One of the many privileges of our
nomadic life is the ability to ride into and out of others
lives. And when the Wickes family orbit collides with yours
you can be fairly sure there'll be a little interplanetary
chaos. A travelling family of four with two toddlers is
not a lightweight proposition so we're always very touched
and impressed by the bravery of those who invite us into
their homes. And we do our best to be on our best behaviour,
recall how to behave in a civilised fashion and limit the
damage. We're pretty sure that when our whirlwind visits
end our hosts must breathe a sigh of relief and wonder what
just hit them. We would.
Ian was initially attracted to
a photo of our Burley trailers in the Christchurch Press.
A committed cyclist and Burley aficionado, he looked us
up and bravely emailed us an invite, trusting that if we
bought Burley we must be good people, "…Thought you might
like to pop in for a wee feed… can do a good mince and tatties…
and my gravy is most excellent.. Mmmmm.. gravy." His offer
was hard to refuse, he sounded fun and as a father of two
boys seemed well equipped to handle a brief invasion. "….
I've lots of toys for wee and big boys. And an electronic
childminder known as DVD, Sky and playstation… Mmmmmm..
Playstation. Youse will be treated like royalty." We emailed
our acceptance and looked forward to the meet.
These blind dates are a strange
affair for both host and visitor who know little of each
other and take a lot on trust. Our trust was well placed
in Ian. "Hello, we're the Family on a Bike," said Kirstie
as we arrived at the driveway. Two boys were playing in
the late afternoon sun. "Dad, they're here," shouted one
as they both scurried shyly inside. A slim, dark, fit man
came out to welcome us. "Hello, I'm Ian," he said in a thick
Scottish accent, "Come in, put your bikes in here." He led
us into the cool of his garage, a cyclists' paradise stuffed
with bikes for every age and inclination; mountain bikes,
touring bikes, road bikes, tandems, tag alongs and a sleek
and elegant recumbent. "Come up and I'll get you a wee drink,
how about a beer?" When our boys finally ventured bravely
off and sat quietly with the electronic childminders, we
knew we could relax here and enjoy the company. We sat for
a while in the garden, drinking beer and finding out a little
about each other. His wife joined us for a drink and, in
a way that only mums can, chatted, drank and got her boys
ready for their first day back at school; trimming hair
and nails, brushing teeth and ushering them away to bed.
It was a scene familiar to anyone with school age children
and a sneak preview of how life might be when our boys come
of school age.
At these strange family sleepovers,
it's generally us that makes the waves; devouring any food
within reach, scattering playthings and spreading our detritus
across the family home while encouraging others to take
to the road en famille. Tonight was different. "Do you like
music?" asked Ian. We sipped our wine and nodded. He stirred
the spaghetti and put down his wooden spoon. His wife picked
up a guitar and they met half way between stove and table.
They looked at each other and serenaded us in impromptu
harmony with a familiar song from home, 'Flower of Scotland.'
Then, taking turns at cooking, drinking and playing, the
floor-show continued with a series of sweet, sad solo spots.
"It's a Scottish tradition to do a wee turn, do you want
a go?" Ian asked. For once we declined, happy to be entertained.
And like at the best restaurants, our hosts took no offence
and continued to serve up food, music and wine until we
were full and more than a little drunk.
"It's the first night we've been
apart you know," Ian revealed after his wife left a little
unexpectedly. "She's a good girl you know, a really good
girl. She'd do anything to help me, even find me a new girlfriend…
but that's really not what I want." He paused for a moment
and wiped his eyes. "We're trying to keep it really civilised
for the boys. I've told them it's like a holiday from each
other… but I think she really means it. But you never know…."
I could almost hear the hope in his voice. We drank some
more and some more again. I listened, offering Ian the only
thing I had to give, the ear of a stranger. I went to bed
late, my head spinning with a simple truth he kept repeating,
"….you never know what's around the corner… you never know."
As I lay on the floor next to Matthew, Cameron and Kirstie
I felt grateful for our family happiness and sad for Ian's
"Youse are very welcome to stay
another night," Ian said as we tended hangovers at breakfast
the following morning. I wondered if he could do with some
company but our schedule was too pressing to stay any longer.
"It's a really kind offer but we need to move on." In his
heart of hearts I think Ian knew he really had to do the
same. "I don't envy you at all you know," he said as he
surveyed our laden bikes while we prepared to leave. I thought
the same but said nothing. We wheeled our bikes out onto
the drive, shook hands and said goodbye, "Listen if you
find yourself back in the UK, do look us up, you'd be very
welcome," I said. I meant it.