Despite the fact I am now in my mid-twenties, whenever I see a pondful of ducks I long to be four again. Standing on muddy banks or leaning through metal railings, with a loaf of bread a little too elderly for human consumption in my hands. There is something immensely soothing about feeding ducks. Watching them come gliding eagerly towards you when they realise it's tea-time, hearing moorhens' silly little voices demanding crumbs, loud geese bossing smaller birds out of their way, seeing them dip down into the water to retrieve a stray piece of bread and emerging, perfect droplets of water resting on their shiny feathers.
A month or so ago (when we got a stray summery day towards the end of the same freakish February which brought us the snow), a couple of friends and I, and a slightly out-of-date loaf of wholegrain, pottered along the Thames to Barnes. We were there for ages; we had a lot of bread! But we were also hypnotised by the calming process of feeding these little water-birds.
Three girls, old enough to know better, we ripped and tore bread into duck-sized bites, mesmerised by ripples in the pond, by tiny diving ducks and the rare sunshine. We soon picked out the smaller birds, being shoved to the back by bigger, greedier feathered bullies, and took greater aim with our bread chunks, willing the smaller ones to reach them first as they landed in the water.
Small children out with their parents (who were obviously too well-organised and life-preserving to have copious amounts of mouldy bread in their houses) watched covetously as the ducks clustered at our feet. We offered them, slightly grudgingly I confess, some of our loaf and watched as they delightedly joined our merry band of bread-tossers. (We did of course select the least mouldy slices for the children, embarrassed their well-to-do Barnes mummies and daddies would judge our slovenly housekeeping!).
And so passed a happy morning; feeding, watching, chatting, myself snapping endless photos. Like they say, simple things please simple minds, and that day we, and the assembled ducks, geese, moorhens and the odd bolshy gull, were very simply pleased.