Once upon a time there was a clucking thing. It was made of wire and wax and string and it made a clucking noise when you pressed a knob. The knob was located on what might have been its head. I say “might have been” because the thing didn’t really have a head, not a proper head, like my head or your head. It was a sort of boxy shape, this thing. The knob was set over to one side on the very upper part of it, which tapered slightly. That is why I said “head”, because the knob was on the upper part, to give you some idea. Were the knob set lower, as low as could be, I could have said it was located on the thing’s foot, even though it did not have a foot, or feet, not as such.
It was not a mobile thing. If you wanted to move it, you had to pick it up and put it where you wanted it to be and it would stay there until you picked it up again and moved it somewhere else. It did not make a clucking sound unless you pressed the knob.
It was yellow.
It was yellow except for the knob, which was red, or perhaps orange. Also, its underside was beige. But its underside was almost always resting on the floor, and so was not visible. If you picked it up and rested it on its side, or – in a moment of hysteria – upside down, it did not cluck when you pressed the knob, no matter how hard and insistently and repeatedly you pressed the knob. It had to be placed upright, with the beige part on the floor.
It was roughly the same size as a big duck.
If you placed a microphone next to it, to amplify the clucking sound when you pressed the knob, the proximity of the microphone created some sort of feedback. Then the thing howled, a terrifying ear-splitting howl, whether or not you were pressing the knob. It would continue howling until you moved the microphone somewhere else, further away, preferably into a different room, or even into a different building. After howling, the thing would take some time to settle itself before pressing its knob would make it cluck. Immediately after howling, when you pressed the knob the thing would wheeze. You would probably have to wait about five minutes before it would cluck again properly,
The thing did not do anything else except cluck, howl, or wheeze. It fulfilled no higher purpose. Unless you were particularly fond of boxy yellow immobile things, it did not really prettify a room, like a vase of brilliant flowers, or a framed picture of a parson skating on a frozen pond.
It was not the only thing of its kind in the world. At the last count there were something like twenty million of them. Most of them, the things that cluck when you press the knob, were buried in landfill sites. Human ingenuity can be immensely befuddling.