Sunday, 4 July 2010

The Homer Simpson School of Parenting

I'm proud to report that Zack bagged his first major summit the other day, reaching the top of the highest of the Brecon Beacons, Pen y Fan. At 2907 feet, this was comfortably the highest peak he had ever ascended. Actually, the only other two summits he had conquered were the slightly less daunting challenges of Robinswood Hill and Orrest Head, so this was quite the achievement.

We were part of a group of about ten or so, mostly people from my office at work. Zack was by far the youngest in the group and had decided, quite firmly, that he would be accompanying me on this expedition once I had mentioned that the walk was taking place. Now, honestly, I had mixed feelings about Zack's insistence that he would join us on the climb up Pen y Fan. I was very pleased that he had shown an unprompted interest in the ascent and knew that once he had decided that he wanted to do it that he was quite unlikely to change his mind. But, on the other hand, this was a 7 mile slog with over 2000 feet of ascent and the last thing I wanted was for him to find the whole thing too much, abandon it and to be forever scarred, never again wishing to walk up a big hill.

Things did not get off to much of a good start. The route we had chosen was, by necessity, circular which resulted in the first 40 minutes being a tramp along a dull, slightly ascending lane with high hedges on both sides precluding any chance of a view. This was tedious walking and if you happened to be finding it hard going there was little to distract you from aching legs. And Zack did appear to be struggling with the conditions. We had not put so much as a booted foot on the hillside and the poor lad was tiring. There wasn't much I could offer by way of comfort. Pointing out that there was at least another 2-3 miles of upward slopes didn't seem like the best direction to take the conversation, but I was very conscious that I should not allow my enthusiasm for the day's walk clash with my responsibility to be, well, a responsible parent. If Zack wanted to quit the walk less than one hour in then I had to follow his lead and, within sight of the first bit of open hillside he opined that maybe the whole thing had been a mistake.

I gently persuaded him to heave his bones a little further and, to encourage him some more, inserted a Mars Bar into him. This seemed to perk him up quite a bit (along with the promise of a second Mars Bar later on if he persevered). It was at this point that I had what turned out to be a surprisingly productive idea, and one that I imagine would not be found within the pages of a Miriam Stoppard book on parenting. I promised him that, should he complete the round trip then I would buy him three packets of Match Attax football cards. This was not a bribe, and how dare you suggest that it was. It was, ummm, an incentive. And, as incentives go, it, combined with the sugar rush from the Mars Bar, gave Zack's legs the boost he needed to get all the way to the top and all the way down. In fact, I should point out that whereas earlier in the walk Zack was struggling to keep up with the group, by half way up he was having no trouble keeping pace with everyone and, indeed, nearer the top showed little sign of slowing down, which was more than could be said for some of my work colleagues. Admittedly, he did talk rather a lot about the joys awaiting him back at the campsite shop (where he and Rachel had quickly established you could purchase the aforementioned Match Attax cards) but even this topic of conversation receded somewhat as he was silenced, nearing the summit, by the majestic views of the Cwm Sere valley opening up before us. Either that or he was contemplating the prospect of his second Mars Bar of the day.