‘Parks and Ducks’ written by Oliver Cross

Dear all,

Almost every day since the lockdown began, me and Lynne have taken a walk in a park and every day plenty of others – more than in pre-lockdown days, I’d say – have done the same.

If the use of municipal parks could be monetised, Leeds City Council would be able to repair broken railings and benches, remove graffiti and take their parks back several decades, to when they were last properly funded.

The park users seem happy with their simple pleasures. Many of them walk around smiling, which is very unusual in central Leeds, and others give us a nod of greeting as they pass, which usually only happens in the proper countryside, such as the Dales. I’m thinking of buying myself a respectable tweed hat so I can doff it at people.

We keep our park visits very local, as recommended by leading Downing Street advisers. Most often we stick to Woodhouse Moor, which, being close to three universities is full of young people running, exercising and occasionally consuming large quantities of beer – the favoured brand seems to be Corona, probably because it gets so many mentions in the media.

Around a couple of corners from the moor is St George’s Field, which is now part of Leeds University (though open to all) and was once a private cemetery where the richest people in Leeds went to get themselves buried.

It’s now mostly grassed over, although the many interesting gravestones have been preserved, some of them wonders of unnecessary effort, such as a very intricately-carved wickerwork basket and fishing rod to mark the passing of a keen angler whose name I couldn’t read.

There is also the gravestone of William Darby (1810-71), a remarkable showman, horse-rider and acrobat, who, under his stage name, Pablo Fanque, a circus owner.

This should have been enough to establish his lasting fame but to make doubly-sure, he also secured a passing mention in the Beatles song For the Benefit of Mr Kite on the 1967 Sergeant Pepper album. Even if you know Fanque’s story, it’s strange to see a name so fantastical chiselled out in cold, grey stone, along with the tragic fate of poor Mrs Pablo Fanque (see Google).

Lynne and I also enjoy watching the water birds at Roundhay, Golden Acre and Meanwood parks. The birds seen to have reached an agreement, or possibly formed a union, so that swans, ducks, geese, moorhens and gulls (which only join the waterfowl union when someone offers them food) can live together without visible animosity. They manage things far better than we do.

For example, humans are now divided over whether to feed bread to ducks; one side says bread, being of limited nutritional value, makes them ill, the other finds that municipal warnings against throwing bread to waterfowl have produced widespread distress and starvation.

I would say, in a duck-like spirit of compromise and inclusivity, that birds living in urban ponds and lakes need to be fed frequently because otherwise they wouldn’t be around in sufficient quantities to entertain park visitors, and if there is one thing parks should be aiming for, it’s the greatest good for the greatest numbers.

Thank you Oliver, until next time….