Moments of Delight #3

Nov 26 2021

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Georges Park lake, from the BBC News website. They didn't credit the photographer. That's very naughty. I am double naughty because I stole this picture without permission. It's a great pic, though, eh?

I am logging my daily delights for the month of November, inspired by The Book of Delights by Ross Gay. If you'd like to know why I'm doing this – start back at Moments of Delight #1.

Duck Pond Delights

I'm having an admin day at home. I've finished my not especially delightful lunch and my sprawling to-do list is waiting impatiently for my return. I take a moment to check in with myself and notice I'm coiled tight and panicky, I'm never going to get everything done!

Compassion takes over, eases off my slippers and replaces them with my boots, before wrestling me into my coat and shoving me out the front door to go and see the ducks. She knows that the anxiety mindset will not produce my best work, even if other parts of me don't.

As I step out the door, I hear loud country music and look around for the source. There's a cool young dude in a denim jacket and a beanie pedalling towards me on a bike. The music is getting louder, could he possibly be the source?

It's not just the young ones who blare music from their pushbikes here in Bristol, I often pass travelling bike parties of all ages on the cycle track. I find it delightful as a form of expressing identity. It's a bit like tagging (which I don't find particularly delightful) or wearing tribal clothes (which I do).

As he gets closer, it's clear that the jaunty country music is coming from a speaker on the young hipster's bike. He's completely po-faced about it, perhaps country music is his jam or perhaps this is some sort of deep irony, either way, he delights me. The music fades as I walk towards the tree-lined Bristol to Bath cycle track.

“It's not a cycle track, it's a shared path” insist all the walkers. “F**k the pedestrians, run them all down!” say all the lycra cyclists. I use it for both super-fast walking and average speed (non-lycra) cycling. It's the closest stretch of green near to my house and it links to a patchwork of green spaces on both sides of the tracks, the discoveries of which were my greatest lockdown delights.

As I walk along the cycle, sorry, shared path, I hear tinny gospel music. There's a grey haired black guy dancing down the path to the tune coming from his mobile phone, he's not even got a bike! He's grinning from ear to ear and singing along as his sparkly eyes meet mine; “Have a lovely afternoon!” he shouts. “Thank you, I'll try, you too!”

I'm cheered by these folks and their public sharing of their musical tastes. There's a skip in my step as I approach the duck pond where I've whiled away many a delightful lunch hour with my pink zip-up lunch-box and matching pink thermos flask in these last two years.

I've got to know all the different tribes of birds. There's the ducks that perform their bum waggle dance all around the pond, seemingly at random, but I wouldn't be surprised if they have choreographer – the duck bum waggle dance is challenging work to behold. The pigeons puff themselves up and waddle around on the edges, trying to shag each other or avoid being shagged, whilst waiting for grubby-handed toddlers to drop the bread intended for the ducks (or official non-bread duck food which you can buy in the little kiosk). Seagulls lounge in the trees, guffawing at anything anyone's doing and swooping down to steal any food going. The Swans aren't fussed about food or people or any of the other birds; they'll get what they need because they own the pond and they do whatever they like; basking in the sun, pulling downy feathers from their own undercarriages with upside down heads, or bombing across the water, skidding to a halt and demanding applause, which I've often provided.

I've watched cute baby birds grow into sulky teenagers and gradually give in to adulthood. I consider them all to be my friends. So imagine my surprise as I approach the lake to see a huge fence surrounding the whole area. Discombobulated parents with buggies spin around in glitchy circles at the perimeter of the fence; “Does not compute, does not compute.”

I've watched the parents with their toddlers for the last two years, noticing my changing feelings towards them as I went through two cycles of pregnancy and miscarriage, fertility tests, surgery to remove a bunch of squatting polyps in my womb and the end of my relationship. There were moments when I eyed them up as potential buddies, imagining myself feeding the ducks with my own kid next to them. Then there were moments when I couldn't look at them at all. But I could always look at my friends, the ducks.

Today I feel sorry for the parents and kids. It seems that toddlers need to feed ducks. Or maybe parents of toddlers need to get out of the house and feeding the ducks is a good enough reason to leave. Some are posting illicit bread through the gaps in the fence, others are having an existential crisis, oh no, that's me, I'm having an existential crisis.

All my favourite sitting spots are inside the fence with the water birds, where do I sit to drink my tea and write my words? I find an unfamiliar bench right next to the path and pull out my flask and my journal. It feels funny to sit so close to the thoroughfare, people might be able to read what I'm writing about them, that doesn't seem right.

I catch a conversation on the breeze, a man is confidently informing a group of locals why the fence is here: they're building marshland for the birds and a boardwalk across the water and an amphitheatre for outdoor performance, how exciting! I look up for the guy who shared the news, surely he must be wearing a high-vis jacket or a lanyard, but it's just a guy with a beard in a park. Our eyes meet and he shoots me a wink (I find this delightful, why not wink at a stranger? I often do! Actually maybe I did and he just winked back...). I ask; “How do you know all this?” He says “I read it on the council website.” How delightful that this man has taken the time to learn about his local park and share his knowledge with a bunch of strangers.

The birds all seem happy behind their fence, in their uninterrupted bird world, they're spreading out their feathers in the autumn sunshine. There's space for the all birds and there's space for me. Good shout, Compassion!

-Friday 19th November 2021

If you'd like to read some other Moments of Delights:

Moments of Delight #1

Moments of Delight #2

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