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Today (15th March) is Red Nose Day and I've just got back from dropping my eldest son at school - he was wearing a strange combination of red, white and red clothing. The playground was full of activity - kids with red dinosesaurs on their noses, kids with red hair, kids wearing red spotted clothes. The school has 440 pupils, and I saw a couple of children in school uniform (I suspect there are some parents spending the day feeling terrible they forgot - I remember the shame well from Children in Need when N was in reception!)
Today (15th March) is also Stage 12 in the Big Pedal (a nationwide initiative to get kids cycling to school) and I've just got back from dropping my eldest son at school by bike - he's 6 and was on a tagalong behind my bike. The bike shed was virtually empty - I saw a couple of kids on scooters. The school has 440 pupils, and 4 cycled to school today.
At workplaces around the UK today people will be wearing Pyjama's, shaving their heads and posing nude for calendars, all whilst wearing red foam dinosaurs on their noses. Some of them may notice the "cyclist" arriving - that crazy person who rides even when it's cold and wet.
This made me think - wouldn't it be lovely if cycling was as common in the UK on a daily basis as red noses are today. If people were considered strange if they didn't cycle, and if school bike sheds were full of bikes all year round.
Comic Relief has managed to get people having fun whilst tackling some of the most horrific and shameful stories in the world. It's engaged people of all ages on a nationwide scale, and it's easy to get involved. It's at the perfect time of the year - we're almost 3 months from Christmas, and it's still dull and grey - we need cheering up!
Whilst I think the Big Pedal is a brilliant idea, I do wonder why on earth it starts in February. Who in their right mind is going to start cycling to school with their kids when it's snowing or lashing down with rain?
Surely there must be something to be learned from this. Yes, there are some very serious things to resolve - it's impossible for most people in the UK to cycle safely on the roads. But, Comic Relief has managed to get people engaged, from celebrities and politicians to school children. Virtually everyone wants to be part of it.
On the other hand, cycling tends to be portrayed as a battle; a "them and us" situation with cyclists pitched against drivers. There are so many different cycling factions and the debate reverts to the predictable - Cycle lanes verses cycle paths, wearing bike helmets verses not wearing bike helmets, infrastructure verses training. Inevitably it all ends up going round in circles, with the majority of the transport budget spent on roads, and most people driving themselves and their children everywhere.
On the whole, cycling tends to be portrayed in the media as a male, lycra-clad activity for MAMIL's (Middle Aged Male In Lycra), when actually its a wonderful, fun activity that all the family should be able to enjoy for both recreation and as a means of transport.
I know I'm being idealistic - that there is huge amount of money and politics involved in Comic Relief, and that's it's only one day a year. But it proves that if you make something fun, easy to do and safe, people will clamour to get involved. If the same level of creativity, money and energy employed to make Red Nose day a success was direct towards improving cycling provision within the UK, perhaps we'd see the playgrounds full of fit, healthy, cycling kids - every day of the year!
To donate to Comic Relief visit www.rednoseday.com
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