Kagan McLeod for The National
Kagan McLeod for The National

Newsmaker: The rubber duck



He’s raised countless millions of dollars for charity, fascinated artists and scientists alike and made bath-time fun for generations of children and adults – including, it is rumoured, the Queen of England.

Designed for nothing more turbulent than the balmy waters of the domestic bathtub, he is an intrepid adventurer who has survived disaster at sea and spent the past two decades braving the storm-tossed oceans of the world, circumnavigating the globe in an existential adventure that has fired the imagination of writers and filmmakers.

Endlessly imitated, in Dubai this week he was the subject of the sincerest form of flattery with a giant impostor that had muscled in on the UAE’s National Day celebrations and drew thousands of awed onlookers to the banks of the Dubai Creek.

He is the yellow rubber duck, a global icon of popular culture who last month also received the ultimate accolade for his kind – induction into the American National Toy Hall of Fame.

But who exactly is he – if, indeed, he is a he – and where did he come from?

It all began in the late 1800s, in an overused American family bathtub. That, at least, is one theory, floated most recently by the director of Pittsburgh’s ToonSeum, which in October ran a duck-themed exhibition in honour of the appearance in the city of the original giant inflatable duck, created in 2007 by Dutch artist Florentign Hofman.

The ToonSeum’s Joe Wos told Pittsburgh radio station WESA that the birth of the rubber duck was a product of the rise of factories and the parallel popularity of a weekly bath, necessary to scrub away the grime of mass labour in time for church on Sundays.

Dad went first and so on down the family pecking order and, “when you get down to the littlest ones, they’ve got to go into that dirty, filthy water that the whole family has used, so you need a way to get them into the tub – and suddenly the tub becomes playtime.”

Playtime, though, was a problem – most toys of the day simply sank. Wos credits Charles Goodyear, the man who invented vulcanised rubber in 1839, with developing the blow-moulding technology that made it possible for the rubber duck to float.

Unfortunately, that’s where it gets a little bit murky, just like the water in the tub. One of the first known examples was a 1930s Donald Duck rubber duck created for Disney. But as to who had the original yellow-duck eureka moment, says Wos: “There were so many people involved that the person who created the rubber duck is lost to history.”

Whoever they were, they really started something.

The rubber duck’s big breakthrough into popular culture came with a squeaking role in the long-running children’s television programme Sesame Street, which made its debut in November 1969.

He was cast as the bath-time pal of the Muppet character Ernie, who made his “Rubber Duckie” famous by serenading him in the bath – a song that in September 1970 saw the pair reach number 16 on the Billboard Hot 100.

There was, Ernie told the millions of children who regularly watched the programme, one thing “that makes tubby time the very best time of the whole day ... a very special friend of mine, my very favourite little pal”. And a star was born.

In 1995, Duckie, accompanied by Hoots the owl on sax, reprised the hit with a very special Sesame Street guest – the singer Little Richard, who played piano and belted out a rock ‘n’ roll version of the song while he sat in a foam-filled bath.

The performance was all the more remarkable for the fact that just three years earlier Duckie had endured a traumatic incident that would come to define him, both as a heroic if quirky symbol of the modern age and an exemplar of fortitude and endurance.

On January 10, 1992, a ship crossing the Pacific from Hong Kong to Tacoma, Washington, on the west coast of America was struck by a storm that swept a dozen shipping containers from its deck.

In itself, that was not unusual; shipping experts believe up to 10,000 containers fall off ships every year. Occasionally, buoyant survivors such as trainers wash up on beaches in large numbers.

But no spill has ever captured the public imagination like the fleet of rubber ducks that found itself adrift in the Pacific in 1992 and has gone on wandering the oceans of the world ever since, like a doomed flock of plastic-feathered ancient mariners.

About 10 months after the accident, the first ducks began washing up on the shores of Alaska. They attracted the attention of Curtis Ebbesmeyer, a Seattle-based oceanographer, who immediately saw their potential for his research.

The fleet, he wrote in a paper published in 1994, provided “new data for research on ocean current pathways because it was far larger than the usual planned instantaneous release of 500 to 1,000 drift bottles.”

Oceanographers were used to recovering only 2 per cent of objects released into the Pacific Ocean for study purposes, but “the drift pattern documented here is based on hundreds of recoveries compared with 10 or so drift bottles”, he wrote in the journal Earth in Space.

The very first of the ducks – just half a dozen – were discovered on a beach on November 16, 1992. They have been turning up ever since and are expected to do so for some time yet. Almost 30,000 went overboard and only a few thousand have so far been encountered by beachcombers or spotted from passing ships.

Since 1992, the ducks have boldly gone where no ducks have gone before, riding the currents of the great oceans and cropping up in locations as far apart as Japan, Alaska and Australia.

In 2003, and again in 2007, they even made it to the UK. To get there, oceanographers say, they must have headed north from the Pacific through the Bering Strait, hitching a ride in the Arctic ice pack – becoming in the process the first toys ever to reach the North Pole under their own steam – before being spat out on the far side of Greenland.

From there, they were carried south by currents along the east coast of America – after which a storm-assisted Atlantic crossing to the UK was mere child’s play.

For the past six years, another version of the rubber duck has been travelling the globe, but under rather more civilised circumstances. In 2007, the Dutch artist Hofman created the 25-metre-tall inflatable Rubber Duck, an impressive, if slightly sinister, tribute to the childhood toy that has drawn huge crowds in cities around the world, including Beijing, Hong Kong, Pittsburgh, Sydney and Sao Paulo.

By Hofman’s estimate, his Rubber Duck has been seen by more than 190 million people.

The artist was reported to be furious when a replica of his Rubber Duck – made, appropriately enough, in China, like the castaway originals – turned up in Dubai this week as a promotional prop for a local car-wash firm. Hofman denounced the impostor as “a pirate version”, but it is difficult to see how he, or anyone else, could claim copyright on such a cultural icon.

Since his mysterious origins, the rubber duck has become part of the global vernacular, a buoyant symbol of fun and optimism in any language – even geek-speak. In 1999, he gave his name to the term “Rubber ducking”. This was not flattery; it refers to the practice among software engineers of tracking down bugs in code by explaining it, line by line, as if to an inanimate, computer-illiterate rubber duck, as celebrated in the book The Pragmatic Programmer.

Today, rubber ducks are manufactured and sold all over the world in versions ranging from the original to designs customised to suit just about every interest and occasion. The online Quacker Gift Shop – one of many – offers ducks wearing hats, crowns and turbans, with some dressed as firefighters, boxers, married couples and even Darth Vader.

And every year, thousands of them perform good works, helping to raise millions of dollars in charity duck races in countries around the world.

For collectors, duck hunting can become obsessive. The Guinness World Records title for the largest collection is currently held by Charlotte Lee, a professor of human-centred design and engineering at the University of Washington, who at the last count was the proud if slightly quackers owner of 5,631 different rubber ducks.

The rubber duck has infiltrated the very highest levels of society. In 2001, The Sun newspaper in the UK reported that a workman who had been redecorating the Queen’s bathroom spotted a traditional yellow duck – complete with crown. “I nearly fell off my ladder when I saw it,” he told the newspaper. “At least it shows the Queen has a good sense of humour.”

So what’s the big attraction of the little duck? Hofman, creator of the ultimate tribute, has tried to define the appeal of a simple bathtub toy that somehow spread its wings and took flight in the imagination of the world.

He sees his creation, like its inspiration, as “a very positive artistic statement that immediately connects people to their childhood”. The rubber duck, he says, “has healing properties; it can relieve global tensions as well as define them ... it knows no frontiers, doesn’t discriminate against people and doesn’t have a political connotation.”

The Strong Museum in Rochester, New York, inducted the rubber duck into the National Toy Hall of Fame on November 7. “With their bright colour, smooth texture, and squeaky or quacky sounds, rubber ducks sharpen toddlers’ senses, soothe youngsters’ fears of water and make good clean fun of the routine hygiene they’re learning,” it noted.

Or, as Ernie once put it more concisely, it’s “the thing that makes tubby time the very best time of the whole day ... Rubber Duckie, you’re the one.”

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FIXTURES (all times UAE)

Sunday
Brescia v Lazio (3.30pm)
SPAL v Verona (6pm)
Genoa v Sassuolo (9pm)
AS Roma v Torino (11.45pm)

Monday
Bologna v Fiorentina (3.30pm)
AC Milan v Sampdoria (6pm)
Juventus v Cagliari (6pm)
Atalanta v Parma (6pm)
Lecce v Udinese (9pm)
Napoli v Inter Milan (11.45pm)

MEDIEVIL (1998)

Developer: SCE Studio Cambridge
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Console: PlayStation, PlayStation 4 and 5
Rating: 3.5/5

Company Profile

Name: HyveGeo
Started: 2023
Founders: Abdulaziz bin Redha, Dr Samsurin Welch, Eva Morales and Dr Harjit Singh
Based: Cambridge and Dubai
Number of employees: 8
Industry: Sustainability & Environment
Funding: $200,000 plus undisclosed grant
Investors: Venture capital and government

If you go

The flights

Emirates flies from Dubai to Seattle from Dh5,555 return, including taxes. Portland is a 260 km drive from Seattle and Emirates offers codeshare flights to Portland with its partner Alaska Airlines.

The car

Hertz (www.hertz.ae) offers compact car rental from about $300 per week, including taxes. Emirates Skywards members can earn points on their car hire through Hertz.

Parks and accommodation

For information on Crater Lake National Park, visit www.nps.gov/crla/index.htm . Because of the altitude, large parts of the park are closed in winter due to snow. While the park’s summer season is May 22-October 31, typically, the full loop of the Rim Drive is only possible from late July until the end of October. Entry costs $25 per car for a day. For accommodation, see www.travelcraterlake.com. For information on Umpqua Hot Springs, see www.fs.usda.gov and https://soakoregon.com/umpqua-hot-springs/. For Bend, see https://www.visitbend.com/.

Results

3pm: Maiden Dh165,000 (Dirt) 1,400m, Winner: Lancienegaboulevard, Adrie de Vries (jockey), Fawzi Nass (trainer).

3.35pm: Maiden Dh165,000 (Turf) 1,600m, Winner: Al Mukhtar Star, Adrie de Vries, Fawzi Nass.

4.10pm: Handicap Dh165,000 (D) 2,000m, Winner: Gundogdu, Xavier Ziani, Salem bin Ghadayer.

4.45pm: Handicap Dh185,000 (T) 1,200m, Winner: Speedy Move, Sean Kirrane, Satish Seemar.

5.20pm: Handicap Dh185,000 (D) 1,600m, Winner: Moqarrar, Dane O’Neill, Erwan Charpy.

5.55pm: Handicap Dh175,000 (T) 1,800m, Winner: Dolman, Richard Mullen, Satish Seemar.

SHADOWS AND LIGHT: THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF JAMES MCBEY

Author: Alasdair Soussi

Pages: 300

Publisher: Scotland Street Press

Available: December 1

Day 1 results:

Open Men (bonus points in brackets)
New Zealand 125 (1) beat UAE 111 (3)
India 111 (4) beat Singapore 75 (0)
South Africa 66 (2) beat Sri Lanka 57 (2)
Australia 126 (4) beat Malaysia -16 (0)

Open Women
New Zealand 64 (2) beat South Africa 57 (2)
England 69 (3) beat UAE 63 (1)
Australia 124 (4) beat UAE 23 (0)
New Zealand 74 (2) beat England 55 (2)

SHOW COURTS ORDER OF PLAY

Wimbledon order of play on Tuesday, July 11
All times UAE (+4 GMT)

Centre Court

Adrian Mannarino v Novak Djokovic (2)

Venus Williams (10) v Jelena Ostapenko (13)

Johanna Konta (6) v Simona Halep (2)

Court 1

Garbine Muguruza (14) v

Svetlana Kuznetsova (7)

Magdalena Rybarikova v Coco Vandeweghe (24)

SPEC SHEET: SAMSUNG GALAXY Z FOLD5

Main display: 7.6" QXGA+ Dynamic Amoled 2X, Infinity Flex, 2176 x 1812, 21.6:18, 374ppi, HDR10+, up to 120Hz

Cover display: 6.2" HD+ Dynamic Amoled 2X, 2316 x 904, 23.1:9, 402ppi, up to 120Hz

Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2, 4nm, octa-core; Adreno 740 GPU

Memory: 12GB

Capacity: 256/512GB / 1TB (online exclusive)

Platform: Android 13, One UI 5.1.1

Main camera: Triple 12MP ultra-wide (f/2.2) + 50MP wide (f/1.8) + 10MP telephoto (f/2.4), dual OIS, 3x optical zoom, 30x Space Zoom, portrait, super slo-mo

Video: 8K@24fps, 4K@60fps, full-HD@60/240fps, HD@960fps; slo-mo@60/240/960fps; HDR10+

Cover camera: 10MP (f/2.2)

Inner front camera: Under-display 4MP (f/1.8)

Battery: 4400mAh, 25W fast charging, 15W wireless, 4.5W reverse wireless

Connectivity: 5G; Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.3, NFC (Samsung Pay)

I/O: USB-C

Cards: Nano-SIM + eSIM; dual nano-SIMs + eSIM

Colours: Cream, icy blue, phantom black; online exclusives – blue, grey

In the box: Fold5, USB-C-to-USB-C cable

Price: Dh6,799 / Dh7,249 / Dh8,149

Company Profile

Name: Direct Debit System
Started: Sept 2017
Based: UAE with a subsidiary in the UK
Industry: FinTech
Funding: Undisclosed
Investors: Elaine Jones
Number of employees: 8

Five expert hiking tips
  • Always check the weather forecast before setting off
  • Make sure you have plenty of water
  • Set off early to avoid sudden weather changes in the afternoon
  • Wear appropriate clothing and footwear
  • Take your litter home with you
Top 10 most competitive economies

1. Singapore
2. Switzerland
3. Denmark
4. Ireland
5. Hong Kong
6. Sweden
7. UAE
8. Taiwan
9. Netherlands
10. Norway

Mia Man’s tips for fermentation

- Start with a simple recipe such as yogurt or sauerkraut

- Keep your hands and kitchen tools clean. Sanitize knives, cutting boards, tongs and storage jars with boiling water before you start.

- Mold is bad: the colour pink is a sign of mold. If yogurt turns pink as it ferments, you need to discard it and start again. For kraut, if you remove the top leaves and see any sign of mold, you should discard the batch.

- Always use clean, closed, airtight lids and containers such as mason jars when fermenting yogurt and kraut. Keep the lid closed to prevent insects and contaminants from getting in.

 

liverpool youngsters

Ki-Jana Hoever

The only one of this squad to have scored for Liverpool, the versatile Dutchman impressed on his debut at Wolves in January. He can play right-back, centre-back or in midfield.

 

Herbie Kane

Not the most prominent H Kane in English football but a 21-year-old Bristolian who had a fine season on loan at Doncaster last year. He is an all-action midfielder.

 

Luis Longstaff

Signed from Newcastle but no relation to United’s brothers Sean and Matty, Luis is a winger. An England Under-16 international, he helped Liverpool win the FA Youth Cup last season.

 

Yasser Larouci

An 18-year-old Algerian-born winger who can also play as a left-back, Larouci did well on Liverpool’s pre-season tour until an awful tackle by a Sevilla player injured him.

 

Adam Lewis

Steven Gerrard is a fan of his fellow Scouser, who has been on Liverpool’s books since he was in the Under-6s, Lewis was a midfielder, but has been converted into a left-back.

No more lice

Defining head lice

Pediculus humanus capitis are tiny wingless insects that feed on blood from the human scalp. The adult head louse is up to 3mm long, has six legs, and is tan to greyish-white in colour. The female lives up to four weeks and, once mature, can lay up to 10 eggs per day. These tiny nits firmly attach to the base of the hair shaft, get incubated by body heat and hatch in eight days or so.

Identifying lice

Lice can be identified by itching or a tickling sensation of something moving within the hair. One can confirm that a person has lice by looking closely through the hair and scalp for nits, nymphs or lice. Head lice are most frequently located behind the ears and near the neckline.

Treating lice at home

Head lice must be treated as soon as they are spotted. Start by checking everyone in the family for them, then follow these steps. Remove and wash all clothing and bedding with hot water. Apply medicine according to the label instructions. If some live lice are still found eight to 12 hours after treatment, but are moving more slowly than before, do not re-treat. Comb dead and remaining live lice out of the hair using a fine-toothed comb.
After the initial treatment, check for, comb and remove nits and lice from hair every two to three days. Soak combs and brushes in hot water for 10 minutes.Vacuum the floor and furniture, particularly where the infested person sat or lay.

Courtesy Dr Vishal Rajmal Mehta, specialist paediatrics, RAK Hospital

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: Haltia.ai
Started: 2023
Co-founders: Arto Bendiken and Talal Thabet
Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: AI
Number of employees: 41
Funding: About $1.7 million
Investors: Self, family and friends

The specs

Engine: four-litre V6 and 3.5-litre V6 twin-turbo

Transmission: six-speed and 10-speed

Power: 271 and 409 horsepower

Torque: 385 and 650Nm

Price: from Dh229,900 to Dh355,000

SPECS

Engine: 1.5-litre turbo

Power: 181hp

Torque: 230Nm

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Starting price: Dh79,000

On sale: Now

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Revibe
Started: 2022
Founders: Hamza Iraqui and Abdessamad Ben Zakour
Based: UAE
Industry: Refurbished electronics
Funds raised so far: $10m
Investors: Flat6Labs, Resonance and various others

Sarfira

Director: Sudha Kongara Prasad

Starring: Akshay Kumar, Radhika Madan, Paresh Rawal

Rating: 2/5

Abu Dhabi World Pro 2019 remaining schedule:

Wednesday April 24: Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship, 11am-6pm

Thursday April 25:  Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship, 11am-5pm

Friday April 26: Finals, 3-6pm

Saturday April 27: Awards ceremony, 4pm and 8pm