Friday, 30 October 2015

Dreaming Big

Thomas Ivor is seven years old. His ambition?

"To cycle the Rockies and the Andes".

He'd like to drive trains as well, of course, but at an age where I hadn't quite reached the point of reluctantly crossing 'astronaut' off the list of intended careers, he is remarkably specific about what he wants to achieve.

It has been wonderful, then, to see him taking inspiration from two men of my generation who have done just that - and more.

Despite a lot of opposition in his other home environment, the little guy has just romped through the final chapters of Alastair Humphreys' first volume of his children's book, 'The boy who cycled the world', which he and I are soon going to review together. I think it's a cracking idea for adventurers like Alastair to recount their amazing journeys in a way that children can access - having read and enjoyed the 'grown up' books he and Rob Lilwall wrote about cycling around the world, I am now just ahead of Thomas Ivor with the junior versions.

I am saddened by the paucity of expectation, and the paucity of aspiration, found in most state primary schools. The almost total absence of men from their classrooms is indubitably part of it, as are the entry requirements to a job which is too important to enjoy such low professional standards and standing. The fact is, children who dream big are those who think big, those who see exciting goals on the horizon, within their grasp but far enough off to make it a challenge, are the ones who stretch themselves, and scan the horizon for opportunity. Those who are encouraged to be disciplined in learning their chosen craft, become craftsmen. Sometimes that also takes for us to accept that academically bright kids might not want to spend their life at a desk, too.

For a boy like mine, to be able to open a book with a chapter entitled 'I am Going to Cycle Round the World' is precisely the spark that could light the blue touchpaper of something special in his life. I am sure that many children will read that heading and fail to discern the difference between that and 'The Hundred-mile-an-hour Dog', or 'My Hamster is a Spy', but even if there were other books on cycle touring aimed at primary school kids, I doubt they would capture the imagination quite as Alastair's book has. Thomas Ivor totally believes he can do it - and I wouldn't be surprised if he does, one day. Our task, then, is to help guide him, without pushing or projecting, and help him build the skills he needs whilst stoking his passion and letting him see where it takes him. Not all homes, or schools, provide that - and I'm not sure that parents are given the encouragement by our 'nanny state' to lead from the front in their children's upbringing. Every hero was once a child. Every school playground therefore contains potential heroes. What a precious commodity!

Sat around a restaurant table at lunchtime on Wednesday with a friend of ours, Thomas Ivor was told there was someone to speak to him on the phone.

Fresh off an aeroplane, someone stopped what they were doing in the middle of a busy day to spend a few minutes talking to a small boy from the other end of the country to whom he is an absolute hero. I wasn't party to it but we, and everyone else he has met since (the hairdresser in particular!) have heard so much about that conversation, and the dreams it has stoked.

Not so many years ago (ok, more than I'd care to count!) I photographed a young Lewis Hamilton standing atop the podium after winning a thrilling Formula Renault race in the rain at Silverstone. Still a young lad, he'd had the discipline to keep learning his craft, the drive to wipe the floor with the other kids in karting and the cheek to ask McLaren's Ron Dennis for a phone number, and then a contract. His Dad Anthony was the first one to reach his car as he parked it up at the end of the race. Three Formula One World Championships later, I can't say I am sure that the fame and fortune hasn't done him some harm, but the dreams of a little boy from Stevenage, fuelled by the interest and dedication of others, and the inspiration of Ayrton Senna in particular, led him to become that champion we saw crowned in Austin last weekend.

I am so grateful, then, to Mark Beaumont for making Thomas Ivor's day and talking to him about dealing with bears, and how he should spend the winter planning his next big adventure. Mark apparently joked with him about asking him not to break all of his records. The funny thing is, only this morning I was reading Hamilton's F1 column for the BBC, and of becoming a three-time champion, the former 'little boy from a council estate in Stevenage' said this:
"Breaking records has never really mattered to me, other than doing something similar to Ayrton [Senna].
Beyond that, if I was to match one of the others who have won more, it is not going to have the same special meaning that this has."
We must content ourselves as parents to give our children roots and wings - but a worthy target is something children must be encouraged to find, and dream of, for themselves.

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