Saturday, November 29, 2008

How To Bathe With A Duck And Keep Your Extremities

After moving to 25 acres outside of Camden and realising I now had five times as many acres as I’d had at our old place, I began a new campaign to acquire more pets to fill the gaps. I've never found it difficult to add to my pet collection – I have a bigger problem not adding to it, so it wasn’t long before my menagerie was the better off by one large, white drake.

Bob was a poultry factory refugee. The local hatchery had a policy of incubating twice as many eggs as ducks needed to fill their orders. This quaint custom tended to produce a lot more ducklings than required - always causing surprise and consternation at management level I imagine. The result of this overpopulation problem resulted in a company policy of dispatching all excess ducklings to the great duck pond in the sky. Jan, one of my Year 1 students’ mothers, worked at the poultry factory and was known to be a softy at heart who’d obviously got into the wrong line of work. She spent quite a bit of her spare time finding homes for the surplus hatchlings. I was also known far and wide as a softy or more likely a real sucker for a hard luck story. I agreed to take two ducklings and planned to tell Graeme about it later – much later. I began plotting and calculating how long I could keep two ducklings hidden before having to come clean.

Jan, as often happened when she was finding home for ducklings in peril, developed a severe mathematics problem and for two ducklings read seven. She delivered them in a box to my classroom veranda while I was too busy teaching to count duckbills, and shot through. This drop and run technique it seems was also part of her very effective strategy to find homes for all the excess ducklings. There was obviously no way I could hide seven quacking, squitting (as my Nana termed it) ducklings from Graeme’s sight even for a short while, so I owned up immediately Graeme arrived home that night. I was very relieved to hear only a few grumbles and finally resignation, before we moved onto safer subjects. Note to self: always spring new pets on Graeme at the end of a hard day’s work when he’s too tired to protest.

All seven ducklings were soon ensconced in a large box fitted with a heat lamp. Unfortunately, no sooner had the ducklings arrived than they began to lie down in their box, take on a pale and interesting look and die. Our local vet declared that they had an incurable virus that he suspected came with them from the factory. This proved to be the case with the hatchery shutting down a week later. One by one the little yellow fluff balls weakened and died, except for one little fellow who just refused to give in. Bob the duckling soldiered on in the now scrubbed clean and much roomier box with only the heat lamp to keep him company. There he could be seen at all hours of the day, warming himself by his own private lamp, lifting his head every now and then to pass the time of day with any family member who happened by for a chat. All he needed for complete happiness was a beach towel, some sunnies, an esky and sand. Bob was a duck who was obviously made of strong stuff. He not only didn’t die, he didn’t even get sick. Bob became Super Bob in our minds and went from strength to strength.

His daily ablutions caused the family a great deal of trouble and discussion. Bob required regular bathing to keep his now adolescent white fluff clean and smell free. We were constantly worried about his catching cold - in retrospect a stupid thing to worry about, hadn’t he just survived in the face of the killer virus? At first we bathed him in the bathroom sink, giving him ample opportunity to exercise his little webbed feet and explore the possibilities of life on the water. When the tidal waves in the sink began flooding the bathroom floor, it was obvious that Bob was now too big to wash in the sink. Bob was still too young to be repatriated to the back yard, and still needed daily bathing to preserve his personal freshness. In the end the only solution was for Bob to graduate to showers. After many trials and errors I finally learned that the only way to successfully shower a duck is to shower with it. That’s when the family debates began. The discussions tended to centre around exactly with whom he’d have these showers. While the kids were prepared to try it once, I can’t say that the sport actually caught on amongst the younger crowd and Bob became my personal shower buddy.

Now showering with a duck is an experience I don’t really think I can recommend! If you’ve never had to fight a duck for your share of the water and the shower floor, I don’t suggest you try it. One isn’t at one’s best standing there dripping wet and naked, trying to protect the fleshier parts of one’s body while attempting to shoo a duck over to a neutral corner of the shower, especially when that duck is drunk with power and intent on getting the giant’s share of the water. All in all it was not a pretty sight. There I was, trying to command my share of the shower floor and there was Bob, determined to enjoy the experience to its utmost. Bob’s strategy was simple but effective. He’d waddle into the middle of the shower recess, regardless of any other feet that might have laid prior claim to the spot, and stood there with his beak pointing skywards allowing the water to drizzle down his body. His little ducky claws were very sharp when accompanied by the full weight of Bob (remember he was bred to grow big and heavy). I made many attempts to share the joy of showering with a duck with Rebecca, Joshua and Justin, but all three flatly refused to endanger their persons by showering with Bob ever again. I was therefore fated to be the only one who risked life, limb and dignity and I’m sad to report that Bob usually came out the victor of these shower sessions.

I was more than relieved when I was able to declare Bob all grown up and ready to face the rigors of living outside.

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