ducks prefer chapatis
In Wolverhampton there exists a strange and beautiful place called West Park. It is strange in many ways but primarily it is strange simply because it is possibly the only beautiful place in Wolverhampton. The City has two parks each the opposite of the other, although both are very easy to miss, unless you know they are there. The other park to the east is called, as you might expect if you had a map, East Park; it was a blasted heath, a barren wasteland of mud or dust, an inadvertent homage to the Somme.
West park on the other hand is a surviving Victorian jewel, a perfect oval that was once a horse racing track exactly one mile in circumference, it is filled with verdant grass, frilly pavilions and all manner of drinking fountains and marble monuments. But what makes this park extraordinary is that it is always teeming with life, a huge diversity of life, mostly human but with some ducks. In a City that never shirked from joining in the riots of the early eighties, and hasn't yet quite got to grips with random physical assault, mugging and the BNP, it is extraordinary to see the park exert its influence and watch even the most perturbing group of 'gangstas' settle in for what could only be described as a picnic without the white linen tablecloth. It is the only place that I have seen Rastas, Bangladeshis and Sikhs playing impromptu cricket with Poles and Brummies, against equally mixed adversaries. All this interspersed with real white linen picnics.
At night the park is locked, its eight foot high decorative cast iron fence makes it the ideal exercise place for local police dogs, who rumour has it, have free run of the park. Outside the fence the surrounding road was a fairly well frequented pick up spot for local prostitutes, women to the east and boys to the west. I am not sure if this is still the case.
Come morning with the opening of the gates comes the strangest sight of all, the whole retired Asian male community of Wolverhampton, waiting to take their places on the benches that surround the small elegant lake. Every one of these men equipped with a bag full of leftover chapatis from the previous day will then spend the best part of the day sitting and chatting.
I once went to the park, with a bag of Hovis, determined to find out why these men should spend so long in the park. Sitting next to an extremely well dressed, noble looking Sikh man that could be mistaken for a prince of the Raj, I asked him straight "why do you spend all day sitting here with your friends when it is so cold and you could be at home?" he explained "when my son leaves the house to go to work, it would be improper for me to remain at home, alone with my daughter in law and no chaperone. So the only thing I can do is get out of the house until my son returns from work".
After a few more incredulous questions on my part, I began to comprehend the cultural complexities of honour associated with women and men and with whom and how they mixed. Feeling rather immoral in comparison, I sat quietly next to him for a while until I remembered my bag of bread. I threw a good sized chunk at a flotilla of mallards, at this the ducks took one look at my offering and swam away to where a man with a turban was emptying his bag. The man next to me turned and said quietly "ducks prefer chapatis".