|Part 1..The Rise..
The best-laid schemes oí mice aní men
Gang aft agley.
The lad wha coined that saying, certainly hit the nail on the head.
When I was in my cycling years, I rode
all the country roads in and around Angus and Perthshire. I never craved
company on these rides, as I much preferred the solitary experience. I
always carried my camera and would shoot away quite casually, lost in my
own company. My sketch book was also a pleasant pastyme to be enjoyed.
At wayside stops, I would sit for ages and try to capture all the
various shapes and shades of the world within my vision.
Summer and winter, I would pack my
rucksac and away to the roads. I never aspired to anything more exciting
than what I had so far found to be very rewarding and infinitely
satisfying. I always looked for that wee bit of detail that, had I been
more hurried, I certainly would have missed completely.
And so it was on a fine spring morning
that I found myself on the road from Blairgowrie to the Bridge of Cally.
This is a pleasant road, if not a bit busy with the sunday drivers, but
then, after a week of work in the city, a pleasant country drive is to
It was around noon when I became aware of
an unfamiliar sound behind me. Glancing over my shoulder I was
astonished to find a whole pack of yellow and blue clad cyclists
me, with never a passing glance. Fine they looked in their club colours,
all very linear and military like, in their efficient fast lane.
Now, never being one to resist a
challenge, I rose to the defensive and also feeling somewhat peeved at
being dismissed like a lagging snail, I took off after them, in hot
pursuit. I somehow think they sensed the lone challenge, for after a
brief and casual glance behind him, the tail man gave a call and
suddenly the pace of the riders geared up and poor Graham found himself
once more, pedalling alone on an empty road.
On and on, the riders lost to sight now,
I rode , a feeling of foolishness suddenly overwhelming me. I was never
a good sprinter, but I had an ease of pace, which, when applied in the
could carry me for many miles without undue loss of energy. My
metabolism was such that long arduous rides could be accomplished with
just the right frame of mind and a good machine under me.
Slowing to my normal pace, I carried on
my journey, thinking of my next stop at the wee shop at the Cally
bridge. Climbing now and then, the long plunge down, with the Forest of
Clunie to the west, I came within sight of my rest stop. Imagine my
feeling of embarrassment; all along the grass verge at this well used
site, there, laughing and howling in merry banter were the cycle aces.
Arriving amidst jeers and ribald
comments, I could do naught but feel sheepish amongst the speedsters.
However, one of them, who I later knew as the coach, quieted them down
and thrust his hand out for a cheery introduction. His name was Jocky.
We spoke awhile and he explained they were
the local club out for a training session from Dundee. So the talk went
on, then one by one they took their leave of me, this tyme being much
friendlier than I had given them credit for. There were a few
insults, directed at my bikeís appearance but it was not meant to
offend, only tease, for that is the way of the club men. Jocky, before
he left, invited me to the next club meeting as they were always looking
for new members, so I shook the hand of the man who would soon become my
trainer and mentor.
I have never suffered from the curse of
envy, but on that day, watching them fly north up the Black Water for
the moor and Blacklunans and then south they would turn for Kirkton of
Glenisla and the roads homeward, I was filled with a strong desire to be
part of that elite band. I secretly coveted the distinctive club jerseys
they wore, Royal Blue jackets and the tight fitting yellow jersey with
same blue on the collar and cuff. Like a troop of phantom Hussars they
faded out of sight. I stood looking after them and determined in my
mind, to change my style and mode of riding.
Six months had passed from that meeting
and I was a new man.
I had gone to the meeting as arranged and
been accepted as a fledgeling member. Now for the hard part. I started
nightly training sessions. After the dayís work, I changed in the
office, out of my uniform and into my road gear and away wriggling
through homeward bound commuters with my thoughts on the quietness of
the country and the soft whirring of turning chain eating up the miles.
Up the CouperAngus road, past Camperdown Park and speedily through
Birkhill and Five Mile House, to turn west at Newtyle and then the long
farming road to the small village of Kettins. Then back south for home.
This route is roughly twenty odd miles and no sweat for a well trained
I was now competing, at a modest level,
in some tyme trialing events, and was fast learning the tricks and the
knowledge needed to achieve some success in the local cycling events.
One night, I had a call from the secretary of the club and he informed
me that the new order for club jerseys had come from the makers. I was
next in line to get one. This was one of the special moments for me.
That Saturday, I picked it up from my local cycle shop. It cost me
twenty-five pounds. I thought it worth every penny. I would wear it
proudly and compete with more aggressive vigour and bring in trophies
and honours galore for myself and the club.
The next day would dawn and my jersey
would be seen for the first tyme, traveling in the pack, forever looking
for that extra burst of speed that would thrust me to the winning tape.
The route that was chosen for that ride was the Alyth circuit. Lovely
country this, but not for the stopping to admire now. Ancient sights
here, littered with old Pictish stones, memories of another tyme. But no
tyme now to evoke the spirits of the long dead, only the road, the
steady gobbling up of miles, left behind they were, cast aside in my
frantic bid to be faster.
We started out early that day, all
laughing and eager for the thrill of the speed and the constant
challenges, daring each other as to who would make the first break from
the pack and the chase and
to the pursuit, like the hounds after the hare, we fought for position
and bullied our way to prime position for first blood.
Northward through the old market town of
Forfar, swinging west for Kirriemuir, home of Peter Pan, and then the
Airlie road to the Alyth Braes. A Royal road this, lots of history here,
dark deeds done, in the name of honour, plenty of broadsword diplomacy
once, but now lonely and lovely and green upon green the fields stretch
into the distance.
Now the Braes, undulating hills with
hidden bends, one has to be on guard for the tractor or the many other
farmyard monsters that may suddenly lurch from a gate in the endless
miles of dry stane dykeing. Into Alyth and then the loop back eastward
and north for the Loch of Lintrathen. It was here I made my break.
Taking advantage of a lull in awareness, I struck out in a pounding,
pedalling fury. Crouching in full racing position I went for hell or
damnation. Two Sunday cyclists, out for a leisurely ride, were startled
by my sudden appearance. We three were at the top of a rather sharp
right hand bend in the road. They pulled further into the side to let me
pass. Bearing down on them at high speed, I must have appeared like some
wild tiger in black tights. Passing them just before the bend I could
see the girlís wide-eyed stare.
Beyond that bend would be my nightmare.
Part 2..The Fall..
The corner was sharper than I imagined. I
pulled the bike over in a sharp banking manoeuvre. My speed was up and
the brae was steep. My heart thumping now and my muscles straining to
pull the bike round and away from the tree looming before me. For a
moment I thought I would make it and in that instant, hope flowed, but
then, fate played itís hand.
Gravel .... ordinary gravel, something
cyclists avoid like a plague. On corners, on that steep downward bend,
on that brae, I slid into it and my control was taken from me. The front
wheel hit a gnarled root part of the tree and I was catapulted like a
rag doll into the air. My bike went on its own path, and for a
moment I was suspended above the ground.
No bird dropping ever splattered that
narrow country road as royally as I did that day. I landed with a
monumental clatter and the snapping of my bones resounded in my ears. I
slid, on my back through that gravel to come to rest with a moan, on the
side of the road.
My spectacular cycling act had not gone
unnoticed. Hundreds of rookies nesting high up on the limbs of that tree
had risen, taking instant fright at the sound of my demise. I could see
them high above and hear their relentless caw, caw, cawing. It seemed to
me that they were having a grand old laugh at my expense. Their cries
echoed far down the braes.
The pain was everywhere. I emerged from a
blackness to gaze at a pair of blue eyes looking down on me with a
mixture of pity and worry. I recognised the wide eyed girl. The pain
would not leave and I was beginning to feel a cold sickness washing over
me. Voices now and more faces appearing. I heard Jocky speaking and
waving his arms and more voices and men glancing down at me. A jacket
was put under my head and another over me .
I struggled to rise but I could not get
my right shoulder off the ground. My legs were flailing in an effort to
sit, but to no avail. The lass gently pushed me back down into a lying
position and kept talking to me all the while. I cannot remember her
words, but I can remember the blueness of her eyes. My right leg felt
wet, warm like at first, then to cold. I thought the obvious ... Oh no
.. not that .... not while this lass is here. I still had an element of
dignity, even lying here, helpless, like some fallen knight ... but it
was blood seeping through my cycling tights, all torn now by the gravel
... as sharp as any razor, it had cut into me all down my right side.
I became aware now of a siren away far
down the strath, but getting nearer and nearer. Then a kindly uniformed
medic ... soothing me and feeling with his eyes and hands, the extent of
my injuries. A stretcher was gently guided under me and I was lifted
into the back of the ambulance. I was given oxygen. I kept inquiring
about my bike .... worried about itís injuries too. My hand was gently
squeezed ... it was blue eyes, saying goodbye.
With all haste ... the journey to Dundee
Royal Infirmary. The pain was getting worse and I was again feeling
nauseous. Into the casualty ward with me. Injections and X-Rays. A nurse
folded my right arm over my chest and there I was, in a sling, the pain
now somehow abated. Two things happening at the same tyme. Me sitting on
a bench, in a ward, at the end of a corridor, looking at three
approaching figures. Becoming aware also of an approaching nurse,
bearing in her left mit, a pair of silvery scissors. The figures
entering the small ward .... my wife and two worried sons. The nurse
bustling, all business now and the scissors and the nurse pulling up the
edge of my yellow jersey.
I cannot divulge, for the sake of
delicacy and good manners what was was going on in my mind at that
moment, but I knew exactly what Florence had on HER mind. Injured I was,
bleeding and broken of
bones, but there was no way I was allowing that jersey to be cut from my
body ... An argument ensued, she said yes ... I said no, she was
adamant, I was stubborn. There could be no compromise here. So .. she
seeing my determination, the angel that she was, relented. She gently
eased the jersey over my left shoulder, but had to raise my right one to
pull it completely off. It was then the pain really kicked in. Imagine
my collarbone ..broken clean in two ...being raised up to let the jersey
slip off,,, my shoulder blade...a dreadful dullness there...my skwaking
must have been heard throughout the hospital...The pain was washing over
me and I fell over in a dead faint.
I awoke in a bed, all tied up like a
The full extent of my injuries, broken
collar bone, fractured shoulder blade, cuts and abrasions on my head,
face, arm, cracked ribs, and the left cheek of my arse ... they had to
clean bits oí gravel out of it ... so here I was, lying in hospital on
a fine Sunday night, with no where to go and in the company of another
three patients. On the left , a lad whose wife had just run off and left
him, whilst he was in here having an operation to relieve his
haemorrhoid complaint. On the right, a country cheil, who had just taken
off his two fingers on a bandsaw. .. Dead ahead ... this was a cracker
... this lad had appeared for Sunday overtyme at the Blue Circle
concrete plant. He was first in and decided to start early. He climbed
into an enormous concrete mixer to start cleaning and scraping it. Well
.. in comes his workmate ... switches on a switch ... this poor lad had
injuries you cannot even imagine. He lay all night in my ward surrounded
by doctors and nurses. He could not move, but man... could he shout ...
he used every Celtic expletive known to scholars, like myself, and some
more Iíve yet to figure out.
I lay here for a week. I had escaped
serious injury. I was strapped up and would remain so for about six
weeks. I came home and life went on.
The winter came and I started back at
work in mid December. I was put on night shift as the work load was
easier during the wee hours. Then spring arrived and I was once more
ready to begin re-training
... to once more take my place with the fast lads ... but things
During my tyme recuperating, I had been
constantly visited by violent, frightening dreams. Once again I was on
that bend. Over and over I rode that same nightmare, re-living it night
after night, until I was forced to take myself upstairs into the spare
room to give my wife some peace from the thrashing and yelling that
accompanied the dreams.
However... ''once Iím out on the road
with the club again, Iíll get back into top form'' ... This was my
thought. The reality was quite different. First tyme out, approaching
the last sharp bend down into Newtyle. I was in the middle of the pack.
I knew the bend was nearing. On our approach, I suddenly began to shake
and tremble. A rising panic gripping me, making me pull violently on the
Now anyone who has ridden in a pack knows
... this is the worst thing you can do when all the lads in front of you
are oblivious of your actions and all the ones behind can get caught,
like a concertina... and go down in the sudden slowing of pace..
Luckily, they saw my problem and pulling out, managed to by-pass me and
continue without harm.
By the tyme I reached Newtyle, all the
lads, with the exception of Jocky, were gone.. He didn't have to say. It
was obvious to both of us, that my nerve had gone. I had panicked in a
downhill run and could
have caused injury to the others. So ... I took my leave that day and
went home. The lads were all very understanding. The older ones had seen
it before. I tried going back on the road with them and as long as we
were on a level road, or climbing, which was my strongest ability, I was
fine.... On the inclines and downward bends I was a disaster on two
And so it was ... I left the club. It was
a waste of tyme. I could no longer compete. I bought a new top oí the
range Raleigh ... Fast one this ... all of nineteen pounds, built for
speed ... It was a blue beauty.
Through the country lanes ... fast as the hare ... but tortoise slow on
the down slopes.
I went through a period of self pity.
Then one day I suddenly realised ... I still had good health and good
lungs, strong legs and a burning, unquenchable desire to continue to
ride the roads .... So I got up and went.
Back as a solo rider, I discovered all
the finer pleasures I had once taken for granted.and had ignored, in my
vain attempt, to achieve what..?.. I'll never know....Always the first
with me is the smell ... I think that is my most, finely tuned sense.
All the growing things, the animals , the very land itself have that
strange amalgam to intoxicate the senses,, but then, the glens can
seduce, with a subtlety that is hard to describe.
The warm sun on my back and the endless
dykes. If I stopped and had a brew, I might be lucky enough to get a
secret glimpse of a stoat or weasel who tend to make a wriggling life
for themselves amongst the auld stane structures. Of course ... my
favourite, ..riding home, my back to the setting sun, long shadows on
the road before me, never fails ... a wee waddling spiky creature, all
bluff and no brains ... braving once more the danger of the road. So
itís off the bike .... if there is other approaching traffic, I stop
them, with raised hand and dour look and stoop to help my half blind
friend to safety...
I am now an ocean and a continent away
from my land. I sit here at the edge of my new world now and gaze at the
endless Pacific ... I can see America across the straights. The
magnificent Olympics gaze back at me... This is a land of forests and
strange smells ... I have come here ... as R.L.Stevenson very aptly put
it ďfrom the land of the naked knee, to the land of the painted
faceĒ... It is all very different, but none the less lovely...
I think back to my daring days on the
Alyth braes and know, one day, Iíll return to them ..... they are
waiting for me still...
My bike ... Iíve given to my best
friend, Jim. He admits to riding it once.. he swears itís too fast for
him. He cleaned it and it now hangs in his attic ... also awaiting my
The Dundee Wheelers are still active.
The Yellow Jersey ....... I have it here
now with me as I write . I try it on every so often ... It bulges in
places where there were never bulges before and my Mari swears that one
day I might not be able to get it off .... and she might have to wield
her big silvery scissors.
And lastly .... if you should ever visit
Scotland and find yourself cycling on the Alyth Braes, for Godís
sake,.. and your own ... watch out for that tree ... and wee half-blind
spiky creatures who love crossing roads...