Celebrities saddle up for mammoth bike ride in aid of Donna Louise Children’s Hospice

If my Sentinel colleague Martin Spinks’ masterplan is to pull a hamstring at Fort William in the hope that I will be his substitute then he is sadly mistaken.

The last time yours truly sat on a bike it was 1984 and that bike was a Raleigh Grifter.

Sitting on a bike these days is an alien concept to me. Riding 960 miles is clearly madness.

But that’s what a bunch of celebrities and media types have volunteered to do in aid of our very own Donna Louise Children’s Hospice at Trentham Lakes.

They’re an odd bunch – and I mean that in a nice way – who have been thrown together for a mighty challenge to ride from John O’Groats to Land’s End.

We’ve got stalwart Donna Louise supporters Nick Hancock and Tony Pulis, Tony’s daughter Steph, fashion guru Jeff Banks, actor Dean Andrews, BBC Radio Five Live’s Mark ‘Chappers’ Chapman, BBC Midlands Today’s Dan Pallett and, of course, our Spinksy.

You learn a lot about someone when you are stuck in a confined space for several days.

So what have I learned so far in between sleeping on tiny bunks on our tour bus which is following the riders as they take turns, in pairs, to ride four to six hour shifts?

Well, I’ve learned that Tony Pulis likes Green Tea and hates Twitter.

I’ve learned that it’s best not to be around Dean Andrews when he’s had curry, baked beans or energy supplements.

I’ve found out that Jeff Banks smokes big Cuban cigars and has a penchant for embellishing the truth.

I’ve also learned that there are two types of celebrity. The ones who talk and the ones who do.

There’s been no moaning from any of the riders despite a nine-hour unscheduled stop at Lancaster services on the M6 when our tyre blew out.

There’s been no belly-aching about the lack of sleep, the cramped conditions and the camp-style food being served on trestle tables as we inch slowly south.

They’ve all given up their time for a brilliant local charity which is close to the hearts of so many people in North Staffordshire.

Over the next few days they will eat carbohydrates until they come out of their ears, be woken in the dead of night and be riding in all weathers for hours on end.

Give them you’re support please. They’re a great bunch and they’re earning it – and massive respect.

*Anyone wishing to make a donation should log on to: http://www.onyerbike2012.org and click on Sponsor The Riders

Holiday made me remember just why I love Scotland

Holidays are supposed to be relaxing. This is, of course, a myth perpetuated by travel operators and anyone who doesn’t have children.
How many times have you picked up a holiday brochure to be confronted by a gorgeous,
bikini-clad woman on a lilo floating across a calm, sky blue swimming pool seemingly without a care in the world?
I guess the image of said woman trying to cram her family and most of her household belongings into a car in the pouring rain isn’t quite so appealing.
Yes, the truth is that – for parents – going on holiday is one of the most stressful and tiring undertakings of the year. So much so that I’ve returned to work for a rest.
It wasn’t like I’d been on a round-the-world trip, either. We had a week in Dorset and a week in Cornwall.
It started off well enough. Despite my protestations, we managed to squeeze two children, a puppy and most of our worldly goods into a small hatchback.
Granted, I couldn’t see out of the back window and my car did have a Flintstone-esque lilt to it as we went round corners – but we coped.
We also possess something my mum and dad never had – the advantage of in-car DVD players.
However, having listened to The Wishing Chair theme tune a couple of dozen times I was ready to throw the technology out of the window by the time we reached the M5.
Which was precisely where the problems began. That was where the four-hour journey to Dorset turned into an eight-hour slog.
We hit a tailback so impressive it would have had Norris Mcwhirter reaching for his notebook.
That’s when I developed an irrational hatred for caravans and motorhomes and that infamous radio travel bulletin phrase ‘sheer weight of traffic’.
That’s when the bribes with confectionery and endless games of I spy commenced.
I have honestly never seen so many vehicles. While the northbound carriageway was like the D-Road at 3am on a Sunday, it seemed like the whole of the UK was heading south to stay in the same cottage as us.
You may have thought that our Sat-Nav would have come to our rescue at this point. You’d be wrong.
Robot-voice attempted to divert us across cabbage patches and down country lanes last navigated by a horse and cart when we still had an empire.
Suffice to say that it’s good, old-fashioned maps for the Tideswells from now on.
Delays and traffic jams became a recurring theme for the whole holiday.
Sadly, the congestion didn’t ease even when we arrived at our various destinations.
You see, I remember Land’s End as having a gift shop and nowt else. These days it is a costly tourist attraction with a car park so vast you need a map to find your vehicle.
Quaint little fishing village St. Ives was like Hanley on a Saturday night – only with a few more parking spaces and bit less vomit.
St. Michael’s Mount – that beautiful island just off the coast of Penzance – was overrun with so many tourists as to render a visit to the priory/fortress pointless.
Wherever we went, no matter how early we set off, there were hordes of people pushing and shoving and driving round in circles for the holy grail of a parking space.
I realised that things have changed an awful lot since mum and dad took my brother and I on holiday to Paignton all those years ago.
Basically, England is now full. Enough said. Never mind whether or not it’s the school holidays there are simply too many people and too many cars.
Given that all of the places of interest were rammed I fell back on the simple pleasures.
The weather was overcast but who cared? It was ice creams all round down on the beach at Sennen Cove.
Then my mum fell asleep while the missus read the paper.
Lois scoured the rock pools with granded and fearless, four-year-old Mina paddled in the sea (even though it felt like the water temperature was around minus 30).
Meanwhile yours truly set about building sand castles with the kind of care and precision employed by Arthur Wellesley in the construction of the Lines of Torres Vedras.
Waves crashed against the rocks, the seagulls cried and finally everyone relaxed.
It was at that point that I remembered why we holiday in Scotland every year: Because when you get north of Fort William there’s no bugger there.