It takes a certain kind of quack to attract ducks...

Oxford Mail: Peter Unsworth Peter Unsworth

IT CAME as a surprise and a pleasure to be invited to a banquet – for ducks – although the invitation was offered more out of maternal despair.

Four-year-old Jed was armed with two stale sliced loaves and was making sure every crumb counted as he tossed them into the Thames from the towpath on Osney Island.

Meanwhile his young mum Cassie saw her day drifting away. Her expression said it all.

“Please help,” it begged.

Jed handed over a loaf and pointed to a squadron of ducks anchored on the opposite bank. “Call them over,” he ordered.

I am proud of my duck impersonation, perfected over the years by my affection for Donald Duck. My call went forth. Jed stopped mid-slice.

“Ducks don’t talk like that,” he said unimpressed.

“What do they say?” I asked, surprised my performance didn’t meet his approval.

“Quack, quack,” he said sharply, before turning his back and resuming his work. I didn’t argue but felt smug when his quacking failed to attract a single bird.

“Sorry about that,” said Cassie. “Pre-school creates experts – or as his dad says, little know-alls.”

THE five ‘ladies in retirement’ betrayed the fact that they came from near my native heath in the old West Riding of Yorkshire by speaking first. It’s the northern way.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” the first whispered. (We were in the Old Schools Quad, where silence is requested but always observed.) “It’s like Leeds Town Hall,” said the second. (I failed to see the comparison.) “I wish I’d been clever enough to come to Oxford,” murmured a third.

“Dewsbury Tech was my limit,” confessed the third. “Mind you, it was good enough for Betty Boothroyd.”

(Readers might remember she was the first woman Speaker of the House of Commons.) “You’re lucky to live here,” said the fourth, words that brought agreement from the fifth.

I persuaded the group to move to where we could speak more freely. They then asked where they should go before returning to their coach and heading home.

“As long as you don’t suggest we climb that,” said number one, pointing to the tower and spire of St Mary’s Church. “We’re all a bit short of wind these days.”

I ADMIT it, I do see Oxford through rose-coloured spectacles. The accusation came this week from someone signing himself or herself as ‘Blue’.

The brief letter accompanied a thought-provoking poem titled Town and Gown – Them and Us.

“I wish you would see the hidden Oxford,” the author writes. I would like to share the poem with our readers, but before I do, I must have the name and address of the writer – for my eyes only – and that’s a promise.

How about it, Blue?

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