In May I took up a housesit and, in a rash move of healthy living, began walking to work. It was a brisk forty-five minutes. Not bad as commutes go but still legitimate exercise. I invested in a pair of trainers.
The journey was a combination of big roads and small parks. I was swiftly reminded of the unofficial Highway Code: motorists hate pedestrians, pedestrians hate motorists and everyone hates cyclists. In Melbourne you can lump trams in that last pile too.
The trick is to set your route pretty early on so after a few journeys your legs will carry you on muscle memory and your mind is free to lapse into a Zen-like state. There are colourful birds here and possums at nighttime but you’ll miss them if you’re still figuring out where to cross.
The roads quickly slipped into oblivion, but I was always alert in the parks. Park One is a dog park and perpetually full of a variety of puppies going about their delirious business, owners raggedly in tow. At either end of the park there is a free supply of dog poo bags, which is both convenient and expectant. You don’t need to remember to bring your own, but there’s also no excuse to leave your shit lying around.
In the centre of Park Two is a small man made hill, flanked with flowerbeds and, further in, a line of tall shrubs and trees masking a pathway. By day this had a charming secret garden quality, but by night it took on an altogether more menacing tone.
Melbourne is a pretty safe city, but there’s no way I’d walk through a park at night and this hill epitomised the imagined danger for me. To some it is the sort of place you would chose to hide during a childhood game, maybe even chose to steal a kiss with your boyfriend in your teens. To me, as a wary ex-Londoner, it’s an ideal place to deal drugs or lie in wait for someone to mug. So at night I took the long way round.
Sensible caution of darkness aside, I wouldn’t say I was a superstitious person, but the ducklings of Park Three were my barometer for the day ahead. It was early spring and two families appeared within a couple of weeks. I decided that if I saw one family it would be a good day, none was bad, two was fantastic. I counted the ducklings too. A couple of times the numbers went up, more often they went down. A down result subtracted from the goodness of the day no matter how many families were present.
One day a set of parents disappeared and the other brood doubled. The missing parents never came back. I googled “do ducks adopt other ducks’ ducklings?” but I’d used the basic keyword function of Google ineffectively and couldn’t get a straight answer. I googled the park to see if the ducks were in some way owned by someone but they weren’t listed as one the park’s attractions.
Before I could get any answers my housesit ended and I was forced further out. The walk was a gruelling seventy-five minutes. My interest in walking and ducklings subsided under the weight of a convenient ten-minute train ride. I put my trainers in a cupboard. I searched for beginners’ pilates on Youtube.
This week, in celebration of a sunny day and with nothing better to do, I forced myself to make the mission. But things are never as you’ve left them. I found no ecstatic puppies. I eyed the secret garden with suspicion as I approached. I looked eagerly for ducklings, hopeful of a positive sign; but no sign ever came.