The Great Global Gowk-Hunt

This was my 2009 entry for the Open Gorsedd on the theme “All that Glisters is Not Gold”. I almost certainly pronounced quite a few of these names quite wrongly, so apologies for any wincing this might have provoked at the time. In particular I was glad to think I was the only one who’d remember my attempt to get my mouth round the name of the Sidhichean when David Muir made effortless mention of them in his story in the trials this year.

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The Great Global Gowk-Hunt

When people talk about “fool’s gold”, they don’t just mean gold. It means anything that we can desire, and it means anything that can seduce us into believing it is that thing which we desire.

So a chair can be a kind of fool’s gold. So can bread rolls. So can a bird.

The cuckoo is a bird that first hatches in a nest that was built by birds that are not cuckoos and who are not its own parents. They then fool their adoptive parents into raising them as their own, and systematically dispose of each and every one of their would-be siblings by pushing the other chicks, one by one, out of the nest to their doom.

They are chirping changelings.

In Scotland, one name they have for the cuckoo is a “gowk”, and there’s an April Fool’s tradition up there called “hunting the gowk”. The game is that you give the person you want to fool a message, written down and folded over on a piece of paper, and you ask them to deliver it to a friend of yours but not to read. Your messenger is “the gowk”. When the message gets there, your friend opens up the paper and reads it and the message on it reads,

“Never laugh, never smile, Hunt the gowk another mile”.

Then he knows to get a new piece of paper, write the same message on that one, fold it over, and give it back to the poor fool with instructions to take this message on to yet another friend – and so on, until the gowk’s been hunted all over town.

There’s also traditionally a second day of foolish festivities in Scotland, on April 2nd. This one involves ‘rear-related jokes’, such as pinning messages onto people’s bottoms.

There is a group of fairies in Scotland called the Sidhichean (SHEE-ichan). And there’s a restaurant in Melbourne, Australia called The Cuckoo. And there’s reason to think that the Sidhichean might have played a great big game of Hunt the Gowk with all of the world’s divine tricksters, and chaos gods, and great wise fools, which resulted in the events that took place outside that restaurant in Melbourne on April 1st 2007.

It’s hard not to think, that on April 1st 2007, a little Scottish fairy Sidhichean might have wanted to have a little tricksy fun, and might just have decided on that day to flit over the North Sea to Scandinavia, and whisper in the Norse god Loki’s ear, “hunt the gowk”!

And it’s hard not to think that Loki, getting the game and wanting as ever to play, might have turned himself into a mare, and galloped down through North-Eastern Europe to the Slavic lands where he found mighty Veles and whinnied in Veles’ ear, “hunt the gowk”!

And that Veles went down to North Caucasia to whisper to Sosruko “hunt the gowk”!, and that Sosruko crossed the Black Sea to Greece and found powerful Eris and whispered in her ear “hunt the gowk”!, and that she must have gone West across Europe, spreading strife wherever she went, and whispered it to San Martin Txiki in the Basque woods, and that he travelled down through every woodland in Spain and in Morroco, and that on the West African coast he told little spider Anansi “hunt the gowk’!

And then – because we’re only halfway there – it’s hard not to think that Anansi might have spun his web halfway across Africa on April 1st 2007 to tell the Yoruban trickster Eshu “hunt the gowk’!, or that Eshu could have made his way along his roads and over his crossroads, with his hat black on one side and red on the other side, the rest of the way across Africa to Egypt, and told the mighty Egyptian Set, with his strange finny ears “hunt the gowk’!

And Set must then have found Yam in Syria making Chaos in a river, who flowed upstream to Old Persia where he babbled ‘hunt the gowk’ to the Arabian wise fool Nasreddin, who rode backwards on his donkey to India and told laughing Krishna, who bent down and boomed it at the Chinese monkey-king Sun Wukong, who bound a thousand miles South to the Philippines in a single somersault and told lazy Juan Tamad “hunt the gowk’!, who just about bothered to tell the little Indonesian mouse-deer Kantjil “hunt the gowk’!, who scurried all the way finally to the North coast of Australia, and there told the old Aboriginal trickster Bamapana “hunt the gowk’! who took him at his word, and made his way South to Melbourne, to the restaurant I told you about earlier.

The Cuckoo was Australia’s first Smorgasbord restaurant and is home to the world’s largest free-standing cuckoo clock. They have yodelling there as often as possible, and Father Christmas visits in June and July.

But in the reason it’s hard not to think that the trickster gods might have been involved in the events which took place at the Cuckoo Restaurant on April 1st 2007, and that Bamapana wasn’t there infesting things with his chaotic magic, is that the events that took place at the Cuckoo restaurant on April 1st 2007 were as follows – and this, my friends – is a true story.

On April 1st 2007, the Cuckoo restaurant in Melbourne was approached by a pair of people with the intention of robbing it. One of the robbers was called Donna Hayes and the other was Benjamin Jorgensen. Benjamin had a sawn-off shotgun.

As Benjamin and Donna approached the restaurant, so they saw the manager of the Cuckoo emerge with the takings – about $30,000 worth of cash. And they apprehended him and told him to hand it over.

But what the manager of the Cuckoo knew, and they didn’t, was that the bag was not, in fact, full of notes and coins, but $5 worth of bread rolls. And knowing this, and knowing the significance of the calendar date, the manager of the Cuckoo assumed that the man brandishing the sawn-off shotgun at him and demanding that he hand his bag of bread rolls over was joking, and he laughed it off.

Donna and Benjamin, meanwhile believing the bag to be full of huge amounts of cash, insisted, and duly the bread rolls were handed over, in the course of which Benjamin accidentally shot Donna in the arse.

They then ran as best they could, but in their confusion and stress, they picked out a car that was not their getaway car, a car which they frantically failed to open until such time as they were apprehended by what may well have been laughing policemen.

Now you can’t tell me that at a place called the Cuckoo, on April Fool’s Day, that a pair of robbers running to the wrong car with a bag of bread rolls and one shooting each other in the bum in the process is just a coincidence – and that someone with a bit of magic in them wasn’t hunting the gowk that day.

But it’s important to remember that for all the fools we’ve seen, we’re the biggest fools of all if we laugh too hard at the hapless gowks with the shotgun, because a bread roll at the right time is a wonderful thing – and no matter how much gold you’ve got in your pocket, it won’t do you any good to eat it.

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