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Friday, December 21, 2012

The strange encounter with Dippy Duck

I rolled out into the kitchen a day or two ago. That's not a typo, by the way, because 'rolled' better describes my assisted walk than 'strolled'.

   I rubbed my eyes in disbelief at what I was seeing on the ledge above the kitchen bench.

   "A Dippy Duck?"

   "It's a Duncan Duck," she said.

   "I'll believe his name. What I don't believe is that you bought one."

   "We had one of these when I was little," she said, a bit pouty, "and I just ... wanted him."

   "You bought a Dippy Duck."

   He was doing his thing, rocking back and forth, slower and slower, until the point at which he dipped his head in a strategically placed glass of water, and swung upright again, ready to repeat the performance. Ad infinitum he was capable of, as long as his bill could reach the water.

Very modest version**
   We never had a Dippy Duck when I was a kid, as it went against farm principles to have a paid-for critter that didn't produce any perceivable or potential income. Entertainment value? Limited, you must admit, after the first two thousand or so performances of his one single trick a day-old duckling could do, and swim as well. Aesthetic and artistic merit?

   Well, just look at him. Would Michelangelo be keen to whip up his portrait or sculpt a Duncan rather than a David? You choose.

   But then the lad came in. Twenty, he'll be in a couple of weeks. He stared long and hard at Duncan and his tireless antics. Antic.

   He was entranced, but for neither entertainment nor artistic reasons. He's developed a passion for physics and chemistry – and mathematics. All the things he didn't want to study at school no way no how.

   Better late than never, I suppose, but I wished many a night as he looked glumly at equations that his timing could have been better.

   His interest was in how and why Duncan did his dunking. He's quick on the uptake with such matters when he wants to be, and worked out everything except the vital piece of chemistry; the bright blue fluid that Duncan harboured in his generous bladder. Fair enough; methylene chloride is not something you can guess, is it?

   Once he'd solved the physics and chemistry of Duncan, he took no further interest in the performer, but went back to catching up on the five years of maths he spurned at high school.

   I do have to say, in spite of my scorn for Duncan as an objet d'art, the science of what he does is quite amazing.* Sincerely. It does my heart good to see where university research grants went in the late 1940s, and one day, Duncan might make some unexpected contribution to human progress.

   He's on his 9,786th dunk, day and night unceasingly as I write, and will probably make it to five figures well before you get this far, if you ever do. Tracey looks at him with great fondness and keeps his cup almost runneth-ing over. I suppose the 10 mls of water per day he needs aren't too hard on the budget. But being a snob, I just wish he wasn't the first thing guests see when they come in – although explaining the science of Duncan is a conversation-stopper.

   Sadly, not often in a good way. People can be such peasants.
*A simpler explanation for the physics of Duncan the Duck for ummm... pheasants.
** Source for original David sculpture I added the generous figleaf myself. This you may have guessed.


  1. Peasant here. Thanks for the explanation Denis.
    I love that Tracey got something for herself, "..just because". Us lot often forget how to do that.

    The other point in this lovely post that lit a spark in my memory was a family value I grew up with. If something was not productive, necessary for survival, educative, or very, very beautiful (like roses, literature and music), then they were considered worthless. Sounds very Presbyterian?
    And, by the way, a farm dog on the road was the only kind of dog my Dad would swerve to miss. He believed swerving endangered the occupants of the car. But a farm dog, he said, was a farmer's livelihood. It was useful. Pet dogs, on the other hand, had no productive purpose, and should not be on the road, anyway. Incidentally, I never, ever saw him run over a dog. Dad respected animals. He just liked to make a point.
    I imagine scores of your visitors are going to head straight to your kitchen to witness the delightful, and entertaining, Duncan.

    1. Peasant, is it? In everything I've seen that you've ever written it's been flawless English, so pardon me if I doubt it.

      Yes, I'm always glad for those rare occasions Tracey gets things just for herself, though each time it's from the little profits she may make on the buy, swap and sell site. I think Duncan was a reasonable extravagance under those circumstances.

      I'd say the Methodist end of Presbyterianism, by the sound of that. Not a criticism, just an observation. Some of my best friends....

      Your Dad's policy was wise. I always remember the fatal accident that occurred when a woman tried to avoid a pretty butterfly heading for her windscreen. Sadly the fatality was the driver. Human lives always come first, even if the dog endangering safety of the car and its passengers was a working dog. I can well imagine it was your Dad simply making a point and he'd take safe evasive action if possible.

      No visitors can avoid Duncan even if they want to. He has star billing [geddit?] on the show. I'm a bit worried about what this says of our lifestyle.

  2. I'd forgotten about these things. There are many things - that is objects (eg toys, china ornaments et cetera) that were vividly important to me once that I have since forgotten about - believe it or not, sometimes they come back to me in dreams (yes, I suppose I have very boring dreams)

    1. Maybe not the dreams you can't remember. They might be quite startling. You're not suggesting, I hope, that Dippy is a boring little duck??

  3. Perhaps Tracey's duck is like your blog is sometimes- a connection to her past. That's important. There is some vital part of ourselves we don't want to lose. Certain flowers - the shimmer of livingstone daisies, for one - give me a pang of bliss, as does the smell of colouring in pencils, and the very thought of those tin boxes of Derwent "Lakeland", with their perfect possibilities,their gentle shadings of blues, oranges, browns is a secret, utter bliss. So there. I can't remember if I ever actually owned one..

    I saw Dippy Duck today. He's charming:) The chemistry is too tiring for me, though.

    Julie M xx

    1. Yes! Lakeland pencils - how I treasured those perfectly arranged, precisely sharpened sticks of promise, Julie.
      You have reminded me of another completely useless, but delightful, childhood object: do you remember the small, wooden pluto pups, jointed with string, that, when pressed from beneath, collapsed? My brother owned one. I was fascinated. I badly wanted one, but never did.
      Perhaps I should take a leaf out of Tracey's book and find a pluto pup to put on my kitchen windowsill?

    2. You did, Julie, and staggeringly, you'd never seen one before either, if I recall. What is wrong with the world?

      I must tell you what a friend who shall remain nameless wrote to me on the subject:

      I have just read your Duncan blog. It might interest you to know that ******* insisted we purchase a Duncan for our kitchen before we fled Armidale. So there is a Duncan on the kitchen window sill doing his stuff and driving the cat to distraction, as it prowls the external ledge.

      Too good not to publish....

    3. I also remember Lakeland colour pencils - but not just the straight ones – the watercolour ones that you could moisten and then paint with! My mother painted many a beautiful watercolour miniature with them.

      Ros: we had a plastic animal of uncertain species, but either a donkey or a horse, that would do that collapse and pop back up trick, but I do remember the Pluto ones too. We loved them.

      O. M. G. You can buy one for exactly the same price as Dippy Duck [+ postage]. I'm serious! I demand that Dave get you one for a late Christmas present even if you have to order it yourself.

      This is, I should add, among items $250 and upward. GET IT!

    4. Duncan as in DUNKIN!! I just 'got' that:) I WANT some of those Lakeland watercolour pencils, yes, yes, that's what I want! And I will always now associate them with your mother.

      Julie M

    5. PS My cousin's son, when little, always called people 'Duncan" if he was angry with them. It was his swear word. We never knew why.


    6. I can be slow on puns too. I wonder how many people realise that "Beatle" is a pun on "Beat-all"?

      As to angry use of Duncan, I must admit that my first thought as an ancient outback Aussie was "Duncan" = "Dunny-can".

      What do you think of that? :)

      By the way, my best friend at high school for many years was Duncan, and I did have a beer, many times, with Duncan. [What that is about will be a total mystery to anyone not an Australian or is unaware of Slim Dusty.]

  4. I had forgotten all about them too. A real blast from the past. Anne P

    1. As you can see, you can have your very own, Anne.

  5. As it happens, I myself have recently started going back to the physics which I abandoned in university for my economics degree. In my case it's a case of trying to understand more about the potentially catastrophic climate change which world leaders seem determined to subject us all to.

    1. Hi Zeeshan. The best thing anyone can do on this subject is research it thoroughly so that you can discuss it from the viewpoint of solid research and not from prejudice or wishful thinking. Great idea.


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