“Completely Quackers?”


Is this a fair comment on the Brits and their holiday-time games, muses Alan Dearling

This year the May Bank holiday Duck Race in Todmorden had to be postponed. It was too wet! It then took place a couple of weeks later – despite being another wet day in the Calderdale Valley! As ever, it provided twenty minutes of lively laughs as the plastic ducks, of all sizes, were dropped from into the river from a digger truck sited on road bridge in the centre of town. The Duck Race was organised from the Tod Market with the Market Tavern landlord, Mark Arrowsmith, acting as the Master of Ceremonies on a mobile PA, calling out a loud, “One – Two –Three. Go!”

Whether a Duck Race is a raffle, a type of lottery, or, a gambling game, is a tad contentious. According to Wikipedia, the Duck Race is a relatively new event, (or, form of popular madness, perhaps):

“The location and origin of the first Duck Race is unclear… one source stating it took place in 1987 in Ottawa, Canada,  while another says that a charity in Dyserth, Wales, held its first annual Duck Race in 1980.”

Certainly, adopting a racing plastic duck and watching it career down a water-course has a quintessentially British feel to it. To my mind it is definitely a modern successor to Poohsticks’ racing from A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh tale of Pooh’s Game. It featured in the 1928 book, ‘The House at Pooh Corner’. The bridge from where the Poohsticks were dropped was based on one in Ashdown Forest in East Sussex, which was itself was apparently the archetype for 100 Acre Wood in the Pooh stories.

In the 1960s I well remember building little model rafts with my mate David in Bognor Regis in Sussex and dumping them into the stream known locally as the River Rife. We then followed them from the banks along with David’s three dogs. Sometimes we’d add excitement by attempting to ‘bomb’ the rafts with stones and mud-balls in order to sabotage and sink each other’s maritime racing models. Aaah, the nostalgia for the simple pleasures of youth!

In the USA the unofficial record for the United States’ duck races stands at over 200,000 ducks in Cincinnati which briefly raced in the Ohio River and raised more than a million dollars for the local foodbank. According to Wikipedia, “The biggest duck race so far has taken place on London’s River Thames on 31 August 2008. It was called the Great British Duck Race, with 250,000 blue rubber ducks in usage.”

Blue ducks were used after some spectators had dropped their own ‘forged’ traditional yellow ducks into the River Thames near the finishing line in a previous race leading to much confusion.

Here is the rest of the sequence of photos from the Todmorden annual charity fund-raising event. At the finishing line some rogue ducks and ducklings made a Great Escape, despite spectators on the bridge yelling out to the two Duck Race organisers in the river, “They are BEHIND you!!!”



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