Saturday, 7 April 2018

Five years a Papa

Hallowed steps
Commuting to the nursery without April showers

Brixton days
Time flies as you watch your grandchildren acquire skills and understanding at a pace that seems far more rapid than the slow stepwise acquisition of knowledge by our generation. Our granddaughter was five at the weekend. We had spent a week looking after her and her brother,. The highlight was enjoying the magical moment as she learnt to ride her bike. The moment when I let go of the saddle and watched her wobble a while and then straighten as her cadence increased. It brought back happy memories of the similar fledgeling moments with our children. It seemed so natural and heading back from the park I was running to keep up as she dodged the tree roots, bins, and occasional empty cans that make pavements in London such an obstacle course.

It was so different from the 1950s, I had learnt to ride by begging a friend to let me have a go on his bike with not an adult around. I had to wait until after my seventh birthday before acquiring a bike, it was called a BSA safety model. At the end of the two weeks of the Easter holidays, the handlebars were bent, the paintwork dented and my knees and elbows decorated with plasters. A visit to Accident and Emergency also had been required. Nevertheless, I had cycled over 200 miles according to the 7s 6d cyclometer attached to the spokes. There were no helmets, no riding on pavements, and my knowledge of the highway code only extended to cycling on the left. Safety model was clearly an oxymoron or maybe my riding style was too cavalier.

Perhaps it was thinking about this that made me show her Danny Macaskill's video of cycling on the Skye Ridge. She was mesmerised, cycling was opening a door to all sorts of exciting adventures. In our generation, cycling was mainly the means to get a paper round and to save the bus fare for getting to school. There are now as many cyclists on the roads in London as in the 1950's and everywhere the high-density inner city housing is catering for bicycles, they clog the landings that served as a drying area for washing before the days of tumble driers. Elsewhere pavements are littered with bike hangers and Sheffield stands, which have bikes chained to them with or without wheels or saddles. Some hi-tech office complexes have bike storage garages with mechanics employed to service the high-end bikes of the executive managers. The roads in the morning and evening rush are dominated by bikes despite the horrific diesel fumes that infuse the capital. The evidence would suggest that this is more the result of buses, commercial vehicles and taxis than cars.

Our two-year-old grandson had developed skills on his scooter that included carrying an umbrella during the April showers as well as speedy journey times for the nursery run. I found him one day playing with my phone looking at photos and touching them through with a dexterity that eludes me. He knows where everything in the house is kept and how to reach it by using a combination of chairs, stools and boxes to climb to every supposedly childproof shelf and cupboard. His fascination with the outside world was evident as he stopped to watch the man from the Council mowing the lawns for the first cut at the start of summer. He refused to move when we passed an ambulance that had been called to a cyclist who had been knocked off by a hit and zoom motorcyclist. He then stopped at the nearby residential home to wave to one of the residents who always looks out for him. His refusal to wear his new shoes suggests that he has inherited a stubborn streak from someone.

We took our granddaughter to central London to buy her a birthday present and took her to see her mother's workplace at the BBC. Exhausted by the end of the week, we were to fly home and showed our age by both of us forgetting our mobile phones as we piled into an Uber taxi that had arrived within two minutes of our booking for the trip to Clapham Junction. Most of the next generation would forget their luggage before their phones, we had to turn the taxi back and suffer the indignation of being cast as 'nincompoops' by our granddaughter.

Bike parking in central London flats

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