#29 The ride to enlightenment… well, Liverpool.
The Boy is going to Ghana to carry out charity work, which quite worryingly is entitled: ‘Empowering Women!’ He feels he has the skill set in this particular area, which worries both his parents as his idea of empowering women may well involve alcohol as a precursor and cheeky social chameleon dispensation. Any conversation that comprises of; alcohol, a woman, night out, and the word ‘random’ and the final phrase, ‘it was a win/win, that’s postmodern-feminism for yer,’ always worries me; but his mother more.
It feels like we are preparing him for a single-person attempt on the South side of Everest – with no Sherpas! Unless you count multi-tasking Sherpa-parents? We, along with a friend have pretty much organised everything, well that’s how it feels. Which is not strictly true, but the bits The Boy has had to organise by himself, a batch of vaccinations, that now protects him from every known disease since 3 BC and their associated mutations until the present day. The only disease he hasn’t has is Japanese B Encephalitis, so working with swine in paddy fields of South-East Asia is out.
Part of our final test, sorry, his final test, sorry, fund and awareness raising for the Charity. Was a sponsored bike ride, so he could extract money from our friends and family, as his friends belong to a generation that won’t have any money until their parents die, they certainly won’t have a dwelling to live in until then.
So the bike ride which was initially quite (optimistically) floated as a ride from Manchester to Hull, a Bradley Wiggins 125 miles! This from a person that has never cycled more than about 30 miles in one go! So the team decided Liverpool and back was more achievable, as we could meet him for lunch at Albert Docks with an oxygen tent, EPO, caffeine drip and a sandwich.
I sorted his (my) bike out, he planned the route (both his parents checked it!), his mother made the food and I advised him on a hydration regime.
Come the morning of the great expedition, he was lounging in bed at 8am, previously aiming for an 8.30 start, moaning about not feeling well due to round seventeen of the batch of injections that allows him to now live inside the stomach of a fly. A stern military commend, the type that gets passed down the paternal line and goes all the way back to The Empire!, made him eventually leave his pit. He had failed to attach the panniers the day before, due to what could quite easily be called ‘laziness’ (label the behaviour not the person!), and was now quite content to put a heavy rucksack on his back, to add to the toil of an unfeasibly long ride. So words and practical storage were applied. It was just as he was about to set off I asked the question.
“Are you really riding into Liverpool in a Manchester United Shirt?”
“I’ll change it before I ride in. I’ll be fine.”
For those that are not acquainted with British sport. Most local teams have a vocal rivalry. Manchester United and Liverpool have an active and often violent hatred. Think West Bank and Israel and you are somewhere about right.
Under three hours he is on the outskirts of Liverpool (Speke) and the pleasant Pennine trail has disappeared and the remainder of the way is 7.7 miles by road. We have arrived at the docks along with the French student we have staying with us. We get a text from The Boy to say he will be there in 25 minutes max. One hour and ten minutes later he turns up hassled and wearing his unchanged Man United shirt, pouring forth annoyance, punctuated with mild swear words to confuse the French student. The mother has become bored and wandered off to look at locks with people’s names and messages of undying love on the railings next to the Mersey.
“That’s not narrowing it down. You ok?”
“Do I look ok?”
“What is it?”
“Over a bloody hour to get from Speke to here.”
“Right.” I know best to let him burn himself out.
“I think they deliberately sent me in the wrong directions when I asked people.”
“You’ve got a Man U shirt on in Liverpool.” I don’t mention the fact we have both told him to print out a more detailed map of Liverpool to avoid this foreseen eventuality.
“What difference should that make?”
I laugh at him. He does not join in. Instead he carries on moaning that he wanted to beat us here. He calms down a little.
“I can’t believe you’ve ridden through Liverpool with a United shirt on, and then asked Scousers for directions.” He ignores me and fishes food and drink out of the boot of the car, becalming further.
“So did you just follow the road signs?”
“No, a couple of people were helpful. One had a dog.”
“No” He is reluctant to tell me more, but I have sensed there is more to it.
“What type of dog, a dangerous one?”
“No.” Again he is reluctant to tell me, his body tenses. He knows what he is about to tell me will amuse me and annoy him in exactly equal measure.
“He was partially sighted.” I laugh, I cannot help myself; he does not join in. The French student has enough rudimentary English to think I am laughing a near-blind man, but he smiles anyway.
“So he didn’t see the United shirt then?” I carry on laughing. “What about his dog?” He tries to ignore me the best as he can, now more content to follow the hydration regime.
“Thank God for disabilities… and the other Samaritan?”
“Polish or Eastern European.”
“Thank the EU for lax immigration.”
He starts his tale of woe again when his mother arrives, this time diluted. He is now relaxing and finds it within himself to laugh at a semi-blind man! As he believes it is ‘ok’ as his mother is laughing and shaking her head from side to side at the same time. The French student is confused.
After 45 minutes he is ready for the return journey. But not before I make him reluctantly have his photo taken outside the Beatles’ Museum with his (my) bike, as many of our friends that know him well, want photographic evidence for their sponsorship monies.
He is back to the roost before seven and I take the ring off his leg and smack the clock. It is not a record, as the guy next door who is obsessional about cycling did it in less than two hours once, but the helicopter parents are strangely proud and relieved in equal measure. We all feel he has earned the right now after his commendable round trip to ‘empower women’ in a marginalised country.
There is always a lesson learned; it could be the Chinese proverb that: ‘the man who cycles the long road, knows where the deepest holes are.’ Or it could just be: ‘Never ask for directions in Liverpool with a Manchester United shirt on!*’
A few days later in the afterglow I am listening to the radio and there is a supremely confident and if his self-eulogy is anything to go by, possibly the most intelligent human on the planet, this young man has won a talent show. I wonder where he has got his supreme confidence from? Partly, it comes from working in Africa for the same charity The Boy is going to work for, he tells the superfluous presenter. I don’t quite catch his name Hugh Jackman maybe?, Wolverine?, he didn’t sound Australian.
I am a proud parent, and not just because he has openly and graciously thanked us both, it is not compensation for the teenage years, but it partly helps. It reminds me of a quote my mother often recites about the son and the father: “When I was 17 my dad knew nothing, by the time I had got to 21, I was amazed how much he had learnt!” He has now earned the right to go and empower women in the developing world. I just hope he does not come back a Prince with a pregnant Princess! But if he does it will be due to him regaling her with his Odysseus journey that gets a few miles longer every time!
*Unless the person you are asking is partially sighted or foreign.
The Boy is going to work for International Citizen Service. They are desperate for willing young males (they have plenty of willing females! – it’s to do with the wiring – men start wars and women pick up the pieces!) It is a very worthy charity and it will help turn your boy into a man – hopefully!
If you are thinking of writing your first novel, but not quite sure of the emotional/psychological/creative/time-consuming toil involved, ’50 Mistakes of the Fledgling Fiction Writer’ will give you the very quick and easy answer.
‘50 Mistakes of a Fledgling Fiction Writer’ as well as ‘Hoofing It’ and ‘Hoofed,’ the first and second novels in The Robert Knight Series are out now. Ian M Pindar has another three novels out within the year. He is presently a proud father, but like stock-market shares, parenting elation can go up, as well as down.