Bikes and dragons

I have not been a model of blogging activity in 2016. Now I’ve been forced to write something because the Foxcub has sent me a poem (see next post). Since you can boast about your niece, I think, without sounding dreadful: she’s been told she has a writing age of 13 (she’s 7). (In contrast, to her aunt’s writing age of approximately 15.)

The small child started school in January and after the Easter break proclaimed ‘I LOVE school’. Long may that last, as well as his fully fledged sense of five-year-old self: ‘Mummy, I am not you, I am myself, and you are not the boss of me.’ The oldest is taking me back to my childhood when he sometimes slinks off to his room to lie on his bed and read. There are MatchAttax cards scattered all around the house, though they are simultaneously to be closely guarded – any sly attempts to bin them are immediately found out and greeted with a furious confrontation.

In January we spent ten days in Sri Lanka with my parents, which had been a hugely anticipated holiday not least because we hadn’t seen them for so long and were longing to all catch up – and in such fantastic surroundings. It is a lush, friendly, beautiful place. We saw just the south-west corner, which is lined with palm-fringed beaches, ramshackle villages and, inland, endless rice paddies. One day we went for a magnificent guided bicycle ride down lanes off the coast and through some of these paddies. Although … Let me remember this correctly …

It was quite fraught. The grandparents ducked out. My father would have loved it, but he’s too loyal to leave my dear mother on her own. So it was me and the boys, and our local guide. The youngest was valiant for the first five minutes (of a 14 km ride). But as soon as anything else with wheels passed him, he was filled with terror of being run over (obv Sri Lankan road rules, of which there are none, had filtered into his quite sharp mind). On sighting our first tuk-tuk, he lost control in horror and crashed into the ditch. Trying to appear unfazed I talked him down and eventually he remounted and we left the road for a track. Phew.

But, no. Next up, monitor lizards. Amazing creatures, but when you’re five I see they’re basically dragons, and the small one was paralysed in terror. Eventually they slid back into the undergrowth and with some quite major bribery I managed to persuade both boys (by now the eldest was also furious with me, for ‘taking us into danger’) to keep going. Surely from now it would be the serene, meandering delight I’d imagined.

Somewhat as if an evil spirit were looking down and wondering what he could throw at us next, we quickly heard manic, pack-dog barking. Of course they’re so fine but before I could say ‘Don’t worry, their bark is worse tha …’ there was full-on mutiny. ‘I HATE this ride, and I HATE you for bringing us on. We’re not going ANY FURTHER.’

By now, though, I’d lost my sympathy and started on my own mutiny, along the lines of ‘Stop spoiling the lovely ride and pull yourselves together’. Eventually, in the middle of a rice paddy, with the sun beating down on us and a goat looking benignly on (he might as well have been a T Rex – anything remotely animated had taken on a ghastly dimension to those boys), I asked the guide how much further we had to go. ‘Er, thirteen kilometres,’ he informed me, with a look of trepidation. Thank god, we had trump card – a tuk tuk ride for the rest of the way. Finally, peace! And with that, the guide and I had a beautiful cycle back.

We ate delicious food and fruit in the beautiful villa where we were staying, near Lake Koggala. We visited the seductive fortress town of Galle, full of high-end cafes, hotels and gift shops and even a literary festival which, fortuitously, was being held while we were there. I listened to Tom Holland discussing his latest book on the Roman Empire: surreally wonderful to listen to a very clever Englishman talking about Augustus and his profligate descendants in a seventeenth-century fort at the bottom of the Indian subcontinent.

As we wandered around afterwards, the eldest said thoughtfully, ‘Mummy, you can tell it’s very poor here because all the buildings are so old.’

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