MY SON has reached the troublesome age of four and three quarters, a point of maximum frustration, especially for me. He wishes to be taught to play cricket, to perform card tricks and other things that are as yet beyond his capabilities. He is committed and stubborn, but the only thing for which he has shown any real aptitude is a well-thrown tantrum.

Our latest conflicts revolve around swimming and riding his bicycle. The bicycle was purchased last year as a reward for learning to swim, which is ironic because he has since gone back to clasping me around the neck in the shallow end. I have given up on swimming - I intend to leave his future tuition to professionals - but I don't think you can hire someone to teach your kid to ride a bike.

Initially Barnaby refused to do anything but admire his bicycle, something which annoyed me so much that I threatened to take it away. I regret that now. These days I spend most of my time trying to persuade him to give up and go home. For the first six months we just pulled him around on a rope tied to the handlebars. Then he made halting attempts to pedal. Now, a year on, we have reached a standstill. He cannot get the bike up even the slightest incline, but he refuses any aid. In spite of the stabilisers and a top speed of one mile per hour, he still manages to come off it with alarming regularity. When he does he lets out a shriek that brings the entire park to a standstill. As people gather around what they assume is a stabbing, his worst epithets are employed: stupid head, dumb dada, willy-man. "You are awful," he says, "and I hate you." Then it's back on the bike, and away we go.

I admire his persistence, but I do not share it. I have reacted with everything from extreme patience to complete loss of temper, but nothing seems to bring us a day closer to the time when he will ride with confidence. Last week, when I could no longer cope with the whining, the crying, the screaming and his refusal to let me touch or even approach his bike, I pulled him off it and threw it into the bushes. The au pair had to go and get it later. As I marched him home on foot, I could feel the stares of the other park-goers. "The kid's right," they were thinking. "He is a willy-man."

I recall that it was my mother who taught me to ride a bike. Unfortunately my wife can't teach Barnaby because she has just quit smoking. The last time they went out she was the one who had the tantrum.