Flighty Duck

Mai Griffin in 1954

It wasn’t how I’d planned to spend my weekend – but, on the other hand, my weekends never needed much planning in 1951. The young man I intended to marry was serving in Malaya (jungle warfare, strategically called The Emergency to safeguard the Planters’ insurance), so I spent time writing letters to him or watching TV for news of the Far East!

Had I still been at Art School, in Newport, I would probably have been cycling somewhere, with college friends but, no longer a student, I was a budding designer with Chiltern Toys, just a walk away from my home!

A day before the weekend in question, my father had been taken ill and ordered bed-rest. It could have been something to do with his sciatica, I can’t remember, but my mother was exhausted after only one day of trying to keep him happy. My grandparents, who lived with us, tried to help but nothing could cure his boredom.

Now it was my turn. My father decided that the only thing he wanted was to watch me paint. He obviously couldn’t leave his bed to come to my studio so I had to carry my tools upstairs. Apparently, what the room had always cried out for was a mural!

The wall facing the window large and blank – emulsion painted – pale cream. Wow! I boggled, filled with enthusiasm, then had to ask what my mother’s thoughts were. He dismissed my concerns, convinced that she would love the idea …and, to my amazement, he was right. They obviously had not discussed the subject and boundaries were wide when it came to bedrooms but I was prepared to tackle anything.

When I returned with my painting gear, he informed me that he wanted me to paint a Mallard in flight so I went down to find a ladder. I didn’t let my mother see it – I merely told her that I’d been instructed to paint a bird. She was pleased and asked if I could take up a snack for him. She would then not see my painting until it was well underway.

Hours later, she was horrified to see me ducking my head to avoid the ceiling, and chastised us both. Birds also perch on things – why did it have to be flying – but when I climbed down she admired the colourful creature in a patch of blue sky and puffy clouds.

The painting was finished by Sunday evening and the household returned to normal on Monday. The impatient patient was no longer bed-bound but Grandma told me he had started taking afternoon naps… A good sign I thought.

The duck was still flying when the house changed ownership and I often wonder if it was painted over or is still there. So, if you live on Stafford Road, near Pontypool and have a painted mallard on your wall, please send me a photo of it – I deeply regret never having taken one at the time.

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