Wednesday, February 25, 2009

That’s the old stream that I long to cross

We’re not exactly a back-to-nature household. Our idea of a ramble in the wilds is to go right to the far end of Cliffe High Street. But last year, when two ducks settled on the Winterbourne Stream near us and made it their home, we vaguely encouraged our children to monitor their progress. Unfortunately this led to them developing a perverse and unnatural interest in outdoorsy things. It started harmlessly enough, with Thing Two naming them ‘Bucky-Duck’ and ‘Ducky-Wuck’; but gradually Thing One became obsessed, and Crèche-Manager and I secretly gave the birds an alternative, though still rhyming, name.

Most of the year the Winterbourne Stream is, frankly, rubbish. Apparently there’s a clue in its name: in summer there’s no water in it. The section along the path leading to Rotten Row fills up with mad triffid-like vegetation and crisp packets, and you forget it could ever be a waterway. Then some men clamber in, clad in space-suits, and cut the greenery away with electric scythes. For me this heralds the arrival of winter as surely as The Apprentice back on the telly. The stream fills up and even I can see it’s pleasant to walk beside it, listening to it gurgle, playing hopscotch over the amazing regenerating dog poo which decorates the footpath, and occasionally dredging out small floundering children, for there’s no barrier at the edge of the path.

A few days after the ducks arrived, Thing One, with the single-mindedness characteristic of the greatest despot, or average toddler, insisted she had to visit them every morning, ‘to give them their breakfast’. She didn’t miss a day, padding out there in her fluffy blue dressing gown like a minipop Tony Soprano checking on the ducks in his swimming pool, except she isn’t the head of a Mafia family and he doesn’t wear Scooby-Doo slippers. The arrival of some cute ducklings only made things worse, and we were suddenly in the grip of a full-blown infatuation, having to buy cuddly ducks and rubber ducks, forced to pretend to be ducks in public, and allowed to speak of nothing but ducks and their fascinating lifestyles. This phase culminated in a nasty scene when we inadvertently offered Thing One crispy pancake duck at the Panda Garden.

For weeks it was just our two ducks; then suddenly word got round and twenty more descended on the stream. But like a restaurant that’s only trendy when hardly anyone knows about it, or in fact not like that very much, the bandwagon had rolled on. The sun came out, the water dried up, and one day, there were no ducks there any more.

Thing One’s not long out of therapy and has been making good progress, so we’re dreading the return of the ducks now the stream’s flowing again. It’s only a matter of time before she hears that quacking, stops clipping wise guys, and returns us to early morning constitutionals with a bag of day-old Mother’s Pride.

Beth Miller, 17th February 2009. Published in and in Viva Lewes magazine, March 2009. Photo by Alex Leith.

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