Mr Duck is what the regional newspapers, whilst they still existed, would have called a ‘local character’. When I was a boy the world was full of such characters, they were part of the weather-worn and kaleidoscopically human fabric of every town centre. They were not merely accepted, they were vital. They were a city’s soul. Today they have largely disappeared.
I see Mr Duck almost every day; rain or shine, hot or cold. Mr Duck is tall. His age is indeterminate. His hair is long and grey. His beard likewise. He always wears a fur coat. Always a fur coat, but not always the same fur coat. Sometimes it is full length, sometimes it is short. Sometimes it is dark, sometimes it is light. I am no great authority on matters furrierial (almost certainly a word that I have just made up) but I am pretty certain that they are all ‘real’ fur, although I have never asked. These are heirloom-type furs. I have never seen him challenged about it. This is Mr Duck: it is what it is.
Under the fur coat, regardless of length, Mr Duck wears a nightie. Always white (to varying degrees – less so as the week wears on). Like the coat, the nightie is of unpredictable length. Like the tide, his hemlines ebb and flow, but seldom with any synchronicity. The nightie is always worn over black trousers. I have seldom seen him in anything other than carpet slippers. In the winter he sometimes wears a fur hat which meticulously matches the fur of the coat. He also often wears elbow-length lace and satin evening gloves.
Each day he ambles down and sits on the wall of the restaurant opposite where I work. Each day a staff member appears with a take-away coffee and a pastry for him.
He is called Mr Duck because he always used to carry a child’s soft toy with him (it was actually, in my opinion, a penguin, not a duck – but I am also no ornithologist, so I must bow to greater knowledge) until some toe-rag stole it from him. That it has never been replaced would seem to indicate that it had a special significance for him. Nobody wants to ask him, so we can only imagine… And here’s where my brain kicks in.
I have spoken to Mr Duck on occasions. His voice is soft, but gravelly and definitely southern. I want to know his story, but I never ask him.
I see him as an aristocratic child, devoted to a mother with whom he shared his life, his father having died in India or some equally distant colonial outpost. I believe that he alone cared for his ageing and frail mother and that he has never recovered from the shock of her passing. I believe the furs to be hers (and not, as my more soul-deprived workmates suggest, donated by the charity shops because they daren’t have them in the windows) as are the gloves and the nighties. I think that the soft toy was his own – a last reminder of his childhood. I want to know. I want to ask him and I want to write it all down, but I don’t, because Mr Duck is a local character and I believe I already know his story.
Also, I don’t ask him because I don’t want to run the risk of discovering that the clothes that he wears are just a means of getting a free coffee and a Danish each day; that his mother is still alive and at the bingo, and that his father pulled exactly the same stunt for fifty years before him. I am very happy with the Mr Duck I think I know. Without him the city has no soul.
Some of us live like princes
Some of us live like queens
Most of us live just like me
And don’t know what it means
One World – John Martyn