Feeding the Ducks, or, No Tern Left Unstoned

(Alternative title suggested by Martin.)

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I originally picked this up off USENET somewhere; I'm afraid I don't recall where.

Ducks? Oh, right: ducks. Yes.

Back at the tail end of the 1960s when all the ``new'' universities were being built, York decided to have a water-feature and built themselves the largest plastic-bottomed lake in Europe. It was only a few feet deep, but it was all over the campus, and it had a large resident duck population. Those ducks had character. They once waited until a porter they knew was afraid of them was on duty and then staged a sit-in in the hall of residence which was on the waterside, for instance; and there was a solitary Mandarin duck which was obviously a Maoist agitator.

Anyhow they were a feature (possibly even a planned feature) of life on the York campus. You kept on encountering them. When they were ashore, they tended to walk along just in front of people who had disturbed them, just alarmed enough to keep moving but not enough to try to take off. This happened one day in I think 1970 when a stoned youth called Steve was wandering back from a bar: a duck got going in front of him, waddling along at high speed for a duck and looking to his befuddled eye very much like a clockwork toy. So in a spirit of friendly wossis he decided to carry it back to the lake and save its poor flat feet, and he reached out a hand and grabbed it.

He grabbed it round the neck, and the damn' thing said ``Squawrk!'' and died at him.

Now, Steve was a vegetarian and and animal lover and all like that and he was truly upset by this; and furthermore his principles required that he not waste the duck's life.... So he smuggled it home off the campus and plucked it, weeping as he did so, not to mention getting feathers into parts of his room which he hadn't until then known existed, back in the hinterland behind the 104 milk-bottles on top of the wardrobe with the interesting mould growths and such... And his friends helped him cook it and there was a roast duck supper.

The trouble was that after that Steve had that duck on his conscience, and he was always trying to find ways to make it up to the other ducks for his cruel murder of one of their comrades (did I mention that he was a convinced member of the internationalist tendency as well as a vegetarian?) and salve himself for it. Then his birthday came around, and someone very kindly gave Steve an ounce of really first-rate dope, heavy black sticky stuff, and Steve worked out that this would get a large number of ducks very stoned indeed. He put small pellets of it into pellets of white sliced bread, and he went down to the lake one fine day and he fed the ducks.

They got very stoned indeed. One of them walked slowly round and round a tree for the best part of five hours, for instance; and another did that classic duck-take-off-on-water bit, where they stick their necks out and flap like fury across the surface going ``splatchsplatchsplatch'' until they reach take-off velocity -- only it couldn't quite make it and it went straight into the mud of the opposite bank beak-first and stuck there like a javelin and had to be rescued (and its feet were very clammy and ubiquitous); several dived and never came up as far as we could tell; one of them decided that it was some other sort of bird altogether and wasted a vast amount of time trying to perch in a tree, luckily on a low branch or it would have broken something falling out of the tree again, repeatedly. There must have been fifty of the poor little sods, and they were all saying ``wow look at the colours man!'' in Duck and falling about and getting things Wrong for several hours. That's apart from the ones who got introspective and just sat without moving for the rest of the day with glazed expressions. Those ones were probably seeing fractals, for all I know, or calculating the number of atoms in the universe: they certainly looked Profound about whatever it was.

Everybody else of course found the whole business hysterically funny, but poor Steve was mortified, and I think he avoided the lake for quite a long time afterwards. Then one day he walked into the common-room of the hall of residence overhanging the lake and found that the ducks were having a sit-in there (see earlier) and became quite convinced that they were Out To Get Him, or else they were hallucinations, and he couldn't decide which was worse, and I think shortly after that he left the university altogether and went away and became a bus conductor in London, which was where I next saw him.

And I suppose that the moral of this story ('cos all stories ought to have morals, right?) is that it's not really a good idea, getting ducks stoned, but it's very funny.

Chris Lightfoot.