Time to pedal away for a while.

“Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race”.                 H.G. Wells

Slow travel - the best way to wind down!

Slow travel – the best way to wind down!

It’s almost that time of year again. Time to pack panniers and tent, load our bicycles and pedal away for a few weeks in France. Everyone needs time to recharge their batteries, and we are hoping that the hills, coast and valleys of Brittany will provide peace and quiet, beautiful landscape and chance meetings with interesting people. This has been our experience of riding across various parts of Europe over the past thirty years.

Cycle touring for us began when our two sons were quite young and wanted to experience travel overseas. Our budget was limited, and to that point holidays had been spent walking the hills of Wales and Scotland. Travel by bicycle enabled us to venture further afield, taking the ferry initially to Denmark and in subsequent years to France, Holland and Ireland and once even on a budget flight to Portugal. Sara and I have since visited several other European countries under our own pedal power and have explored many interesting places and met numerous interesting people.

For our sons, the initial trips were both an adventure and a great learning opportunity. Not only were they able to visit a number of interesting historical sites or areas of outstanding natural beauty, they also learned to experiment with languages. I recall Toby for instance, gaining the confidence to enter a bakery and order Danish pastries in the local language. As is almost invariably the case, the local shopkeeper appreciated his efforts and was patient with what I am sure was less than perfect pronunciation.

It has been our experience that the best travel is always taken slowly, by foot, by boat, or best of all by cycle. So, as we prepare for our departure for the quiet lanes of Brittany, I will close this blog until we return. We look forward to negotiating a few of the lanes recently traversed by the hardened athletes of the Tour de France, and whilst celebrating a great British win by Chris Froome, we feel sure that we will appreciate the view at our rather sedate pace much more than he had time to do.

Back before to long!




A cycle of inclusion

Dame Sarah Storey - an inspiration to anyone who rides a bike, and hopefully to those who have not yet made their first few wobbly metres on a cycle.

Dame Sarah Storey – an inspiration to anyone who rides a bike, and hopefully to those who have not yet made their first few wobbly metres on a cycle.

Like many people in this country, and around the world, I have always had some interest in sport. Whilst in the past I was a keen player of rugby and cricket, today I only participate as an enthusiastic spectator. However, there is one sporting activity in which I am still involved and from which I derive much pleasure. Whether touring with tent and luggage through the varied countryside of Europe, wheeling through the lanes with club mates, or occasionally testing myself against the clock, cycling continues to be a passion and a means of gaining both exercise and relaxation from my day to day work.

One of the great features of sport in recent years is that many of the people who manage events have been far more conscious of the need to improve access and make it more inclusive. The media coverage given to recent Paralympic Games, is just one example of this. Witness the huge crowds that attended the games in London and the fact that many disabled sportsmen and women have become “household names” in the UK at least. I have been pleased when visiting schools in the last few years to see pictures of Tanni Grey-Thompson, David Weir, Jonny Peacock, Ellie Simmonds and  David Stone amongst others, displayed alongside those of well-known able bodied athletes.

In many sports those sports people who have disabilities compete in separate events from others who are able bodied. However, we are increasingly seeing some paralympians and others, making an impact on the general sports scene. It is good to see that the general public now recognise that disabled athletes train as hard as any, and that they are pushing the barriers of human capability just as much as those sporting stars who have been a feature of our television screens for the past fifty years.

Two nights ago, along with Sara I was able to indulge my enthusiasm for cycling by attending an event in Peterborough, a city thirty miles from where we live. During the evening, we enjoyed watching two cycle races in which teams of professional riders hurtled at great speed around a city centre course, cheered on by a large and enthusiastic crowd. The two races, one for men and the other for women, provided an evening of excitement and entertainment during which a friendly and enthusiastic audience made plenty of noise to encourage the athletes and support their favourites.

The men’s race was won by two times Olympic gold medal winner and five times World Champion Ed Clancy, who is always popular with spectators. In a tight race he sprinted to his victory in the home straight, winning by barely a bike’s length much to the delight of an excited crowd.

The women’s race was equally spectacular, but less nail biting at the finish as the winner crossed the line some distance ahead of her rivals. Sarah Storey was again a popular winner and received a mighty cheer from all onlookers. Sarah Storey also has an impressive record (in cycling circles these tend to be referred to as palmares) and is the holder of six Olympic gold cycling medals. However, one of the differences here between Sarah and Ed, is that she won hers in the Paralympic games. Before taking up cycling, she was an outstanding swimmer and gained similar medal successes in the Olympic Games in Barcelona and Atlanta. As she crossed the line on Tuesday, Sarah Storey left a number of other Olympians and champions in her wake. The popularity of her win on Tuesday evening had little to do with the fact that she is a Paralympian participating, and winning in “mainstream sport;” indeed, those of us who follow cycling are fairly confident that she will ride in the main Olympic Games in  Rio de Janeiro. Cycle sport enthusiasts, and those who are good enough to compete against her have long recognised that Sarah Storey is simply a remarkable athlete and competitor.

Not all disabled athletes will be able to compete as equals against their able bodied peers, and there remains a need to support events such as the Paralymic Games that address their needs. But elite competitors such as Sarah Storey have done much to raise the awareness of the general public of what can be achieved by any athlete who is willing to make personal sacrifices, and to work has hard as she has (and of course, has natural talent). Sport has gradually become more inclusive and can possibly lead the way in encouraging other facets of society to follow.

I must be less lazy and get back out on my bike far more often!

A tour de force for learning

The shopkeepers of York were inspired by the Tour de France which visited the city this weekend. Can such inspiration be harnessed for teaching and learning?

The shopkeepers of York were inspired by the Tour de France which visited the city this weekend. Can such inspiration be harnessed for teaching and learning?

Sara and I have just returned from watching the first two stages of the Tour de France – in Yorkshire. If you are baffled by the reason we went to the north of England to watch this quintessentially French event I should perhaps explain that “La Grande Boucle”, the world’s most spectacular annual sporting event, often visits other countries in order to provide cycle racing fans with an opportunity to feel that they are a part of the spectacle. I have, like many in this country, been riding a bicycle since I was a child and trying to ride quite fast around the local lanes, often with friends from my club the Rockingham Forest Wheelers, has become a source of both exercise and relaxation. I should warn you in advance that in common with many who pursue this particular sporting pastime, should you ever find yourself in conversation with me about cycling I can bore you for hours with discussion of gear ratios, the records of Eddy Merckx or the comparative merits of shimano or campagnolo (campag every time for me – no competition there really!).

I had not intended mentioning the Tour de France on this blog, as it seems far removed from the usual topics under discussion on these pages. However, first thing this morning I read Nancy Gedge’s  blog “The Diary of a Not So Ordinary Boy” through which Nancy gives regular accounts of her life with Sam her son who has Down’s syndrome. I have written about this blog before (March 16th 2014), and regularly read Nancy’s page as it provides positive insights into aspects of parenting of a young man with special educational needs.

In her most recent blog piece “Tour de Town” http://notsoordinarydiary.wordpress.com/2014/07/04/tour-de-town/ Nancy Gedge describes how Sam has suddenly found a new passion for riding his bicycle and has increased his confidence and competence as a cyclist. She describes how for some time cycling with Sam was a somewhat laboured occupation as he moved so slowly that at times he almost ground to a halt. This has obviously been a source of some frustration to Nancy who recounts how she is often anxious about getting to places on time and reluctantly resorts to using a car (a far inferior form of transport to the bicycle many of us believe) in order to get around efficiently. However, Nancy’s worries are at an end, whilst it is unlikely that Sam will ever emulate the performances of Mark Cavendish or Bradley Wiggins, he is now speeding along at a pace that may even challenge his mother and has a new found zest for two wheeled propulsion to be admired.

The most interesting aspect of Sam’s transformation from a cycling tortoise to a two wheeled hare is the source of inspiration that has enabled him to make this significant progress. Nancy Gedge speculates on the reason for this sudden change and asks the rhetorical questions:-

“Had we taken him on training runs?  Did we practice with him in the evenings?  Take him to a cycling club?  Buy him a yellow jersey or show him video footage of Bradley Wiggins?”

Apparently none of these tactics had been used. The source of this transformative process had been much more simple and one that we often witness in children, namely the influence of a friend and role model. Nancy describes how a young man, often employed as a “babysitter” for Sam, who is an enthusiastic cyclist had proven to be an inspiration for her son who now wants to be just like this lad and ride at a similar speed and with the same confidence.

Reading Nancy’s blog I was not surprised by this heartening tale. It would be foolish for those of us who work in education not to give full credit to the teaching which is provided by peers. Children are often far more impressed by those who are slightly older than themselves than they are by the adults in their lives. This applies to both parents and teachers, who may often be seen as authoritative figures with aspirations that do not totally equate to those of the children in their care. However, the influence of a young role model can often inspire learning as children attempt to imitate the behaviours and demeanour of their near contemporaries. Such has clearly been the case with Sam as it has with many others before him. As teachers we need to harness opportunities like these. Learning often comes from the inspiration of the moment and with encouragement can lead to surges in competence and a new enthusiasm for learning. I suspect that the recent events at the football world cup in Brazil will have encouraged many youngsters to go out and hone their skills or join a football club, just as I anticipate that the numbers of new cyclists on the roads of Yorkshire this weekend, inspired by the professionals who raced through the county, will be considerable.

Teachers need to get their inspiration for enabling their pupils to progress wherever they can. Sam’s source of learning was another young man for whom he clearly holds some admiration. Others will be moved to participate by a great sporting event. As educators we must grasp these opportunities, build upon them and enable our students to recognise such sources of learning as valuable in their lives.

Speeding cyclists pass in an instant, but the inspiration that they provide can make a difference.

Speeding cyclists pass in an instant, but the inspiration that they provide can make a difference.