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We were taken on a field trip to a local park and asked to make notes about what we saw, heard and smelled with a view to compiling a list that gave a sense of place and also reflected a mood. It was autumn, but nevertheless there were a lot of newborn ducklings in the park. They were slightly anomalous (it wasn't really the breeding season) and we were told we couldn't use the ducklings.

Naturally, I had to use the ducklings...

It's not really what the homework was about. But I enjoyed writing it.

After that, I tried to do the homework properly. But I simply couldn't do it in the way I was supposed to -- it all felt too cold and unemotional for me. It was rather like building an Ikea cabinet. Insert flange A into slot B to give mood C. For me the mood arises from the characters and the place (which is the ultimate aim, of course). The descriptions and mood have to come from the story itself, they can't be imposed from the outside. There isn't a formula... I tried and tried, but I just couldn't help myself. Everything turned into a story. Here are two of them...

A Day in the Park

The flying saucer from Mars landed in the park one autumn midnight when there was nobody around to observe it. Once it was safely on the ground, the saucer disguised itself as a tree so that it could properly blend in with its surroundings. The saucer thought about things for a while, and then, in the interests of verisimilitude, it dropped some brown, crinkly leaves from its branches onto the ground. When it was happy that it was properly camouflaged, it lowered a gangway and a procession of ducklings marched down it into the park.

"Cheep, cheep," said the saucer, which is Martian for "Take care, enjoy your day and we'll all meet back here in twenty four hours."

"Cheep, cheep," said the ducklings, which is Martian for "Yes, boss."

The gangway raised itself back into the saucer, leaving the ducklings alone. They made their way through the darkness towards the pond in the centre of the park. The banks around the pond were clustered with sleeping ducks all of whom had their heads tucked firmly under their wings. The ducklings snuggled up and made themselves comfortable while they waited for daylight.

As the dawn broke, the ducks began to wake up. They seemed a little surprised at all the ducklings they had acquired overnight, but being ducks they didn't let that bother them much. It wasn't long before the ducks and ducklings were happily foraging for breakfast together all around the pond.

"Cheep, cheep," said the duckings, which is Martian for "Goodness me, look at all the nasty wet green stuff that's all over the place here. It's not like home at all."

Suddenly the fountain in the centre of the pond got turned on and it began to spray water all over the place.

"Cheep, cheep," said the ducklings, which is Martian for "Oh, yuck! I'm all wet!!"

As the day progressed, the ducklings saw monsters come into the park. The monsters walked upright on two legs and chitter-chattered incomprehensibly to each other.  Some of the monsters were all alone, but nevertheless they still chitter-chattered to the shiny objects that they held in the limbs they weren't walking on. The ducklings were interested to see that all the monsters were wrapped up in cloth. How peculiar!

One monster saw the ducklings and came racing over to them, making goo goo noises. The ducklings scattered hither and yon, but the monster pursued them. Eventually the monster cornered one of the ducklings and picked it up. "Cheep, cheep," said the duckling, which is Martian for "Put me down you horrible, scary  thing."

"Aaaahhh," said the monster as it stroked the duckling's head, "diddums, widdums, cootchety coo."

"Cheep, cheep," said the duckling, which is Martian for "Beware! I have a black belt in origami."

"Oh, yuck!" shrieked the monster, dropping the duckling and wiping its dripping wet, and suddenly very smelly, hand on the grass.

"Cheep, cheep," said the duckling, which is Martian for "Ha, ha. Serves you right."

The ducklings looked around the park and they noticed some rectangular areas that had ropes around them. The ducklings all marched in procession towards the roped off areas. Along the way they stumbled over hundreds of brown, shiny things lying under the trees. "Cheep, cheep," said the ducklings, which is Martian for "Hey! Anybody fancy a game of conkers?"

The roped off areas all consisted of bare brown earth, liberally scattered with stones. "Cheep, cheep," said the ducklings, which is Martian for "Oh, look! This bit's just like home. Let's stay here until it's time to leave."

But they couldn't do that. The park was far too full of interesting things which had to be explored. There were stone benches which some of the monsters sat on while they chitter-chattered. There were areas full of swinging and spinning gadgets on which smaller versions of the monsters swung and spun, shrieking loudly all the time. "Cheep, cheep," said the ducklings, which is Martian for "Nobody wins. It's all swings and roundabouts, really."

The ducklings wandered around admiring the flowers and the concrete lions. They tested the texture of the bark that fell from the eucalyptus trees. They inhaled the sweet scent of slowly rotting vegetation and they listened hard to the sound of the wind as it rustled through the branches, tearing off orange and brown leaves that fluttered to the ground in its wake.

As the day grew darker, all the monsters left the park. The fountain in the lake was turned off and a black silence fell over the whole area. The ducklings headed back to the flying saucer, which had now stopped looking like a tree and was back to its proper shape. It dropped its gangway and the ducklings trooped up it.

"Cheep, cheep," said the saucer, which is Martian for "Did you all have a good time? Have you got enough material for your writing homework?"

"Cheep, cheep," said the ducklings, which is Martian for "Yes, boss. Let's go home now."

The Park at Dawn

After the argument with Roger had tailed off into dark, despairing silences, Sheila left the flat and went over to the park to try and calm herself down a bit. She always found the its tranquillity to be soothing. It had been her bolt hole of choice ever since she was a little girl.

An early morning mist covered the park, but there was a mild breeze blowing. The mist won't last long, Sheila told herself. Anything the wind leaves behind, the sun will soon burn off. She found that to be a cheerful thought, and her spirits lifted a little as she sauntered over the dew-damp grass.

The trees and statues were blurred outlines, hazy daytime ghosts watching over her as she made her way towards her favourite bench where she liked to sit and watch the ducks as they swam in the lake, elegantly proud and graceful until someone turned up with a slice of stale bread, whereupon all vestiges of dignity would vanish in a mad, squawking, splashing squabble. Nobody can stay miserable for long when there are greedy ducks to laugh at.

As she walked, horse chestnuts rolled underneath her feet, threatening to trip her up with their unpredictable slips and slides. It's an obstacle course, she thought. Just like Roger's grumpiness. She shuffled her feet through the dry orange leaves that the autumnal trees were shedding, making crisp rustling sounds that kept her company and frightened the bogey-men away. Sometimes a leaf fell from a tree and landed on her head as she walked by. That always made her giggle.

A concrete plinth guarded by lions loomed out of the mist. "I had an argument with Roger," she told the lions, but the lions didn't care and they said nothing. They had more important concerns. They had unicorns to fight and crowns to win. "Well, that puts the whole thing into perspective," Sheila muttered to herself.

She walked past the children's playground. It was still too early in the morning for any children to be out, and the swings creaked forlornly back and forth as the breeze caught them. The witches-hat roundabout pitched and tossed like a small boat in a rough sea. Sheila wondered about hitching a ride on it, but she decided not to. Empty playgrounds are sad places. They only come alive with the laughter of children. She hurried past the playground, eager to leave it behind.

The mist was lifting now, evaporating in the sunshine. The fountain in the centre of the lake bubbled cheerful streams of water high into the sky. The water fell back into the lake in graceful curves that refracted the early morning sun into splashing rainbows. The ducks were waking up, stretching their necks and flapping their wings as they gossipped about scandals past, present and future. Sheila sat on her favourite bench and smiled as she watched them. She felt a lot calmer now. Her happier mood threw a whole new light on her quarrel with Roger. Should she go back and patch things up with him over breakfast? Perhaps she should, but not just yet. She had ducks to watch.

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