Boys’ dinner party – updated


I started posting this last night but it was supposed to be on the children’s blog so I deleted it, but not before accidentally garnering some interest.

So for the Roaring Kate record, this is what the conversation between five children aged 5-7 goes like over a gourmet meal of fish finger sandwiches (and beakers of water, which I said they didn’t have to finish):

  • Heidi: My mummy says I have to drink all my water at the table. It makes your poos soft.
  • Jonny: Yes, you don’t want hard poos. I have a medicine called syrup of figs to keep my poos soft.
  • Sam [J’s little brother]: Yes, Jonny sometimes does very big poos. [Cackling and gesticulating wildly] Sometimes they are even like a LOG!
  • Jonny bristles with pride at this.
  • Charles [7 going on 57]: Do we really have to discuss this while we’re eating?

At which point the conversation returns to a contemplation of who loves who, and how Jonny can negotiate back a particularly desirable Pokemon card that he’s given/surrendered/swapped with someone in Year 6.



Sirtfood diet: week 1


It’s been a million years since I posted on this blog, which is basically a repository for random thoughts on marathons, motherhood and marriage (and alliteration 101), but having survived Week 1 of the Sirtfood diet, I wanted to note my thoughts in case I ever come back to it. So:

  • Weight loss: Last Monday 63.8kgs. Today (a week later) 61.4kgs. So 2.6kgs lost (5lbs 11 ozs). Not bad, though not the 7lbs as advertised (and I can’t believe it was all because of a microscopic slice of DS1’s birthday cake yesterday).
  • Trend: Most of it came off unsurprisingly in the first couple of days (3 juices & 1 meal), and for the second half of week 1 (2 juices & 2 meals) I’ve stayed the same at between 61.6 and 61.4. Frankly I’ll be surprised if much happens for the next couple of weeks, not least because:
  • The portion sizes: are enormous! Which is good because when you’re just on one meal a day it has been useful to hold some back and finish it later. (Maybe this was where I went wrong?) Also not helped by the fact that…
  • The recipes: are delicious. Who’d have thought one could have combined kale, rocket, red onion and a few other bits and pieces in so many different ways (though I do seem to have spent hours in the kitchen peering over my laptop (Kindle version of the book, no pictures)). The recipes have definitely been an unexpected bonus, for both DH and me, and we’ll definitely be cooking many of them again.
  • Sleep: another surprise bonus. I didn’t think I normally slept particularly badly but I’ve noticed that I’ve slept really well this week (to the extent that DH heard the children first HA HA), APART from the one night on which I had a tiny glass of red wine. So some of it is probably the absence of alcohol, and also, possibly, the absence of carbs in an evening meal.
  • Green juice: After spending day 1 vigorously squashing blended leaves through a sieve I gave up and spent a fortune on a juicer. This works pretty well (certainly better than a sieve) but I get no where near the amount of juice the Sirtfood authors say I should expect, even if I shove in extra kale. I have small hands so maybe ‘a large handful’ is worth two of mine. Anyway, I have stopped worrying unduly about it as it is totally revolting (particularly with matcha tea), so I juice what I’m told and swallow it as quickly as possible. And then break out the 85% dark chocolate as a chaser (it’s incredible how long one can make two cubes last…)
  • Exercise:  I went for a run for the first couple of days in the morning according to my normal routine, but when I ran on day 3 it was a disaster. I really felt weak and feeble and kept find excuses (mud, shoelaces, tights falling down) to stop and walk. For the second half of the week I had the family sore throat and so didn’t do much exercise at all (again, was that a factor in it not ‘working’ perfectly?) But this morning I felt a bit better and I managed to stagger out, and I imagine that I’ll feel back to normal in that department from now.

Today is the beginning of the final fortnight, which has the joy of involving three meals a day, though I am going to try to apply some common sense and try to be mindful of my fullness, rather than my usual ‘just in case’ approach to eating (ie “At some point in the future I may never see a cake again so I’d better eat as much of this as I can just in case.”)

In general though, the introduction to Sirtfoods has been a success. My waist is certainly slimmer, which is what I was concerned about after Christmas, but most surprising has been discovery of my own willpower and my ability to really NOT EAT all the usual suspects: cakes, chocolate, children’s sweets, puddings. Even yesterday when I had some birthday cake (I had made the blasted thing after all, and it was a good one), to have been able to stop at a small slice, and That Be OK was transformational. The first few days were definitely hard while I was at home working, where usually I’d have been sustained by lattes and biscuits, but with lots of distractions (including the daily visit to the supermarket on the kale run) I managed.

I’ve never been a great fan of diets (though the 5:2 was a success), and don’t care particularly about not losing 7lbs etc, but this has been particularly useful for just kickstarting a trend for healthier eating, and hopefully reversing a weight-change and midriff growth that was slowly but surely heading in the wrong direction. Sure, I could have just eaten better anyway, but for me having a definite day to start a new regime, and a challenge of getting through the first few days has worked. I feel as if I have eaten super-healthily, I feel slimmer generally, and if this diet has done nothing other than recalibrate my sweet tooth (even if only for a while), that in itself has been a colossal achievement.

Roll on this next fortnight!

London Marathon 2014: unofficial race report from reluctant runner


After working myself up into a bit of a tizz on Friday, it was a relief to have Saturday afternoon to carefully pack my bags, pin on my number (in the right position – that took a couple of goes), write a pre-marathon blog post, and generally get myself sorted out.

Scoffed a high volume of pasta for tea, but didn’t sleep particularly well so it was a relief when the alarm went off at 6am and could just get on with things. Quick dither about whether or not to wash my hair (obviously no one else would care but ‘Standards, Katharine’ I could hear someone saying, so did so, and then tried to quietly and quickly try it in the kitchen to avoid waking everyone else up). Beetled off to the railway station where, suddenly, there were loads of people with red plastic marathon bags (the first one I saw nervously puffing away on a fag (was that really a good idea??)), and a few other people wondering why the train was so full of people in Lycra. I’d queried going on so early – theoretically getting to Greenwich at 8.30 – but it was entirely sensible as the trains from Charing Cross were rammed, and the one we were on (I’d met up with a couple of local girls in Paddington) was delayed, and actually the venue is so massive it takes a while to orientate yourself.

Having finally found the red start (for charity slash slow runners it seemed) we finished our preps: for me plasters and sponge round my semi-healed blisters; vaseline around the edges of my brand new control knickers, suncream all over. Socks and shoes on, then remember calf supports, so off and then on again, by which time my companion (the other was speedy and had gone to the blue start) heard the tannoy announce that we only had 4 minutes to get our plastic duffel bags on the trailers, and so we had a mad dash to hand them in, which got the adrenaline going. Then there was a dither about loos, but the queue for the ladies was so long it appeared to have no end, so we got in place instead, and proceeded to continue to lurk about there for about 25 minutes after the starting gun had gone off. Thankfully there were also loos just before start, so I and a bunch of other people beetled off there BEFORE crossing the start line. VERY cunning, I thought.

Then, in summary, followed 13 miles of hot running south of the river; amazing drumming resonating under the A102; brief excitement when seeing family at Tower Bridge; running straight past a friend yelling my name (but so many people were shouting ‘Kate’ (et al) you gave up trying to spot someone you actually knew); a weird endless Kafka-esque period running hotly around Docklands and the East End (unnerving coming back down The Highway seeing the odd lone runner and the clearing up team (reminded me too closely of Junior 4 obstacle race when they were setting out the new one while I was still struggling with hopping along in a pillowcase)); then finally becoming overwhelmed by the noise and reading endless emotional stories on the back of people’s vests and putting my music on at about mile 18 which made the world of difference, and carried me through along the Embankment (amazing once you’d hit about 23 miles, and you knew that it’d then be 24, and then 25, and that’d the LAST ONE!); finishing in a sprint finish for the last 10 metres up to the finish line. Then I said to the guy next to me, ‘Is that it? Can we stop running now?’ and burst into tears, with some helper saying, ‘I know, it’s emotional, it doesn’t matter what time you do.’ I suppose he was looking at the clock that showed the starting gun had gone off about 5 and a half hours before when he made that comment, but NO IT DOES NOT MATTER, I had just run 26.2 miles.

In an ideal world I would have collapsed into the arms of a loved one and howled, but actually by the time I found them in the meeting place emotions were more in check and we were dealing with the practicalities of tired dusty children and closed tube entrances.

So, 48 hours on, thoughts on the run.

#1: I am, I admit, absolutely GUTTED I didn’t make it in less than 5 hours. My official time was 05:02:02. My pace in training had been suggesting about 04:40 would be good, but I’d hoped that that gave me enough buffer to make it under 5. So I’m currently tormented by thoughts such as:

  • If I hadn’t stopped to speak to the family I might have done it. But I read of someone whose children were distraught when she beetled on by, so that was pretty non negotiable.
  • If I hadn’t stopped twice to pop some paracetamol I might have done it. But the heat (my worst nightmare) was making my head throb even at about mile 5. It would have made the whole experience really unpleasant (as opposed to the walk in the park I found it…).
  • If I hadn’t taken a loo stop at about mile 25 I might have done it. It cost me about 7-8 minutes (about 6 minutes queuing, and then 2 minutes swaying slightly in a confined space searching for a tissue). But I felt I’d already tested my pelvic floor quite significantly and just wanted to try to minimise the risk of embarrassment downstream. THIS IS WHY PAULA RADCLIFFE WON IT AND I DID NOT.
  • If I’d actually got to grips with my frigging Garmin watch I’d have had a better idea of how I was doing. Most of the time during training I used my iPhone for music AND endomondo tracker, but it couldn’t do both for runs of over about 3 hours, so I’d invested ambitiously in this ridiculous gadget that is too big for my wrist (hence sweatband) and totally unintuitive to operate. Thinking I was on top of it, I pressed start when I crossed the line, but on the interface I was monitoring a) the time b) my average speed and c) something else not too helpful. What I should really have shown was a stopwatch, to encourage me to get my arse in gear – particularly around mile 25 when it seemed to go particularly slowly (but that was when we went through Blackfriars underpass so maybe that messed it up).

HOWEVER in the process of writing that last paragraph I have logged on to my Garmin data and all its sins are forgiven as it has quite cleverly measured my mile speeds AND my moving speeds. So I can see that paracetamol cost me 10 seconds, family about 50 seconds (really? I was jogging around as I talked…) and loo stop at least 5 minutes.

So can I hold myself up at being under 5 hours? Please??

#2: See how mad it makes you? It’s a bit like having a baby: totally obsessing for months leading up to it, a long period of physical effort, then exhilaration, adulation, and a bit of anticlimax. I keep telling people not to let me do it again. I shall channel my 5-hour angst into trying to do sub-2hr half marathons instead. Much more realistic, and tend to hurt less.

#3: The medal is really good and heavy and people are impressed. The t-shirt is one size fits all (and there were all: including fridges, a Womble, and a million bloody rhinos which I never seemed to be able to overtake, there was always another one on the horizon), and is recreational rather than running. Pretty hopeless, as I’d hoped to be able to wear it out locally on my next run to show all the people I see regularly that I was Officially a Runner (rather than a Pretender).

#4 The weather was my worst nightmare, ie v hot sun, but the sprinkly showers along the course were good and I was just v relieved I’d remembered sunglasses (and paracetamol).

#5 Music made such a different on the last stretch. Although there were loads of fantastic bands (drummers in tunnels were particularly amazing) with great songs you only caught a snatch of them as you ran by. I was worried that I would seem ungrateful to the crowds to have my headphones in, but as that is how I’ve been running for the last n years, I had them in from the start as a sort of comfort blanket, and only turned the music on further down the line. It put a spring in my step when I really needed it, and gave me a rhythm to run to. I could still hear everything going on outside but it just helped create a zone that made a difference when it was all just getting overwhelming. I’d already been in tears 3 times before we even started listening to the reasons why my companion was doing the run, and if you really started to read the backs of all the t-shirts, with photos of loved ones who’d clearly died in tragic circumstances, you’d turn into a gibbering wreck. In this context, it was a blessed relief to spend a mile or so running behind a Womble.

#6 The results. As per above I am obviously far more competitive about something I’ve got no natural inclination to do (ie move fast) than I expected. Virgin post a whole load of data online (frustratingly with splits in kms rather than miles), which aside from driving home that I took MORE THAN 5 HOURS, also helpfully point out that in the rankings I came in at 26,022. So instead of dwelling on this, I try to cling to the fact that I was still faster than 9,744 other people, ahead of 20% of male runners (I can believe this; towards the end I passed more and more fit looking blokes who were walking as if this was something they’d signed up to one night in the pub but wasn’t quite going to plan), and (and for me this is the killer stat, as I really tried to put some welly into the last bit), over the final 7.2k (so about 4.5 miles), only 3 other runners passed me, while I PASSED 1,404.

Thank you, and goodnight.

PS: if you’re actually looking for helpful tips on the marathon rather than my insane meanderings, I found the following useful:

PPS: didn’t (and never have) Hit the Wall. Though perhaps this is because I never actually Hit the Accelerator. Did however fuel up quite well, to the extent that the Lucozade gels started repeating on me and I thought I was going to throw up on the Highway.

PPPS: All of this is put further into context after someone dies: and with all the other runners and their families my thoughts are with the family of Robert Berry. It was an amazing day, and I hope he went peacefully, having enjoyed a great run and London looking at its finest. His JustGiving page is here.

One year on: London marathon to go


So I note with some amazement it’s been almost a year since my last post. The wedding happened but as was probably evident from my last post there was a high degree of stress around the organisation of it and although we had a lovely day and honeymoon, I still tend to burst into tears whenever I think of it (and not in a good way). I think it was mostly a function of having FAR TOO long to think about it. And losing the wedding planner (so suddenly having to make all decisions myself) (I’ll not even pretend to include DH in that process. I went mad).

Anyway, that dealt with, and in replacement for child #3, I managed to get myself in to a sponsored place for the London marathon (tomorrow, as I write). I’m running in recognition of Victorian nurse, Kate Marsden (which is where all my blogging efforts are currently going), and I’ve almost reached my £2,000 sponsorship target (though feel free to donate…).

Having assiduously followed an online marathon training plan (which I kept rescheduling when I found there were too many long runs until it protested that I was running out of time), I’ve run up to 20 miles (round and round Dorney Olympic running lake, including an hour through hail storms). I have vacillated for weeks about what to wear and am consciously making the cardinal mistake of wearing new underwear tomorrow which Holds Me In under some very loose shorts. Rather upsettingly, I’ve put on colossal amounts of weight during training (none of this muscle business, it’s totally fat) and my dressed up body feels like a half deflated balloon with elastic bands round it. I’ll be wearing fluorescent yellow socks, shocking pink calf warmers, an orange sponsored top, and a red wristband under my otherwise unwearably uncomfortable Garmin watch. People say you shouldn’t worry about what you look like but psychologically it would help to feel a bit less self-conscious. But what can I do? Couldn’t find an orange wrist band anywhere…

It’s also been alarming to find myself getting slower through training than faster. There was a period of time when I was running some miles in 8mins something (fast for me), but that’s long ago, and now I struggle to hit less than 10. I’ll definitely be averaging 10:30 to 11 tomorrow, and it may be worse if the semi-healed blisters on my big toe stage a protest. I’ve taken to running long distances with a sponge tube around my toe which protects it quite successfully from blistering, but has the side effect of very slightly throwing my body out of its normal alignment. So another dilemma for tomorrow is sponge or no sponge?

Finally, I’ve had to resort to the purchase of a pelvic floor trainer (for this blame DS#1 and #2 totally) and with monthly hormonal changes also scheduled for tomorrow (male readers, please just feel so relieved you’re not in this situation), frankly if I manage to get round without any major embarrassing leakage it’ll be a result.

So off now to repack my bag for the millionth time. See you on the other side…

On 4 weeks to go til the wedding


I feel slightly sick just writing that, but it’s been such a crappy day I felt the need to put fingers to keyboard, just to download.

This weekend coming up is the Hen night which seems to have slightly horrifically turned into my worst nightmare: a fancy dress session. I had imagined me and my closest friends all dressed gorgeously sipping bubbly somewhere sophisticated; instead there’s a high chance we’ll be ending up in wigs and deely-boppers, swerving through Soho, while I just die of mortification at the back of the crowd, only staying because a revived adolescent fear of ducking out and being labelled not ‘fun’ is a worse option.

Anyway I shall trust in my Best Friends knowing me well and pulling the situation back if it looks like I’m going to cry. At the age of 41!!!

Re the wedding generally, I feel as if I have peaked too soon, as I currently feel pretty tired and ambivalent about the whole thing. Basically the pre-wedding experience has fallen into 3 eras:

  1. The calendar year before. Most of 2012. Engaged but wedding not imminent, so endless browsing through bridal magazines, cutting out ideas, daydreaming of details that’ll make the day.
  2. Turn of 2013. Total panic that it means it’s about to happen. With 4 months to go, all the smaller decisions suddenly have to be made. Spend evenings transferring colossal sums of money to various people and writing lists.
  3. 6 weeks to go. Exhausted. Give away magazines which I’ll never have time to read to a newly engaged bride friend (whom I regard with a degree of pity). Have wedding dress fitting. Fitter pleased with weight loss (‘Ooh that zip now just zooms up’) but in hand stitching the waist now leaves little stitch marks all around. Can’t think of a solution so can’t be bothered to mention it. Will just smooth them out in Photoshop after the day. See other friends’ wedding photos appear on Facebook as they marry. Find it somewhat astonishing that they have gone back to what seems total normality afterwards. Order a million massive balloons from America that I’ll probably forget to take up to the reception. Flapping about purchasing new hiking trousseau for honeymoon. Spend HOURS online searching for a) the killer sophisticated hen night outfit (which also has to serve various other functions between now and wedding) (so far have managed to get a pair of white (?) sarong trousers from Zara, but have no top and no shoes) b) sexy but practical hiking gear that’ll mean in our honeymoon photos I look like someone who’s actually at home on a mountain rather than someone who’s just ambled Mr Benn-like through the wrong door from a library c) magic pants that’ll cinch (pron. Kinch or Sinch?) in my waist, thereby highlighting my new handsewn pattern without leaving a massive VPL round my bum. Bizarrely the thinner I get (and lets face it I’m not that thin, but 11kgs less than I was when got engaged) the fatter I feel. These pants crush in my flesh so tightly that the rest of my body just pillows out around them, displaying unique patterns of cellulite where I didn’t think you could get them. Am thinking of having ‘I’ve borne your children’ tattooed across my tummy for just such moments.

Anyway, that’s about it. Somehow I’m going to have to reinvigorate myself to get through the final push. Am thinking I need a new notebook, with room for lots of lists: clothes for hen night; jobs pre wedding; jobs day before wedding; packing for honeymoon; jobs round the house pre wedding (it’d be so nice not to have to come back to the current pigsty we’re living in); jobs in the garden; work jobs; life-fulfilling jobs.

Probably my humour is not helped by every paper I open being full of Sheryl Sandberg leaning in one direction or another, leaving me in a dizzy spin of indecision about who I am or what I want. Though I do think today* has highlighted that Majority Part Time Mother is not for me the path to delight and fulfillment.

* Mess around coralling boys to get dressed before leaving at 9 to take them to 2 different nurseries. Arrive home to see DH(2B) failed AGAIN to put away his breakfast stuff. Start to put it away, stop, put it back out again to Make A Point. I am not wasting my paid for child-free time to tidy up after other people. Consequently kitchen remains a mess all day which makes me even more grumpy. After a fast day yesterday spend 20 minutes prowling around looking for nice food. End up eating cooking chocolate chips, and then after finding a scone having a cream tea at 10am. Work (interspersed with clothes browsing. Netaporter. outnet. julesb. boden. jaeger. john lewis. the list goes on. and on. and then I go through them all again) until 1 (obviously do not bill client the clothes browsing time). Go to collect DS2 from nursery only to find him asleep in his nappy in a room full of 20 other sleeping 2 year olds (touches even my heart strings). They were not supposed to give him a nap, but I can’t bear to wake him so go to the shops for food (crisps, not good), home, lunch, squint at The Good Wife with the sun shining on the TV screen, then get a call from nursery to say DS2 is now up so do a couple of emails to Make Another Point then go back to get him. Drive to JLP to collect Magic Pants ordered online. Intending to spend the hour there but massive influx of food and refined sugar all morning has given me v upset tummy so have to rush home. 20 minutes pause then have to lever DS2 back in car to go to get DS1. Take him to local Clarks to return his shoes which are coming apart. Massive queue of other mothers and schoolchildren. No other shoes available so eventually get 10% off. Can’t be bothered to argue. Am also suffering from unexpected heat as the sun is out. Lever children back into car, DS2 squirming so much I bash shin, just where it will be seeable at the weekend below my new white trousers. Nearly freak out. Need to go to garden centre to get food for plants, new rose for watering can etc. DS1 finds this a totally traumatic suggestion and cries so much at the thought give up and drive home. Make them share a Mini-Milk. Which obvs isn’t enough for 2 growing boys so spend the next hour rowing with them about what else they can eat. Finally freak out when DS1 stuffs so much dried apple in his mouth he can’t talk. He looks like august gloop (though I have just weighed him and his percentile is normal…). Eventually we go upstairs for a change of scene. I’m trying to read Plato to choose a wedding reading but in 40 minutes get through 1 page. They bounce madly on all the beds, throw themselves around and generally go a bit mental. I go downstairs to get tea ready, hearing one of them throw the box of lego all over our bedroom. Ignore it. Give them tea on a table on the decking. All going well until the end when DS1 throws water and yoghurt everywhere, blaming DS2. Howls hysterically when I ask him to clean it up, to the extent I have to drag him inside and shut the patio doors before someone calls the police. Finally we sit on the sofa and watch 10 minutes of Madagascar 2 while I count down the seconds until DH2B’s key is in the garage door. He was about 7 minutes later than usual tonight, somewhat alarming, due to taking a phonecall and riding back along the riverside. Never have I been so glad to see him. Resolution to avoid wine in run up to wedding abandoned.

On the plus side I did make an nice trout and beetroot salad for our tea, which was only interrupted about 10 times by calls from the boys regarding allocations of trains and cars in their bed.

So that’s about it.

I was also going to write about my recent 10k run and the collapse of my pelvic floor but you can use your imagination.

Over and out.

Roaring Kate.

On 4 months to go til the wedding…


… and about 4 days off a nervous breakdown.

  • I have a one year old who refuses to go to sleep and consequently I am having to break off between writing other word to stuff my face with a mouthful of chocolate
  • I have a four year old who’ll need to be picked up from nursery in about an hour’s time despite having only been there about an hour, which means I have to type very fast to avoid ANOTHER month going by without any record (so much for this blog being my diary)
  • I have a desk littered with stationery samples as I try – totally in vain – to convince myself that if I search far and wide enough I can find a printers to supply invitations built as solidly as Friend Who Got Married In St Pauls despite me only having 10th of the stationery budget.
  • I have a mother due to arrive to babysit in a few hours time who’ll want a typed minute by minute guide of the children’s tea and bedtime and how to work the TV (only 3 separate controls required; can’t see the problem)
  • I have friends who populate Facebook with Love! Joy! Laughter! Tears! Funny Quips!, which when I’m in this mood make me devoid of any good humour at all, and yet I masochistically still log-on to make my humour even blacker.
  • I have a one year old STILL YELLING despite being knackered after being taken for a run around Tesco by the four year old this morning, requiring me to have to ask people to help search for them.
  • I have acquired a total control-freak personality which means my blood pressure rises exponentially when people don’t reply to my emails IMMEDIATELY, or wedding ring websites don’t work FAST ENOUGH, or someone suggests I need to make ANOTHER DECISION about something (and yet can I delegate? No..)
  • I tell everyone that I’m quite relaxed about the wedding and am sure some things will go wrong and we’ll all cope, while inside I’m panicking because I haven’t done a final run through all the blinking wedding magazines I bought last year to pull out the things that I was interested in, and Oh My God what if I miss something?
  • I have a kitchen covered with porridge thrown around by the one year old this morning. It sets like cement and it’s just so tiresome cleaning it all up when you know it’s going to happen all over again the next morning.

On the plus side it’s now quiet upstairs. So I’ll have just one more chocolate and then get on with life. Or perhaps go and have a lie down for an hour with a cold compress.


On cycling like a native in Amsterdam


At the weekend, DS1 (age 3) and I went for a jolly to see some friends in Amsterdam. It was supposed to have been a long weekend en masse with the rest of the family but financial, time and health considerations eventually meant that DH stayed at home with DS2 and a bout of pneumonia – so bad that he had to call in my mother as a reinforcement on Sunday afternoon – while DS1 and I took the overnight ferry there, coming back 36 hours later.

On Sunday we were taken to the beach, which of course for a 3 year old was the most exciting thing ever, regardless of the fact that it was November and the North Sea was on the nippy side (I didn’t go in the water myself but I ascertained this fact after DS1 paddled for an hour and then went blue when he had an icecream).

The best aspect of Sunday for me, however, was not the water, but the fact that it did not require us to Get on a Bicycle.

I have had a bike for most of my life, and have indeed cycled quite happily round various university towns without much mishap apart from hippy floaty skirts getting stuck in the chain, and one occasion where the heel of my boot fell off half way down the Woodstock Road. However it has been a while since I’ve cycled on a regular basis. DH is going midlife cycle mad (clear victim of the Bradley Wiggins Effect) and the garage is filled with his (what I would call) ‘racer’ bikes – all of them with crossbars too high and saddles too hard for me to see any pleasure at all in trying to go anywhere on them. I also have a fundamental fear of speed, and of being out of control, so I do approach bicycling on random machines in unknown places with a degree of trepidation.

So imagine my delight when we met our lovely Dutch Friend (DF) outside the railway station, and she said she had thought we should hire a bike with a bucket at the front for DS to sit in. At this point I thought that was a fine idea, because I was under the impression that they were three-wheeled. Suited me. However when we got to the bike shop it turned out to be a two-wheeler, with the front wheel about the size of a saucepan lid and a lonnng way away from the rest of the machine. I didn’t fance wobbling that around Amsterdam with my first born and my luggage in the front, so went for the least worst option which was to ride DF’s bike.

Down side #1 of this was that DF was about a foot taller than me, and her bike was such an old rusty boneshaker the bike guy could only lower the saddle a couple of inches. So I had to jump down from the seat to touch the ground.

Down side #2 was that it was reverse-pedal braking. This is frankly a total nightmare, not least because I like to kick off pedalling with my right foot on a high pedal. But when I braked to stop and jumped forward off the seat to put my feet on the ground, the right pedal was invariably down. You couldn’t whizz it back up to starting position (as you would on a NORMAL bike) when you were ready to go, so to start again I had to stagger forward by foot until I got to the top of a bridge (of which there were many, thank goodness) and freewheel down it until my pedals got back into the correct position.

If DH had been there he would have noticed the alarm in my eyes and perhaps kindly suggested I take a taxi, but instead I just had to bite the bullet and go for it. We then spent the next two hours on a ‘scenic’ bike rid round a freezing Amsterdam, me with my eyes glued firmly on the back of DF, running through red lights in a desperate attempt to keep up and not to have to stop. At one point she turned round to find me and I tried to wave but my sleeve got caught on the handle which lurched the bike to the right; at another point, when she and several other cyclists actually had stopped at a red light after all, I somehow couldn’t get my wobbly legs to manoeuvre correctly and sailed straight towards her and a right-turning car, yelling ‘Fuuuuuuuu….’ – a disaster which DF calmly averted by just jamming her left arm out across my chest.

When we finally got to her flat I was a gibbering wreck, and had seen none of the sights at all she’d been trying to point out.

Her (British) boyfriend was thankfully a bit more sympathetic, and when we set out with him in the afternoon to see the Van Gogh exhibition (which, despite priding myself on my knowledge of linguistics AND art history, I’d failed to realise we were going to, thinking we were going somewhere unknown involving something called Ven <guttural cough > Hoch), no one suggested I got back on that bike.

Instead I was challenged to take a ride in the bucket at the front of the rental cycle, which was equally horrendous, but thankfully DS was desperate to go back into it so I was relieved from that position. Instead, after trying various people/bike configurations, it was decided that DF took DS in the bucket cycle, and her boyfriend took her bike … giving me a backie on the back.

I have never had a backie in my life. It has always seemed to me to be totally unnecessary. However the combined assumptions of everyone else that I was capable of this meant that I had to go along with things, or feign madness and fall in a dribbling heap in the middle of the street. So for the rest of the afternoon we mosied around Amsterdam, with me side-saddle on the back of the bike, on a metal structure apparently built for people to sit on. I can assure you that the state of the bruises on my bum do not regard that as true.

The most astonishing thing of the whole experience, however – and one which I still can’t quite get my head round – is the process for mounting. The boyfriend had to start pedalling to get some steam up, with me beetling behind him, and then when he gave me the nod, I had to somehow propel myself forward with my right hip in the lead, fast enough to keep up with him, and land accurately with my right buttock on this metal bit. Then I’d wriggle around until most of my bottom was in the right place, cross my legs at the side, shove my right hand round his waist (cunningly hiding it in his puffa jacket pocket to keep warm), and with my left holding for dear life onto the bike. And we had to do this every time he stopped, which as he is British, was at every red light, and sometimes at the bottom of slopes where our combined weight was defeating him.

Despite all of this, it was Not Too Bad. I couldn’t see where we were going, so just gazed left at lovely Dutch houses lit up in the gloaming, and fairy-lit bridges shining over canals. My bum got numb after a while, so to speak – though I can still feel the aches 3 days later – and before we knew it, I was leaping on and off that bike like a native.

Though when it came to going out for dinner later that day, we took the tram. What would they have proposed otherwise? 3 men on a bike? And alcohol? I knew not to push a good thing.

And thus endeth my observation on backies by a 41 year old woman. Wear padded pants. And look before you leap.