My eyes nearly popped out of my head when I saw the email.
“Hi Emma,” it read. “We know quite a few places to do dirt jumping. Are you an experienced rider or are you just beginning to get into the sport?”
For the uninitiated, dirt jumping is a sport that involves cycling at top speed down a ramp, leaping high into the air, maybe doing a couple of twirls on the way down and then landing (hopefully the right way up) on a pile of soil. In other words, it’s a completely mad thing to do. The very thought that a fairly sane, middle-aged city-dweller who prefers to keep her feet firmly on the ground at all times would contemplate taking up dirt jumping made me laugh out loud.
But after a few seconds of puzzling over the email, everything fell into place. I’d been trying to help my bike-crazy son find some new places to pursue his hobby and had emailed a shop up north for advice. And for some reason, they’d assumed that it was me who was the dirt jumper.
Funnily enough, the email arrived soon after I read an interview with Dame Fiona Reynolds, director-general of the National Trust (she's just announced that she's stepping down to become Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge). She told The Times this week that children’s freedom to roam unsupervised has shrunk massively since the 1970s. “Children are missing out on the sheer joy and physical and mental well-being of being able to play outside and experience nature in all its messiness,” she said.
Well, not in this house they aren’t. We’ve lived in towns and cities since my son was five but he’s had more fresh air than any child I know. Not because of anything I’ve done but because as soon as he was old enough to ride a bike he grew obsessed with performing cycling tricks. The higher and scarier the better. In fact one summer he leapt merrily off a local hill on his bike, came adrift in mid-air and crashed down on to his handlebars with a horrendous thud. Result – a collar bone broken in three places and two months off bikes.
So, even though I’m forever worrying about him, my son definitely hasn’t missed out on “the sheer joy and physical and mental well-being of being able to play outside.” If only…