Friend, defender

If we had felt a trifle apprehensive about the reaction of our urban-minded neighbors to the couple of ducks I brought from the open fields of Yorkshire to our new wall-surrounded back garden in Glasgow, we needn't have. One neighbor gazed out of his window fascinated, and then enthusiastically pronounced them, ''Beautifulm geese!'' I didn't want to disillusion him too weightily after such a show of approval, so I only muttered the corrective, ''Er - ducks,'' in quiet verbal parenthesis. Besides which, when it comes to the big green-headed drake's self-image, the neighbor may not have been entirely amiss in his nomer. . . . Ducks, geese, ostriches, they were much the same to him: great ideas.

The neighbors on the left have viewed them with tolerant pleasure punctuated by the occasional shameless crack about Christmas dinner and orange sauce. We Are Not Amused. We were amused, however, the other day when the neighbour wife, Dorothy (returning from golf) kindly stopped her car in the road and helped us guide our recently acquired duck-number-three - a muscovy - in through the front gate. She (the duck) had suddenly disappeared and I had found her down in the long grass over the back wall. She wasn't too sure, yet, about her new territory , and was also particularly unkeen on the green-headed drake already in residence. She had come from deep in the Leicestershire farm country and had been used to roaming at will; the notion of property, enclosed by walls, and the notion of trespasing, were new to her. She also was proving to be as resistant to the idea of going through a gate as any leaping springtime lamb. However, with my wife on one flank, and Dorothy pretending to be a sheep dog, and I in the rear, we managed to steer this oddly squeaking black and white character (Muscovies don't quack) in the required direction - and that in spite of distracting tactics by the ginger cat who chose this precise moment to explain to the black and white kitten belonging to the new upstairs neighbors in the house on the right that he was on the wrong side of our hedge. I noticed that Dorothy was eyeing the muscovy duck in a strange way. ''How long ago did it escape?'' she asked. ''I'm not sure,'' I said. ''Could it have been about an hour ago? It's just that I was looking out of the kitchen window and saw a giant seagull fly past. I thought 'That's a very big seagull.' I think it must have been this duck. . . .''

The neighbors downstairs in the house on the right are perfectly happy about the ducks. Alan, the husband, was simply a little puzzled. Evidently ducks had never crossed his path before. ''What on earth do you want to keep them for?'' he asked with a certain amazement. ''Oh,'' I said, ''partly for breakfast eggs and mostly for laughter.'' He looked a little unconvinced on both counts.

The people who used to live upstairs from Alan and his wife (before the kitten and its owners arrived) never said a word for or against ducks in general or in particular. Until, that is, I bumped into their daughter in the catalogs of the University Library one day just before they moved house. She said, ''I have enjoyed watching your ducks.''

The neighbors in the middle at the back don't seem much interested in the ducks one way or the other, though when the wall between us suddenly crumbled to its foundations in the ''frozen groundswell'' of last winter (it was a Jericho-tumble which would have appealed vividly to Robert Frost's famous un-love of walls), when this occurred they were more worried about their dog chasing the ducks than they were about the possibility of the ducks moseying around their rose trees.

In actual fact (apart from the muscovy's recent impersonation of David Livingstone - I presume) only once have any of the ducks been out and about. That was about a year and a half ago when the two originals followed their beaks through the back gate, left open inadvertently. ''For laughter'' - yes: there are few things as comic as hunting for ducks in a pukker residential neighborhood, knocking on strange doors and asking: ''You haven't by any chance seen two ducks, have you?''

At one door, finally, the answer was not the usual incredulous and broadly smiling negative. It was: ''Oh, they're yours! We were just phoning the police to see if they knew where they might have come from. Come round the back. We've put them in the greenhouse.''

And that's it, really. They aren't much trouble to the neighbors or the police, and they are an endless source of delight and wonder to window cleaners, central heating engineers, and electricity-meter-readers. And as for themselves, well, they seem to have developed an imperative sense of territory since their introduction to urban living. They are, it is true, not noisy at the approach of an intruder, but (greatly to the protection of my peas and beans) there is one kind of unwelcome guest that never fails to rouse in the big green-headed drake the most impressive indignation. Barry Flanagan's marvellous line drawing unwittingly pictures this recurrent event in our back garden. The ire-producing aliens are those Enemies of the Vegetable Patch, the wood pigeons. They are ubiquitous around here: but not in our garden. Let one of them flutter swoopingly over the wall and head for the brassicas, and suddenly our drake is transformed by superb delusions of grandeur and ferocity. He doubles his size, puffs up his feathers, strains his neck, goggles his eyes and charges with light-brigade abandon from one end of the garden to the other. Meek and unabashed, the pigeon pretends not to notice at first, but then retreats rapidly in the face of this proud onslaught. On these occasions anyonem would be proud to name this bold defender of the territory a goosem. He is worthy of nothing less.

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