After knowing each other for 26 years, and being a couple for 20, Sue and I got married on Sunday, in a ceremony on the shore of Ullswater. Our wedding was organised by our children, Bobby and Flo, with the help of the BBC, and will form part of a new series, ‘Marrying Mum and Dad’.
Working with the BBC has been a fantastic experience for all of us, but perhaps particularly for Bobby and Flo. They now have first-hand experience of how a TV programme is made – and so a much more informed understanding of the complex (and political) processes of cultural production and (once they’ve seen the ‘final result’) representation.
I personally would have liked bicycles and cycling to figure centrally on our wedding day, but was well aware that – by handing control to my children and the BBC – I’d have to accept whatever I was given! One thing more under my control was my stag party; the BBC had no interest in this – too much alcohol and too few children!
So a celebratory pre-wedding bike ride was in order.
Most of us met at Dalton Square in the centre of Lancaster. This was a real coming-together of men with different connections to me and also to cycling.
Two of my brothers-in-law, Derek and Mike, have probably got more interested in cycling through their relationship to me. Derek is from Dublin, Ireland, but lives with my sister, Sally, just down the road from us in Lancaster. Mike, Sue’s brother, is originally from southern England, but lives in County Cork, Ireland; just the previous week we’d ridden together from his home in Schull to Ireland’s most south-westerly point at Mizen Head.
There were guys who I have come to know mainly through riding: John K, Colin and Jim ride on Monday nights, come rain or shine, all year round – over the last few years I have sometimes joined them, ridden sportives with them, and gone away for occasional weekends with them, and Jim and I are riding together in France for 10 days in June. Jon B, meanwhile, has for the last couple of years been my most regular training partner.
There were guys who I campaign with – John L, Paul and Rob are fellow members of Dynamo, Lancaster and District’s Cycling Campaign. John L has been involved since the start, back in 1994. Paul had torn himself away from domestic duties; Sue and I had the enormous privilege of his and Kathy’s second daughter, by then just 6 days old, being present at our wedding party at Glenridding Village Hall on Sunday evening.
And there were guys who I got to know originally through green politics, and with who – over the years – I’ve shared all kinds of adventures, bike-based and otherwise: Baz (who took these photos – thanks Baz!), Jon S, Cen and Mark.
There was Ian, who Sue and I once lived with in London – he also got married outdoors in the Lake District, to Ellie, and soon afterwards they pedaled overland across Europe and Africa from their then-home in Kendal to their new home in Cape Town, South Africa, where Ian is originally from (though they have recently returned to Kendal).
And Graham, who bought a touring bike last year, to pedal around the Isle of Man, and will this year ride around the Yorkshire Dales.
Given we were blessed with a fine, dry evening, my plan was for us to ride up to Jubilee Tower before sunset. I thought this would give us a view to remember, taking in Blackpool Tower and the Fylde, Morecambe Bay, the Isle of Man, and the Lake District; and it would also mean getting the hard work out of the way – Jubilee Tower is only around 5 miles out of Lancaster, but 287 metres above sea level and a stiff climb pretty much all the way.
On top of the tower, we drank whiskey as the sun set, and then descended in the cold to my favourite bike-friendly local pub, The Stork at Conder Green. When we were chucked out, we rode along the Lune estuary, emptied the bottles of whiskey by bike light after midnight, and wobbled back into Lancaster.
Thanks guys, for indulging me, giving me a great night, and new memories of Jubilee Tower which will return whenever I pass it for the rest of my life.
The girls, by the way, also got out and about – they chose to walk, heading up Arnside Knott for food, champagne, singing and general frivolity.
I’m glad our wedding wasn’t the next day – I needed it to recover. We were, however, doing more filming with the BBC, before they packed the four of us off by train – Bobby and Flo did a (disturbingly?) fantastic job of keeping everything a secret, so even at this point Sue and I still had no idea where we were going, or what we’d be doing.
It was lovely to learn, then, that we were heading for Penrith, and then, when we got off the train, to realise that we were being taken south-west along Ullswater, past Glenridding to Old Water View, a quite lovely B&B in Patterdale for the night (as I practised my speech in a gorgeous spot by the river the following morning, a pair of nuthatches flew down and played around my feet).
This is a part of the world which we know and love. (I guess the kids thought of it partly because a couple of years back we’d had a fantastic family kayaking and camping adventure, paddling up and down Ullswater together, before climbing Helvellyn via Striding Edge from Glenridding; and also because on a recent trip to the Heaton Cooper Studio in Grasmere we’d treated ourselves to a print of one of William Cooper Heaton’s very fine paintings of the lake, which now adorns our living room.)
The following day, our wedding day, was pretty wild from start to finish. Bikes probably figured less prominently than I’d hoped; although Sue and I had already been filmed riding our tandem, and there were some lovely little bike-oriented touches – on our wedding cake, and amongst the table decorations – a broken bike helmet as a plant pot anyone? (it’s kind of weird but also ace that our wedding marquee was decorated by a BBC set designer).
In hindsight, however, I’m inclined to feel that the BBC ‘got it about right’, in framing our wedding as ‘eco’ and inserting bicycles as just one aspect of that. That fits with how I see bicycles – integral to a green way of life; and also how bicycles figure in our own, ordinary lives – although in my professional work I tend to fetishise them, their importance lies in the ways they enable a particular way of life, and – so long as they are centred instead of the car – disable other ways of life.
Obviously, we’re not naive here; the representation of us as a couple and family specifically, and of ‘green lifestyles’ more generally, is not something we are able to control. We knowingly played along with certain, well-established cultural tropes (such as parents as boring), knowingly disrupted others (such as parents as in charge), and willingly played along with caricatures of green living (being filmed down on our allotment, and riding our tandem). But we are merely the raw material out of which a team of people will produce a TV programme, and the degree to which these aspects of our lives and identities are portrayed sympathetically, comically and/or critically is up to those more influential cultural producers.
Nonetheless, we hope that as well as forming ‘children’s entertainment’, our 30 minutes of fame might also have some educational value, and – however represented – at least push alternative ideas and visions of family life momentarily into the mainstream cultural frame.
Certainly, we’ll look forward to seeing how our lives are represented when the show comes to screen later this year. Until then, thanks to all our wonderful friends and family for contributing at such short notice to such a memorable day, for suffering the waiting around required by the BBC’s filming of the event on a cold if dry day, and for indulging us and making us feel so truly lucky and special. I can honestly say that I’ve never felt more affirmed than as I sat listening to my brother Bruce, my best man, deliver his speech, then again as Sue and her mates – Anni, Sue K, Betty and Sharon – sang so joyfully for me, and finally as minus Sue, they sang a superb version of Buzzcocks’ ‘Ever Fallen in Love with Someone (you shouldn’t've)’ to the two of us.
We never really intended to get married, but now that we have done and given the rather extraordinary circumstances, we’re kind of glad we did.