Bikes and work: all part of the human life-cycle

TWO signs that your children are growing fast and that by implication you’re moving closer to your pension (or you would be if the Government didn’t keep dragging the age of entitlement a little further from reach): one child begins cycling proficiency training and the other has a first taste of the world of work. It seems only five minutes since James, a scared late starter on two wheels, finally cracked it: by rolling off the 45-degree concrete slope at the skatepark and pedalling frantically as the momentum carried him onto the grass. Unorthodox, and I can’t imagine Lance Armstrong started that way, but it worked, so we claimed a triumph.

Cycling proficiency has changed since I wobbled round the playground 36 years ago. (“Must have been hard slaloming between those cones on a penny farthing,” chirrups Emma, displaying historical knowledge hidden until now.) We were instructed by a policeman in uniform – doubtless a Dixon of Dock Green-style character good with kids and on the verge of retirement. He must have been a cracking teacher, as one girl got 100%.

Coincidentally, I met her younger sister four years ago, who had that afternoon from 1974 filed away in a drawer marked “Grudges against my perfect sibling” and often brought it out to polish in moments of quiet hatred. She’d spent childhood feeling she could never measure up to her sister and that antipathy/envy/inferiority complex was undimmed in adulthood.

The constabulary now don’t seem to be involved in cycling training so teachers and adult helpers don fluorescent jackets. Jane acted as a scrutineer, inspecting bikes for safety, and was embarrassed to have to issue her own son’s boneshaker with a “needs adjustment” notice. Oh dear.

Meanwhile, Emma has been at a cattery. Not boarded out (though it’s a tempting thought) but because it’s work experience fortnight. It hadn’t been invented when I was a teenager, though I picked up valuable lessons about responsibility and rubbing along with people by working Saturdays in the BHS stockroom. We laboured long during the morning, spent a couple of hours eating chocolate eclair sweets on the roof, and then toiled hard to put the shop to bed.

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Emma’s been giving it her all and, because she loves animals, is 1,000 times more animated than on a regular school day. Her intrigued brother has sorted out his work experience requests (five years too early): “To be an Ipswich Town footballer or drive with Jeremy Clarkson.” Optimistic, but worthy dreams. At least he doesn’t want to join BP.

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