As adult contemporary soft rock titans Asia so deftly put it, the purchase was made in ‘the heat of the moment’. The urge to buy something whilst trawling through an antique shop in Campbelltown Tasmania was simply too great to resist. Like mermaids luring sailors to their demise, so too am I a sucker for a house of antiquities. This attraction can be boiled down to a single word: potential. What keeps me going is the possibility that in some dusty, wonky corner I’ll find something amazing, beautiful and precious for a price that is one step removed from shoplifting. However, as much as I choose to seek permanent residency in ‘hope’, I had never actually succeeded in finding such a bargain. This matters not. It is the possibility that inspires me, no matter how illusory it may be. But as I peeled away the cobwebs, I thought my luck had finally changed.
In a lonely, neglected corner of the store sat a display cabinet. It had a chipped oak veneer and the wobbly legs of drunk who’s just siphoned the petrol out of a motor mower, but I was entranced. So far as I was concerned, it was an item of abject splendor. And even though the glass shelves had more chips than Las Vegas, I did not allow this to deter me. In an instant, I had determined to buy it.
The owner was more than helpful. He even went so far as to offer to deliver it to the apartment the next time he travelled to Melbourne by ferry. It all seemed so easy. In the weeks that followed, I dreamed of my antique display case and how it would surely change my life for the better. Only when it arrived did the problem become apparent. That problem being that I have absolutely nothing I want to display.
The whole point of such an item is that it allows you to show off. Such brazen acts of braggadocio are as foreign to me as the ‘world movies’ section at the Video Ezy. But it’s not solely a matter of modesty; I am simply not a collector. It wasn’t always this way.
As a kid, I had a stamp album. Children today, I suspect, do not engage in philately and may not be aware that stamps, in fact, exist at all. But whilst our sink was often littered with envelope corners ready to soak off the affixed stamp, it was never my passion. Hours spent over the stamp album always seemed like time I could be better spending doing something more enjoyable such as watching Diff’rent Strokes or organizing my sock drawer.
I needed something to collect and, almost at random, chose rocks. Upon reflection, it is no small irony. Whilst I sought samples of as many igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic stones as I could lay my hands on, perhaps what I was really drawn to was ‘rock music’ but simply lacked the necessary courage to ask my parents for a Stratocaster. In the end, I abandoned my efforts and my collection was wrapped up in newspaper and stored away forever. There were other, more mediocre attempts to collect; a single season of football cards (incomplete), the occasional yo-yo and a few random smurfs, none of which I’m now comfortable putting on display. There were four whole shelves to fill, but nothing to occupy them. But just as I was about to scream off down the street in search of every porcelain cat figurine I could get my hands on, something caught my eye on the mantelpiece. There was, indeed, one object in our house that was worthy of ‘display status’. The blue chicken.
The origins of the blue chicken are a mystery. Whilst the truth has been somewhat obscured by the mists of time, it took pride of place in the middle of the table at every major family gathering during my childhood that I can remember. It belonged to my grandmother. Whether she had brought it out with her from Ireland as a family heirloom or gotten it free with a packet of custard powder at the local milkbar, I really couldn’t say. I do know, however, that the Blue Hen is the state bird of Delaware and I’d like to think that our glass blue chicken is Delaware’s equivalent of the Ark of the Covenant or Dead Sea Scrolls. That, even as I write and you read, teams of archeologists are combing the Americas, never realizing that the prize they seek lies on the other side of the earth with a payload of Maltesers inside it.
Regardless of its exalted status in The First State, at our family table it would be filled with confectionary. Better than that, it was one of those items that with the simplest of decorations could compliment any occasion. Just as any hamburger becomes ‘Hawaiian’ through the simple addition of a slice of pineapple, so too could the blue chicken be transformed. A single red heart for Valentine’s Day, eggs for Easter and a pocket calculator for the end of financial year. Yes sir-ee, ours is a working chicken. So whilst the blue chicken is worthy of the display cabinet, its time is not yet up. There is, I feel, still one more thing to do. On Christmas Day, it will take pride of place on the table. I will, naturally, add a piece of plastic mistletoe. Some like lights, others a star. For me, a blue chicken is all I need. And if you want to know what to get me, perhaps something decorative I can put on display. After all, I have a cabinet to fill. Merry Christmas.