After knowing each other 26 years, and being a couple for 20, Sue and I got married on Sunday, in a ceremony on the shore of Ullswater in the Lake District. Our wedding was organised by our children, Bobby and Flo, with the help of the BBC, and forms part of a new TV series, ‘Marrying Mum and Dad’.
Working with the BBC has been a fantastic experience for all of us, but particularly Bobby and Flo. They now know how a TV programme is made – and so have a better understanding of the complex (and political) processes of cultural production and (once they’ve seen the ‘final result’) representation.
I’d have liked cycling to figure centrally on our wedding day, but knew that – by handing control to my children and the BBC – I’d have to accept what I was given! One thing 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’s from Dublin, Ireland, but lives with my sister, Sally, just down the road 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’ve 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’ve 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 were thrilled that his and Kathy’s second daughter, by then just 6 days old, was 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 rode 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’ve 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.
Blessed with a fine, dry evening, my plan was to ride up to Jubilee Tower before sunset. 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.
Up the tower we drank whiskey as the sun set, 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 when I pass it 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 secret, so even at this point Sue and I had no idea where we were going, or what we were doing.
So it was lovely to find we were heading for Penrith, and then, once off the train, to realise we were travelling south-west along Ullswater, past Glenridding to Old Water View, a lovely B&B in Patterdale for the night (as I practised my speech in a gorgeous spot by the river the next morning, a pair of nuthatches flew down and played round my feet).
This is a part of the world we know and love. (I guess the kids thought of it partly because a couple of years back we’d had a fantastic family adventure, kayaking 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.)
Our wedding day was pretty wild from start to finish. Bikes weren’t prominent; although Sue and I had already been filmed riding our tandem, and there were some lovely 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 think the BBC ‘got it about right’, in framing our wedding as ‘eco’ and inserting bikes 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 my professional work might fetishise them, their importance lies in how they enable particular ways of life, and – so long as they are centred instead of the car – disable other ways of life.
We’re not naive; the representation of us as a couple and family specifically, and of ‘green lifestyles’ more generally, isn’t within our control. We played along with certain, well-established cultural tropes (parents as boring), knowingly disrupted others (parents as in charge), and played along with caricatures of green living (being filmed down on our allotment, and riding our tandem). But we’re merely the raw material from 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 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 look forward to seeing how our lives are represented when the show comes to screen later this year. Until then, thanks to our wonderful friends and family for contributing at such short notice to so memorable a day, for suffering the waiting required by the BBC’s filming on a cold if dry day, and for indulging us and making us feel truly lucky and special. I can honestly say 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 intended to get married, but now we have done – and given the unusual circumstances – we’re glad we did.