Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Too much, too soon, or too little, too late? Thoughts on childhood and opportunity.

We've had some really lovely responses to the video we posted yesterday.

It's prompted me to write a little about a couple of fundamental principles we apply - that just because most children of a certain age don't do a particular thing, it doesn't mean ours shouldn't; and that to presume we have nothing to learn from our children limits our own horizons.

So often, children of our kids' generation get precious little chance to be children. They are burdened with pressure and responsibility they don't need, given choices to make that would best be made for them, and exposed to things they just don't need to know about. We live in a society that does all that, and then has the temerity to wrap them in the most appalling kind of cotton wool. We're in an era where a parent can believe their irrational fear of the bogeyman can kibosh every other child and their families having photographs on a school sports day - if there are any actual sports at all and if indeed anyone is allowed to win. Children are prevented or at the very least dissuaded from going outside to play, and then left in front of computer screens and televisions bringing them far more risk and brain-rot than they'd have found in the street.

This week sees the launch of the latest film adaptation of the classic 'Swallows and Amazons' and the director, bless them, has decided both that the original storyline isn't exciting enough for today's kids, and that a child nicknamed 'Titty' is now a problem. On the contrary, by my reckoning the biggest anathema for the children watching the film, and the most exciting prospect, will most likely be the idea of playing in the great outdoors, never mind doing it without 'elf an' safety or other politically correct spoilsportism (if that's not a word, I've just made it one!).*

It would be all too easy for me just to whinge about that, but we've learned that opportunities to do something about it are still abundant, if parents take it upon themselves to lead from the front whilst the state still lets us (even if it has long since decided no longer to actually advocate this pernicious, maverick approach, or make it easy for working families to do it).

The greatest disservice children today suffer from is paucity of expectation, of smiling dream-assassins determining what they may or may not try to do, with a predetermined agenda of troubling themselves as little as possible - and so as a family we delight in setting the bar high, making opportunities and cheering the children on to go for it, because they usually can (in their own way) and because it's exciting! Engaged children are, frankly, much easier to parent, so we're doing ourselves a favour, too. It isn't always easy - one day I will write the blog post about 'taking a child cycling vs going for a ride on your own' - but it's seldom without reward.

Few people expect a little girl of three to be riding a trailerbike helping to tow her little sister all afternoon, less still to be learning to read the map as she goes. The faces as we pass people say it all. Nobody expects said little girl to help to film, and then record the voiceover for, a film documenting the trip, but as cute as we may think it is (whether anyone else does is another matter - it's our job!) pivotally, Ruth is so, so proud of herself. That little film will now be the springboard to something else. Having tried the trombone, she's asking to learn the violin. Who knows, maybe she's planning to busk round Spain like Laurie Lee, and latterly Alastair Humphreys.

Maybe for your family and your children it's not even bicycle touring but some other activity or interest you love, that you want to adapt to make it family friendly. Give it a go! I'm sure you can find a way.

One of the biggest motivators for Family ByCycle, is not to say 'look at our kids aren't they incredible' (that's the kind of sickening self-promotional bilge we all whizz merrily past on our Facebook timelines, let's be honest), and in any case we don't hold all the answers, but hoping to encourage other parents 'you can do this, too!' - we dare to dream that we can help build a critical mass of families with children whose horizons are as broad as they can be, who dare to dream, who participate in and explore the world, yes, as children, not as frustrated, stressed little adults, neither constrained to their peer group and the expectations of others. After all, who as an adult surrounds themselves only with people born within a year , and a few miles, of them?

Thomas Ivor's talk about cycle touring as a child received a wonderful reception at the Cycle Touring Festival in Clitheroe earlier in the year, and he's delighted to have accepted an invitation to speak at this Autumn's 'Yestival'. We're especially looking forward as a family to participating in the 'Dreamcamp' part of the event, in the hope not only of inspiring kids to think big, look far and aim high, but for the adults to receive from them a healthy dose of childlike wonder and enthusiasm. I'd rather be blindly accused of 'too much, too soon', than any of our family grow old to realise we did 'too little, too late'.

Why not join us there and give it a go?

Read more on this topic in another post from a little while ago...

* Yes, I know about Pokemon. It will pass. Again. I predict that the gaggle of people staring at their smartphones outside the council offices late at night will not survive a single winter!

Monday, 15 August 2016

Inspiration for the infants

We had a super night out in London last week, to hear the mighty Anna McNuff speak at Dave Cornthwaite's 'YesStories' event. Taking the little two into town on the train is a #Microadventure in its own right!

Ruth and Rhoda are by far the youngest ever attendees to this event - and it's always something of a lottery when you take children to something they might not necessarily be expected at! Luckily, they received a wonderful welcome and acquitted themselves pretty well, despite an inopportune event with the reappearance of a half-chewed dried apricot during the main event. We really enjoyed Anna's new talk, 'Let me tell you about a time when...', and she coped wonderfully with both the live regurgitation and periodic heckling from her young fans. We are very grateful to her for her kindness and interest, and for blazing a trail for little girls like ours to follow.

In Mr Cornthwaite's 'Just say yes' spirit, and with the car's bike carrier finally fixed, I didn't have much choice, then, but to take the girls for a bike ride (Thomas Ivor is away this week) the following day, so we went to finish off the Brampton Valley Way, which I will write a separate review about shortly. We've been gradually crossing off different parts of it for a little while now.

Over two days, Ruth has done 20 miles on the trailerbike, Rhoda a lap of a car park, and the 'Bike+Trailerbike+Trailer' combination has been well and truly tested pending Katie's annual leave. By taking the double Croozer we can use it as a 'broom van' to sweep Ruth up if her little legs decide enough is enough; we can't speak highly enough of the Islabikes trailerbike (very sadly no longer made and still commanding decent money second hand). It confers a significant weight saving over the Trek Mountain Train we used in the Hebrides in 2014 and much improved stability thanks to the rack mount system, and whilst a little on the long side (a couple of feet longer overall than the double WeeHoo, we reckon) it is a remarkably nimble and manoeuvrable outfit.

As ever, assuming we get that far this summer, we're developing another touring setup, with Thomas Ivor on his Islabikes Luath 24, now morphing into a 'bikepacking' setup thanks to our friends at Alpkit, who have made him a beautiful bespoke frame bag. Our replacement bikes seem to be doing the business, although I am reserving judgement on the strength of the wheels.

All things being equal, Ruth is off to cycling club tonight for a first ride in her own right, so for now, here's a video of our outing in the Brampton Valley, which we will talk about a little more, soon...

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Overtaken by events

It's been a little while since we've posted on the blog, although those of you who follow us on Twitter, @FamilyByCycle, will have an idea as to why!

The list of recent events waiting to be published (the pictures and some of the text having been put aside in preparation!) goes a little bit like this:

  • Thomas Ivor has met and ridden with touring legend Mark Beaumont, given his first illustrated lecture at the Cycle Touring Festival in Clitheroe, has moved house, started at a new school, won some more races, appeared on the podium at the Women's Tour of Britain, moved up to a larger bike, and climbed Scafell Pike as part of a project to climb and cycle between the 'Three Peaks'

  • Rhoda is balance biking and has progressed to using the Rothan rather than the Strider.

  • Ruth now has her Cnoc 14 and is riding confidently on her own two wheels. She has started to use our new Islabikes trailerbike, and then stopped again, and then started again, because...

  • Mummy and Daddy had our touring bikes stolen from the rack on the back of the car hours after this picture was taken. We lost both our Trek tourers, the Islabikes trailerbike rack, the bike carrier was badly mauled; the car damaged. We've replaced the bikes for the short term, and now the car's exhaust has dropped off in sympathy, a week before the MoT is due. We had a great time in Clitheroe and we've celebrated our wedding anniversary with a #Microadventure of our own, we've made a few little films, carried on finding ways to be adventurous and to ride bikes one way or another, and, er, neglected our blog.
We're still sourcing bits and fettling our new bikes with the hope of having some kind of a touring trip this summer when we had almost given it up as a bad job.

The good news is we have lots of things to write about and share, from the lows of seeing over £3000 of stuff stolen or broken outside our home, to the joys of seeing another child pedal off into the distance. We'll turn the story above into links to those individual tales, just as soon as we can, and we look forward to sharing our experiences once more.

Meantime, why not visit our YouTube Channel and subscribe? There are new films of all kinds on there and more in the pipeline...