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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s been a little over two years since I troubled the blogosphere with one of my not-very-good drawings. But, though my artistic talents have not improved in that time, I have acquired a new fan of my doodles.
Little Proclaims is quite keen on drawing too, although much of her work appears to be from a more abstract school of art.
Lately though, she has been in a collaborative mood, or perhaps aware of the limitations of her still-developing motor skills, she has become frustrated that she can’t quite create the images she wants.
Her solution is therefore to get me to draw pictures for her. She seems to have far more faith in my ability than is merited, but as I regularly used to post my inane doodles on this blog prior to my daughter’s arrival in this world, I can hardly claim that I don’t also hold a slightly inflated view of my own talent.
Anyway, the game appears to be that she asks (or rather demands repeatedly until I cave in) that I draw something and then she adds her own interpretation to the piece. I expect this will be a ‘thing’ in our lives for some time, and given than I employ absolutely no quality control whatsoever in terms of what I’m prepared to post on this blog, it was always likely that I would use this daddy/daughter activity to generate content.
And lets be fair, it won’t even be close to being the worst thing that I post this week.
So without further ado, I give you our latest masterpiece, which is simply entitled:
Note – I started writing this on Sunday, but didn’t get around to finishing it until today. So every reference to ‘today’, with the exception of the one in the previous sentence, actually refers to Sunday. Not that it matters, but I’d hate for you to feel in any way deceived.
Today, according to my bottom-of-the-range GPS watch, I ran my second best time ever for a four mile run.
Of course one could deduce that I have, in fact, only run four miles twice in my life and today I was slower than the last time I did it.
This is not entirely true.
But it’s also not exactly untrue.
In my twenties, particularly a golden period in my mid-twenties, I could knock out a four mile run fairly effortlessly, and much more quickly than I managed today. Indeed, back in my twenties I used to run half-marathons on a pretty regular basis and on three occasions I actually managed to complete entire marathons. Technically the third was the day after my thirtieth birthday but, to be fair, the training took place while I was still in my twenties. I began my thirties in pretty good shape but it really was the start of a decade of my life when I mostly seemed to be committed to undoing all of the good work of the preceding ten years through a combination of poor dietary choices and watching too many box-sets. Although ‘The Wire’ was excellent. It’s not really relevant to this post but I can’t overstate how good that show was.
Even in my twenties I was never especially quick, but I could run for quite a long time. Nonetheless, I was almost certainly quicker than I am now.
Unfortunately, back then, I didn’t own a bottom-of-the-range GPS watch, so I had no way of tracking my performance stats when I was training. I don’t even know if such devices existed back then.
I own one now though and I’ve had it for about three years. I didn’t initially buy it to keep track of my running. Frankly, after that last marathon in 2009, I thought I’d pretty much given up running for good. It wasn’t my intention to give up but life just kept getting in the way, as life is often prone to do, and I’ve never been especially disciplined when it comes to fitness. I did briefly come out of ‘retirement’ in 2014 to run a half marathon. I did very little training and somehow completed the distance, in an admittedly lamentable time, through a combination of misplaced confidence and presumably an element of ‘muscle memory’ from my earlier endeavours.
That last half marathon was a grim experience though and I had no interest in doing it again.
But in 2017 Mrs Proclaims and I started doing quite a lot of walking. It started off relatively modestly, but we went out most weekends and we were pretty soon clocking up twenty-plus miles on our outings. So I bought the GPS watch to keep track of our progress. Alas, it had rather less energy than we did and it would frequently run out of charge long before we completed our perambulations so it was, essentially, useless.
However, in the winter of 2017 Mrs Proclaims and I had to curtail our ambitions regarding walking, due to the forthcoming arrival of Little Proclaims. Also it was winter and walking long distances is rather less fun in the winter. But we knew that, all going well, by the time the weather picked up, Mrs Proclaims would be in no condition to complete the kinds of distances we had been walking and, whether capable or not, was hardly likely to feel inclined to do so.
I have generally tried to maintain an acceptable, if not exactly impressive, level of fitness, so I’m certain I did still do some sort of exercise (albeit in an ‘on and off’ fashion, as is oft my way) throughout Mrs Proclaims’ pregnancy, but it did not tend to involve any kind of running.
However, it did occur to me that our forthcoming lifestyle change, and in particular the additional costs of having a child (which I still, even with my most pessimistic calculations, managed to woefully underestimate), might render gym membership a luxury I couldn’t really afford. So I thought about taking up running again. Because running is, if nothing else, free.
And, in April 2018, I went for a run.
I didn’t expect it to be especially easy, but I was ill-prepared for quite how horrendous the whole experience would be.
In the end I completed a mile.
A single, solitary mile.
Which would be all well and good. Not the most ambitious of beginnings, but something is better than nothing. Except that I didn’t run the whole mile. I actually ran about 40% of a mile. And then I had to stop because I was in agony. I completed the rest of the distance through a combination of walking and painful short-lived attempts to reignite the run.
It was a pretty humbling experience. I didn’t expect to be able to run a 10K on my first attempt, but to not even be able to manage a mile did seem a spectacular fall from the giddy heights of my youth.
I needed to urgently right this wrong.
For the next eight days I ran (or attempted to run) a mile every single day. And I did improve. By the end of those eight days, according to my cheap GPS watch, I was actually able, if I gave it my all, and didn’t mind collapsing in a breathless heap at the end, to run a mile at roughly the same pace as ‘most men my age’.
I’ve no idea how the pace of ‘most men my age’ was calculated, but I’d hazard an educated guess that it was ‘most men who decided to part with their cash to purchase a similar device to mine’, so it probably wasn’t the most accurate calculation. Still, I was quietly pleased, in eight days, to have improved from that pitiful first effort.
And in order to build on this success, I promptly gave up running again.
Fast forward a few months and I found myself spending a lot of time in hospital. The birth of my daughter, was not a straightforward affair and while Little Proclaims thankfully came out of the ordeal relatively unscathed, Mrs Proclaims was not so lucky and was in quite a bad way for a few days. My wife and new-born child were not discharged for the best part of a week, and while I did occasionally venture home to sleep, I was mostly there with them. But they were both asleep for quite a lot of the time, so I spent some of that time reading. And, although I mostly tend to read novels, my attention span was somewhat lacking during that week, so instead I found myself reading some of those collections of newspaper columns that comedians like to repackage as books around Christmas time. One such compendium was by Charlie Brooker and it was a pretty good way of taking my mind off what was a very surreal and stressful situation (my wife’s long term prognosis was actually pretty good, but she was really not well for those few days in hospital, which was hardly the ideal introduction to parenthood for either of us). Anyway, one of the recycled articles in Charlie Brooker’s book, was about how he, despite not being someone who particularly enjoyed ‘keeping fit’, had taken up running regularly by completing one of those couch to 5K apps.
And I thought to myself, if Charlie Brooker can do it, then so can I. Although he has also forged an extremely successful writing career on a variety of platforms, and I, despite often claiming I would like to do that, have never come anywhere close to making that happen. So I’ve no idea why I thought Charlie Brooker’s achievements should serve as a baseline for my own ambitions.
Anyway, once my wife and daughter had been discharged from hospital, and after we’d had a few weeks to adjust to life as parents, I downloaded the same running app and started running 3 times a week. And I really enjoyed it. As is no doubt the case with similar apps, the programme starts you off very gently so the first few weeks were eminently manageable, particularly for a man who could run a mile at roughly the same pace as most men his age. And after five weeks or so I was building nicely towards a regular running routine.
So obviously I gave up again.
To be fair, being a new parent is exhausting enough and there were a lot of other irritating things like ‘having to go to work’ and ‘thinking about but not actually writing my MA dissertation’ that were getting in the way too.
After a few weeks of complete inactivity, I did take up swimming again, which is a form of exercise I much prefer. Even that was a bit stop-start for a few months, but once I’d finally put my MA dissertation to bed I did invest quite heavily in the swimming and by the time my daughter’s first birthday rolled around, I was relatively fit again.
So much so that once again I started running. I didn’t bother with the app, I just decided to try and run 5K straight away, and although it was pretty miserable and painful and even though I was still pretty slow, my recently acquired swimming-induced fitness meant that I was able to do it. This time I kept up a routine of running three times a week.
And I lasted an entire three weeks before again giving up.
I stuck with the swimming, which I much preferred and that did seem to be enough to keep me in relatively good shape until November when a series of ear infections kept me out of the pool until the end of January.
If you’re going to stop exercising regularly, then the period between November and January is not ideal.
And although I was able to return to the pool, my GP advised me against swimming daily, as I had previously been doing, because she was obviously getting fed up with constantly prescribing antibiotics.
So in February I started running again, alongside a much reduced swimming regime. But after the excess of festive food and a lack of training over Christmas, I decided once again to turn to the app in order to try an establish a manageable routine.
And much like before I quite enjoyed the first few weeks because they really aren’t that strenuous. But, by around week five, I was starting to look a little shaky and was fairly convinced that once again I’d be ditching the running and risking further ear infections by upping my time in the pool.
And then a certain pandemic happened.
And suddenly the swimming pool was closed indefinitely (and indeed still is) and running was all I had.
So I stuck with it and completed all nine weeks of the couch to 5K app.
And on the last day, I expected the little voice in my ear, the one that had been encouraging me for all those weeks, to make a bit more of a fuss than she actually did. But there was no pomp or ceremony. The app gave me no closure. It was almost as if it was an emotionless piece of software.
However, I had achieved the goal of running three times a week for nine weeks.
But, during that time, the entire world had taken up running. So I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to continue. After nine weeks I didn’t really enjoy running any more than I when I started, and in any case, I particularly dislike running when there are lots of other people also running.
Nonetheless, I dusted off my GPS watch for the first of my post-app runs (having previously decided that none of the app-inspired runs needed to be recorded for posterity). I expected to see a vast improvement from my August/September running pace and lo and behold, I discovered that I was , if anything, even slower.
But I suppose the app did instil a routine because I completed it some time in April and I’ve stuck with my three-times-a-week running schedule for a while now.
I’m a little bit faster but it’s certainly nothing to brag about.
The agonising pain seems to have gone though, which seems like a good thing.
I’m still a long way off even thinking about running marathons again.
But this morning I ran four miles for the second time in as many weeks. And four miles is better than no miles.
I think I’ve mentioned it before on this blog, but wife and I are attempting to bring our daughter up to be bilingual.
This stems from our own love of languages – both of us have an undergraduate degree in French Studies. Indeed, that is how we met in the first place.
Having said that, there is little comparison between Mrs Proclaims and I in terms of our mastery of other languages. I scraped through my undergrad course, with what many people refer to as ‘the drinkers degree’. Which, in my case, would be a fair summary. Mrs Proclaims not only secured a First on that particular course (and quite comfortably as I recall) but very quickly obtained an MA in eighteenth century French Literature and is currently working on PhD on nineteenth century French Literature. She’s completely fluent in French, highly competent in Spanish and a few years back studied Latin, in her spare time, for fun.
Of course I can speak French perfectly well, and were we in a bar in Paris, I could competently order a round of beers. That’s mostly what I spent my time in Paris doing. But my French was never as good as that of my wife and in the ensuing years (and it’s been more years than I care to admit) since we left our undergraduate days behind us, though I have occasionally dabbled as a French teacher, I have mostly pursued occupations which have had very little to do with the language and consequently the gap in our ability has increased.
Nonetheless, I have been very much a part of developing my daughter’s vocabulary in French and as well as speaking to her in French, I frequently read her books in French and watch cartoons with her in French.
In these corona times, she has been deprived of access to toddler groups and the like and consequently has probably been exposed to more French than English, given that we do use the language a lot at home. We’ve noticed that she has a definite preference for speaking the former. Which is pretty positive as I have no doubt that once the ‘new normal’ kicks in and she’s exposed to more English through the medium of ‘just living in England’ that things will balance out.
But had I any fears that Little Proclaims was developing her French at the expense of her English, I need not have worried.
Because my daughter has clearly noticed the difference in competence between my wife and I. Just the other day, Little Proclaims and I were out for a walk and an aeroplane flew overhead.
She looked up in wonder and excitedly exclaimed “Avion!”
Then she looked at me, with pity in her eyes and calmly translated for me.
My daughter’s increasing vocabulary is, I think, quite impressive. Even if we allow for a natural parental bias, of which I am happy to accept I am almost certainly guilty, I think Little Proclaims can say an awful lot for a twenty-month old. And thanks to a relentless effort on the part of Mrs Proclaims (with the occasional, far less competent, input from yours truly) she can say an awful lot in both English and French.
Obviously some of my daughter’s rhetoric can be a little prosaic; that, alas, is the nature things. But while I would probably find it unimaginably dull if an adult or adolescent spent five minutes telling me that something green is, in fact, green, I find it charming and quite compelling when my offspring does it.
She speaks as she finds, and indeed calls a spade a spade. Well no, that’s not true. She calls a spade a key. But in her defence that’s because the spade she is referring to is a small brightly-coloured plastic spade and the keys she is used to dealing with are large, brightly-coloured, plastic keys, so, in fact, do look rather similar. Plus she uses the French word for key when mis-naming the spade so as mistakes go, it could be worse.
She does call a rake a rake and again it is a small brightly-coloured plastic rake. Sometimes she attacks my face with said rake. I find this less charming if I’m honest.
Anyway, the point, if there is a point, is that my daughter can speak and also that my house is fairly full of brightly-coloured plastic toys.
Some of these toys, like the aforementioned rake, spade and indeed keys, are just inanimate bits of plastic that cost very little and bring my daughter an inordinate amount of joy. Frankly, when she’s not attempting to cause me physical harm with them, I’m perfectly happy with their existence.
Some other toys are more ‘interactive’. They talk, they play music, they make animal noises and they irritate me beyond belief.
But she loves them too, so as a good parent I tolerate them. A bit. Then I hide them.
In fairness, some of these louder toys have definitely contributed to her ever-increasing vocabulary and I shouldn’t discourage their use. Except when they are shredding my last nerve and then I think it’s probably ok to discourage their use a bit, and let her attack my face with a rake. Sometimes it’s the lesser of two evils.
Most of the interactive toys are fine though. There’s a stuffed toy called Violet that even knows my daughter’s name and sometimes sings about how she and my daughter “like to do everything together”. Although there are days when Little Proclaims enjoys the company of Violet, there are other days when she is completely indifferent to her, instead preferring to play with an inanimate plastic rake (she loves that rake) and I do feel that Violet can come across as a little needy and clingy on those occasions. Maybe I should re-programme Violet to sing about how she likes spending time with me. I’m sure I’d be a better friend than my daughter. I have no interest in plastic rakes. I wish there were less of them in the world.
Anyway, the loud toys are all well and good when my daughter is playing with them, but they can be something of a nuisance when she isn’t. She, being a toddler, doesn’t really tidy up after herself and so these toys lie in wait for me, like booby traps and, often when I’ve just got her off to sleep, I’ll accidently kick one and set it off and suddenly the room is filled with flashing lights and irritating music and my once sleeping daughter is wide awake again.
Or, when she is finally properly asleep, I’ll be sitting down to enjoy half an hour of watching TV or listening to music and I’ll sit on a toy and it’ll go off and ruin the brief oasis of calm and tranquillity I’ve created for myself. And once you set these things off, they never stop. You’ll think they’ve stopped and allow yourself to relax and then, seemingly apropos of nothing, they’ll start up again with their tiresome tunes.
But most of these toys do have an off-switch. So even the most persistent offender can be silenced.
All except for one.
And that is Nanny Plum’s Wand. It looks like this:
Now I didn’t know until I did a bit of cursory research for this post, but the character of Nanny Plum comes from a TV show called ‘Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom’ and it’s produced by the same people who make ‘Peppa Pig’. I watch a lot of Peppa Pig. My daughter loves the show, and I must confess I find it more tolerable than some of the other stuff she likes to watch. We’ve never watched ‘Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom’ but I imagine she would love that too and I probably wouldn’t hate it.
So I have no problem with the show that brought us this toy. It is the toy itself that drives me nuts.
Mostly because you can’t switch it off. And when you set it off by accident it is incessant. It just won’t shut up. It asks questions and if you don’t get the answer right, it keeps asking and asking and asking.
“Hold on though James,” I hear you cry, “surely, as an adult, you can easily answer the questions asked by a child’s toy?”
And yes, I do know the colour of a goldfish. And even though I have no knowledge of the show, I could surmise that Nanny Plum’s dress is probably purple.
But this question stumped me for a long time:
“What colour does an Elf wear?”
Because these are some of the elves I’ve come across in popular culture:
Now, I’m not saying this is, by any means, an exhaustive list of elves, but I think we can agree that a reasonable answer to the question above would be that “an elf wears green”.
But it turns out that in ‘Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom’ elves wear blue.
But if you don’t already know that, how could you possibly guess? If the answer isn’t green (the most obvious to people with no prior knowledge of Nanny Plum’s world) then it could feasibly be any colour. And my mind did not take me to blue.
So the wand wouldn’t shut up.
And I couldn’t turn it off.
Because there is no off switch.
If this was a toy that my daughter only took a passing interest in then it would have found it’s way to a charity shop a long time ago.
But she loves it!
Incidentally, we didn’t buy this toy.
It was given to us by another family who were having a ‘clear-out’. We get a lot of our daughter’s stuff via other families having ‘clear-outs’.
Mostly it works well and I confess, when we first got the wand it seemed quite generous, given that the little girl who was parting with it seemed to me to still be very age-appropriate for this toy.
But it didn’t take me very long to work out why her parents were quite happy to remove it from her itinerary of toys.
And suddenly it seemed a little less generous (although I don’t begrudge them this particular ruse because as soon as I feasibly can, I will also be ‘generously’ giving this toy to another child.)
Still I’d be tempted, for their daughter’s next birthday, to buy her the loudest and most interactive toy I can find.
Preferably with no off-switch.
But, if I think that plan through to it’s natural conclusion then we’d only get it back in a year or so.
As the parent of a small child, I’m not unfamiliar with a children’s story or two. My daughter has a voracious appetite for literature. I mean quite literally, as I’ll often find her nibbling on a book.
Although she does appear to be growing out of that phase and enjoying books for their content too.
And I like reading them to her.
To be honest, I’m increasingly becoming a fan of books that are aimed at younger people. They have a lot of advantages over the books I normally read.
For starters, there are significantly fewer words, which means that when I pick one up and start reading it, I generally do always finish. This, alas, is not always the case for the books that are aimed at someone of my age.
Also there are pictures. It’s so much easier and more fun to read a book with pictures in it. Why does that stop when you get older?
Mainly though, I like books aimed at little children, because they are, for the most part, hugely entertaining.
Some make me laugh out loud.
Check out the ‘Oi Frog’ series of books by Kes Gray and Jim Field and I guarantee you will laugh multiple times.
Other favourites (of mine, though my daughter generally likes them too) would have to include ‘Wonkey Donkey’, ‘There’s a Monster in your Book’ and ‘Superworm’.
It occurs to me, however, that some of the books that I read with my daughter might have a slightly irresponsible message in these corona-times.
So I’ve taken the liberty of updating some of the ‘classics’ in order to make them more compliant with a world of social-distancing and ‘self-isolation’.
We’re Not Going On A Bear Hunt
We’re not going on a bear hunt We’re not going to catch a big one What a beautiful day We’re quite scared
Uh Uh! Government Advice! Alarming, disarming government advice! We can’t go over it We can’t go under it Oh no! We’ll just have to stay in and self-isolate!
The Tiger Who Didn’t Come To Tea
Once there was a little girl called Sophie, and she was having tea with her mummy in the kitchen.
Suddenly there was a ring at the door.
Sophie’s mummy said, “I wonder who that can be,
It can’t be the milkman because demands for that service have resulted in them refusing to accept new customers.
And it can’t be the boy from the grocer because you can’t book a home delivery slot for love nor money
And it can’t be Daddy because he isn’t a key-worker, so he’s already at home.
We’d better open the door and see.”
Sophie opened the door, and there was a big, furry, stripy tiger. The tiger said, “Excuse me, but I’m very hungry. Do you think I could have tea with you?”
Sophie’s mummy said, “I’m sorry, but due to the government’s policy on social-distancing, we can’t have anyone around for tea.”
The tiger nodded and said, “of course, I completely understand.”
And he left.
The Socially Responsible Gruffalo
A mouse took a stroll through the deep dark wood. A fox saw the mouse and the mouse looked good But because the fox was adhering to advice on social-distancing, he didn’t interact with the mouse and instead returned promptly to his underground house.
And the same thing happened with the owl and the snake. So the mouse didn’t meet anyone Until he happened upon the Gruffalo
But the Gruffalo and the mouse also adhered to social-distancing etiquette So they didn’t speak to each other. And both also promptly returned to their homes Once they’d had their daily allocation of exercise.
But, on the whole, it’s fair to say that this whole pandemic malarkey is pretty bad news.
Nevertheless, if you can shake off the never-ending panic and crippling fear for a few moments, then there are one or two positives to be taken from the current situation we find ourselves in.
If you can ignore the agonizing pain of hand-washing-induced eczema caused by your ever-diminishing supplies of hand-soap, then you may yet find a reason or two to be cheerful.
Yes, in amongst the terrifying realisation that you’ve invented a new mental health condition that combines all the worst parts of claustrophobia, agoraphobia, enochlophobia, nosophobia and OCD, there could still be a silver-lining hidden amongst the gathering clouds of doom.
The British media might have you believe that the positives come from a camaraderie that is beginning to develop between us all. A sense that we’re all in this together. There was a moment on Thursday evening when many of us stood in our doorways and applauded the workers of the NHS. I’m normally cynical about such things but I’ll concede it was a much-needed moment of solidarity and actually genuinely heart-warming.
Still, I’ll feel even better about my fellow humans when I begin to see plentiful supplies of loo roll on the supermarket shelves.
And important though NHS staff undoubtedly are in this crisis, I personally feel that anyone who currently works in a supermarket is also deserving of our national gratitude. Because, although I’m avoiding the big stores as much as possible, when I have been forced to cross the threshold of one, I’ve found the staff to be universally helpful, polite and friendly, which, in the current circumstances, is nothing short of heroic in my view.
The news, despite being mostly apocalyptic in tone, is interspersed with the odd bit of light relief. I enjoyed the story of the man who, deprived of his opportunity to run this year’s London marathon, opted to run the entire distance in his back garden. Although, the makeshift finish line, crafted by his son did seem like a frivolous use of toilet paper, all things considered.
For me though, the greatest positive is my family.
Deprived of actual contact with our parents and siblings, Mrs Proclaims and I have never been more active on social media. The daily videos of our nieces and nephews being ridiculously cute, comically crazy or, most often, a combination of both has been nothing short of delightful.
It’s probably sad to say we’re seeing more of them ‘virtually’ now then we ever managed in reality before all of this started.
And being trapped in a house with my own wife and child has actually been only beneficial. Of course Mrs Proclaims and I have our moments of discord, but we always did. I believe that’s called marriage.
But I think spending more time together has actually been good for us.
And, while I like to think I’ve always been pretty good at making time for the littlest ‘Proclaims’, the enforced additional time at home has helped me to connect with her on a whole new level and in the bizarrest, most unexpected of situations, I occasionally find myself feeling happier than I have in a long time.
Although I’m not sure my daughter shares the sentiment.
One of the more pretentious aspects of our parenting is that we’re attempting to bring our daughter up to be fluent in French. Mrs Proclaims and I speak French (she far better than I) so it seems like the least we could do is pass on that skill to our child.
And she’s developing quite well in that respect, having a vocabulary in both English and French that is pretty impressive for a toddler just shy of being twenty months old.
But one of her favourite French expressions at the moment is the following:
It’s the second Monday in January and Christmas is now but a distant memory. Although my bank balance might disagree and pay day does seem to be a frighteningly long time away.
Also, my 17-month-old daughter, who is continuing to make impressive leaps in terms of her vocabulary acquisition and likes to make use of this skill at every available opportunity, is still regularly punctuating many a silence with a cheerful “Ho Ho Ho”. I taught her to say this in December and back then it was adorable, whereas now it is…
…no, it is still adorable.
Nonetheless we are working on new words and phrases and perhaps looking to phase out that little party trick.
Another of her favourite words is ‘Chocolate’. I suspect I taught her that one too. There is still a lot of it about and she’s decided that she’s a fan. Fortunately, she will be saved from childhood obesity because her father tends to scoff the lot.
To mitigate this inability to not eat the readily available calories that persist in my home, I am maintaining my gym regime. This is only a new thing insofar as I still can’t swim due to a much improved but still unresolved ear problem, but I have been attempting to improve my cardiovascular condition for a while now so no-one should be under any illusions that I am attending the gym in an attempt to fulfil a New Year’s Resolution. If that were the case I’d have definitely given up by now.
I’ve been back in work for a full week and I’m still keen to pursue early retirement. I just need to find a generous benefactor to pay for this. Currently none seem to be forthcoming, so the daily grind must continue.
Which means that any hope I might have had of reducing my caffeine intake is seeming increasingly fanciful. That is another daily grind that must continue. Although I appear to have recovered from my pretentious connoisseur phase during which I insisted on grinding my own coffee beans. There is no doubt that I enjoyed delicious coffee during that phase but it was somewhat labour intensive and, on balance, not really worth it.
Given that working for a living does seem to be a necessary evil for the foreseeable, I am considering changing employers. I have nothing against my current employers (well nothing that I would commit to writing on the internet anyway) but I would like an employer who will pay me more for doing my job. And January does seem to be the season for jobhunting when you work in the education sector. So, I am looking and indeed considering applying for several opportunities.
Whether I am successful in securing any of these opportunities remains to be seen. I tend to be quite good at getting myself onto shortlists for interviews but sometimes less good at getting myself onto the even shorter list of being the person who is actually offered the job. Although I do have a tendency to only put myself forward for jobs which represent an obscene pay increase so one would imagine that the competition is a little stiffer than it might be if I pursued more realistic opportunities.
Obviously if an obscene pay increase were my only motivating factor, I might be better off looking outside of the education sector, given that it is not a sector notorious for its high salaries. And maybe that would be a move worth considering. But I fear, at this stage of my career, I have rather put all my skillset ‘eggs’ firmly into the education sector ‘basket’. And I would generally feel happier doing a job I’m actually good at. It’s not a deal breaker though…
Call me hardboiled but, having just used the word ‘egg’ and having concluded last week’s post with some egg-shell-ent yolks, I appear to have poached the same idea this week. Perhaps because I’m feeling a little fried. I’m scrambling for ideas…
I’m batter than this. Omlettin’ you know it won’t happen again.
As this is very much the last day of 2019 it behoves me to write about the year that has just happened. But because 2019 ends in a ‘9’ it behoves me to write about the last decade too. There is always some debate that the new decade doesn’t start until the beginning of a year that ends in a ‘1’, but, even though the argument for that is underpinned by sound logic and fact, the reality is that we all consider the year ending in ‘0’ as the start of the new decade (or century or indeed millenium as appropriate). So to all intents and purposes, today is the end of the decade that may or may not have been known at the teens.
But since becoming a dad approximately 17 months ago, I can’t even remember what happened yesterday let alone recall anything of significance that happened in the last ten years.
It is, of course, customary for such a ‘review’ to focus on the wider world, but I’m not going to do that for two reasons:
Other people will do a much better job of that than I could ever possibly hope to achieve.
It all seems to have gone downhill since 2010 and that decline seems to have accelerated since 2016.
So for those reasons, and also because I’m a bit narcissistic, this post will be all about me.
This is definitely the first decade in which I’ve been a proper ‘grown-up’ for its entirety . I was technically an adult for all of the noughties but, whereas I haven’t really been drunk on any New Years Eve throughout this decade, I saw in the year 2000 absolutely hammered and wandering the streets of Cardiff with nowhere to sleep until the first trains started running the following morning. And that was not unusual behaviour for the ensuing decade.
So I have made some personal progress.
Beyond no longer drinking irresponsibly (or at least not as often) there have been some other developments for me in the last ten years.
I started 2010 as an unmarried childless man. I was engaged to be married to the woman I am now married to, and we were living together, but we didn’t get married until August of 2010.
My daughter didn’t arrive for another eight years, but as eight years is less than a decade it is entirely accurate to say that the ‘teens’ (which I’m definitely calling them even if no-one else does) is when I became both a husband and father.
It’s also, just about, the decade that I went from being a directionless waste of space, career-wise, to having a definite career and indeed career-path. Admittedly it’s a career-path I don’t especially want to be on, but, having experienced the ‘wilderness years’ which largely describes the preceding decade, the wrong career-path is possibly better than no career-path at all.
It has allowed me to get a mortgage if nothing else. For indeed the decade to which we’re about to bid adieu is the decade in which I became a homeowner for the first time. Again, it’s not necessarily a home worth owning, but having been mistreated more than once by the rental market, I’m happier owning my ramshackle terraced house with all it’s dysfunctional plumbing than paying double my mortgage in rent for a tiny flat owned by a shady landlord.
As for 2019, it’s not been a vintage year really. I spent most of the first four months trying to complete my MA at the expense of pretty much everything else. Except my daughter who will not be ignored even for academic deadlines.
I succeeded in my academic endeavours, but have spent the remaining eight months trying to get back into shape after making some questionable decisions regarding diet and exercise during that feverish period of study. Since April I have been largely exercising at pretty much the expense of everything else. Except my daughter who will not be ignored even for a brutal and unforgiving fitness regime.
Nothing much else of a personal nature happened in 2019, beyond my daughter’s continued development which I notionally contribute to but to a much lesser extent than Mrs Proclaims and indeed the child herself whose desire to conquer each developmental milestone appears to be voracious. She had pretty much nailed walking by eleven months old and then subsequently attempted to destroy every possession of ours that wasn’t nailed down.
Talking seems to be her project du jour and she’s making excellent progress. She’s always been a chatterbox, but these days some of what she says actually makes sense. I expect she’ll have her own blog soon. And it’ll be much better than this one.
Speaking of this blog, it was halfway through the last decade that ‘James Proclaims’ became a thing. May 10th, 2015 to be precise. And 2019 appears to be the year I almost killed it off by barely posting anything.
But I appear to have rallied at the end of 2019 and December has actually been quite a productive month blog-wise.
It’s not all been good, but it has been something.
Which is often better than nothing.
And in 2020 I expect I’ll write more posts that are of questionable quality and worth.
But I can’t commit to that today.
Because that would be a resolution.
And we all know that resolutions come on the 1st of January.
So tune in tomorrow to see if ‘blogging more often in 2020’ makes the cut for my 2020 resolutions.
And so here we are, a month from Christmas and soon the traditions of the season will be upon us. Although, as is the case most years, I’ve been honouring one custom since around mid-October. Which is the eating of mince pies. I love a good mince pie, but in all honesty, there is far too much in the way of other festive fare available when we get to Christmas proper. So, I like to get my mince pie consumption started as early as possible.
In a similar bookend, I probably won’t eat much Christmas cake until January, but will then try and eke it out for as long as possible.
As I write this, my almost-16-month-old daughter is tearing around the room wreaking havoc wherever she goes. She’s quite the force majeure. For this reason, I’m not sure there’ll be a Christmas tree in the Proclaims household this year. At least I’m not sure there’ll be a Christmas tree for long…
I have already bought most of the Christmas presents I’m going to buy. I’m not an especially organised person in most respects, but present buying is generally something that I’m pretty good at. Either that or I have an exceptionally polite family when it comes to gift-receiving. But as some of them aren’t too bothered about letting me know my shortcomings in other respects, I’m going to say I’m good at buying presents.
Obviously with it now being ‘Black Friday Week’ I may have jumped the gun, having purchased all my gifts prior to this most traditional and heart-warming of wallet-friendly weeks. I believe that Black Friday proper is yet to come, although apparently some retailers, having just too many deals for one Friday, also incorporated last Friday. As I say, I won’t be joining in the fun, but I will, of course, sit down to enjoy the traditional Black Friday meal when the day does come around. The traditional meal being my own soul.
Anyway, the shopping is mostly done, which is good because December already looks set to be a fairly taxing month.
There is of course the forthcoming general election. Although that probably won’t take up too much time. I will vote, but at this point I’m voting for the least-worst candidate and really, whoever wins, it’s hard to be too optimistic. I’m not even sure who the least-worst option is. I think I know who the worst is though. And sadly, I think that is probably who will win.
December also brings its fair share of family commitments. In and of itself this is not really problematic. I’m not a fan of gatherings in general, but it would seem churlish to apply that sentiment to the people I’m related to, and to be fair they’re a decent bunch. But they all live approximately two hours from me and a two-hour drive is rarely fun. It’s worse still with a lively toddler in tow. She’s only mastered a few words, so we’re not in the territory of the “are we there yet?” chant, that I recall torturing my parents with on oh-so-many a car journey. But she has her ways of making an already challenging experience even more horrendous. Changing her nappy at the services on the M25 is an experience from last December that I’m in no hurry to repeat.
Not that she needs a long car journey to elevate my stress levels. Even as I was writing that last paragraph, she marched up to my pc and attempted to switch it off. I would have lost of all of this delightful prose in one act of infant insurrection were it not for my surprisingly considerate computer checking that I wanted to pursue the unfathomable undertaking of shutting down without saving my work before it carried out my daughter’s directions.
December is always a busy time in work. I’m not really sure why, but there always seem to be deadlines that need to be hit prior to the festive break. I’m not likely to hit any of those deadlines without ‘upping my game’. I’m never keen on upping my game. I prefer to operate a level of ‘doing just enough to get away with it’, but occasionally it pays to demonstrate that I am capable of more. For the sake of my own ego if nothing else.
In the unlikely event that my boss is reading this, I would point out that everything I write on this blog should be taken with a pinch of salt and clearly that last paragraph was written in jest.
In the more likely event that my boss is not reading this, then I can confirm I am a workshy waste of space.
One event in December that I’m really looking forward to is, of course the release of the new Star Wars film. Even if it’s ultimately quite disappointing I will still watch it multiple times. It can’t be worse than The Phantom Menace and I’ve seen that loads of times.
Speaking of films, all going well, December should also bring my, now traditional, blog offering, of The James Proclaims Advent Calendar of Christmas(ish) Films. I’ve already sat through quite a few movies with a vaguely tenuous link to Christmas so, if I can muster up enough time to actually write about them then activity on this blog is likely to go from ‘very little in recent times’ to ‘quite a lot actually’.
But it’ll all be badly written reviews of essentially non-Christmas films that might have a bit of an obscure link to Christmas.
As opposed to badly written posts about nothing much at all.
Once the advent calendar has run it’s course, I am also hoping to write my, even more traditional, Christmas Day message.
And I expect I’ll follow that with my equally traditional Boxing Day post, in which I’ll produce some sort of weak play on words referencing the sport of boxing.
So, if you’re a fan of this blog then there really is a lot to look forward to.
But if you are genuinely a fan of this blog, you may need some kind of help.
It is the 18th November, which quite possibly means that Christmas is nearly upon us. It also means that I haven’t troubled the blogosphere for a good four months. At least I imagine it’s been a good four months if you really don’t like my writing. But then I would hypothesise that you wouldn’t be reading this. And you wouldn’t have noticed my lack of blogging in the last four months. So, whether the last four months were good or not would have had absolutely nothing to do with my latest hiatus from this blog. On the other hand if you do like my cyber compositions then you might have been a little miffed that I haven’t produced anything for a while. Indeed 2019 has been rather sparse in terms of content for this plugged-in periodical.
I should probably begin this post with an ablogogy.
Ablogogy is a term I’ve just coined. It can be defined as follows:
[ uh-blog-uh-jee ]
An insincere written or spoken expression of one’s regret, remorse, or sorrow for having failed to write anything on one’s blog for a considerable period of time. Ablogogies are issued in the vain hope that anyone gives a crap, but with the knowledge that, in fact, no-one has either noticed or particularly cared that one hasn’t written an anodyne post about cabbages for a while.
Now that we’ve got that over with, I can perhaps try and write something of substance.
Although that would be quite a departure from my usual utterings, and I haven’t changed that much in the last few months.
As it is currently November, I’m suffering with my annual state of Novemberitis. Which is absolutely a real condition and not something I’ve just made up.
Many people choose to survive November by writing novels, others grow moustaches in an apparent attempt to raise awareness of something. I have considered, but ultimately abandoned, both of these ideas in the past. Occasionally I try to overcome the melancholies of November by producing more content for this blog, but aside from five posts in January, one in April and two in July I have written nothing in 2019, so producing any content this November would be an upturn in fortunes.
Although if this is the best I can do, then perhaps my extended absence was no great loss.
I expect much has changed in the world since my last attempt to kick-start this increasingly dormant blog into existence.
Although Brexit appears to still be a thing.
And there’s another election on the horizon and they’re always fun.
My own existence has largely been dominated by my increasingly mobile and intrepid daughter.
I am very much enjoying being a father but I’m also tired all of the time. Even as I write this my beloved offspring is tearing around the room, occasionally popping over to my workspace (which takes up a corner in what is apparently now her room, although it was very much my office until she arrived on the scene. I suppose it was always theoretically an office/guestroom but given that Mrs Proclaims and I have always discouraged guests it was pretty much my space. Now it’s very much hers and I am permitted the use of a corner on the basis that there is nowhere else in our tiny abode for my computer to live) to tamper with my keyboard and insert random symbols into my prose. I imagine I will have deleted her efforts by the time I publish this, but I suppose she makes a convenient scapegoat for any typos that may appear.
Anyway, I return to the blogosphere this day in order to proclaim my intention to return to blogging more frequently from now on.
But I’ve made such promises before and utterly failed to live up to them.
And really, whether I blog or not is of no great consequence.
So, this entire post is completely pointless.
Which, in fairness, is pretty much in line with everything else I’ve ever written.
There’s no getting away from it – this post is an absolute shambles. This is partly because I started writing it on the 27th August and didn’t finish it. I genuinely meant to finish it, but I didn’t. And the bit I wrote on the 27th August doesn’t tell the whole story, but now so much time has passed that I’m not sure I can write with the same sense of outrage, which gripped me at the time
I have found some other correspondence I wrote on the same day, which might help to fill in the story, albeit it’s tonally different.
So this is a post of two distinct parts and probably not the best way to announce my return to the blogosphere after quite a lengthy absence.
Then again, as will become clear, time is not something I have very much of these days so it’s pretty much a case of posting this or posting nothing.
Nothing might have been preferable.
But I’ve gone with this.
Part 1 – The Bit I Wrote on the 27th August 2018
I can’t remember the last time I put pen to paper. That isn’t to say it’s been a particularly long time – I regularly scrawl my childlike signature on various invoices and leave requests that I have taken neither the time nor trouble to read (signing off invoices for stuff I didn’t order and agreeing to inappropriate leave requests are among the myriad glamorous tasks that I get to enjoy in my role as head of the least illustrious department in the school that pays my wages) but it’s certainly been a while since I last put pen to paper in order to write anything memorable. Whether this particular effort is something that I deem ‘worth remembering’ is anyone’s guess, but it will be more interesting than my signature. I hope.
It has, of course, been a while since I blogged and there are numerous reasons for this, reasons that I will go into as part of this diatribe, though explaining my absence from the blogosphere of late is not the main objective of this post. Nonetheless my regular readers deserve an explanation for my lack of recent productivity – I owe both of them at least that much.
But all in due course, for I digress. I was lamenting my lack of practice at applying pen to paper. For I am doing that right now. I am using an actual pen (a novelty ‘Star Wars’ themed blue Bic biro no less) to scrawl onto some paper (a long-forgotten notepad I just discovered after rummaging through some drawers). By the time you read this (if indeed you are reading this) I will have converted my efforts into whatever typeface it is that I usually post these missives in.
But let it be known that the first draft of this banality was handwritten.
This was not through some misguided effort to ‘take things back to basics’. I’m not trying to rediscover myself as a writer by renouncing all the bells and whistles of the computer age.
No, this is through necessity. I cannot type at the moment for that option is not available to me.
To be clear, I hate writing by hand. It’s slow and (presumably through lack of practice) somewhat painful. Also, I can’t actually read my own handwriting. Alas it has ever been thus. Computers have literally moved me from a position of ignominy to a level playing field with regards legibility and it’s not a position I choose to give up lightly.
But in order to type (and not being in possession of an old-school typewriter) I do need electricity and that has been in rather short supply of late. Indeed, I am currently entering hour 25 of a power cut that has afflicted my entire street. This seems a preposterous thing to be writing in this day and age, not least because I live on a relatively main road in a large town in the South-East of England. The South-East! We don’t usually tolerate power cuts of more than an hour in this part of the world!
But the unthinkable has happened and we are, as a street, currently impotent. By which I mean without power. Not the other thing.
It is this lack of electricity that I wish to dedicate this post to, because it is rather on my mind. Not having electricity does render a lot of activities ‘off the table’. Including blogging by traditional means (for blogging by traditional means would be using a computer no?) so I am forced to write using actual traditional means, i.e. putting pen to paper. Of course, I will eventually need the power to return in order to render these handwritten words into the more easily accessible typed words that now appear on the screen of whatever device it is that you are using to view this post. Unless you are reading this directly from the notebook that I originally wrote these words into. In which case, good luck – my handwriting really is that awful.
I hope that the power will return today but my hopes are tinged with more than an element of cynicism. By their most recently revised targets, the electricity company did claim that the power would be back on an hour and twenty minutes ago. They missed that target.
This is just the latest in an impressive litany of missed targets and other abominations that have made, what should have been a merely unbearable power outage into an excruciatingly torturous affair.
I’ll get onto all of that in due course but first let me revisit, for the sake of the one reader that might actually care, the reasons for my recent absence from the blogosphere and explain why, after posting an impressive 200 posts in 200 consecutive days between November and May, I managed to post only once in June and then nothing at all until this rambling mess.
The short answer is that I have been rather busy of late. Indeed, here is a list of just some of the things that have been keeping me from blogging:
I watched most of the games in the FIFA World Cup.
I almost managed to catch up on my overdue paperwork that generally plagues my every waking hour while at work.
I started writing a novel.
I gave up on writing a novel.
I gave some serious thought to actually starting to do some preparation for the dissertation I need to write before the end of January 2019, which will mark the end of an MA course I have been doing on a very part time basis since September 2013.
I became a father for the first time.
I finally achieved my goal of watching all of the Star Trek TV Series and films ever made.
I finally painted the bathroom after years of claiming that I would paint the bathroom. (Top painting tip – if you let a room get into a particularly bad state then even the most amateurish paintjob will seem incredible in comparison to what was there before)
There may be some things that I’ve forgotten about that didn’t make that list but that does generally sum up where my life has been in recent weeks.
Now some eagle-eyed readers may have spotted that one item on that list does seem rather more significant that the others. Significant enough perhaps to merit an entire post dedicated to it. And rest assured I am planning on writing that post soon. It’s only fair to my regular readers that I go into a little more detail about the highs and lows of watching all of the Star Treks.
Ok, I suppose some people might consider the notion of becoming a dad for the first time as quite a big deal. I’m not sure that it is though. I didn’t really have to do very much. Mrs Proclaims did all of the heavy lifting on that one. I suppose I did make a small contribution at the outset, but honestly that was no hardship. And after that, while I was certainly there cheering Mrs Proclaims on from the side-lines, I really didn’t contribute anything else.
Nope there is very little effort involved in becoming a father. Actually being a father on the other hand – well 3 weeks in I can confirm that does require a little more of my time. Or all of my time…
Of course I have no intention of becoming one of those bloggers who constantly writes about parenthood. There are plenty of other bloggers who do that and do it with far more sincerity than I could ever muster. Nonetheless my daughter does now command the vast majority of my attention in the real world, so it seems inevitable that she will command some of my attention on these pages.
But I will still write about soup too.
Indeed, I can guarantee that soup will appear in this very post in just a few paragraphs time.
And although my daughter is certainly not irrelevant to what follows, this post is definitely more about power cuts than it is about parenthood.
Incidentally we are now entering hour 26 of the crisis as I begin this paragraph. I observe, through my front window, that there are some workmen attempting to resolve the problem with a similar urgency to that which Jeremy Corbyn employs when denouncing anti-Semitism. Or which Boris Johnson employs when apologising for insensitive remarks he has made in the press.
Which is of course to say no urgency whatsoever. However, I am thrilled to see that there are workmen there at all, for this has not always been the case.
But let’s not leap ahead in this tale of utter incompetence – let us return to the beginning of this underwhelming story. It’s a story which begins at approximately 1.30pm on Sunday the 26th August 2018. Having enjoyed the rock ‘n’ roll activity of removing some frozen soup (a quite pleasant leek, cauliflower and parsnip soup that I had made some days earlier) from the, then-still-functional, freezer in order to prepare heat it up on the, then-still-functional, hob, I was in the process of completing an activity previously unknown to me in my non-parent days, though it is now an activity as familiar to me as heating up frozen soup. I speak of the task that all new parents must master in the early days, which is that of sterilising stuff. I sterilise using an electric steriliser, but there are as many methods of sterilising as there are things that need to be sterilised. Whatever method of sterilisation one adopts, it remains an activity as tedious as it is pointless. Anyone with even the most rudimentary grasp of science must be aware that no matter how sterilised an object becomes in the sterilisation process, the moment it is removed from the steriliser it ceases to be sterile. Nonetheless, it is an important part of being a new parent and failure to properly sterilise everything is an unspeakable sin. I didn’t make the rules, but I am compelled to obey them and so sterilise everything I must.
Anyway, I had no sooner loaded and switched on the steriliser than the red light (the very light that indicates that sterilisation is underway) began to flicker. It isn’t supposed to flicker. I feared the worst – surely our relatively new, though by now quite frequently used, middle-of-the-range steriliser couldn’t be broken? It may be a relatively inexpensive piece of kit, but since the baby arrived it does rather feel as if my bank account is haemorrhaging money and I’d rather not have to replace it. Fortunately, at that moment and to my immense relief, every other electrical appliance in our home also switched off and it became clear that the steriliser was fine, and we merely had the minor inconvenience of the total cessation of our electricity supply for a period as yet unknown. I assumed that we’d be looking at a timescale in the region of 10 minutes or so. Perhaps that was a touch optimistic but the notion that this might be a problem that would endure for more than a few hours was unthinkable in my innocent little mind.
Oh, how naïve I was.
At first Mrs Proclaims and I were concerned with minor inconveniences. Clearly the soup I had just removed from the freezer would no longer be appropriate for lunch given that the electric hob required to heat it had been rendered useless. The inactive steriliser was not an immediate concern because we had no urgent need of its yet-to-be-sterilised contents. Not being able to watch TV was a tad irritating but our smart phones had ample charge so there was no pressing requirement for my wife and I to resort to conversation in order to pass the time.
At Mrs Proclaims’ request, I verified that the problem was an external fault rather than an issue specific to our house. I did this by checking the fuse box. In order to get to the fuse box, I needed to remove myriad items out of the way. Mostly bottles of wine if I’m honest. I was then able to see that the trip switch had not been tripped and that, at least according to my rudimentary understanding of how things work, the fault was very much an external one and we did indeed have a power cut.
Mrs Proclaims was not fully convinced by my expertise so I used my smart phone to check if a power cut had been listed on the electricity company’s website. It had not. I was therefore obliged to call the electricity company and speak to an actual person, which is something I strive to avoid if at all possible. However, the customer service adviser I spoke to was certainly affable enough and he did confirm that there was indeed a power cut, that someone would be out within the hour and that the power should be off for no more than a further three hours. Three hours without power seemed a little longer than I was expecting but nonetheless it also seemed like something we’d be able to cope with.
And indeed, had it just been three hours, we would certainly have coped.
But, alas, that was the first of quite a number of inaccurate predictions that the electricity company made.
End of Part 1
Essentially that brings us up to the end of what was written in my notebook. Once the power came back on I was keen to finish the post, but, even though sleep deprivation was not an unfamiliar state three weeks into parenthood, the power cut had left me even more fatigued than usual. Plus, although I am not usually someone who feels the need to write letters of complaint, the general incompetence displayed by the power company on this occasion did leave me feeling somewhat embittered and so rather than employing my energies on completing this post, I expended the little I had left in writing an email expressing my dissatisfaction. Fortunately, that same email can now serve to complete the tale. In a futile attempt at self-editing I have removed the rather lengthy preamble and conclusion that bookended the correspondence in order to slightly reduce the length of this already overly long post.
Part 2 – Excerpts From The Email Of Complaint I Wrote.
I will try to summarise my experiences as accurately as possible, there may be some minor errors with one or two of the timings, although I suspect my timings will still be significantly more accurate that some of the projected timings I have received from your organisation over the last 36 or so hours.
At approx. 1.41pm (according to your website) on Sunday the electricity supply failed in my street.
At 1.52pm, having verified that the fault was not specific to my property I called the 105 helpline to report the power loss. I was informed that you were aware of the situation, that someone would be investigating within the hour and that the current expectation was that power would be returned by 4.45pm. I was asked if there were any vulnerable people at the property and I advised that I have a 3-week old daughter, so obviously had some concerns about a sustained power outage but felt reassured that 4.45pm was a reasonable timescale and we would cope for that amount of time.
I subsequently received a text message to inform me that it was likely that power would now not be restored until 10pm. As I received this message at 4.42pm on a Sunday it was really too late for me to access any provisions to mitigate for the loss of power, particularly with regards sterilising bottles for my daughter’s formula, for which I normally use an electric steriliser. Other options – using the microwave or boiling water on my electric hob – were clearly not possibilities under the circumstances and my boiler was also offline due to the lack of electricity so we did not even have hot water with which to wash the bottles, which meant having to choose between feeding my daughter with non-sterile bottles or not feeding her at all. Obviously, we chose to feed her and did the best we could to mitigate with cold water and washing up liquid, but it was less than satisfactory, particularly as I had reported to your organisation that I had a very young infant on the premises and might therefore have expected to receive better communication.
Unable to use the facilities on our property to cook, my wife and I purchased a takeaway meal for ourselves at a cost of around £13. We did not obtain a receipt as I was unaware at this stage that you offer compensation upon the provision of receipts. I’m not especially bothered about reclaiming the £13, indeed I have subsequently had to spend significantly more than that in the last 24 hours as a result of the power outage, none of which I have retained receipts for – the money itself is not a motivation for the complaint although it should be noted that amongst other inconveniences I am out of pocket.
However, should the power have returned at 10pm I would have been irritated but not inconsolable. However, the power was not back on by 10pm, nor was it back by midnight as suggested by a later text message, nor was it back on by 1.30am, or 5am, or indeed 1pm today, all of which were expectations that your text updates might have led me to believe. Indeed, I didn’t receive the text messages about the 1.30am or 5am estimate until both of those times had long since passed as my mobile phone had rather given up, what with the lack of electricity at my property with which to charge it.
I did, however, receive a knock on the door at 1am from one of your engineers to ask me if electricity had returned to my property. It had not, and I’m slightly perplexed as to why he didn’t already know this information or why he thought it was appropriate to knock on my door at 1am. As it happens I was awake but there was no way he could have known that given that there were no lights on to indicate that fact (lighting being one of the numerous facilities in my property that are entirely dependent on a functioning electricity supply).
As people were continuing to work outside throughout the night and indeed were making a considerable amount of noise in doing so, I did anticipate that the power would be back by the early hours of this morning, particularly given the previously optimistic nature of the text predictions I had received from your organisation. As I’m sure you’re aware it was not. However, my grievances did not, alas, end there, because it was only this morning that I realised that the majority of the digging in the road the previous night had occurred directly in front of my property. This would not, of course, be an issue in and of itself – clearly I wanted electricity restored to my property and if digging was necessary then I have no objections but unfortunately no-one had thought to ask me if I might like to move my car, and so any plans I might have had to mitigate the inconvenience of not having electricity by driving to friends or family or simply driving to obtain provisions (such as pre-sterilised feeding bottles for my daughter – available for an extortionate rate in my local supermarket) were curtailed by the fact that I couldn’t actually get my car out of my drive and onto the road, what with the huge ditch that had appeared overnight.
I did manage to walk to the supermarket and obtain nutrition for my daughter that was safe for her to consume but it would have been a great deal easier to have been able to drive and it does seem to be rather adding insult to injury to deprive me of both electricity and the use of my car.
Having received subsequent erroneous predictions on my wife’s phone (with my phone still being out of action) of when the work would be completed, I also received a voicemail from someone called Rachel who apologised for the inconvenience I had experienced and suggested that the power should be back on by 2.50pm. I did not receive this voicemail until 5.38pm and it was therefore somewhat after the fact, but unsurprisingly the power was not restored by 2.50pm. It was temporarily restored at around 4.30pm for an hour or so. It was then subsequently cut off, although in a rare example of accurate communication from your organization, we were informed in advance of this, and then, finally, power was fully restored to us at 7.30pm.
As I write this it is 11.14pm and I still can’t remove my car from my property although it appears that work has now begun on filling in the hole so I am hopeful that I will have access to my car by tomorrow, although at this point I take nothing for granted.
End of Part 2
And so back to the present day. I received an apologetic (though fairly insincere) phone call from the power company and, some weeks later, a cheque for £75, which is apparently the going rate for a 30-hour power cut on a bank holiday weekend.
Tomorrow my daughter will be 12 weeks old and thus far nothing has quite matched the challenges of those 30 hours with regards my early experiences of parenthood (although the fallout from the first round of vaccinations was pretty horrendous).
Indeed, for the most part I’m really enjoying being a dad.
But it has left me with much less time for blogging.
Hopefully I’ll be able to manage a few more posts in the coming weeks but I think the glory days of posting every day are behind me for a while.
When I do post in the future, I will endeavour to not make everything about my little girl.