Thursday, 1 January 2009

The Mystery of the Flying Ducks

Like the Black Death, we know not where it came from, or to where it has gone. But we do know that it afflicted at least half the population of the western world during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. There was but one, definite symptom; the presence of a set of three, duck-shaped pieces of plaster or china - small, middle-sized and large - arranged in ascending order of size upon a living-room or entrance hall wall of the afflicted household.

Every household that I had access to had at least one set. Ours had two; a brightly-painted plaster, vaguely art deco-ish set in the hall, and a finer, more subtly crafted china set in the sitting room. Indeed, there were so many variations on the flying duck theme, you could judge the social standing and character of a household by the nuances of the set it had chosen.

What intrigued me, however, is why homeowners felt the need to bring this simulacrum of the wilderness into their dwellings? What atavistic longing did these pieces of glue and dust vicariously satisfy? At one level, it's quite apparent. We all long to stretch our wings, clipped by rents and mortgages, and fly into a metaphorical wilderness where we can fulfill our deepest desires and yearnings.

Transparent enough, but why ducks? Why identify with these commonplace animals, generally accepted as being rather stupid? Why not beautiful swans or mythical dragons? Maybe the craze died down when the population cottoned on to the true nature of the worship of these rather dubious household gods?

I can't remember at exactly what point on the calendar that our two sets of ducks were vanquished. But vanish they did, along with those of a myriad other households. No doubt they went, via cardboard box, into attics and second hand shops everywhere. And I'll bet many are out there still.

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