A few weeks ago, as I was exhausting myself up the slow sweep of single track on the way to work, I heard a loud honking sound from behind me. What I thought might have been some sort of waterfowl turned out to be a car, sounding their horn illegally and trying push past. Nothing unusual there—Ordinary For Oxfordshire, to be honest—but as the big red vehicle finally squeezed past me at somewhere approximating a passing place, the creature driving jabbed at my side of the road.
I use “creature” advisedly. It turned out that my original assumptions about my pursuer had been right all along, and I had in fact been chased up the hill by a duck. A blonde duck, in some sort of dark trouser suit, with a pursed, yellowing beak out of which the quacking must have emanated. The colour and wrinkliness suggested that this duck, at least, had been going hell for leather at the anatidine Marlboros in its time.
The jabbing, which was either intended to say “I’m ignorant of your rights as a road user and want you out of my way” or “take pity, for someone has clipped the flight feathers on this wing and I have to get around by car.” Either way, with as much politeness as I could muster, I hollered after her that she might want to consult the Highway Code. I was bluffing, to be honest: I’m not sure if they publish it in duck.
I didn’t give the incident much thought until this morning when, as I rounded a corner at the bottom of a different hill, the same blonde duck in the same red car wobbled brakelessly out of a minor road in front of me. Ducks normally have good peripheral vision, being prey animals, but this one hadn’t spotted me in my bright yellow jacket, and continued to sail along until it was just too late to stop safely and, at that point, stopped, largely in my way but partly still in the minor road.
I’d slowed down to an accident-free speed too, and wondered what on earth the duck was going to do next. As it watched me in a quizzical, lolduck way, I managed to get past, fed up enough to deliver a rather wearied insult as I did so. I’m not proud; not least because I actually meant to say “duckhead.”
With the painfully slow movements of the driver who only realises after a near miss that their lifetime behind a car has been ill-spent, the duck tailed me for some time before slowly, creakingly, passing me at a point with far less visibility than the one that had nearly spelt insurance, if not hospital for us both. I don’t have a good deal of material to hand before my first coffee, so during this endless manoeuvre I suggested once again that the duck should peruse the Highway Code, for advice on best driverly practice, before the month was out; then Y131 BLB was off and away, glimpsed occasionally through hedgerows, more pheasant than duck.
Who knows where this might lead next? Usually my hope, when suggesting that fellow travellers might like to brush up on their studies, is that they do indeed extract their handy copy of the Code from the back of their glove compartment, blow the dust off, and thumb through it, intrigued.
But if you hear of me being boinked off my bike, and that the duck that did it was distracted by some sort of pamphlet, you can be certain that my advice has come back to haunt me. And also that ducks can’t really drive, and it’s madness for them to try.