The kids have had an assortment of active or games-themed birthday parties: park football, 5-a-side football, gymnastics, trampolining, multi-sport, laser-quest, laser-tag, disco and my favourite, Raven.
For no.2 son’s eighth birthday last weekend, we went to the National Cycling Centre, where there is a hangar-sized indoor BMX course. We arrived early to guard against hitches completing liability forms for 14 youngsters. But the check-in went smoothly, giving us time to view the course from the stands. The kids went quiet. It was big and dangerous.
When our time came, the lucky 14 (no.2 son, brother, sister and eleven friends) were taken to get kitted up in protective arm and leg guards, helmets and gloves. Most were so small they had to wear elbow pads on their legs. A brief orientation led by a coach on the flat didn’t bode well as many of the kids seemed to have difficulty braking. But onward they went, onto the course. One-by-one they set off up and down the humps, so large and steep that they disappeared from view whenever in a trough. “Level pedals” and “Stand up straight” bellowed the coaches – and we were soon to find out why.
After a couple of mini-circuits the group moved to the more challenging part of the course, which ended with a steep climb that they had to pedal up (standing up straight) before coasting over the lip (level pedals) and stop or bear sharp left – or keep on straight into the pack of gasping parents. On their first laps, most didn’t quite have the momentum to make it up the final slope and had to be dragged up before they slid back down. A few crested the slope, then wiped out. There was one ugly collision – but both boys were back in the saddle in minutes.
Despite bumps, crashes, near misses and tired muscles they overcame their fears and all completed laps by the end. Only once was the first aid official called for – the accident happening somewhere in the distance, out of our sight.
For a breather, one coach took the birthday party to the top of the eight metre start hill used for elite competitions. The coach lined up the kids at the starting apparatus – without bikes. He pushed the button for the countdown and with a crack that had them all jumping, the starting barrier fell away leaving them teetering at the top of the hill.
Sweaty, tired and sore, but exhilarated, they went off to the cafe, where the party tea featured hot-dogs as long as some of the kids’ arms and a football pitch cake, decorated by Mrs TL while in the midst of a migraine.
No.2 son had a great, scarey time. No.1 son wants his next party to be there. More worryingly, the dads are looking to book a session and, caught up in the convivial atmosphere, I may have agreed to leave the touchline.