It was a cold overcast spring day - most have been so far this season - but so far no rain. It was a nice day for a walk if you're not the kind to be scrabbling for an umbrella and a coat and a scarf every time you see a cloud. I got a bag of loaf ends out of the fridge and took Alexandra down to the lake, heading for the south side near the picnic ground where the ducks gather. On the far side, the cliffs rise sheer and you can see joggers steaming up the hilltop path. I've been visiting the lake for years now, back to when William was a baby; and prior to that when the children's much older brother and sister were toddlers. That takes it back to the 1980s. We don't do it for the ducks; we do it for the children. Children like feeding birds. It's good for them; the children, I mean.
You stand by the edge and throw a crust. The pigeons arrive first; followed by seagulls if there are any around. In this weather there were plenty. Arrogant nasty things lowering their heads and charging at the other birds. Then the ducks and moorhens or marsh hens or whatever they are called come sailing in, cutting beautiful ripples on the water, or just running across it making that curious flap-flap-flap sound. But today a family of swans were on the lake. Father and mother sailed regally towards the edge, shepherding four cygnets with soft yellow-grey fur. They were obviously old enough to eat. (I mean they could eat; not that I had designs on them for the oven.) The mother strutted straight towards Alexandra and the fun started. The other birds were trying to get a look-in. The father held full-back and swooped diagonally forward towards the flanks, like Malceski in the 2012 grand final. He cut off the pigeons easily and disposed of the swooping seagulls with a whiplash neck movement. The ducks were moving in from the forward flanks. The mother dealt with them while keeping an eye on the cygnets who were dining regally. Every now and then the father appeared to allow one of the lesser species to take a piece of bread; this had the effect of drawing off scores of pigeons, seagulls and moorhens who followed the lucky duck into the water hoping for a shard or two, and giving the cygnets more room to move.
The cygnets sat down one by one. They had had enough. The parents shepherded them back to the lake. The bread was gone. We walked on. Then I saw the sign. It must have been placed there only recently. Don't feed the ducks, it said. Not their right diet. You can feed them shredded lettuce and small pieces of carrot.
We'll have to start eating our own loaf ends. I used to make bread and butter pudding with them but you get lazy.