Sunday, April 05, 2009

Dancing for the ducks – Waterloo Park, North London

Wednesday April 1, 2009:

“Oh, I should be a-protesting” I remember guiltily as I get off the 210 bus outside Waterlow Park. My companion and I have come to pay our respects to ducks, it being duck time of course.

I did toy with dressing up in flame coloured clothing and going to dance like a fool in the city along with like-minded souls, anything to protest the crimes of capitalism. Alas, a lunch date has slipped into my diary and it means that instead I only have time for the ducks before dinner. Well that is my excuse anyway.

We stride through the sunny park, stopping briefly to admire a new play area, the structures looking strong enough to bare an adult’s weight. But I am impatient for ducks and I’ve not much time, so we scoot along. The quacking and honking dances to us on the wind. And here are the ducks waddling around on the edge of the pond, splashing in the cool water under the willows.

There is something cheerful about ducks. I just can’t help quacking along with them. Somehow, their presence lightens my heart. I laugh and quack away as I get out the oatcakes and begin to scatter crumbs.

Ducks, geese and wood pigeons fix their attention on what I suspect is breakfast mark six and cluster and clamber on the other side of the fence. I get out the RSPB toy mallard and squeeze it.

“Quack-quack-quack-quack, quack-quack-quack-quack” quacks the toy duck.

“Quack-quack-quack-quack, quack-quack-quack-quack” gives back the mallard with a green head.

“Quack-quack-quack-quack, quack-quack-quack-quack” grumbles a rougher sounding duck from over on the left, a little belligerently.

WE all fall to quacking and soon the song of the toy, ducks and humans weave together in a cacophony of happy calls in tenor, bass and alto. In and out of our song the Droo-droo, Droo-droo” and “honk-honk, honk-honk” of the pigeons and geese move. Soon the air is filled with a joyous orchestra of the pond side and we continued to sin contentedly for some time.

Finding a seat, my companion and I sit down to contemplate the ducks in comfort. I call the spirit of the duck to come to me and sit back and wait.

I am upside-down underwater. With my bum in the air and my orange feet sticking up comically I am perfectly happy. Dignity? Who cares about dignity, I’m looking for food!

Below me the sky, pale blue smeared by the dark weedy water, shines opaquely. Above my head, the muddy bottom of the pond is my duck’s sky. I see amongst the weeds, curious openings and dark places and wonder what is down there. I see also, other heads like mine and the furiously paddling feet above the bottoms of the other ducks, geese and coots with whom I share my pond. With a flurry of splashing I right myself, shake the water from my wings with an enormous amount of flapping as I swim into a pool of sunlight.

We stand by the fence again, lured by the comic waddling birds. A red faced coot comes over to investigate the alien quacking from my toy duck, followed by another and then another. Not to miss out on anything, several mallards waddle up onto the bank and gather around.

What are the qualities of the duck, I muse as I lean against the fence? According to a rather waft and over emotional bird oracle I’ve found, the duck is his own worst critic. But I see ducks as optimistic and cheerful souls. Yes they argue amongst themselves and at times their squabbles can be quite vicious. But, every time a duck waddles into my thoughts, I think of a happy creature with that flat billed smile and my spirits rise. Their ubiquity is reassuring, for it is always easy to find ducks. Perhaps that too means they don’t get enough honouring.

And with that in mind, I suddenly need to dance. Splaying out my feet like a duck’s, I begin to waddle from side to side and to flap my arms like wings. I nod my head and quack as I rock from side to side. My companion joins in and the ducks waddle closer to watch in appreciation.

“Quack-quack-quack-quack, quack-quack-quack-quack” calls a particularly handsome purple headed mallard, according to my companion. He turns, waddling on orange feet, his black tail and brown rump apparently looking rather magnificent in the sunlight and with a splash, enters the water and paddles away. Soon an Armada of mallards, their colourful heads erect, their orange feet furiously paddling, shoot across the pond in search of a small child in pink with a lot of bread to give them.

“Hail and farewell ducks,” I say, bowing to their retreating backs. “Thank you for making me laugh. Thank you for making me want to dance.”

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