Ducks Versus Puddles (Round 2)

James Proclaims (4)

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Last week we explored the efficacy of ducks (or more accurately geese, which aren’t ducks) at hindering my morning run, in comparison to puddles. That round went to puddles. Let’s see if ducks (and associated waterfowl) can level things up this week.

 

Prior to current world events, I would often take my daughter to one of the many playparks that we’re lucky to have within walking distance of our home. She’s quite an early riser, so we were often able to get to the park before other people and would frequently have use of the facilities for a good hour before anyone else arrived.

Which was great for me, because the one thing that has not been a hardship during the pandemic is staying away from other people. Little Proclaims is generally more sociable than her father but lacks any kind of boundaries or social etiquette (which I understand is fairly normal for a toddler) so she did enjoy having the run of the park without me constantly having to restrain her. She loved the swings, the slide and the roundabout, but her favourite activity, if it had been raining, which it does quite a bit in the UK, was to jump in puddles.

Indeed she loves jumping in puddles so much that, when we were adopting a pretty strict ‘stay at home’ regime during lockdown, she would often fill her little plastic watering can, from the sand and water table my parents bought her for her birthday, and create little puddles in our garden to jump in. Even better was when she could convince me to get out of the camping chair, I’d mistakenly thought I could relax in while supervising her, to get the big watering can and make some really big puddles for her.

March and April involved me being at home a lot more as I initially tried in vain to work from home for two weeks and then we had the Easter holidays, which were still observed notionally by schools, although ironically less so than in years when schools were open as normal. As a result, Little Proclaims and I spent a lot of time in the garden. And even though I returned to working in school at the end of April, I was only able to work on-site for the duration of the ‘school day’ which in reality represents a fraction of the time I spent in my office pre-pandemic so the garden fun was largely able to continue most afternoons. Things have slowly crept back to, if not quite normal, then ‘still quite busy’ at work and the hours I can access the site have increased as more of my colleagues and more students have also returned to the school.

But it has still felt important to continue to make time in my day to have fun with my daughter. Pre-lockdown I was in danger of becoming ‘the boring parent’, certainly on weekdays. I probably remain the ‘more boring parent’ because Mrs Proclaims applies the same level of intensity towards parenting as she does to pretty much everything, which means that Little Proclaims is phenomenally entertained by her mother, to the point that both are often exhausted by the time I get home. Nonetheless, I would still like to think that my daughter enjoys my company as much as I enjoy hers. Then again, if she enjoys spending time with me only half as much as I enjoy spending it with her then she’s still having a great time.

As lockdown has gradually eased (rightly or wrongly), though we’ve still been inclined to remain Chez Proclaims for the most part, the little one and I have ventured out for a walk most afternoons. We can’t yet access the play parks because, understandably while it is absolutely fine to gather in large numbers and drink alcohol in our local parks, it is clearly not safe to play on the swings, so Little Proclaims and I have had to make do with going to see the ducks. Some days, if we have any leftover bread, we even feed the ducks.

Obviously, as with ‘Round 1’ of Ducks versus Puddles, when I say ducks, I really mean the various associated waterfowl that frequent the bit of the Thames near where we live. But that does include ducks. And Little Proclaims does think of them all as ducks. Or sometimes canards, because as I’ve mentioned before, my daughter is quite good, for an almost-two-year-old, at speaking French.

But she doesn’t call them waterfowl. And never geese, despite the fact that the geese outnumber the other birds by a considerable amount. It’s almost as if a parental figure has taught her to call them ducks…

Anyway, she likes these little outings a lot. I often take her out when she wakes up from her afternoon nap. My child, much like her father, is not the loveliest of people when roused from slumber. She can be a little cranky post-nap and while I theoretically sympathise, because ‘morning me’ is best avoided by all, I’m never been sure how to help her snap out of her mood. But one mention of ducks and she’s a different child, straining at the leash to get out. It’ a literal leash too, because Little Proclaims is so mobile that I’ve long since given up on taking the pushchair, so she mostly gets where we’re going under her own steam. But because she has all the road safety awareness of a toddler, I have to employ the use of reigns. These come in the form of an owl-themed rucksack with a helpful cord for me to hold onto. She likes wearing the rucksack, so she doesn’t object to this limitation, and when we eventually get to a nice open field I let her run free, which she loves.

The ducks and associated waterfowl are always a source of fascination for her, and, unlike her pater, who would happily avoid the hissing velociraptor-like geese, she’s quite content to get close, unaware that there might be any danger, which apparently there isn’t, because the geese, seemingly realising that their bluff has been called, retreat more quickly at the sight of a small child in the afternoon than they do at the sight of a large man running slowly in their direction in the morning.

A couple of weeks ago I would have been quite confident in telling you that my daughter’s favourite activity at the moment is going to see (and sometimes feed) the ducks.

But then it rained for a few days and all of a sudden there were puddles galore on our outings, including a veritable ‘festival’ of puddles in a local, currently not well-used, car park that we happened upon. And I’ve never seen her happier than running and splashing in those puddles.

She still likes the ducks, but I’m pretty sure that she prefers the puddles.

There have been two key indicators:

  1. She happily walked through a pack of velociraptors – sorry flock of geese – the other day, completely oblivious to them as she made her way to, what wasn’t even that impressive, a puddle.
  2. When I coax her away from the ducks in order to return home, she sometimes objects a little. When I try and take her away from the puddles, I’m met with full toddler meltdown, the kind which draws judgmental stares from the general public, and I have to literally carry her kicking and screaming all the way home.

So, at the end of round two, the ‘entertaining my daughter during lockdown’ round, puddles are very clearly the winners.

Which means that in the clash of the titans that was ‘Ducks versus Puddles’, Puddles have actually won the series comfortabley 2-0.

And as I can’t think of any more rounds with which to assess them, then I can categorically state that puddles are better (or much much worse depending on your perspective) than ducks.

I imagine we’ve all learned something today.

 

Complacency

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Of course I knew the dangers
But, I’m pretty experienced
And most of the time
There isn’t anything to worry about

Maybe I just got careless
Assumed that the worst
Could never happen to me
A lazy assumption I now realise
Based on the flimsy evidence
That the worst hadn’t happened to me

Not for a long time anyway
Not since I was younger and more foolhardy
But perhaps since then
I’ve just been lucky
Never really taking the proper precautions
And just getting away with it

Until today that is
Until the worst finally did happen
And I proved I was no more immune
To overconfidence
To stupidity
To recklessness
Than anyone else

For today when I opened Pandora’s Box
Which in this case
Was a bottle of Coca-Cola
(Other soft drinks are available)
Unbeknownst to me it had been shaken

And as the refreshing
Albeit calorific contents
Washed over me
I’d like to beleive
I learned a valuable lesson
But in all honesty
I probably didn’t

Opinion Piece

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Though it is accepted wisdom
To equate success to fame
I’m really not that sorry
That nobody knows my name

Yes, I’m glad that I’m not famous
I’m happily unknown
Anonymity quite suits me
I’m sure I’m not alone

Of course, I would admit that
Fame might well have the odd perk
Being wealthy would be nice
I could probably give up work

But celebrities are different
To the likes of you and I
And I couldn’t do what they do
However hard I try

I don’t have the right conviction
Perhaps I’m out of sync
But I wouldn’t be much good
At telling others what to think

No fame is really not about
The composition or the art
It’s about which celebrity can prove
That they have the biggest heart

And there is no room for nuance
No time for quality debate
Celebs just need to tell us plebs
What to love and who to hate

 

The Beautiful Game

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Once in a while I like to put aside my own nonsense and compile the gibberish of others to make a ‘found poem’. In reality, I’ve only actually done this three times on my blog, and the last time was back in 2016, so it’s not a regular activity. The last one was in honour of the Rio Olympics and in particular an homage to some of the banal nonsense that the pundits and commentators would come out with.

But if there’s one sport, which has absolutely nailed the art of total banality within its commentary, it would have to be football (or soccer to my US readers).

I don’t attach a massive amount of importance to football, but I’m quite happy to watch it if it’s on the telly, and it is quite a lot at the moment, due to the return of the Premier League as the lockdown eases and the world stumbles towards a state of affairs currently being branded as ‘The New Normal’. Due to the lack of crowds at the games, some of the matches are being shown on terrestrial TV, for free, for the first time in the UK since the 1980s.

So in honour of football’s return, I spent a small amount of time the other night half watching a game while trying to get my ‘daughter who doesn’t like to sleep’ to go to sleep. And for a brief period of time when I thought she had gone to sleep (oh poor naïve fool that I was), I jotted down some of the commentary, which I’d like to present to you today in the form of a poem. Not so much a ‘Found Poem’ as a ‘Heard Poem’.

If you were to stop reading at this point I would not blame you.

If you’d like to persevere, then here it is:

The Beautiful Game

That was nowhere near good enough or acceptable
They’ve not won a tackle
There’s three points at stake here
You’ve got win your first tackle

Can he get it up and over
The goal keeper got a hand on it
An unbelievable save
It shows how much quality is on that free kick

That’s not an easy finish
Look how much time and space he’s got
It’s a good ball
Very very good finish

They look fit and hungry
It’s of massive importance
He’s probably been their best player
Some tidy touches

They’re not even getting on the ball
They’ve got to score the next goal
We spoke about the importance of a fast start
They just seem so pedantic
It’s too predictable
They need creativity
They’ve not even had a shot on target
The players need to look at themselves
They certainly need something
They need a spark

It’s one of them to be honest with you
He’s won the ball cleanly
We have actually seen red cards given for this
There’s no intention
It’s a very harsh one
He got a foot in

The referee has said no foul but that is a foul
And this is in a good position
He just needs to stay on his feet
If they can get one here it just might be the beginning of a comeback

The midfield’s absolutely ran this game
He used the ball very well
It’s gone the other way
He’s no stranger to a yellow card

Heavy touch
Short touch
Corner kick
Well they might get one
But I don’t think they’re going to get two
That’s for sure
Shake of the head from the manager
Injury time and the end of added time and then not much time

Got to expect more there
I can only put it down to tiredness
You had to fancy him one on one there to get his goal

The referee having a little glance at his watch
And there we are
A richly deserved victory
All in all the game was won in the first half
Very thorough professional performance
They’re always well organised
We mentioned that before the game

 

Cat

After the critical acclaim my daughter and I enjoyed last week with our debut collaboration, ‘Helicopter‘, we’re back this week with another of our artistic offerings.

This week, Little Proclaims was keen to show another side of her, quite formidable, talents and has offered a more aggressive, almost brutal, palette to complement the elementary template she commissioned me to produce.

I think this piece, which we’ve called ‘Cat’ is as stark a reflection of our times as you’re likely to come across.

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An Homage To The Now Departed Daily Briefing

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Hello and welcome to today’s update
We haven’t got anything new to say
Nothing’s really changed since yesterday
But it’s important, nonetheless
That we update you anyway
Otherwise you’ll realise
That we haven’t got any idea what we’re doing

We’d rather give the impression
That we do know what we’re doing
Even though we don’t
Because no-one wants to admit
That they don’t know what they’re doing
It’s not a great look
It’s much better
To create the illusion of competency
Aided where possible
By meaningless diagrams
And complex terminology
That no-one understands
Because we just made it up

And lets not dwell too heavily
On things we said in the past
Because a lot has changed since then
And it wouldn’t serve anyone
To focus too heavily
On our broken promises
Over-optimistic forecasts
And, if we’re honest
(Which we never are)
What can only be described as outright lies

Let us instead
Look to the future
And what we can achieve moving forwards
Because if we use different lies
To the other lies we told
Then some people will still believe us
And that’s the main thing really
And everything will probably be fine in the end anyway
If we just ignore the facts
And concentrate heavily on soundbites
And a bit of misdirection
And just blame everyone else

So today I’d like to announce
The latest thing we’re going to do
It’s brilliant
And better than what anyone else is doing
If you don’t believe us then just you wait
Yes you can quote me on that
But only today
Not in two weeks
When it turns out
That this was just more hyperbole
And in the meantime
Stop being so negative will you?
Honestly, what’s the worst that could happen?

Ducks Versus Puddles (Round 1)

James Proclaims (4)

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A couple of notes before I begin:

  1. This post is notionally about ducks, but really it’s more about geese. And a tiny bit about swans. Essentially it’s about the birds that live on the Thames, or the bit of the Thames that goes through the town of Reading. I think the collective name for such birds is waterfowl. But I tend to call them ducks, even though only a few of them are actually ducks. 
  2. It’s also about puddles, so the above picture seemed an appropriate choice. But, even though cartoon ducks (and those plastic ducks that some people have in the bath) are often yellow, I’ve never seen a yellow duck in real life. Do such creatures exist?
  3. I’ve never seen a white duck either, like Donald and the other Disney Ducks. Or Beatrix Potter’s ‘Jemima Puddle-Duck’. In fact, to my mind, Jemima Puddle-Duck looks more like a goose, and I just assumed that ‘Puddle-Duck’ was an affectionate, antiquated, name for a goose. But I googled it and it’s not; there are such things as Puddle-Ducks and they are white ducks, I just happen to not ever have seen any in real life. Which brings me back to my question about yellow ducks. Actually I could just google that too… 
  4. Although this post is about puddles and ducks, it isn’t about Jemima Puddle-Duck. We’ve dealt with her and she won’t be mentioned again.

When I partake in my thrice weekly run, I go out at ‘stupid o’clock’. ‘Stupid o’clock’ can be defined as somewhere between 5am and 6:30am. Usually it’s before 6am. I go out early. I do this mainly because there are fewer people around at that time. Because they are mostly still tucked up in bed. Which is where I’d rather be. But my desire to stay in bed is currently being out-voted by my desire to get fitter. This tends to be a temporary state of affairs in my world and I’m making the most of this current inclination towards self-improvement, so I get up at ‘stupid o’clock’ three times a week and go out for what I refer to as a run, but what many others would probably refer to as a plod. I don’t like running when other people are around because I’m not yet at the stage in my running where I feel comfortable. It’s not a vanity thing, I don’t possess a lot of dignity when I run, but few people do. It’s more that I find running so utterly joyless that it’s all I can manage to keep going most of the time. I don’t need obstacles and other people do tend to get in the way. It’s worse at the moment, because with the gyms all closed, a lot of people have taken to going out running. But at ‘stupid o’clock’ in the morning there are only a small number of intrepid souls out and about. Including yours truly.

So mostly I get to run without anyone getting in the way. Sometimes I seem to time my run at roughly the same time as the man from the council is out in his little van emptying the bins along the Thames path. This is less than ideal as, obviously being in a van he goes faster than me, but he also stops a lot to empty the bins. So it’s a weird mile or so of me overtaking him and then him overtaking me. He never actively gets in my way so it’s more of an unwelcome distraction than anything.

No, it’s mainly an obstacle free course at that time in the morning. Except for the geese. They get in the way. A lot.

The ducks don’t, they mainly stay in the river. The swans are also quite considerate. But the geese, in quite large numbers, tend to congregate on sections of the Thames path, leaving me with something of a conundrum. Do I run towards them and trust that they’ll oblige and get out of my way? I’m not the fastest runner, but I’m a fairly large person. I imagine, to a goose, the sight of me running towards them would be akin to a tractor moving towards me. I’d have plenty of time to consider my options but none of those options would include waiting for the tractor to arrive at the space I’m currently occupying. But the geese, in general, don’t seem that bothered by my presence. Or at least not especially fearful. And I don’t know if you’ve ever met a goose, but they are quite frightening. They move around in packs (I suppose technically flocks) and they resemble, to my early morning eyes, the velociraptors off of ‘Jurassic Park’. And they hiss. Quite aggressively. They’re really not very nice.

So I tend to alter my course to avoid them. Which I can’t help but feel does throw me off my stride a little.

Recently though, the weather has been a little less clement. I’ve woken up at ‘stupid o’clock’ to find that it’s raining. On such days, any sensible person would decide that outdoor exercise is a bad idea and return to the comfort of their bed. But, as previously mentioned, I hate running. So running in the rain is not especially any less appealing than running when it’s not raining. I’ve completed a few runs in conditions that some would describe as ‘nice weather for ducks’. I’m not sure if the ducks really have a preference for the rain over other meteorological conditions, but the geese do seem to behave differently. I wouldn’t say the path is clear of geese, but more of them seem to remain in the river on such days. Which means I encounter fewer feathered fences to hurdle.

So you’d think I’d go faster on such days. But alas, in place of the geese, I find numerous puddles. And they are also a hindrance. Because, while some puddles are insignificant, some are akin to small lakes and it’s harder to run around the larger puddles than it is to run around a goose.

Or course puddles don’t tend to be quite as aggressive as the geese, and they don’t hiss at me, so I can run through them without fear of being attacked. But it’s easier said than done. I’m sure more able runners, those who are solely focussed on improving their personal best, would run straight through a large puddle without a care in the world, but I’m still at a point in my running when such disregard for common sense is alien to me. Because it’s human nature to avoid puddles. So where I can I do and when I can’t, and I have to traverse the offending quagmire, I do so as delicately as possible. Which rather slows me down.

And while none of my running times are yet worthy of any kind of boasting, I’d have to say that, on balance, when my primary obstacle is puddles rather than geese, I tend to record slower times.

So, in the category of ‘Hindering Me While I Run’, puddles would have to be declared the winner.

Puddles take round 1.

But it’s not over, ducks and associated waterfowl still have a chance to level the series.

Tune in next time (whenever that is) to see if they manage to do just that.

I Am Your Father

James Proclaims (4)

Don’t be fooled by the title of the post – unless you are my almost-two-year-old daughter, I am not your father. And I’m pretty sure you’re not my daughter because, precocious though she appears to be, she can’t yet read. To the best of my knowledge anyway.

But today is Fathers Day and, as of August 2018, I am a father, so I get to celebrate today. Celebrations appear to largely consist of ‘doing what we always do on a Sunday’. Which is fine. I generally like Sundays.

Obviously there is still, notionally at least, a worldwide pandemic, rendering many celebratory activities largely off the table.

Although my understanding is that the pandemic is basically over. I mean it’s obviously not over, but having made such a colossal mess of everything, the UK government appears to be in the process of sweeping the evidence under the carpet and pretending like nothing ever happened.

So I suppose we could do something to celebrate Fathers Day after all. But I’m still relatively new to all this – it is, after all, only my second Father’s Day and last year I was very much at the ‘rabbit-trapped-in-the-headlights’ stage of my parenting adventure so I can’t recall what, if anything, we did to mark the occasion.

So far today, Little Proclaims and I have enjoyed breakfast together, as is our way on a Sunday morning. Mrs Proclaims joined us this morning, but often on a weekend it is just  the little one and me, while my much-cleverer-than-me wife gets on with studying for her PhD. While eating breakfast we watched a bit of the Disney film ‘Moana’, but, as Little Proclaims currently has the attention span of a lively toddler, we only ever get through twenty-minutes at a time.

After breakfast, I was showered with Father’s Day gifts. They were notionally from my daughter, but I suspect she was aided a little by Mrs Proclaims. It was a good selection, and included things to eat that are bad for you, which is my favourite kind of gift. I did my usual Sunday 4 mile run this morning (as opposed to Tuesdays and Thursdays when I only run 3 miles – I really do go the extra mile on a Sunday), so I’m feeling virtuous and like I probably deserve to eat bad food.

I also got a card, and a really cool Star Wars T-Shirt (to add to my Star Wars T-Shirt collection) as pictured below:

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The card (outside)

 

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The card (inside)

 

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My new favourite Star Wars-themed T-Shirt