The stream of admirers bothers a mother mallard considerably less than the swans, pike and vandals who lurk at the local lake. One duck arrives each year. This year, however, she was beaten to it by a daughter duck who had laid her eggs first; so "mum" took second best accommodation in the Year 8 courtyard. Today both nests hatched and 30 ducklings joined the school roll.
Tuesday: It's surprising how many people need to do errands which take them past one or other courtyard! Small ducklings leap to catch completely invisible flies and scuttle about or snuggle invisibly under mum's wings. The science courtyard brood are swimming and diving almost at once. The Year 8 mob are a disadvantaged family - they don't have a pool, in fact there isn't a drop of water to be had.
A pupil's plastic storage tray filled with water is provided and 14 ducklings happily get afloat. Number 15, the runt, is too small to get in over the sides. Clearly, a problem-solving approach is called for.
Disaster strikes. A teal is equally attracted by the science courtyard. She attacks several ducklings and lays her own eggs, a battle with the mallard ensues. Resolution comes as the mallard smashes all the teal's eggs. She has lost several ducklings but retains possession of the courtyard. Everyone is on the mallard's side and, in some indefinable way, 300 people receive instant news of the developments as they occur. CNN would envy this operation.
Thursday: The head has spoken wistfully about installing a "water feature" to greet visitors to the school. I doubt if our solution is what he had in mind. The ducklings now have a paddling pool, complete with ramps.
Amateur psychologists on the staff say that they think a pool decorated with pink hippos and yellow elephants will imprint on the ducklings who will go through the world throwing their weight about. The mother duck looks appalled, so does the head, who wisely says nothing. He knows he is dealing with deranged duck enthusiasts. All day the question passes from one to another, "Has one been in yet?" Late in the afternoon delight spreads as the ducklings take to the pool. Nobody wants to go home as we watch ducklings effortlessly circle underwater.
Friday: I observe the observers. A boy who was in a furious temper five minutes ago gazes at the ducklings. When he emerges he seems calmer and more relaxed. Colleagues, too, find them potent in relieving stress. Ducklings? Every school should have some.
Pauline Purcell is head of Year 8 at Emmanuel Church Middle School, Northampton