It was son no 2 on the phone.
“Hi ma. Can you give me a lift from Simon Evans’ this afternoon please?
“It’s a stag do. Had to work late yesterday so I’m leaving the car at his place but need a lift to the hotel where they’re all having lunch. S’ok. There’ll be a mini bus after that for the clubbing etc.”
It’s about 10 years since I got a call like that. Simon was one of his best friends at school so it followed that he wouldn’t have missed it. I turned up without a murmur. Always have. You get used to being a taxi service when you’ve got kids and their mates seem to be spread out in villages within a fifeen miles radius.
So I dropped him off at the “do” and spent a very pleasant 45 minutes in his company, chatting and catching up on his budding career in London.
I never begrudged the “taxi” thing. It was all what people now call “quality” time and that era of parenthood gurgles down the plughole of life pretty rapidly.
We must have spent a total of many hundreds of hours in the car together during the years when he was a competitive mountainbiker and then junior racing cyclist. Occasionally, his dad took him but he was usually working, so the role of driver/support fell to me.
I like driving, love motorways, exploring new territory and the trips were always companiable. We talked about the race, who might be entered, reviewed who did what last time. He’d always sneak several of his CDs into the player so while I might have to endure some rap, he had to tolerate Verdi, Cream, Stereophonics and even Joni Mitchell.
He’d be a bit quiet before the big races. Couldn’t really blame him when he was up against the likes of Bradley Wiggins. Once we arrived at the event, I was superfluous. He had a specific unshakable routine in which he liked to unpack the stuff, rebuild the bike, change, sign on and get his number. I was just there with the safety pins, the embrocation, the food, the drinks and the car keys.
He was a bit of cool dude. Never showed his nerves. I, on the other hand, suffered crippling nerve cramps which necessitated several visits to whatever facilities were available. Usually had a chat with some of the adult lady racers doing precisely the same thing but with a much better excuse.
A lot of parents – particularly cycling dads, had fierce ambitions and goals for their kids. If the result wasn’t up to expectations there might even be embarrassing scenes and tears. My own dad – a former racing cyclist himself – would have been there re-playing, analysing and dismembering every section of every race, pointing out where the boy went wrong, missed opportunities, could have taken A line instead of the slower B line, could have dropped back and let others do the work for a bit.
I didn’t have the knowledge so I never analysed. In that respect, I was probably a let-down and didn’t provide the focussed support that would have improved his performance.
Truth is, I never ever prayed for S to win anything – just for him to do his best and finish in one piece. Sometimes it was frustrating to see him boxed in the middle of the bunch while the wily ones launched themselves off the front but what could I say? I admired his spirit. I certainly couldn’t do any better and he wouldn’t have been there at all and put in all the lonely hours of training if he wasn’t intending to give it his best shot.
In a long race, you couldn’t hope to see much of it but word would get back via marshalls on mobile phones on who was leading where and by how much. In the South Western Junior Champs one year, word got back that one of the juniors had broken away from the pack with such a burst that he’d managed to tag on to the end of the adult bunch on the same course which had set off half an hour before. Consequently, his time was verging on record-breaking so there was more than the usual excitement at the finish line.
About five minutes after the first adults finished, a lone cyclist appeared grinding his way up the 1 in 8 hill.
It was my boy. He was the one who broke away. As he crossed the line and sat up looking totally shattered, I ran over to him and gave him a huge hug. It was possibly the proudest I have ever been. Someone even took a pic of the moment. It’s curling at the corners now – one of a life’s worth of snaps stuck up on my study wall.
In the end, it wasn’t a record-breaking ride but it was certainly a landmark in my life.
Taxi? Yeah, go on then. I’ll get my keys.