My family moved to Winchester when I was 18 and I only really spent a brief period there attending Winchester School of Art for a year, before going off to University. However my mum and dad have lived there ever since and have a wonderful circle of friends and it’s a lovely place to live.
Since being home, I have been lucky enough to be invited by our friend Karen, into St Swithun’s Junior School in Winchester, to meet the girls and talk about our Bikeabout trip.
Cycling past the senior school at 8 o’clock on the cold Monday morning, I was half expecting Hogwarts. It is a lovely traditional grand old building that greets you and I was feeling a little nervous. The line up for the day was to talk to each year group for about an hour, with some activities along the way. I had plenty to talk about and a mountain of photos that I had printed and prepared in advance, but an hour still sounded like a long time.
I needn’t have worried though, the time races by when you are surrounded by children and they were so interested in the bike and all my stuff that the questions flowed easily.
We covered altitude sickness and mountains…
Hinduism in Bali, Indonesia with a class learning about India. Nursery and reception were learning about hot and cold, so we had fun dressing up in all my warm clothes and winter gear, as did the other year groups!
Trying out my down cocoon style sleeping bag proved to be very popular…
so was trying out my thermarest chair…
The older girls used my bike to work out number of rotations, distance and calculating circumference of a circle (wheel) as part of their maths lesson and I learned that my wheels are, surprisingly, 2 metres all the way round, meaning it takes 500 rotations to cover 1000 metres (1 kilometre)!
Another class was learning about customs and cultures, so in groups we looked at things we might have to consider when going to a temple or an important local place, what to wear, copying locals if you are not sure; what to do if you are invited into someone’s house or yurt; ways to communicate even if you can’t speak the language and we realised that gesture, mime and body language can be very useful, as well as being able to draw!
We also thought about things you might want to be able to say in the other person’s language. This allowed the girls to think about phrases that are not just useful for them (how much, where is, numbers), but things they could say to make the other person happy or at ease with having a foreigner there… thank you, the food is delicious, your country is lovely, nice to meet you, you have beautiful children, you are very kind. In my experience being able to connect with people and show or say this kind of sentiment can be more meaningful than ‘Where is the train station?’.
The girls were great to be with and enthusiastic about the trip, asking lots of intelligent questions. Some of the girls had parents who had met in the rainforest in Indonesia, others had aunts and uncles who were expedition medics, some had family living in other countries and it was really nice to hear their stories and thoughts about travelling in other countries.
The girls were interested in first aid and we talked about that during the day, luckily for us I had no gruesome injury stories to tell, and we talked about what ifs? for a while, although I was grateful to the teacher who pointed out that if we spent too much time worrying about what if, we’d never leave the house! Hear, hear.
Toilets were also an area of interest and I had fun watching their faces as I described the squat toilets in Asia, holes in the ground in Mongolia and communal trough style loos in China!
During Assembly, after some fabulous singing, I was able to tell the whole school about our charity Child’s Dream and our ambition to raise enough money to build a school. We launched a competition for the girls to enter, challenging them to draw a picture to go on the welcome home banner for Bikeabout London on 11th Feb, to welcome Chris home to the UK. The winning entries will be printed on the large banner and the students pay a pound to enter. Watch this space!
So I had a great day at St Swithun’s and I’d forgotten how nice it is to be in a primary school, so colourful and energetic! I was shattered by the time I got home, it’s exhausting – I don’t know how teachers do it everyday, hats off to them – makes cycle touring look easy.
The staff and students all made me very welcome and I really enjoyed spending time with everyone there, so a big thank you to Karen for organising it and to everyone at St Swithun’s Junior school for letting me join them for a day.