Like water off a duck's back

By

As far as I know King Lear and I have only one thing (apart from nationality) in common, and that is a certain penchant towards thunderstorms. There is something about them (as Bernard Shaw, I believe, put it, in quite different circumstances) that "stimulates the phagocytes," whatever they might be. Or if it doesn't do that it at least stirs the imagination. Like Beethoven's Fifth, thunderstorms make a thoroughly inspired noise.m

I do know, of course, that thunder and lightning can be atrociously destructive and devastating, and also that there are those who prefer to witness them underneath a cushion or even a bed: but i've decided that the thing to do is openly enjoy them for all they're worth, and I was delighted to discover the other afternoon that it is not only Shakespeare's huffy monarch and I who feel this way -- but Sally as well.

Sally, in fact, was about the last individual you would expect to relish the flash and fury of anything. Anyone more timid and reticent would be hard to think of. She is the only duck i have encountered, in well over a decade's acquaintance with Muscovies, Rouens, Aylesburies, Khaki-Campbells, and even, one summer, a family of wild ducks, who prefers to be inside a cardboard box than out of it. She was in one when we picked her up at Glasgow Airport (I'd better admit that she came to this convenient rendezvous by car, so we can't put down any of her tremulousness to jet lag) and, once come, I carried her in the box round to the back lawn.

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The drake gathered himself to see what we had brought him: but she didn't want to see him at all, and dived and burrowed back into the hay, lining the box , as if she was a gerbil. Any other duck would have flapped out of the confinement in high dudgeon.

Sally, however, was a timid noun and not an intrepid verb, and showed every sign of even wishing she had never broken open her own shell in the first place. This box must have reminded her of this earlier packaging, and she was evidently trying to reverse an irreversible decision. After all, you canm throw an egg over a building without breaking it; instinctively, no doubt, she knew that the eggshell is the greatest little fortress in the world for the unextrovert -- and a cardboard carton the next best thing.

Coaxed finally into the wide, fresh air, she gave an eighth of a glance at the unfamiliar surroundings and headed with feathery embarrassment for the shade of the plum tree and black-currant bushes at the end of the garden, just beyond the remains of an old greenhouse. In this darkest corner she crouched on the wet earth and more or less continued to crouch there every day for about three weeks. At bedtime, after a couple of horrendous, panic-stricken assault courses , via gooseberry bushes and the coal shed to her night quarters, she learned where these were situated, and with relief took herself secretly to them each evening, as soon as dusk seemed in the offing, rather than wait for the petrifying human being to drive her.

Her strange unadventurousness had an effect on Dally (the aforementioned drake). He obviously approved of the arranged marriage, and took to his new wife at first sight. But it was the second sight that gave him pause for thought. He rushed in and knew little or nothing of the tread of angels. Sally's heart beat wildly -- and visibly -- it is true, but from sheer terror. The drake was stopped in midwaddle: this small lady was not at all the same as Dilly (whose sad encounter with Monsieur Reynard is another story). Sally (probably she would have been better named Silly) needed a much more subtle approach, a finer sensitivity, even a certain gentlemanliness: not things for which this big and rumbustious green- headed lad had hitherto been famous. So he had to learn. He too began to spend his time in the shadows behind the greenhouse ruin. Neither of them went near the garden pool. They didn't eat, apparently. They just sat in a kind of dream, three feel from each other, he facing forlornly outwards, she facing demurely inwards.

Then came the thunderstorm. The Scots, of coursE, don't do things by half measure and evidently feel that if it is rain that's wanted then rain it will be. As an alien Englishman I've discovered that the weather is a matter of acute national pride up here. The soutehrn Englishmen who pronounce on such matters over radio and telelvision seem aware only of Hertford, Hereford and Hampshire and they should just hearm the things that are said about them in the land of Burns and Scott. "Once again," they say, with a mixture of glee and disgust, "they've IGNORED US."

It happened that the Scottish thunderstorm in question came suddently after three weeks of particularly fine weather. During those three weeks the rest of Britain had had the worst rains for years. Did the BBC mentions Scotland's sunshine at the time? No, it did not. did it mention the thunderstorm whe it came? Well, yes, it did -- because it was to their credit to do so. It said that Glasgow had had more rain in five hours than London had had all month. There was a RIOT north of the Border. . . .

However, in the midst of all his national competitiveness, everybody overlooked one remarkable bonus: which was that while continuous rain of the English variety never cured a shy Khaki-Campbell duck of its shyness, a real, rollicking, wild, uncouth, clashing and bashing, spitting and spouting Glasgow storm did. Out she came, our wee Sally (with Dally following ditifully), and rushed with exultant, tail-wagging, wing- spreading, neck-stretching spurts and dashes up and down the garden, in and out of sopping heavy-bloomed peonies, striking horror into the as-yet-unformed hearts of lettuces, intimidating irises. Worms were taken by surprise and gobbled, as by the Hun. She scooted and splashed all over the place as lightning forked and the torrents fell: "Blow , winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow!/You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout/Till you have drench'd our steeples, drown'd the cocks!. . . ."

Lear and I are nothing compared with this brown bird when it comes to storms: she had found her element and was a New Duck.

That which ha th made us wet, hath made herbold.m

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