Going downhill

Ever since Alec and Kit learnt to ride their big bikes I have been looking forward to cycling together in the countryside with a picnic in the panniers and maybe a few bottles of ginger beer stashed away for good measure.

For years we have been circling our local park with various combinations of scooters, scoot bikes and big bikes until, finally, a day off and good weather have combined and we are on our first big family cycle ride.

Here's a (flat) cycle ride that happened earlier

Here’s a (flat) cycle ride that happened earlier

But despite the bluebells, sunshine and lovely forest, the Bomford ship is not a happy one.

An hour in, and we are convened around a picnic table in a crisis meeting. My husband is wearing his pained-but-patient look.

“Shall we just go home now?” he asks. “You’re obviously not enjoying yourself.”

The boys are uncharacteristically quiet.

“No,” I squeak. “Let’s carry on.”

Oh dear. Mummy is in a bit of a strop.

Despite almost eight years of parenthood I still haven’t learnt that these much anticipated big days out often don’t quite rise to the occasion. Today I haven’t got to grips with yet another soggy parade – and it’s been spotted.

Our adventure had started so well too, with high hopes and great excitement, especially as I would be hiring my own bike to accompany everyone.

“Don’t worry Mummy, “ said Kit, five. “I’ll help you because you probably aren’t very good.”

After a prolonged toilet trip and 10 minutes fiddling around with Alec’s helmet because apparently the strap makes him look like he has a beard, we are off. Or at least one of us is. Harry, seven, shoots up the path shouting: “I think I’ll try gear two. No, three!” Kit attempts to follow suit but wobbles against the incline while Alec instantly drops his bike to the floor. “I can’t go uphill,” he wails.

And so our ride begins with me trudging up the hill pushing two bikes. Shortly afterwards, my husband is doing the same. Every now and again Harry returns to us. “Why am I the only one cycling?” he asks, and whizzes off again.

At last we reach the top and a flat section beckons. Alec and Kit scramble onto their bikes and are off. This is it!

“Woo-hoo!” shouts Alec. “Our family bike ride!”

It is great – just like the Center Parcs adverts – smiling in the sunshine as we meander along a leafy track. We continue like this for a good two minutes.

I am so happy that we are moving that I fail to notice that Alec and Kit are doing so rather rapidly. As they hurtle downhill I realise that applying the brakes is something we should have discussed in more detail earlier.

“I can’t stop,” shouts Kit, rather unnecessarily. Alec is wobbling all over the path at high speed.

My husband hares after them and manages to throw himself in front of Kit. When I round the bend Alec and his bike are lying in a ditch by the path and a man with a pushchair is looking rather startled.

“He’s fallen off, ” says Harry.

Thankfully, everyone is in one piece. And, much to Alec’s disappointment, there are no wounds to display.

At this point we consult the map and discover that we have progressed along approximately three per cent of the family trail. Clearly it is time to abort the mission.

We push the bikes to the play area and search for a picnic table. The only available one is in the shade, which suddenly feels like the last straw. I sit munching my lunch in chilly silence while my husband retreats to a sunny stump.

“Where are the children?” he asks when he tiptoes back for his crisps.

“No idea,” I reply, somehow conveying that their welfare is no longer my responsibility or concern.

And so it was at this point that he suggested, not unreasonably, that it was time to head for the car.

Of course, we didn’t. Instead, I returned my bike to the hire shop and admitted, rather sheepishly, that I would not be requiring it for the full six hours after all. Armed with my refund, I brightened considerably.

Harry and my husband headed off on the extended family cycle route while Alec, Kit and I explored the woods.

It goes without saying that once we’d abandoned the day’s goal, everyone had a much better time – even me. I vowed that in the interests of enjoyment, expectations would be kept to a minimum on our next trip.

Harry returned exhilarated from his ride and Alec and Kit greeted him with enthusiastic chatter about their woodland adventures. Kit even managed to submerge his entire foot in the forest’s only patch of mud.

So honour, if not my dignity, was more or less satisfied. The boys returned to the car with cola ice lolly smeared across their faces, muddy trousers and tales of near-disaster to boast about. A good day out, by anyone’s standards.

“When are we ever going to go on a proper family bike ride?” asked Harry as we drove away.

Sometime soon, I reply – and it’s going to be brilliant.

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Bye Bye Buggy

A few minutes after my husband and I emerged from the sonographer’s room holding the twins’ first scan picture in our shaking hands, the full implications of what lay before us hit me.

“Oh my god!” I said as we waited for the lift. “We’ll have to get a double buggy.”

It was a sobering moment. Or at least it seemed like one – we hadn’t yet twigged that we’d also need a new car and a new house.

Until this point, my attitude to parents wielding double buggies had been an unattractive mix of smug revulsion. I admit it, I pitied them. Running over peoples’ feet, jamming themselves in supermarket aisles; frankly, taking up too much space. The possibility that I would one day join their harassed ranks had never crossed my mind.

For about four minutes we toyed with a single buggy plus sling scenario, but even in our shocked state we were forced to face up to the fact that with a toddler to contain as well as the twins, this was simply not an option. Worse, we realized that once we’d secured our whopper we’d have to add a buggy board for said toddler. A traveling circus would get around less conspicuously.

That was October. In February we were standing in a hangar containing our pushchair of choice – the Mountain Buggy Double Urban. We gingerly pushed it around, sending display items crashing in all directions, although pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to manoeuvre, albeit into other things.

The sales lady “collapsed” it and stood back triumphantly. The buggy was approximately two centimetres lower, but apparently no smaller. Compact it was not.

Half an hour later, pockets lighter, boot considerably lower, the buggy was ours. Life with twins had begun.

twins in buggy

Babies in the buggy

It is fair to say that over the intervening four years, the buggy has attracted almost as much attention as the twins.

“Stand back!” people yell, flattening themselves against walls or stepping into the path of buses to let us through – even though the buggy is narrow enough to fit through pretty much any normal door and certainly along a pavement. “Blimey – have you got a license for that?” has been heard. More than once.  “Bet that keeps you fit!”, people comment. (It doesn’t by the way – my upper arms still resemble blancmange despite propelling the damn thing up a 1: 2 hill for years.)

I have, of course, come to love our buggy and bridle on its behalf when people carp on about its size or shove their feet under its wheels. It is loads easier to push than the Maclaren I used for our first son, and having surrendered our house to a mountain of toys, highchairs and plastic feeding bowls some years ago, what difference did a buggy blocking the front hall for three years really make?

The last six months have seen the buggy and I gradually separate. Nervously, I left it at home for the school run. My twins, Alec and Kit, are not known for their co-operation on this hellish journey. Prizing a stubborn Alec off the pavement while Kit sprints into the distance is not an uncommon occurrence. Without the buggy to threaten them with, how would I manhandle two three-year-olds to the school gate? In short, slowly and with much whining and cajoling from all sides.

However, as much as the double buggy enhanced our lives when Alec and Kit were smaller, I cannot describe the joy at finally being liberated from it. Suddenly, interest in us was reduced by about 90 per cent. Nobody noticed us, or felt the need to comment on us, to us or about us. At last, Alec and Kit were just like any other little boys.

So, with Alec and Kit’s fourth birthday over, it was time to make our separation permanent. The buggy was brought out from the garage one last time. It emerged gleaming and pretty much unrecognizable from the only deep clean it has ever had  – my children had been happily nestling in filth for years, I discovered.

double buggy farewell

Farewell to double buggies

The boys and I looked at all the old photos of them as babies in the buggy before they clambered, giggling,  into it again for a final picture.

They stood waving as I drove it off to my local twins club sale. The end of an era.

Four hours later I was home. With the unsold buggy.

Double buggy anyone?