A spot of summer

"Summer" walk in the woods

I was doing so well. 4 rides in 4 days. Then I wasn’t doing so well. No rides in the following six. Some would call it tapering, those -with a working knowledge of my lazy gene – would call it absolutely right : rain stops play.

With work shuttling me all over the shop, when others could ride last week I could not. And when I could,  I couldn’t be arsed. It’d was all for change this morning with a repeat of two weeks ago combing much needed miles in the legs and fab-a-dab-a-dosy singletrack in “the Yat”.

Except it rained And never stopped. The issue was tho when it started. 8am and I was poking about in the workshop looking for excuses. Rain hammered on the roof, so I answered with a text declaring a lack of impermeability and motivation.  Text’d returned sometime later spoke of good times had by all which didn’t cheer me up at all.

Before which, my penance was to include the entire clan in a soggy dog walk through our local woods. A wood that Jess and I regularly have much fun swishing between trees on two wheels. For a mad moment I considered adding bike-age to our already considerable payload of kids, dog, wellies and sulking but a brief outbreak of sanity stayed my hand.

Instead we wandered the bike trails marvelling at the volume of unrelenting wet from upstairs and the slickness of anything unearthed from the puddle strewn ground.  On a scale of “loving the experience”, the dog rated a hard 10, me a guilty 8, carol about a 6 due mainly to a lack of water repellent headgear and the offspring a number somewhere near Kelvin’s absolute zero.

"Summer" walk in the woods "Summer" walk in the woods

"Summer" walk in the woods "Summer" walk in the woods

"Summer" walk in the woods

Not riding did open up a window into which I transferred thirty odd photos from a time so ancient, not only was my hair brown but it was also mostly on my head.  My lazy edit before publishing to a squillion bored wibbly viewers was mostly driven by a level of self awareness that is grounded in the sure knowledge that having people laugh at you is nearly as good as them laughing with you.

More of that soon, but if you really can’t wait to point and giggle, try my photostream.

Don’t expect much of a response from Mr. absence-of-anything-approaching-dignity here. I’ll be hauling woger wog up some steep hills in a desperate attempt to avoid the Lantern Rouge at the oh-God-It’s-So-Close Dartmoor 100.

Funny shaped vegetables

Potato Harvest

Remember those quieter times, when the highlight of a Sunday TV schedule would be a humourous* selection of misshapen brassicas and root vegetables vaguely resembling – in a certain light and to a certain schoolboy mind – dangley body parts?

I worried – even at an age when a dog farting was absolutely the funniest thing in the world – about the people growing such penile specimens. Did they do it on purpose? Was there some kind of special seed? Maybe a funny shaped tube mirroring something normally kept well holstered inside the trouser?

I worry no more. Because after exercising scavenging rights in the field adjacent to our house and unearthing the remains of the vegetables beds, it has become absolutely clear that nature has a wicked sense of humour.

Firstly the humble spud. Now grown on an industrial process unrecognisable to even a post war farming generation, they’re planted in dense rows, sprayed with all sorts of shit**, everything above ground killed with sulphuric acid, and then harvested with a machine first recorded during the Spanish Inquisition.

Only not all of them. It’s uneconomical to hand pick the stragglers. Well it is for the farmer, far less of an issue to a family hurdling the fence in the hunt for a season of free chips. Armed with nothing more advanced than a wheelbarrow and a furtive expression, we’ve recycled enough to make me wonder if “potatobix” has a future as a breakfast cereal.

No idea what they are. “Potato” I hear you say? Ah well you’ve not plumbed the fascinating depths of tuber identification oncethe Internet is brought into play. Really there is no finer family fun that holding a humble muddy spud to the light while pointing excitedly at the screen: “It’s that one, I’m sure of it, mottled edges, responds well to squidging, looks as if it may have been secreted by a sick bear… yes it’s definitely ‘Farmer’s delight-the muddy bugger‘”

The carrots however are something else. Everything we grew above the surface of the beds has been nibbled/shit on/carried off into the night by an insect population which turns up with cutlery.  What is left has taken the most amazing shapes from the chronically deformed to the point-and-laugh.

It’s great to see my own kids have taken on the mantle of indicating that an orange vegetable with a point at the end may very well be a spitter for a willy. Makes me proud.

Still they’re free and they taste pretty good***, and one day I’ll feel strong enough to tackle the difficult potato Random dug out that has the size/weight/general shape of the dog’s head. Send that one into Esther and she’d not know where to put herself.

I’d almost welcome a reboot of the That’s Life franchise, were it not for “Gardener’s World” being a worthy successor.  Ashamed as I am of admitting it, I could not tear myself away from Friday’s gem of an episode where lots of retired folks were terribly serious on the topic of “Exhibition Vegetables”. I might have to have a go – there is at least one carrot the judges would find hard to ignore.

* Only, not very.

** Chicken shit generally. Ask me how I know.

*** The Veg not the kids, but I like the way you’re thinking.

Rate my Chopper

Devon 2010 (93)
Pretty impressive huh? Certainly is close up and shakingly personal.  My preference – when reviewing my travel options – goes bike, foot, car, train, boat, “fuck I’m not leaving the surly bounds of earth thank you very much“, bar then plane. After a first helicopter trip, I’d insert the whirlybird somewhere between bike and car,  if someone were  kind enough to pop one into my garden after installing heli-pads at my places of work. An ambitious plan doomed to failure, and that’s a recurring theme in this post.

There’s a common misconception amongst my friends and family that I have a fear of flying. This is nothing more than a symptom of fabrication shadowing the cowardly cause which – while complex – can be distilled into a perfectly rationale terror of plunging to a fiery death, caught between screaming passengers and PA advocating calm and the brace position. And when some smug arsewipe trots out some hoary statistic proving that crossing the road is somehow more dangerous than an high velocity, high altitude airtight capsule built by the lowest cost bidder, it seems a good time to explain “I HAVE BEEN RUN OVER THREE TIMES YOU KNOW!“*

I feel people like that need to put in a little more research time if they’re trying to reassure the bag of nerves that I was, when stepping under the scything blades of something that clearly cannot fly. Even with a basic knowledge of aerodynamics, no one can look at a a few rotating carbon sticks without thinking “plummet-yes, fly, no”.

And yet it was surprisingly un-scary. Some of which is reduced brain function brought on by noise pollution, some more is a low speed/low altitude combo which gives much time for gawping at scenery and a conceit that – come the inevitable failure of gravity fooling – jumping out is a definite option.

The rest of the week was fairly standard, burned like a self-harmer given a flame thrower for Christmas on the only proper hot day, damp for longer periods, generally squiffy in the evenings, mostly relaxed, relatively sanguine. Then back to work, where it took almost 30 minutes befire laissez-faire holiday mode flipped to “fire up the chainsaw, there’s a staff morale issue to deal with”.

Clearly I need a holiday. And come next Friday, I’ll be embarking on a 3 day pass storming epic of the Pyrenees.  This unsupported yomp up and over two high passes will see five hardy souls ascend 5000 feet of rocky mountain on two consecutive days, before a payback of an approximately infinite descent on a track where many people have died. Well possibly, or that could be more of a prediction.

Our days will be book-ended with mountain huts where our carefully chosen race fuel shall be carefully measured out before the slamming begins. Having never done anything like this before, obviously I’ve decided to throw some money at the problem – specifically in the area of kit where it seems my legion of backpacks fail to match up to a difficult requirement of hauling a sleeping bag, spare socks, comedy hat and vat of alcohol over a couple of cheeky peaks.  I’ve been eyeing all sorts of stuff – much of which the purpose  is entirely lost on a man of my navigational incompetence – but have so far only purchased a Spork and earplugs.

More stuff in the bag, less room for schnapps, that’s pretty much my expedition policy. The trip coincides with yet another birthday, where we’d easily lose the whole morning if my request for a minutes silence to mark each passing year were approved, so it seems pretty damn clear I’d better get on with all this shit I promised myself at 30 while I’m still on the pedalling side of only mildly decrepit.  Although a serious professional carrying out a risk assessment of our quest would simply summarise “They’re all going to die falling off a mountain, ensure dental records are up to date“.

I’m mitigating any possible risk by taking a bike with two air shocks, some shed-based tubeless tyre system, a new set of brakes and knobbly new boots. All tested by rigourously riding up and down the road. Ambitious but doomed to failure? Maybe, but got to go out and do this stuff,  experience things now while I still can, tweak the nose of terror before it’s too late.

“Late”. H’mm maybe I could have chosen a better word.

* Once by a bike. To be fair he was trying to avoid running over mine and apparently I was easier** to bunnyhop.

** Not easy enough tho

End of an era.

Sometimes while you’re attempting to get on with your little life, something happens that makes you stop, take stock and wonder at the apparently ordinary.  Stuff that reinforces the whoosh of time passing with such force it’s almost panic-attack scary, events which hard stop a status-quo that felt comfortably never ending,  a couple of hours which shunts perception of what you think might be important onto a branch line and – for that brief time at least – instead a simple and rather melancholy cypher of the world stands front and centre.

It’s an innocent enough premise; the end of year school play which we’ve done before, but today was a little different. There would apparently be little fun on offer when paying to share a hot and humid village hall with a 100 excited and noisy kids* and their only slightly less manic parents. Locked in for 90 minutes with absolutely no chance of the large medicinal you’ve fervently self-prescribed, and viewing the whole shebang with a world weary intellectual snobbishness side-ordered with chore and boredom.

And that’s pretty disrespectful when you consider the entire school has forgone any real education since half term to learn a whole heap of songs, dialogue and dances. Yet I’ve been watching Verbal trying to hide behind scenery for six years; three times per annum she’d sweat over her one line before delivering it in a dull monotone while staring anywhere but the audience. And then run away.

Random has some “Dad Genes” going on and so can be seen mugging for all she is worth, but this is not her last time in primary school, she is not stepping up to a place where the difficult transition between child and adult takes place, it’s not the nine year old who is teetering on the precipice of puberty and all the confusion that this bring. And it seems Verbal realised all this in her own way, and found a way to stare stagefright right in the snozzle and still come out swinging.

First she was half of the dark undertaking duo – Snuffle and Rot – tendering to the recently deceased in the very Wild West town of Splodge City. She had some decent lines and delivered them with a level of confidence and timing little seen until tonight. The audience laughed, the kids fed off it and you’d have to have a heart of frozen lead not to melt a little when the tiny tots get up there and try and remember which way is right. Or wrong. It hardly matters.

The bigger children were ‘busting some moves’** while the plot unfolded with a certain predictability, some truly terribly corny jokes and much singing. I found myself genuinely engrossed by the whole thing; clearly huge amounts of work had been put in and the results were there to see. But we’d yet to see Verbal’s second character triumph.

Some of the more sophisticated of you out there may have witnessed powerful operatic performances by the world’s finest companys, been rocked and shocked by the best bands at a million watts or blown away by famous actors who command the largest stages, but I would contest that until you have seen  “Lightening the Wonder Horse”, you have seen nothing.

It may only be a heavy cloth fabrication of a the heroin’s noble steed, but let me tell you it is impossible not to fall about in more than a little mirth when this two part equine wonder begins to dance.  Okay I accept it’s not much of a speaking part but, even with parent’s understandable patronage of their own offspring, it not only stole the show, it galloped off with the bloody thing. No honestly – I guess you had to be there 😉

So that’s that then. Last performance of Year Six and they definitely knew it. It’s also apparent many, if not all, of them can do stuff now beyond the likes of us. Not just the youthful veneer protecting them from the significant possibility of ritual humiliation, but also the trust, friendship and fun of being a group of confident and joyful humans clearly having a ball with absolutely no fear of failure. It’s wasted on the buggers, frankly.

And while I lament the passing of time, the realism of understanding no longer will Verbal only orbit your world, the shock of how-the-fuck-did-six-years-go-so-quickly?, I’m more than a bit delighted she went out on a high. The whole lot of them deserved the rich accolades and adulation they received as the curtain called, but I’m left with something a little more personal.

A week or so ago, I was going on a bit about how horrible London was, how hot I’d been in my suit while closeted with the tunnel rats, how there could be no place other than the surface of the sun which could be less pleasant when Verbal brought me to a premature halt with “Yeah Dad, but if you really want hot, try being the inside of a horse“.

Fair point. Well made.

* The little one behind us would howl every time a soloist performed their song. I couldn’t help thinking he has a bright future as a music critic.

** apparently. So I’ve been told. I’ve no idea what this means.

Hospital Pass

Would have been useful these the last couple of days. Taking the alternative meaning, Verbal accepted one, when agreeing to a game of Extreme Leapfrog, before landing in Hereford A&E. For about 30 hours. Having turned eleven only two days earlier, it could be viewed as a belated birthday present that keeps on giving.

I should have suspected the worse when Nick – the long suffering bike mechanic – text’d me on Saturday to say “Your brakes are now fixed……. but the bearings in the front wheel are fcked”. Ying, and bloody yang. Wondering if this rash of expensive failures would ever end, I idly inquired to the world at large, what could possibly break next. On the not unreasonable grounds that everything I owned appeared to be pulling a sickie in the bike shop.

The answer was Verbal. Honestly if this goes on, I’m calling in a priest. I might not even wait for somebody’s head to start spinning round, because it is obvious that some kind of “broken Jonah” stalks my world. Verbal’s initial – and only – leapfrog attempt went up, then sideways, rolled off the top and crashed down directly on her elbow. Which decided it’d make a quick break with the bone it has been recently attached to and play the “arm’s at a funny angle now” card.

Local community hospital suggested dislocation. Not as a remedy, more as a diagnosis. Hereford A&E eventually pony’d up a radiographer and HD digital images showed a gap where once there was none. I received most of this information by text message while being whisked* westwards by the Cotswold Trundler.  Arriving home, breaking news announced an operation was forthcoming to pin all the broken bits back together.

This triggered a mad sequence of panic involving pyjama’s, toothbrushes, couldn’t-be-more-helpful-neighbours, inconsolable Random child and mad dog. I should have know better – based on my own experiences – and the promised op was postponed, leaving nothing other than a late night clothes delivery and a bit of sleepless night.

Following morning, we received an unexpected call from the hospital promising that Verbal was second in line for the knife. My expectations were quite low as we fought our way back into Hereford, and these expectations were not quite met.  Typical NHS really, brilliant nurses, great Children’s ward full of light and toys**, aloof consultants and rubbish timekeeping. Carol hung about all day while nothing happened, until – finally – at 2pm, Verbal got the big sleeping draught and a major wiring job to align the wonky bones.

She was extremely stoic and brave all the way through. More than I was after my last big accident. Random and I pitched up about six to find a groggy and in-pain Verbal demanding if we’d brought any food. So not entirely groggy then. I asked if Carbon or Titanium had been used for the repair, but no one seemed to know anything. On those grounds, we decided to do a runner since there seemed to be no interest in keeping her in.

Anyway she’s off school for a week which I’m sure means a) lots of TV and b) some frustration for her mum.  Next Friday we get to find how “Operation Barbed Wire” has gone and if they need to add a cast to her list of bloody annoying things that you get with a broken arm.

It is amazing what a sense of perspective you get when one of your children is badly hurt. I’m not suggesting you try it for that reason, but it is good to be reminded what is important. On that note, I’m off to unwind my head on some local trails.  I have sacrificed a twisted derailer to the Gods of Fate to protect me from any more disasters. We can but hope.

* wrong word. If you whisked anything this slowly, it’d just curdle

** They even had a little games room with a Pool table and a Wii. Someone had nicked the remotes tho. What kind of people eh?

Seasons

Taken by Tim B, December 23rd 2009 during this ride when we still found snow novelty fun. How that changed over the next two months, with a winter cold enough to freeze or bore you to death.

Today was the first “proper”  MTB ride with smallest (and yet not very small nowadays) child, with the Verbal one dispatched to ruin a friends’ house on the roundabout of Sleepovers that have erupted this last few months. Talking of eruptions, it is clearly a train company plot to bolster profits because we’ve had a horizon scraping blue sky day that speaks of summer. Ash did feature in my day but only shovelling some fire remains into the compost bin and fetching the dog out of what was left*

Random, despite her bike being mostly unridden for a few months, picked up from where she left off, climbing a few more hills, eeking out a bit more speed on the downs and looking pretty damn relaxed. A steep, loose path to the lake was a two person descent with one running along side holding the brake lever only last year. Now she just controls her speed using the infamous “Donut”**, until – about half way down – abandoning them completely and hooning off to the power of “wheeeeeeee”. Scary stuff I can tell you.

Embolded by fearless trail skills, we tried a “hard” track by the lake with a few roll ins, bigger roots and tight turns. Aside from falling off and attacking a stump with her front wheel, she was essentially awesome and undamaged. Even my personalised 1:1 tuition didn’t seem to hamper her much either. A half fallen tree was negotiated with a breathtakingly instinctive move to stick her head on the stem and hope for the best, while a tricky bit was undertaken three times to make sure “I got a decent photo“. No idea where she got that kind of Prima Donna “look at me” attitude from.

Obviously she then boasted to her now re-located sister on how much better her riding was, leaving me to arbitrate sibling DEFCON 2 with a crowd pleasing “You’re both really good“. “Yeah, but I’m still BETTER” asserted verbal. I chucked them outside and left them to it. Practical parenting I like to think of this as.

Anyway, the point – if there has to be one – is that the seasons have really changed. Apparently dead stuff is becoming leafy stuff, grass is growing, days feel long, weeds are being dug, things that look like weeds are being planted,  and tomorrow I’ll be earning cold beer on dusty tracks, going fast and praying the weather won’t break for a bit.

I’m struggling with my normal grumpiness. Probably means I’m due to fall off and lose a limb or something.

* That’ll teach me to give him a wash then. He’s remonstrated by rolling in anything ending in the word “Poo” for the last week. If anything he smells even worse, and honestly I didn’t think that was possible. It’s like having our own mobile Porton Down.

** Squeeze the brakes like you’re holding a donut and don’t want projectile jam in the mush I taught them. They now seem to think this means I have to actually give them a donut.

SkateFraud.

Verbal has just bought a skateboard. She’s already conquered the ex-board to the point where we no longer pre-book a hospital appointment every time she swishes along on the deadly thing. Which has taken a while as that wheeled lunacy is nothing less than an accident that hasn’t quite happened yet.

But apparently it’s rubbish at tricks mainly due to the weight and the inability to plot a course that involves straight lines. So a £10 skateboard from Argos* and some youthful enthusiasm has already turned the kitchen into an impromptu skate park. My first attempt was pretty typical of anything that merges an Alex, something with wheels and anything requiring balance skills. I gave the board some ‘umpty with my right foot only to find I’d suddenly acquired seven league boots without the luxury of a seven league crutch.

The board sped off backwards almost kneecapping the dog, while I – in the manner of comedic potential energy – rocketed forward landing carefully on my face and elbow. This illicited howls of delight from the kids “Dad THAT WAS ACE, DO IT AGAIN” and a whimper from yours truly here. The dog pitched in with his terrifying slobber of life, and I was back on my feet before drowning was added to an escalating list of injuries.

I wasn’t allowed a skateboard as a kid. This may have been, in part, due to the demand being made while lying in a hospital bed with a busted pelvis. Even back in those unenlightened times, the physio couldn’t see any benefits whatsoever of placing a healing mid section of hip atop a small wheeled cart with no brakes. I did sneak a go on my mates, which was my first and last attempt at the alien skills of the boarder. Too fast to get off, too scared to turn it uphill, my brief – yet tremendously exciting – skateboarding history ended in Mr. Mills hedge having easily cleared his low front wall at the point of impact.

So, already my ten year old daughter is better than me. That will not stand. And neither will I at the moment especially having googled “Advanced Skateboarding” only to find myself entirely wrong for the sport. I have no trousers with gussets terminating just above ankle level, no wild thatch of hair, no ability to rotate and flip my ageing body except from vertical to horizontal and no tattoos.  Surely though, an experienced Mountain Biker like myself with the hand-eye co-ordination of a special needs stoat should be able to master the simplest tricks.

Like getting on without falling off. I know some of you must have pierced the inner circle of these dark arts. Time to pony up and share your secrets!

* A place I’m coming to think of as “The LIDL REJECT STORE

Dog-Gawn.

As all parents of pre-teen children secretly know, it’s vital to squeeze the few remaining drops of offspring obedience when the rare opportunity presents itself. In this case, Christmas presents were held as collateral blackmail until wellies, warm clothes and outside inserted themselves into the kids’ otherwise gleeful assault on innocent wrapping paper.

Christmas Day Walk (10) Christmas Day Walk (12)

It’s worth recording that my wrapping skills haven’t improved one jot in the last few years. This can be simply proven by noting that all the seasonal offerings were neatly arranged and identified with a colourful tag. Except  my stuff which lay abandoned in a brutalised state after thirty minutes of frenzied boredom eventually gave way to cursing, tearing and the application of gaffer tape.

I think Carol’s got use to it now. Or possibly the word I’m looking for is resigned.  The dog however hasn’t got used to snow and ice at all, and treats the whole experience as geographical catnip. Even with four-paw drive and a low centre of gravity, Murf still only sustains forward motion while the legs are scissoring sideways.

Christmas Day Walk (22) Christmas Day Walk (24)

And even this potentially lethal combination of crossed limbs doesn’t seem to bother him much. Not enough to baulk at the opportunity to crash through a semi-frozen pond to retrieve a iced in stick. I’ve said it before but it’s worth saying again, I don’t think this is because he is particularly stupid*, but because as a breed, retrievers see a stick and just can’t help themselves.

Christmas Day Walk Christmas Day Walk (9)

A little later the house was full of shredded wrapping paper and happy children, although we were a little disappointed at their lack of noticeable admiration for the MONSTER Scalextric we’d built for them as a Christmas surprise. First eBay, then a desperate assembly job between shoving them back to bed for the third time and falling asleep ourselves, brought forth this sprawling masterpiece of loops, jumps and dangerous curves.

More on this later, but it’s fair to say that there was a tinsiest little bit of buying it for ourselves 🙂 I wasn’t expecting any gifts really since I’ve had one new bike already, and another one is on order. But Santa unloaded his sack** in an entirely unexpected manner by bringing forth a shiny helmet***. A roadie one at that which was both keenly priced and styled to transform the wearer into the Mekon from the neck up.

Right must get on, now we’ve had a whole day off it’s time to pick up the paint brush again to ensure incoming relatives are not aghast at our ongoing renovation project. Only one of the two adults in the house cares about this, while the other is wisely keeping his mouth shut 😉

* Don’t get me wrong, he’s not a shining beacon of intellectual light but compared to other dogs, he’s not entirely clueless.

** Not sure the kids believe in Santa now, it may be all the rude jokes I’ve been telling them 🙂

*** I could go on for ages, just say the word.

The Menace Sledge

Before we start, let’s stop for a second so I can get my excuses in early. Firstly – after the flurry of activity some time ago – there have been some problems in the actual build due to exploding drill bits, lost wood and last minute design changes. This is what happens if you put a ten year old in charge. The only possible way things could have got any worse is if I’d be installed in the post of engineering director.

But I was happy in my role of “insane driller” and “frenzied hammerer” – as I’ve said to you before, to a man who only understands the hammer, all the word is a nail Anyway what’s built isn’t finished because I couldn’t find the right powertool to inflict more injury on the mutation that squats before you. Secondly, the lost wood I obliquely referred to earlier may have been accidentally set on fire.

Because the “to be painted” pile was left perilously close to the “to be burned pile“. And as I trudged down to the shed for the sledgehammer*,   I couldn’t help noticing some brightly coloured wood being licked by hot flames. I did offer “something from the woodpile, Madam?” to bring the beast back to height, but Verbal has even less patience that me and wanted it finished today.

Which it isn’t. Too cold for rattle can paint, not enough snow to see whether it’ll maim my firstborn in a) ten yards b) five yards or c) no yards at all as it splinters on first impact with the snow. But what’s there – as you can see – has all the skill, craft and care that an artisan such as myself can lavish upon it. For example, how many sledges do you know that have “go faster holes” in the runners plugged by modellers’ clay? Or a cunningly installed 3/4 drill bit that could – at any time – dislodge itself to become an unwanted brake.

She likes it. God only knows why. Maybe it was the lovely job I did with the rifling bit** to countersink the seat screws. I mean it’s clearly dangerous enough already without subjecting Verbal to metal chafing. She thinks it’s a triumph, I’m not so sure but I am reasonably confident what anyone else who sees it may classify it as. Already have my strategy for that “no, no nothing to do with me, it’s something that made in school, bless ’em

Verbal is hoping for snow. I’m hoping for a some queue jumping allowances at Hereford A&E.

* I had some fine and neat work to complete.

** Probably not the proper term, but that’s what it looks like to me

A new bike and some proper riding.

Obviously the first statement is very me, but the second inaccurately describes my associations with bi-wheeled transport. Except in my head, and you don’t want to be in there. I have much to say on a new hedgehog premise that shall be used to judge future experiences, and most of a post sensationalising how the Aldi powertool designer has a direct line to the man who developed the Trebuchet. Languishing behind that are some further words on commuting in the cold, dark world we hardy Brits inhabit for the next six months.

Abi's new MTB Abi's new MTB

But somehow none of this matters. Abi had her new bike this week and we jumped through a couple of weather windows to try it out. There’s much to like; 26inch wheels, proper hubs, rims and tyres, disc brakes, lovely frame made of the stuff they used for race bikes a few years back and contact points and forks specially modified for the gentler gender.

Abi's new MTB Abi's new MTB

But that’s largely irrelevant because the crux of all this is how much fun she (and her sister now upgraded to Abi’s old 24 inch Spesh) had riding it. We’ll be back out in the woods tomorrow if the rain stays away where mud, smiles and proper parenting shall make the most of a snatched couple of days holiday.

Abi's new MTB Abi's new MTB

I’ve said before that any father who confuses being vicarious with being a good dad is a bloody idiot. But there is something rather special about hearing your kids laugh while being splattered with mud. It’ll probably all wear off as new bike syndrome becomes old hat, but until it does I am going to make sure every opportunity is taken to go and be silly in the countryside.

Abi's new MTB Abi's new MTB

Last week was horrible for all sorts of reasons. It throws the good stuff into sharp relief. And not even I can be grumpy about that.