Tim Dowling: from birds on my head to the cat's miaows – my year in numbers

Over the course of the last year, our enforced isolation, compounded by a proliferation of disinformation, has made reality feel a bit slippery. Now more than ever, I find it helpful to conduct my annual look back using nothing but cold, hard figures. Here, then, are my personal statistics for 2020:

.66666 (recurring) Percentage of my three adult children living – and working – at home since the start of lockdown. It’s not so bad – I have learned to live with the small humiliation of delivery food arriving in the middle of meals I have cooked – but over time the pressure has taken its toll on all of us. The remaining .33333 of my descendants is in the United States with my family, but we’re still sort of connected because he set up the Deliveroo account and gets a text notification whenever anybody orders anything.

3 Number of alarmingly misleading headlines appearing above my column, out of 52. For example, “It’s 5.12am and I can hear an intruder with a chainsaw” sounds like a great title, until you discover the column itself is largely about a dog prising up a shower drain cover in the dead of night. Another headline implied that I had killed my tortoise (fake news), and another that human bones had been found in my chimney (nope). I’m pleased I don’t have to write the headlines, but I sometimes worry when the words below don’t deliver on the promise of excitement above. By contrast, anyone who reads a column titled “I keep sighing. Is it because of my odd socks?” cannot legitimately complain about a lack of drama.

150 Approximate number of times this year that I have been obliged to say, “I know you’ve been fed, because I was the one that fed you,” to a cat.

150 Approximate number of times the cat has answered with a second, more insistent “miaow”, as if what I’d just said either made no sense or had no bearing on the matter at hand.

4 Exact size, in metres, of the section of skirting board I ordered, which proved too long to be stored anywhere but along the whole length of the kitchen and partway into the hallway, at an angle, where it remained for more than a month. I was kept awake at night by the idea of someone tripping over it in the dark, until I tripped over it in the dark. Then the pain in my foot kept my awake.

0 Total number of birds, native or non-native, that I have persuaded to alight on me in 2020. This was one of my two failed lockdown projects: to train the birds of the air to alight on my outstretched arms, as if I were Saint Francis of Assisi, or Snow White, whenever I stepped into my garden. Despite many hours of sitting still while surrounded by strategically placed seeds, not a single robin could be enticed down from the trees. In the meantime, I emboldened a lot of squirrels.

25+ Roughly the number of videos and photos I was subsequently forwarded showing readers in their gardens with robins eating from their open palms, or with parakeets sitting on their heads, or with whole families of finches perched along one sleeve awaiting a mealworm each. While this did a lot to reinforce my sense of failure, it also made me realise I didn’t really want birds anywhere near me.

28 Years my wife and I have actually been married, although she somehow got it into her head that this year was our 25th, and the huge party we would have had didn’t materialise because of the pandemic, which she was frankly thrilled about. How she forgot about that celebratory silver curry we had three years ago is beyond me.

1 The total number of live gigs the band I’m in managed to play this year, out of a possible two. The second one was called off just 48 hours before it was due to go ahead, when tier 3 restrictions were introduced in London earlier this month. It will probably get rescheduled for 2021, like a lot of stuff that was originally supposed to happen in 2020. As someone who has got used to doing very little, I’m not sure quite how I’m going to squeeze so much of last year into next year.

I do, however, look forward to trying.


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