As a general rule I find in life that it’s best not to overcomplicate things.
Thus, on a lazy Sunday morning, with mummy away for the weekend, I decide to stick with what I know works. Taking my wee man to the lake to feed the ducks and enjoy a gentle summer stroll.
The lake is one of our favourite places, a haven for walkers who circumnavigate the large pond with dogs at the end of leads in one hand and little purple plastic bags full of excrement in the other. We don’t have a dog but we do have an abundance of stale bread and bagels slightly past their use by date.
We arrive to find an array of rather nasty looking dark-grey geese patrolling the entrance to the lake like nightclub bouncers. I hide the bread behind my back and my son begins to lose his nerve. We both agree to approach the water from a side entrance where we can slip in without the geese asking us for ID.
But while the front of the lake has a convenient clearing, the side path is populated by many trees blocking easy access to the water. I manoeuvre myself as close to the edge as I can get while maintaining solid footing and lob a lump of bread towards the pond. It lands on the high branch of a large tree and remains wedged there.
My son looks at me blankly.
I’m appalled by the sense of waste and decide to try and dislodge the bread by throwing more lumps of bread in its direction. Half a loaf later and I still haven’t moved the original bit of bread, but several more are now wedged in the branches.
I look around and notice a small crowd of people has gathered to watch me. My son has wandered away and seems to be pretending that another man is his daddy. And a flock of ducks are waiting impatiently in the water.
We walk a little further around the pond until we find a better spot. I check with my son that he still has the stale bread I’ve given him. He doesn’t. When I inquire it emerges that he’s eaten it. I mentally begin to prepare myself for the question from my wife when she gets home about what I fed our son while she was away.
As we lob more bread into the water I notice that most of it is being snatched by aggressive seagulls, bold geese and the larger and faster ducks. I spot a small, sad duck, the runt of the group, at the periphery who is being crowded out of the feeding frenzy. I feel sorry for it, perhaps finding some kinship and empathy in the familiar difficulty of fitting in with the popular crowd.
I hatch my plan and wait until he’s floated off on his own. I move into the longer grass to get close. Then I hurl a solid piece of stale crust flat and hard in its direction, almost as if I was skimming a stone.
I want the bread to get to him before any larger birds can move it.
Instead the rock-like lump of crust wallops the tiny duck hard on the head. It swims around vacantly while a seagull swoops down and gobbles the bread. The little duck seems confused and I find myself looking for signs of permanent brain damage.
I decide we’d better move on.
As we cross the little tin bridge my son notices a green blanket on the surface of the water and asks me about it. It could be algae, spawn or some other form of pond growth. I’ve no idea but I opt for saying that it’s algae.
My son tells me, ‘It looks like that time I was sick.’
I have to admit I can see what he means.
As our walk nears its end our stash of shop-bought bread has been exhausted. Instead I turn to the gluten-free superfood seed loaf that I baked myself. I’m heartbroken to be throwing it away but have to admit that human demand for my home-baked bread was slim.
Here there’s a flock of hungry swans. They’re so ravenous that they look like they might eat each other. I break off small bits of the dense loaf and throw it into the water where they are swimming.
The swans circle the bread, poking at it with their beaks. Then, after a moment, they begin to swim away.
One gives me a look which seems to say ‘Nah, you’re alright mate.’
At first I’m a little hurt but I soon come round to the wisdom of the swans’ logic. Bread thrown into the water floats. My home-baked loaf bobs about for a second or two before sinking to the bottom like a liner hit by a torpedo.
We play adventure games in the woods for a while. When my son asks to be carried I decide it’s time to go home. We’re both flushed with the exercise and looking forward to enjoying the rest of the day.
As I said, it’s best not to overcomplicate things.