So the summer holidays are here. Six looong weeks of industrial-scale eating operations, of broken Crocs and too late nights, of persuading the boys that life is viable, and can even be pleasant, without resorting to a screen.
‘What shall we do today folks?’ I ask brightly. (It is, as I say, still week 1). ‘Beach? Canoeing? Walk?’ I look outside at the clouds which are threatening rain for the first time since June. ‘I know, let’s go for a bike ride!’
This appears to be a good idea. The boys, stupefied by morning CBBC, even manage a nod.
‘Are your bikes good?’ I say to the sofa. ‘Anyone need to pump up tyres, oil… ? No? OK, right, we’re good to go.’
45 minutes later, I have packed some snacks, bottled water, found the bike pump and pumped up tyres. Binary Boy’s bike, it appears (belatedly) was not ‘good to go’.
‘Never mind,’ I say, sweating profusely from the exertions of re-inflating a flat-as-pancake tyre, ‘we’re off now.’
‘Finally!’ mutters Sensible Son. We hoist ourselves aboard.
The first 12km go well; really well. Meandering through pine forests oozing perfume, careering over bridges with rivers below, tooting through tunnels at top noisy speed. We arrive at the turnaround café and sit, munching on chocolate brownies in a smattering of rain. The FOB and I smile at one another: five and a half weeks more of this won’t be so bad.
Pit-stop over, we mount our bikes and prepare to depart.
‘It’s all downhill home from here boys!’ encourages the FOB. They yelp their approval.
‘Yes, so be careful guys – and don’t go too fast!’ I add – to their backs. Three boys, on bikes, are already out of sight. The FOB and I set off at a more appropriately middle-aged pace.
We round the corner. There is a long straight stretch of track in front of us, Sensible Son and Binary Boy are in the lead, scattering stones. Feisty Fellow peddles like Wiggins, desperately trying to keep up with the pack. ‘Wait for meeeee!’ he shrieks. And now, as I watch, he swerves unaccountably and violently to the left, before following an out-of-control trajectory into… a ditch. Sudden – silence.
‘Oh my God!’ I screech, roaring to his side, and fearing a repeat of Lesson 8 – or worse. I arrive at the ditch, hoik the bike off my son, and pull him – sopping – from what appears to be a bog. He stands on the track, fetid water cascading down his legs, mud and muck oozing from every orifice. ‘Are you OK?’ I ask him, wiping grit from his face with the sleeve of my hoodie. He nods, slightly shocked, but thankfully physically fine.
‘I’m soaking,’ he understates. I eye his top, contemplate the return journey.
‘Here, put this on!’ I say, stripping off my own T-shirt from under my hoodie. I have a distinct sensation of déjà- vue of being half-naked in a petrol station in France in Lesson 6. Today is turning into a repeat of lessons (not) learned from MOB Rule.
This emergency over, we remount our bikes. ‘Take it easy this time,’ I admonish, but they’re already off. Experiential learning is obviously not an Evans’ strength.
We round a corner once again. Sensible Son and Feisty Fellow are just visible in the distance, Binary Boy is on go-slow-cycling behind.
‘Well done for biking sensibly!’ I say catching him up. He looks at me mournfully and points to his tyre. It is, once again, flat as a proverbial. I look at the tyre, I look at the FOB. We are miles from anywhere and this puncture requires substantially more than our sticking plaster pump.
‘Sensible Son and I will bike on to the nearest cycle hire and see if they’re open,’ says the ever-practical FOB. ‘It’s only about 3km up the road.’ In the absence of other options, I nod my approval.
‘We’ll keep moving to meet you,’ I say, ‘hop off and push your bike, Binary Boy.’ He hops off, attempts to push the rubber-bound tyre. Fails. I sigh.
‘You ride my bike – carefully,’ I say, as he clambers aboard and wobbles off. I bend low to grab his handlebars, and thus we limp on.
Two hours later we are home.
The cycle hire saviour arrives in the form of a teenage lad bearing a smile, a spanner and the ability to replace an inner tube in five minutes flat. The RAC has a lot to learn from the Tarka Trail SOS crew.
Feisty Fellow completes the bike ride without further ado, and is verging on ‘merely moist’ as we puff up the drive. ‘Do I have to have a wash, mum? I’m actually quite dry!’ I shoot him The Look and he scampers to the shower.
I, meanwhile, am struggling to stand upright: muscles protesting painfully from pushing a too-small-bike and frozen forever from a lack of clothing layers.
So, all in all, it’s been a good day.
‘What are we doing tomorrow mum?’ asks Feisty Fellow as I kiss him goodnight.
I roll my eyes and rub my back. ‘Nothing, absolutely nothing,’ I say, heading, at half eight, for Radox and bed. There are times when I can understand the US obsession with kids’ summer camps.