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.

An Early Start

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As he navigated the narrow streets of the old town, Martin noted that the weather was a touch colder than he’d anticipated, and he slightly regretted leaving the warmer of his jackets in his hotel room. The hoodie he had grabbed in his hasty exit was slightly inadequate. It was, however, still quite early and he was optimistic that conditions would improve as the day went on.

Otherwise it would, he felt, be a long day.

He pulled the hoodie tighter and increased his walking pace, hopeful that intensifying his cardiovascular output would counteract the effects of the cold.

As he neared the old docklands, the absence of any kind of sustenance in his morning thus far also began to play on his mind. He checked his watch. He had about ten minutes, time enough for a coffee at least. It was, however, so early, that although there was a plethora of eateries in sight, not one of them was yet open.

There was no time to look further afield so he resigned himself to his hunger and paced along the quay, trying to maintain something approximating a tolerable body temperature.

There was no denying that, at this time of day, the wharf was charming. As the day went on, and tourist numbers increased, some of that charm would inevitably disappear, but at that moment it was a serenely quiet and prepossessing location. Still, Martin would have preferred to be in the warmth of his hotel room, happily dreaming or tucking into room-service scrambled eggs.

Instead he was here, waiting.

The time dragged, and ten minutes turned into fifteen, which turned into twenty. A van pulled into sight, Martin recalled seeing it on previous visits and knew it would eventually add to the numerous waterfront food retailers. He hoped that it would begin trading soon, but the proprietor appeared to be in no rush, seemingly seeing to his own refreshment needs first by way of a small thermos.

Another five minutes went by and still no sign of anyone else.

He checked his phone, and only then did he realise it was on set on silent. He noted three missed calls, all received in the last few minutes and all from the same number. He returned the call. It rang only once and then he heard a familiar and slightly irritated voice.

“Where are you,” asked Martin, struggling to mask his own irritation.

He listened to the reply

“But we said we’d meet by the harbor,” Martin argued, “I’ve been here for ages.”

Had there been any passers-by at that moment they would have struggled to make out the muffled words coming out of Martin’s phone but the frustrated tone would have been all too clear.

“Ok, I’ll see you in a few minutes,” said Martin, “I’m sorry.”

Hanging up, he looked hopefully  at the van and saw with relief that it had now opened for business.

After purchasing a bacon sandwich and much-needed americano, Martin began trudging back to the hotel, to what he already knew would be a reception so frosty that it would make the current temperature seem positively balmy.