With Mrs Canavan working this week, I have been on babysitting duties (‘it’s not baby-sitting,’ she bawled in exasperated fashion when reading the above, ‘it’s called being a father and looking after your own child’).
So on Monday I headed to the Lake District for a walk, for it seemed preferable to spending eight hours at home with my daughter, Mary, and actually interacting with her.
I always marvel at how Mrs Canavan can spend full days with our child in the lounge, singing nursery rhymes, reading mind-numbingly banal books, playing with an endless array of cuddly toys (‘look Mary. A lion. What sound does the lion make? Roar. Copy mummy. Roar. Roar’) and not go completely doolally.
I find it much more enjoyable to get outside and do something, preferably something I’ll enjoy (if the child enjoys it too that’s a bonus but it’s not essential).
And so it was that I ventured to the small Lake District village of Glenridding where, for a slightly extortionate fee, you can get a boat to the other side of Ullswater.
Ullswater is beautiful. The second biggest lake in the UK (behind only the whopping Windermere) it was the place where William Wordsworth, as he strolled along the bank with his sister Dorothy in early 1802, came up with the opening stanza to his most famous poem: ‘Eee it’s bloody champion here, now let’s go t’pub for a beer’.
Or was it, ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud, that floats on high o’er vales and hills’? I can never remember.
READ MORE: Something terrible has happened. Our child, Mary, has started walking
Anyway it’s not important, the point is it’s awfully pretty and I was very much looking forward to the day ahead, especially because I was using – for the very first time – a rather fancy rucksack cum baby carrier my mother had bought as a gift.
I love walking and on becoming a father had visions of strolling around the countryside for miles on end, happy child on my back, both of us at one with nature.
The rucksack cost quite a lot of money but looked fabulous – a huge red thing that had dramatic phrases on the packaging like ‘the cutting-edge DX214 is made from an updated soft face fabric and has a tubular aluminium frame’, ‘fully adjustable back system and X-buckle harness with titanium shaft to keep your child safe’, and ‘if you press the purple button located on the left you’ll be projected 600 feet into the air before a parachute deploys’. It sounded terrific.
After my mum bought it, I tried it on in the lounge and recall feeling slightly disconcerted about how heavy it was. And that was without Mary in it. Then I took it off, stuck it in the coat cupboard, and kind of forgot about it. Until now.
I carried Mary onto the ferry in my arms and we were transported across Ullswater, getting off at Howtown – a little hamlet on the opposite shore and about a seven-mile walk back to where I’d parked the car.
I then placed Mary into the rucksack and bent down to lift it up. It wouldn’t budge. I tried again. It barely moved. I couldn’t have been struggling more had a huge ancient oak tree just toppled onto its side and someone had suggested I pick it up and carry it for a bit. It weighed a tonne.
As I grappled with it, trying to get it a couple of inches off the ground, already perspiring lightly and breathing a little too heavily, a man – younger and solidly built – strolled vigorously towards me wearing the very same rucksack and with a child much bigger than my own in the back. He looked fresh as a daisy.
“Morning,” he shouted, because in the Lakes it is illegal not to have a conversation with a fellow walker; if you don’t at the very minimum utter the words ‘lovely day for it’ you are imprisoned for two years and put on a register. “Lovely day for it,” he added, cheerily.
‘Yes,’ I said, trying to gauge whether he’d seen me attempt and fail to pick up my rucksack. ‘Quite heavy these rucksacks aren’t they when you’ve got the little one in,’ I said, hoping for some kind of sympathetic, morale-boosting reply.
“No, not really,” he replied. “Helps if you’ve got muscles though I suppose.”
He grinned, winked, then walked on, leaving me to rue the fact I wasn’t armed with a crossbow with which to fire a poison-tipped arrow into the back of his head.
To cut a long story short, over the course of the next eight hours – so moving at the rate of less than one mile per hour – I staggered, teetered and wobbled around Ullswater, stopping every 100 yards or so to wipe sweat from my face and check I hadn’t suffered a hernia. Mary, presumably attempting to make it very clear she is not a fan of the outdoors and would much prefer to be back at home playing with a toy lion, screamed the entire time.
It was one of the longest, worst days of my life. The rucksack is now back in the coat cupboard and about to be put on eBay for sale at a very reasonable price to anyone stupid – or muscley enough - to take it off my hands.
Highs and lows of stately homes
I know I’m getting on in years because I have greying hair, sagging skin under my eyes, and get slightly irked if I see a young person wearing inappropriate clothing in inclement weather.
But the final proof of ageing came last week when I visited a National Trust property and enjoyed it.
I went to a stately home in East Yorkshire which had, since you ask, plaster ceilings decorated in neo-classical style using geometric shapes taken from Roman and Greek archaeology.
We were told this by Bernard, our tour guide, who had grey hair, a grey face, wore a grey tie, and looked like he last had fun in the late 1960s.
He was very pleasant but one of those odd people who have a habit of standing extremely close when they speak to you. I can say with some certainty that he had eaten a dish containing a lot of garlic the night before.
As Bernard spoke, I – after taking a couple of backward steps to lessen the fumes - found myself nodding vigorously and taking photographs of the ceiling in question, zooming in to ensure I fully captured the neo-classical bit.
I returned home that evening and thrilled Mrs Canavan with the details of my day and the magnificent plasterwork.
She turned up the volume of Coronation Street and suggested I go and read in the kitchen. I decided it wasn’t the moment to let slip I’ve bought her a 12-month National Trust membership for her birthday and slinked off to make a pot of tea.