Polldubh (III)

Tom and I shared this bike. One pedalled. The other sat on the handlebars with his feet cramped on to the ends of the spindle of the front wheel. For a young man it was very intimidating thing to look down from this position at that thick black knobbly rubber tyre revolving in a blur just below his crotch. The Glen Nevis road, in that summer of ’55 was not as it is now. It was just a narrow band of apologetic tarmac laid over rough ground. In places the pot holes went through to the earth. In others the grass erupted upwards. And in places those old road-builders hadn’t bothered to remove the underlying boulders so that the surface looked as though it was afflicted by boils. The Youth Hostel was half way down the glen and beside it there was a long hill. This was the only point which defeated us – the only point where the handlebar-rider had to dismount and walk. (Once, in a fit of illegal bravado, we did our circus act right up the main road through Fort William).
But it was the bike which dominated our thoughts and it was about the bike that the rivalry between Tom and I, spilled over into rancour. Sitting on the handlebars was subordination. The engine-man had all the glory. We took turns. Later I rebelled and refused to sit on the handlebars. My excuse was Tom’s carelessness. The sod-throwing incident on the crags had already weakened my trust in Tom’s good sense. But the suitcase incident was the last straw. It was John’s suitcase, sent by a careful mother to her careful son, full of neat tidy well washed clothing. Tom and I collected it from the Fort William railway station left-luggage office. Tom had the pedals so I had, perforce, to perch and hold on with only one hand, the other being fully occupied clutching the suitcase to my lap. Naturally we walked up the long hill, but foolishly tried to make the descent – en masse. Tom took the downward slope without brakes and hit one of the biggest boulder-bumps dead center. I found myself first levitated and then, a second later, running like hell with a suitcase in my arms and with one leg on either side of that whirling front wheel. That arrangement could not be sustained. Tom and the bike overtook me and we all went spinning into the bramble-filled ditch…

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