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A Shout From The Attic: In The Duck Pond

...A pleasant Saturday morning could be spent at the duck pond with a thrup’nny fishing net on the end of a bamboo pole, fishing for sticklebacks beneath the murky water. Then we would carry them home in a jam jar to die of something or other within the week. The ducks ate the fish we couldn’t...

Ronnie Bray recalls happy and soggy days at the duck pond in a park near his boyhood home.

For earlier chapters of Ronnie's autobiographical writings please click on A Shout From The Attic in the menu on this page.

There’s a lot of conspiracy among old men that is hard to put a finger on. It has to do with their knowing how things used to be and keeping it just below the surface of their conversations with younger folk, like some esoteric mystery that must not be told on pain of death. Usually this secret knowledge is more amusing than life threatening.

Take the duck pond in Greenhead Park. Reading that, some of you will nod while others will scratch their heads and wonder “What duck pond?” as well you might. That sorts out the men from the old men. When I visit Greenhead Park - not so often now that I am transplanted to the desert of Arizona - I always take a stroll around the duck pond. If there is a brass band playing on the bandstand, so much the better.

Then, I sit in the grotto and remember when the ducks swam all over the pond and made nests on the island in the middle. Some days it was almost possible to imagine that it was a lake, but its well kept edge of red gully tiles contrasting with the grey asphalt of the footpaths didn’t encourage such self-deceit.

Some bad boys used to find where the ducks nested and stole the big blue eggs, running home with them hidden beneath their jerseys before making a present of them to their mothers whom they made partners in crime because it was wartime and eggs were scarce and duck eggs might be too strong to eat and enjoy except for the strange ones but they made lovely cakes.

A pleasant Saturday morning could be spent at the duck pond with a thrup’nny fishing net on the end of a bamboo pole, fishing for sticklebacks beneath the murky water. Then we would carry them home in a jam jar to die of something or other within the week. The ducks ate the fish we couldn’t.

I don’t remember seeing many frogs in the pond, but there could have been more and perhaps the ducks got their own back on us for taking their fish suppers by eating all the frogs. The small bend by the stables seemed to have great gloops of frog spawn swishing the bank in springtime, but it seems that the ducks knew where to find the frog spawn and did their part to prevent the world being taken over by the green peril.

The bottom of the pond was muddy and upwards from the mud grew masses of dark green pond weed, genus unknown, among which the wily sticklebacks would hide. One day I got on close terms with the bottom of the duck pond in Greenhead Park.

As a young lad, I dreamed of having one of those tinplate motorboats with the clockwork engine and a funnel that housed the spindle for the clockwork motor that was wound by a large-winged key, and into which a cork was bunged to keep out the water. Most of the things I owned, I got through swapping. That form of horse-trading still current among schoolboys, I understand. Somehow and from whom I do not know, I obtained a beautiful motorboat, exactly corresponding to those in my secret yearnings, and went up to the duck pond – where else? – to put it though its paces.

Only those who dreamed of owing toys that never came could fully appreciate how my heart raced under my button-neck jersey as I ran from home at the top of Street up to the duck pond that winter’s day. I wasn’t even out of breath when I stood at the water’s edge and wound up my clockwork treasure. I might have exchanged it for some Hobbies magazines, those books for dreamers who would like to work magic with a fretsaw and an old tea chest but never got around to making anything except long drawn out sighs as the dreams continued.

I was a bit startled to see the ducks walking on top of the pond! I was not always that swift, but it eventually dawned on me that the duck pond was frozen over. Hence, the ducks were able to walk on the ice. Some thoughtful person, probably the Park Ranger, had broken some of the ice just to the left of the bandstand as you stand with your back towards it, and this let ducks get into the water to feed.

It also provided me with a couple of feet or three in which to sail my prized vessel. The winding complete, carefully done so as not to break the spring - oh what anxieties pervade childhood! - I popped the blue-topped cork stopper into the little hole and took two faltering steps onto the ice to get myself level with the water. And get myself level with the water I did!

I had been lulled into a false sense of security by seeing the ice bear the weight of the ducks. I did say I was not always that swift. Now will you believe me? The ice looked solid, but it wasn’t thick enough to bear the weight of a chunky young lad. I went through the ice with a splash and a plop, hit the muddy pond bottom, swallowed two gallons of pond water, breathed in three pints, lost my grip on the prized boat, jumped out onto the bank too cold to breathe, spat out the water (no fish!), and ran home to dry before I froze to death. Winters were really hard in them days!

That was my first and last motorboat. Yet, if I were to see one in a second hand shop or at a collectors fayre, I’d buy it and take it up to – no!

Some years ago on one of my visits to Greenhead Park, I saw a small irregular shaped lawn where the vast expanse of duck pond used to be. The vandals of the leisure department of the Corporation had filled it in and grassed it, shrinking it to about a quarter of its size in the process, or was that just the common illusion of things and places shrivelling as we grown older?

I mourn the passing of the duck pond. The little paddling pool, once so full of water, kids, colour, and shrieks of enjoyment in summer could never match the duck pond for sheer elegance and its olde worlde Victorian charm. So much elegance has disappeared from the world I knew when Huddersfield was younger, and so was I.

I never saw my motorboat again, though I stand at the spot where I went under and thought only to save myself almost fifty-five years ago. And whatever happened to all those ducks?

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