Critics

Critics.

This place is full of critics.

And ducks.

It’s Kelvin Henderson’s annual critics and ducks party.

I’m currently being accosted by a Mallard about the state of contemporary dance. Well, I don’t speak duck, so I don’t know exactly what he’s quacking about, but his movements are a perfect satire of that new dance craze.

I don’t know what I’ve had to drink, but I can barely feel my body and my memory of the past few hours is a complete blank — the sign of a really good party. I have an empty glass in my hand and a Pomeranian sitting in my lap.

Kelvin’s parties are important for critics like me, as we get to talk to our peers. Otherwise how would we all know what to think about the latest trends in art, literature, we might not realise that Broadchurch has changed from the greatest programme on TV to sub-soap tat. Imagine the damage I could do to my career if I published a positive review of Broadchurch now that it’s totally detrended.

Except that I’m currently not discussing art at all, I’m stuck between a Ukranian Grey and a Welsh Harlequin. Broadchurch hasn’t been mentioned once.

Kelvin’s parties are unique because they take place in his duckhouse. It’s essentially a nightclub; an enormous bar, with dancefloor and numerous private rooms, but he got planning permission for it by claiming it was a duckhouse. He keeps a few dozen ducks there to justify the claim. It makes his parties kind of different.

The bar is loaded with trays of pre-poured drinks and I help myself to some random glasses: a clear one, a green one and a blue one. I have no idea what they are, but at least the clear one isn’t water, which is always a risk.

I collapse on the floor and almost immediately find myself acting as impromptu chair for a young Watervale. The thing about Kelvin’s parties, you might not learn much about the arts, but you learn a fuck of a lot about ducks. Why, before I started coming to these I couldn’t tell a Golden Cascade from an Acona.

The music is loud, so loud that I can’t hear. But it doesn’t matter, there’s nothing much to hear, just the sound of critics and ducks.

At some point I get bored of the ducks I’m with and crawl away. I find myself in a corner by the window.

Three waiters enter, pick up trays of drinks from the bar, and are about to leave. I persuade them to let me take a drink from each tray: a glass of yellow, one of red and an orange, which I immediately put back when I realise it’s orange juice, swapping it for a pint of beer. You’re safe with beer. Beer can never be a health drink in disguise.

The waiters leave, but three Aylesburies waddle over to my corner. You’re never alone for long at one of Kelvin Henderson’s parties.

Through the window I can see the party in the main house. I recognise a few of the faces; Stephen Manners, the Times film critic, Simone Hardcastle the Guardian art critic, Melanie Choose, the TV reviewer and Archie Archieson, the critics’ critic, who once described my writing as ‘a mindless word splurge’.

I watch them through the window for a while, watch them drinking, laughing, doubtless sharing jokes about how awful Broadchurch is.

I drink a glass of the yellow drink. It tastes of yellow. Who even knew that yellow was a taste?

Funny they’re all in the main house.

I struggle to locate my jacket pocket, take out my phone and re-read the invitation. ‘NOT the duckhouse this year’, the email clearly says. I’ve come to the wrong party.

Spitting feathers. I am literally spitting feathers. Literally, a duck must have been sitting in my mouth at some point.

I examine the feathers as I spit them out — a Crested Grebe. I don’t remember seeing a Grebe. That’s not even a duck, are they allowed here? Is it a gatecrasher?

No, I’m the only gatecrasher. I’ve gone to a ducks party by mistake.

I think about crossing the yard and joining ‘the main event’, but at that moment I am joined by a party of Blue Swedish and decide to stay where I am.


About Dave Clark

Dave Clark was born in Essex and lives in Cambridge, though his stories are mostly set in Swansea, New York and London, and occasionally outer space. His stories have also appeared in the charity anthologies 50 Stories for Pakistan and 100 Stories for Queensland.

>> Dave Clark's author page

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