On the 7th of December 1981 my Great-Grandfather, then aged 81, appeared in court to answer for some misdemeanour while driving. He was due to be fined, and possibly lose his driving license, but he had a plan. The court was in Leicester, while he was living, some 50 miles away, in Milton Keynes, and my Great-Grandfather decided he would cycle to the court room as a sign of humility. He duly arrived, to much amazement at his feat, and some time later was dismissed without charge; his plan had worked (apparently).
Outside a reporter, who had heard the story, decided to follow him as he began his return journey. At this point my Great-Grandfather became worried, because he had not cycled 50 miles at all. He had simply driven to Leicester with his bicycle, parked at a suitable distance from the court and then cycled the remainder of the journey. Now cycling away with a reporter on his tail he could not simply return to his car but had to cycle for many miles until the reporter left him, which eventually he did.
Two days later my Great-Grandfather received a letter from a solicitor in Leicester, which I have in front of me and now quote; "I must say that it was not my eloquence which persuaded the court to be so reasonable about the fine, it was your achievement in cycling to and from Milton Keynes which spoke for itself, with an eloquence I could not match."
Monday, 23 November 2015
Monday, 16 November 2015
Peter is 10. He lives with his Mum and Dad and three older brothers. When asked what is interesting about himself, he just shrugs his shoulders.
Daisy is 12. She went to a disco the other night where she sat at the side with her friend all evening. She was actually asked by a boy if she would go with him but she said no, even though she liked him.
Dan is 9. He has been through four foster homes in four years. He is short with a cute face and makes everyone laugh. Everything seems fine with Dan, except in the few moments he doesn’t smile.
Joseph is Dan’s older brother. While everyone is making a fuss of Dan, Joseph sits by himself and plays repetitive games on his phone.
Millie likes playing football and trains twice a week with a local team. She admires her team mates who are more naturally skilled than her but she berates herself when the opposition score.
Jess is 16. She received vocal training when she was younger because her Mum loved to her hear sing. Now she has a beautifully clear voice and recently she joined an a cappella group. The others in the group are amazed by her talent and tell her how good she is, but she’s heard it many times before and now it doesn’t sink in.
Every young person is unique. Some have lives that are perceived by the world to be difficult and some to be easy, but in my experience very few ever feel like they are important, or that they are making a difference.
Peter has a quick wit that often helps to diffuse tension at home, his siblings all secretly consider him as their favourite brother. Daisy is clever and often helps out her classmates at school when they don’t understand something, it is this attention, rather than her looks, that attracts the boys. Joseph feels the weight of responsibility for his brother, but Dan keeps him from worrying with his winning smile. Dan appreciates all the attention he gets from other people, but the only person he really loves is his brother, because Joseph is the one constant left in his life. Millie’s team mates are always challenged by her commitment and persistence, something the coach has spotted, so he ensures that she plays in every game. Jess’ Mum suffers from bouts of depression but she gets through the worst times when she listens to Jess singing. When she’s older Jess will get involved in music therapy and use her voice to help other children who struggle for one reason or another.
I may have invented these children and their lives, but they are not so very different from millions of real young people. When I talk to children I make it my intention to discover something interesting about them and show them that they are important.
It is my desire for every child to be able to say
I AM SIGNIFICANT
Monday, 9 November 2015
Monday, 2 November 2015
It’s funny the people you meet on top of mountains, apart from the odd ones (like the 45-year-old runners who arrive at the top, wait 20 seconds and then turn to run back down, or the 5 blokes carrying massive bags, which turn out to be paragliders, who jump off the steepest bit they can find). Others, though, I find can be remarkably like myself, or how I imagine I might be when I reach their age.
Today I climbed Blencathra for the first time, in glorious sunshine (I think I may have turned my clock back to September last weekend). It’s a tricky little mountain, being deceptively steep and with a plethora of sheep paths to deceive you (the Ordnance Survey map shows one main path going in an arrow straight line – they lie). After the lower section you suddenly emerge at the top, or close to it, and the ground almost disappears. Out of nowhere ravines and crevices appear to the south and the Solway firth lies away to the north (although I couldn’t see it because it was bathed in cloud, along with the rest of the UK apparently).On my way to the top I met a retired vicar and we sat to chat for a good twenty minutes, he telling me about his trip to Bagdad and charity cycle rides (both in the 11 years since he’d retired) and I telling him about the joys of pushing kids out of their comfort zone, but mostly I just listened to him. This was his first mountain climb since retiring (retired vicars are often in demand for a whole range of roles apparently) and he was making the most of it.
Later, at the top, I sat to eat my lunch in the quiet – that stillness that only exists at the top of mountains – and watch the sunlight on Thirlmere and Derwent Water. Also enjoying this moment was another man. After a while we got chatting and on asking if he’d climbed Blencathra before he revealed that today was his birthday and he was revisiting a moment from 30 years before when he climbed this mountain with his parents on his 18th. We gazed and marvelled at the view and the incredible weather, and shortly after parted to begin our descents, equally happy in our solitary expeditions.I don’t know where my life will lead, but I could see myself climbing Blencathra again in 30 or 50 years’ time, still in my element.
Sunday, 1 November 2015
Saying goodbye to a group of kids after a busy week making sure they don't break themselves, the beds or my sanity can be a wonderful time of relief, but it can also be surprisingly moving. I don't often find myself welling up, but to see a child run to their dad, after not seeing them for a long time, and give them a massive hug, always seems to get to me. This makes it slightly awkward when parents come to pick up their kids from PGL. I'm there, trying to tell them what a good week their child has had, and all the while water is lurking in the corners of my eyes.