Matthew runs down the street ahead
of me, dodging in and out of Saturday morning shoppers.
I follow as fast as I can while pushing a bike and trailer,
"Plod, plod, plod. Plod, plod, plod."
A little way ahead Matthew drops
to the pavement outside a jeweller's shop. He lies on his
side, curled up in a foetal position, his little body motionless,
his eyes tightly shut. Alarmed bystanders stop and stare.
"Are you alright?" they ask him. "Is he alright?" they ask
each other. "Is anyone with him?" they ask urgently, looking
around for a concerned parent, guardian or carer.
"It's OK, he's with me," I call
out reassuringly as I catch up, "He's the hare." The people
look at me bemused. Matthew opens one eye when he spies
me coming and jumps to his feet, "You'll never win you know.
You can't catch me," he calls as he bounds further down
the street, dodging the gathered shoppers. "It's OK, he
really is fine," I say trying to explain his strange behaviour,
"He just loves to play the tortoise and the hare… you know
the story where the hare runs ahead, gets really tired,
lies down and has a sleep while the tortoise plods along
behind…" My explanation doesn't seem to be making much sense
and another crowd is gathering ten metres further down the
road. Suddenly this game doesn't seem such a good idea.
Matthew and Cameron love to play
tortoise and the hare.... anytime, anywhere
One thing kids love is games. It
seems if you make a game out of it, you can get them to
do almost anything. The tortoise and the hare game has been
a real Godsend for us. It's helped us get to the top of
big hills, to the end of long walks and through boring shopping
expeditions. Once the boys become the hares and we become
the tortoises, they forget that they don't want to walk
any further or they've had enough of this or that. They
enter a fantasy world where as long as we keep playing,
they'll keep going, stopping for a snooze just long enough
for us to catch up before racing ahead again.
But they know it's more than just
a story too. When Kirstie first told the boys the story
one bedtime, Matthew was quick to grasp its' significance,
"So are you and Cameron the tortoise Mum and me and Dad
are the hare?" Like many young children, Matthew often sees
the world for what it is and has no fear about telling you
how it is too.
But while it's all just a game for
the kids, the reality of our roles can be a little harder
for us adults to handle. On the bikes Kirstie and I do not
have perfectly matched paces. We both cover the same distances
and pull similar loads but in different ways and at naturally
different speeds. My pace
is naturally fast, my cadence high, my legs strong and powerful.
I like to ride fast, climb fast, breathe hard, work up a
sweat and rest occasionally. I'd like to ride with Kirstie
but she often can't or won't keep up. Her style is more
laid back, handling the ride at a measured pace, her breathing
in check, face glowing but not sweating. Speeding downhill,
pacing the flats, hating the climbs and stopping when it
hurts. We'd probably be fine on a tandem but neither of
us would relinquish control. We've tried to match our paces
by redistributing loads or taking turns to pace and lead
but somehow, whatever we do, we soon find ourselves playing
the tortoise and the hare again. And some days that's fine
and other days it drives us both crazy.
Watch out, here comes the tortoise
The hare's life is not all bounding
and happy snoozes. It's tiring always being at the front,
leading the way, taking the wind. It's irritating waiting
for the tortoise, watching time slipping away as darkness
approaches, sitting waiting in the rain. Don't get me wrong,
I love the tortoise, but our difference in style is fuel
for petty conflicts sometimes. But the tortoise's lot is
not all roses either. It's demoralising for her to watch
the hare pull effortlessly away in front, to sit downwind
of his bum and pedal all day to try and catch up. It's annoying
how by the time she catches up it's already time to move
on. It's irritating how drivers passing on the other side
wind down their window to say, "you're doing well, he's
just up around the next corner." But despite the frustrations,
as years have passed, Kirstie and I have come to accept
these roles as a feature of our life on bikes together.
We're happy in our roles. I know it's much more fun to be
a hare and Kirstie knows the tortoise really wins in the
"Plod, plod, plod. Plod, plod,
plod." I make my way along the street to where Matthew is
in conversation with a man wearing a St John's Ambulance
uniform. I overhear the man as I approach, "Hello there.
Can you tell me your name?" Matthew looks up from the floor,
"I'm Matthew George Wickes." "Are you feeling alright?"
asks the man. "Oh yes, I'm fine. I'm just waiting for the
tortoise," explains Matthew. Like father like son.