Ducks Versus Puddles (Round 2)

James Proclaims (4)

rain-312098_640

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.

 

Ducks Versus Puddles (Round 1)

James Proclaims (4)

rain-312098_640

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.