Saturday, 31 August 2013

A bicycle made for two...or sometimes three.

About four weeks ago P got his first pedal bike. He had had a balance bike for some time so we were fairly confident that he'd get the hang of it fairly quickly, and indeed, it took him precisely 30 minutes to learn to ride (compared to the several years I seem to remember it taking me). We bought it on the Saturday and went for a brief 15 minute wobble, then the following day set off to let him have a longer go by walking to the "big swings", just over a mile away. By the time we went under the railway bridge he was away and C was just running alongside watching. So that was that, up to a point: he still hasn't quite grasped that you can't just sit on the seat, take both feet off the floor, and then start pedalling, so starting off can be a little hit and miss.

However, given that he will be tired, and the weather is likely to be increasingly miserable, and the evenings increasingly dark, and he has the road-sense of a suicidal pheasant at the best of times, he's probably still not quite ready to cycle home from school when he starts in a couple of weeks. So we thought that some sort of device to enable him to cycle safely, attached to my bike, was in order.

The majority of tag-along bikes seem to attach to the seat-post, which is a problem for me, as I am not really tall enough to have any seat-post to speak of, but then we came across something called a Follow-me Tandem, and that seemed to fit the bill quite nicely. It attaches to the rear wheel of an adult bike and allows you to connect and tow an ordinary child's bike. This means that when the child grows, you just replace their bike as you would anyway. Since it is easily detachable, it also has the advantage that you can tow them along the road, and then when you get somewhere safe, detach their bike, clip the "Follow-me" up out of the way, and all ride independently. What's more, if you're brave (and strong) enough, you can even have a childseat on the adult bike too, and transport two kids at the same time. We placed the order.

The contraption when it arrived took a little bit of setting up, but now it's on and we're having fun getting the hang of using it. Or at least, I am, since it is me that will be riding it most often. Although for many years I cycled several times a day, that came to an end when we moved out of Oxford and I started commuting in by train, and since I became pregnant with P, 5 years ago, I haven't really cycled at all.

After such a gap, getting the hang of riding my bike again with P's on the back is proving something of a challenge (especially when P unexpectedly wobbles because he's craning round to look at something). Hills are particularly interesting as I am so out of practice and there's quite a lot of extra weight on the back, but on the plus side, when P pedals, it definitely helps. To be honest, the main difficulty is wheeling the thing, rather than riding it. It really is quite a long vehicle, and rather heavy, with a very large turning circle. Trying to push it out of the garden, negotiating the garden table and chairs, and all the plants is a bit of a tricky manoeuvre, and trying to stand it up against a wall or something is nigh on impossible, unless there are two of you. However, we're gradually getting the hang of it, and practice, as they say makes perfect, so time for some more nice bike rides en famille while the good weather lasts.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Never the Twain

Some time ago I essentially gave up knitting for the boys. Handknits being what they are (not improved by frequent washing, prone to snags and pulls...), and small boys being what they are (perpetually covered in mud and/or food, prone to wrestling and running into bushes...) anything I made tended to get ruined depressingly quickly, or else the great cry went up "it itches", and it was never worn at all.

About Christmas, however, seeing me parcel up things I'd knitted for his new cousin in Australia, P came and asked me if I would knit him something for a change, so I asked him what he would like and he said a jumper with a train on it, and I relented and agreed.

My original plan was quite straightforward (so I thought). Two tank tops - one each - in the same colours, reversed, with a colourwork train around the bottom. I planned to knit them in something machine washable and not too warm, like bamboo, so that they could be worn over a t-shirt in the late spring when the weather was likely to be cool enough to need something, but perhaps not an actual jumper. I bought some yarn and set to work.

First I sketched out a train design on squared paper, then I worked out my gauge and did the maths and worked out the train design again to make it fit the size I needed. Then I swatched the train, and decided some of the coaches etc. were too long, and redesigned it again. Then I swatched again. Then I decided the fabric was too loose, changed needles, recalculated the number of stitches again, redesigned the train, and swatched again. Then P asked me if one of the carriages could be a crane, so I changed it again. Then I finally started knitting properly, but when I got to the train I found knitting in the round the carried thread showed through a lot where the yarn was carried round between the front of the engine and the end of the guard's van, so I spent some time experimenting with different ways of carrying and catching in the yarn, and swatched in the round about three times.

At this point I did what I should have done in the first place and did some reading about colourwork (and asked about a bit among the knitting cognoscenti) and realised that bamboo was a silly thing to chose and I really needed something that would stick together more, like wool. So I considered chucking the whole thing in the bin, but P kept asking "is my jumper finished yet", so I didn't. Then I considered just doing the whole thing in duplicate stitch, which would probably have been better on the whole, but I refused to be beaten. So I replanned everything yet again to leave the smallest possible number of stitches between the two ends of the train, and set myself to learn to hold the two colours one in each hand, and that seemed to work better. And I finally got going in earnest. For about 15 minutes three times a week, because that's about how much time I get to knit these days.

And now at long last, after more delays while I worked out how to shape the arm holes, and the neck, and how to do the ribbing on the neck, and how to unpick it and do it again differently because P couldn't get his head through, and whether or not I should sew buttons on for the wheels* - finally, they're finished. Just in time for the coolish autumn weather. And they must have, ooh, all of three weeks' wear left in them before they'll be too small. Still, gives them less time to rip, stain, and generally ruin them I suppose.

 * Consensus of opinion on Facebook was not.