her, not even Ollmhór the village chieftain, who was seven feet tall and covered in scars from battle.


Excerpted from "Mucking About"
by .
Copyright © 2018 John Chambers.
Excerpted by permission of Little Island Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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