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Graham Donachie's Stories
The Yellow Jersey


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 be cherished.

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 suddenly overtake
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 right circumstance,
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 roadster.

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 mummy.

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 changed.

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 brakes.

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 wheels.

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 return.

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...

Graham


Read other stories from Graham Donachie

 


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