I took part in a wonderful organised bike ride yesterday with my boys - a twenty mile route in and out of Bath. It was special for lots of reasons; but mostly because I love cycling, and this was the first decent length route that we had done together, as a family. A wonky, one adult, two children family - but a family nonetheless.
The boys, Teen and Tween, loved it. I'm not ashamed to say that, when I heard their whoops and screams whilst freewheeling down the hills, and laughs when puddles got bigger and deeper - I had a little cry. This, I thought, is what being a family is about.
But British Cycling, the people who put the rules in place for this sort of event, don't make it easy for families like us to take part. In fact, because of their rules, we had to go in covertly, 'under the radar'. Because they have a one adult to one child rule, a 1:1 ratio which meant that, really, we shouldn't have entered.
I understand about Health and Safety, and that we live in a litigious society, but my Teen is a highly competent cyclist. He is not a seven year old who will cycle into the canal at the earliest opportunity. He slows down for dogs and old people. He rings his bell before bridges and corners. And more importantly, he loves cycling.
And yet he had to 'ghost ride' the course with us. When we crossed the finish line, an extremely loud voice came across the tannoy, "Well done Lottie and Tween and ...um... someone who doesn't seem to be on my screen." Which of course made Teen, who has enough teenage angst to last him a lifetime already, curl up into a ball.
Which takes some skill to do when you're riding a bike.
I'm not having a go at British Cycling. My point is a wider one, really. You often see the 'two adults, two children' family discount (Odeon cinemas, please note) which is ironic, because it is single parents, often with more than one child to look after, who could really do with those valuable discounts. They would make such a huge difference.
Booking a holiday is source of frustration and despair. Little seems to have changed since this article was published in The Independent in 1996, certainly amongst the large tour operators. I got excited initially when I looked at Thompson's website, seemingly offering single parent discounts, but the phrase "Single parents offers are available on selected holidays, for a child sharing with one full-fair-paying adult" seems to imply that, if you've got two kids, you're stuffed. Also, it tells you to call them to find out more. At 10p a minute.
There are some holiday companies now offering exclusively single parent holidays, but the thought of this makes me heave. A sort of combined holiday come week-long-blind-date. *shudder* I appreciate what they're doing, but I'd rather spend a week in Fargo.
The one light in the darkness is the organisation that I put above all others. The jewel in the crown. The cherry on the cake. The cat's whiskers.
The National Trust. Oh, I know. I bang on and on about them. But they offer a single parent membership, because - well, basically, because they are extremely lovely. And perhaps they realise that kids from single parent families could really do with a run around in beautiful, wind-swept surroundings. Rolling down hills and getting grass in their hair. Poking about in mansions and castles and caves and beaches. Getting muddy.
So well done to The National Trust. And others, particularly holiday companies - please take note. Society is changing apace. You'll need to find new ways of offering us what we need, or you may find yourselves caught out.