The return of Brendan’s Blog!
After a long absence we are pleased to share with you once again ‘Brendan’s Blog‘ – the thoughts and ramblings of someone who has spent far too much time in the saddle. Here goes:-
PIETY – (the quality of being religious or reverent).
This Easter’s peculiar ‘Sun-Shining-Bike-Quarantined’ experience brought back a memory from my youth. What triggered it was the happy news for Ireland’s 14-15 year olds that their State exams have been cancelled due to the Covid-19 lockdown.
My memory was of a time long since passed when I was a bike worshiping, God fearing teenager. It was a time when I had three distinct and easily identifiable uniforms: Wool & Lycra when I was engaging in my passion; oily overalls when I was working in Sandycove Cycles trying to earn enough to support my passion; and every Sunday evening in alter boys’ vestments when I was trying to forget all about passion and think about the other God.
At the age of 12 like most Irish Catholics I made a vow to abstain from alcohol during my Confirmation ceremony. The benefits of this I thought would be two fold, it would help save my soul from eternal damnation and also (possibly more important) help my budding cycling career. In order to keep my options open I did not dismiss either of the religions as I tried to follow the ‘path of righteousness’. This meant that I was a certain alter server at Sunday evening Mass after having spent the morning, on my bike, engaging in a reasonable number of the ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ (pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust and possibly gluttony as I was known to sometimes consume an entire packet of fig rolls on my own). My Sunday mornings’ clubmates knew about my parallel life, but never mentioned it, not even mockingly.
The bike shop was also a place where my devotion was shown an amount of bewildered respect. My ‘Jesus in a Camper Van’ nickname was stated with prophetic sincerity. When I would become Pope, they could say I worked there and possibly qualify for an indulgence of some sort which might be good for business. Of course they knew I may still waiver. I certainly had more copies of Winning Cycling Illustrated than the Redeemer and my envy did extend to 2nd generation Look pedals. Mea culpa, I also coveted another man’s wrap around shades.
These three devotions, God, Bike and Bike Shop, were however having a negative effect on my preparation for the Inter Cert. For some reason my parents thought that this exam was very important. Maybe they knew, if I put in some effort, that I had a higher likelihood of passing it than my chances of making it as a professional cyclist or being canonised. Despite this, my parents would not stand in the way of God, nor the potential lucre of a part-time job, but really…
“Really Brendan, you must choose between the bike and the State exam, and you must choose the State exam”.
As it happened the Easter bank holiday weekend beckoned, and my parents wanted to subject us to our usual family weekend away. Showing maturity well beyond my tender years I argued I should forego the undoubted pleasure of a weekend confined with my family and instead stay at home, to study.
“I’ve lots of study to do and I’ve got to work in the shop on Saturday, and I promised I’d do the evening Mass. Please?”
“And you’ll study?”
“Yes, I’ve it timetabled here”.
I produced my Sean Kelly pantographed school diary to prove my sincere intentions to pass Honours Maths, at least secure a good ‘C’ in English, French, German and History and stay away from an ‘F’ in Irish, Science and Geography. The thought of eternal damnation for lying to my parents did not cross my mind, serving mass would probably tip the balance the other way for me anyway.
“And you’ll stay at home, by your own, for 3 days and study?”
“Well not when I’m at work or at Mass”
“Don’t get cheeky.. Promise?”
“On my heart and hope to…”
After much huffing and puffing and faffing about Mum, Dad, and my 3 sisters finally departed on Good Friday. I remember it well. The Easter Eggs were already melting on the back shelf of the car when they finally closed the boot.
“Be a good man, don’t be late for work and pay attention at Mass”.
“Don’t study too hard love. Take a break every now and then, won’t you?”
“If you need it, maybe get a walk. It’s important to take some air, so the subjects stay fresh in your mind.”
“We’ll be back in time for 7.30 Mass on Sunday.”
They were proud of me and I wasn’t going to let them down. No sooner had the car left the terrace but I took out my pantographed school diary and stared down at Sean Kelly’s name. I fumbled through the study diary and underlined some important times. I checked I had all the books. Placed them in order to suit the timetable. Placed my clock at the corner of the table. Arranged my stationary. Stood up. Sat back down. Reached back, picked up the latest issue of Winning magazine. Read something about the benefits of rest and hydration and decided I really should make some tea.
Next morning was a workday. Up in Sandycove Cycles it was busy. The good weather beckoned the fair- weather cyclists and business was brisk. John (the owner) asked if I could stay on a little late and bribed me with the promise of a take-away and a coke. Surely my Inter Cert study could not stand in the way of commerce, so I martyred myself for the sake of a group of touring cyclists and a 4 star pizza. The extra wages could translate themselves into the Rudy Project glasses I has been admiring myself in in the shop’s mirror.
Sunday morning was glorious, not a cloud in the sky and the sun was glinting provocatively off the chrome on my Raleigh. A day of days. Even a young Irishman knew this was one of those days that would be talked of in the future.
“Heh, do you remember that Sunday in April in 1989…what did you get up to?”
Well sure as hell I was not going to be answering that I took out my school diary and buried myself in the Módh Coinníollach – an esoteric form of Irish language grammar. If you had spent the last three wet months wiping mud out of your eyes that had been thrown up by the wheels you were following, where would want to be? That’s right, parading your sun shaded self through verdant hills of County Wicklow, bedecked in your KAS jersey, with matching cap and mitts, and 2nd hand shoes wedged into 2nd hand Look pedals. I prayed to the Holy Trinity of Kelly, Roche and God for guidance. The message that came back was all I had to do was get home before my parents and be in time for Mass. It wasn’t a mortal sin and I was going to Mass which could negate the indiscretion.
Unusually for me I found myself in territory unknown that sunny Sunday. I had breezed out northward and found myself 40 miles from home before I knew it. It was glorious. Each shop front I passed mirrored my image, sparking, cool, serene. Looking down I saw how the bottom bracket shell had not a speck of dirt a tribute to my cleaning technique. I watched the veins on my forearms slip under the Velcro straps of my gloves. The temptation to look over the brow of my glasses was ignored so I could not actually see where I was going.
Eventually I turned for home, into the warm breeze that had brought me so far. A shop attendant, who I asked for directions, filled my bottle and recommended the coast road as the easiest way home. Typical of car drivers, his understanding of what was the ‘easiest way home’ was not actually ‘the easiest way home’ as evidenced by the lack of cyclists on this route! Another reason for cyclists to be wary of directions from non-cycling car drivers.
The journey home was a grind, hard to find correct gear or cadence. Mile after seaside mile. Dropping the peak of my cap was not a style affectation but a way to block the blinding sun. Turning the ends of my shorts up undoubtedly looked good and if Sean Yates did it, it must be stylish. Despite needing to release the straps of my cycling shoes for a bit of relief I still pushed hard because all the time I knew if Mum and Dad got home before me I’d be toast. Thankfully I got home before them, placed my Rudy projects in their cotton bag and kicked the rest of my gear into the corner and high tailed it to the church for Mass.
As we led the priest onto the altar I looked down to where my proud family should be. There they were. Mum and Dad kneeling in reflection, my two younger sisters fidgeting and my older sister looking at me strangely. Nothing was unusual about that, it is the sort of behaviour I had come to expect from her. She knew I was a bit old for pious devotion, but she was also jealous I’d been let stay alone at home. After Communion she came to my side of the altar and muttered, “what happened your face, and your hands?”. I looked down at the bright red burn marks on the back of my hands and suddenly felt a flush. “Your face is worse”.
No sooner were my altar duties finished I jumped on the bike and powered up the hill home. Taking the stairs two steps at a time I shot into the bathroom and looked at myself, or the bits of myself I recognised. A fire engine nose greeted me from the mirror’s glass. My forehead was both very red and very white. It felt like my arms were crinkling. I thought fast. Long sleeves would cover my arms and the back of my hands, and surely if pulled hard enough at my fringe it would cover the worst of my forehead. I looked again and knew there was no way out. Beholding the perfect imprint of my coveted Rudy Project wrap around shades I recalled the image of John the Baptists severed head.
No amount of piety was going to get me out of this one. Prayers to the Holy Trinity would be of no use, anyway they were partly at fault in getting me into this mess. I was busted. My last weekend left home alone.