Brief Encounter


Nūlla umquam dē morte hominis cūnctātio longa est

JUVENAL vi.221

When a human life is at stake, no delay is ever excessive


1 Waindale Close

Mount Talbot




“Dear friends,

There as promised are the shots I took on the Clifden Cycling Club’s Sunday run. I enjoyed your company very much and it was nice meeting you all. My stay in Ireland was superb and I do intend to return. I wish you all good luck with your cycling and racing, and will look out for you when you are in the Irish team riding the Milk Race over here!!

Enjoy your trip to the Nissan Classic, sorry I will miss it.

Your friend John”

It was the Summer of 1989 when Fignon and Lemond were battling it out on that famous Tour. My pals and I were on our Sunday morning spin on the Sky Road outside of town. I had punctured and was repairing it at the car park when two riders approached us, an elderly man and his son. “Do you mind if we join you?” said John, the older guy. As cocky, arrogant racers we were a bit miffed and begrudgingly let them join us. “We go fast. We’re training”.

It was a beautiful morning. Away off to the south was Aran, to the west Slyne Head, you could nearly see the lighthouse keepers it was so clear and to the north Inishbofin with Clare Island and Achill behind, pellucid and perfect. As we descended from the car park the furze was burning that sumptuous and unique aroma. John was alongside me and I explained to him the peculiar West of Ireland tradition of furze burning especially on Sundays, an enigmatic combination of land clearance and pyromania. He was both puzzled and intrigued. Here was a retired fireman.  By this stage all the pleasantries had been gone through and I ascertained that this aged gentleman cyclist was from Yorkshire. “That was a terrible fire in Bradford a few years ago” says I – the Bradford City Fire Disaster. We rode a few more yards silently. “Do you know young man; I were the Fire Officer that day”. I think now of Lou Reed’s insightful line – “I was captured by a larger moment”. “That must have been terrible John”. “It sure were son, it were hell. But I’m in heaven now”. The 70 and the 17 year old – new companions. The sun sparkled off the Atlantic, a sight to behold.

Later he made us pose for two photographs and promised that he would send them on, which he did, which I have and which I treasure. The parting came after a few hours and that was that. We never saw each other again and I never got his surname. Thinking now of that old man, I imagine that encounter as a glorious affirmation of cycling as companionship. My bike allowed me all of those 27 summers ago to spend time with what DH Lawrence would have called “A Lord of Life”. It still does.

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