Flying Ducks, Past and Present

Apologies today: life is throwing curveballs at quite a rate, and I have neither answered your comments nor visited my blogging friends. Hope to get to do both later today – meanwhile, some ducks.

A duck’s place is in the pond, is it not?

Or so the composer Sergei Prokofiev must have believed. He wrote one of the great modern fairy tales for Russian children, and in it, the duck comes out of the pond while the wolf is around, and meets its plaintive end singing inside the wolf’s tummy.

So Russian. So fatalist. I can almost see the duck brandishing a small measure of cheap vodka as it tells its tale of woe.

Peter and the WolfĀ caught Prokofiev’s imagination when Natalya Sats, and the Central Children’s Theatre in Moscow, commissioned a new musical symphony for children.

He took just four days to write the 25 minute piece which tells a tale of the boy who goes out of the gate into the meadow and away from his stern grandfather’s jurisdiction, only to encounter a deeply Soviet bogeyman: the wolf.

The duck who lives in the yard follows him out and samples the pond; she has time for an argument with the smaller bird who cannot swim, and is stalked by the household cat. But she becomes over excited with all the action, and comes out to run around.

Ducks simply should not tap dance in front of wolves; it doesn’t do. This one, scored as a plaintive little oboe, pays the ultimate price, and the closing bars of this exuberant piece portray the duck swimming around in the darkness of the wolf’s stomach.

Of course, it must be in line with the glorious communist ideals which were expounded day-to-day in Russia’s classrooms. The little boy, Peter, is a Young Pioneer, the youth movement run by the regime at the time. But the animals, they are timeless, and they catch children’s imagination today as much as they ever did.

I always felt deeply sad for that duck. Surely she could have stayed in the pond.

The ducks here are a little confused, disoriented, even. Because suddenly the number of ponds has shot upwards, from two main ones in the forest to a plethora of puddles, promoted by the rain into flat lakes.

The ducks don’t know what to do with themselves. So much choice and so little time.

As I type the dog is on his cushion, running and yelping quietly in his sleep. He is remembering the ducks we met today, I feel sure.

The ducks have not fathomed the whole business of depth. Things can reach them, and possibly have them for dinner, if their legs are long enough to reach the bottom. But the ducks are blithely unaware of this. It’s a lake, they say; it’s wet, it’s wide, stop nagging already.

Thus, Macaulay the dog has been having a field day.

He will shuffle lazily through the turnstile gate at one end of the forest fort and suddenly his eye will be drawn by the form and movement of those distinctive Daffy beaks.

Fast dogs can reach 45 miles per hour; Mac would be lucky to reach twenty. But his acceleration from 0-20 miles per hour? That is something to behold. I would love to hear his thoughts as he clocks the action, floating serenely in half a foot of water, the creatures convinced they are invincible.

Like a bat out of hell, he charges the foolish creatures and I am afforded the sight of three perfect flying ducks silhouetted against the Spring sky.

Wow, I think to myself. I have seen that scene in ceramic form above so very many fireplaces.

When did we first begin to see the iconic flying ducks, three pottery birds hung like pictures on the walls of houses?

The man responsible for the first duck was appointed chief modeller at Beswick Pottery, Stoke on Trent, in 1939. His name was Arthur Gredlington. He introduced animal figurines to Beswick’s repertoire; farmyard animals,Beatrix Potter figurines and suchlike. It was only a matter of time before his attention turned to the humble duck.

He it was who invented the wall-hung ducks and made them accessible even to the working classes. Their popularity was instant, and some bright spark had the idea of grouping three such figures together on a wall for effect.

Can there be any greater accolade to a piece of pop culture, than that it became an early television phenomenon? The grand old queen of British soaps, Coronation Street, accorded them to the shrill hair-netted housewife Hilda Ogden. On her wall, she had a ‘muriel’- a painting on the plaster of deplorable provenance – and above it flew three ducks.

So perhaps, as well as allowing the duck the safety of the pond, we should accord it a place in the skies.

Their airborne silhouette keeps Macaulay the dog amused; and looks so very fetching in the watery sunlight of a showery spring afternoon.

Image source here


45 thoughts on “Flying Ducks, Past and Present

  1. I have to admit a not at all secret admiration for and liking of ducks. So much friendlier than geese. We had one as a pet when I was a child. Half a barrel for it to swim in, half to live in, so inevitably his name was Diogenes.

    Along with the 3 ducks I remember 3 flying frogs. It was a British company that made synthetic duvet fillings, and had their adverts as a duck family living their nice little synthetically warmed lives in a house. And on the wall, in the correct flying formation were the FROGS!

  2. I remember those ducks flying on the wall. I thought that they were dreadful because my mother told me they were! However, now I believe, that the original ones are worth quite a lot of money, and I quite like kitsch now I am older.

  3. It occurred to me to print out this blog and hang it on the wall, Kate šŸ™‚

    I was out on the bike the other day and found a pair of ducks getting cosy on a two foot wide puddle in the middle of the cycle trail. Confusion reigns but around here it mostly rains.

    1. šŸ˜€ Love that last phrase, Jan. It seems ducks everywhere are a little water-happy. Hope it clears up soon. Yu must be getting soggy on that bike of yours!

      1. The bike is plastered with crud, Kate *plastered* but who can resist going for a muddy splash to inspect the latest flood levels? Not me šŸ™‚ The only thing I regret is that I haven’t got a spaniel to gallop joyously through the waters!

  4. One of my birthday cards this year pointed out I wasn’t old I was retro!:) I quite liked the ducks on the wall in the same way as I like forsythia – never understanding why ,just because they are over popular that makes them bad – they are over popular because they bring a smile with them – but then I like black wood furniture as well – no taste at all me:(

    I think three frogs leaping up the wall would be a great peice for the wall – being a frog lover – and talking of Russian Vodka – it is strong strong strong!!! – if the duck had been drinking that as he told his story he wouldn’t have suffered too much at the time (after?oh yes) – the only time in my mispent youth I got legless was in Lennigrad on a bottle of russian vodka!way back when – ah mid 60s when the Soviet Union was at its peak. The Russian soul is very dark .

    lovely peice of music and the obeo one of my favourites – thanks again for delightful start to the day

    1. Alberta, getting drunk in Leningrad in the heart of the cold war…your experiences have innate style šŸ™‚ Lucky duck. Think he would need a stiff draught to keep him happy in there. As you say: dark, dark, dark. So Russian.

  5. Living in The South means knowing a score of fellows who like to hunt ducks. It upsets me to no end to hear about it, especially as they use dogs to roust them up and retrieve them. Like you, I love to see them fly.

    1. We don’t have duck hunters; they poddle along without too much fuss, and dogs do not have a hope of ever reaching their prey. They have a good life, here in Blighty. No wolves.

  6. Love how you weave children’s tales into your stories, great history and fun with Mac the Wonder Dog. Can just see the crazy frustration in his face as he races towards the wacky daffy ducks only to see them fly off just out of his grasp.

  7. Dear Kate, . . . I think the “ducks on the wall” must be a British thing. I’ve not seen pottery ducks on the wall here in the states, but I have seen a lot of paintings and prints of forest/woodland ponds in which two or three ducks are taking flight against a sunset. Quite mellow. Also, here there is a Federal Duck Stamp painting contest each year for the annual federal duck stamp. It’s not for postage, it’s to raise money for wetland conservation. The artist who won in 2011 was from Minnesota. He did an acrylic painting of a wood duck–quite bright and bold and beautiful.


  8. Four days? That’s all he took? Amazing! I’ve always loved Peter and the Wolf – I could hear that oboe as I read… and now I can tell I’m going to have bits of the duck, the bird, the cat, the wolf, hunters, the grandfather and Peter running rings around one another in my mind all day. šŸ˜€

  9. I am sorry for curveballs, but I am glad you share with us. You’re such a “constant” in the blogosphere, but we humans do run out of steam once in a while. I hope your batteries recharge soon…Wasn’t it just a week or so ago that you looked up and saw the swans? Now ducks? I think the universe may be giving you a few prompts to just keep looking up! And then, like Macaulay, get your rest šŸ™‚ Debra

    1. There is a deplorable gap, Nicola: I have not traced who first made the trio of ducks. I could be Beswick but I have no indication that this is the case…I’m sure I’ll stumble on the missing duck link some day šŸ™‚

  10. I am just getting my steam back but it has been tough! Take a break! Get a breath of fresh air and we will still be here when you get back šŸ™‚

    I will take Ducks over geese any day! I say this living close to a lake and dealing with their dropping…

  11. I can never see three ducks without thinking of Hilda’s muriel. You don’t see them anymore in people’s homes, but there was a fad in the nineties for white pot ducks with flat undersides, so it looked like they were resting with their necks against the wall under a windowsill. Do you remember them?

    1. Yes! Hilda said ” that flight of ducks and that muriel have kept my hand off the gas tap a few times I can tell you”.

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