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JIM McGURN introduces a charming and little-known cycling piece by Flann O-Brien.
Ask any intelligent cyclist for their favourite passages on cycling from literature and they'll probably include the section from the Irish writer Flann O'Brien's novel, 'The Third Policeman' where he describes the transfer of molecules from bike to rider. O'Brien (whose real name was Brian O'Nolan) saw the bicycle as a quintessential part of popular Irish culture: the perfect vehicle for a self-deprecating, technologically unambitious nation. The following extract on his travails as a cyclist is from one of his columns in the Irish Times (written under the name 'Myles na Gopaleen'), and is from 'The Best of Myles', published by Harper Collins.
Sets alarm clock for 3am Saturday morning, dresses hastily and cycles into town. Dismounts at Irish Times office, drenched to the skin. Obtains first copy of paper to come off press. Cycles home, pulls wife out of bed to make breakfast, then disappears into back room to study crossword puzzle...
Got a ring from the Central Bank the other day - can you come at once, Brennan and the Board want to see you immediately, something terrible has happened...?
You see? Never a moment to myself (of all people). The daily grind. But this summons, I would not care to ignore it, of course. (I) wheeled out my decrepit insanitary bicycle. Just as I expected - flat again! There was nothing forehead but the pump, though none better knew than I that the pump itself was punctured and gave a return for only 2 per cent, of the energy put into it. After twenty minutes work, involving irreparable damage to the valves (and not those of the tyres, I assure you - but the heart!) I was in position to travel. I managed to get about 500 yards from my house when all the air flew out of the other tyre. It had begun to rain heavily at this time. I had to get down off the bicycle (via the back-step, for I am rather old-fashioned in these matters) and resumed work with the pump in the middle of the downpour. When I had this front tyre reasonably pumped - half an hour of my life had passed by in the meantime - I discovered that the other tyre was again soft. This I remedied, though the palpitations were alarming in the extreme. Another mile's precarious progress and I discovered that the valve-rubber in the front tyre was rotten. Happily 1 had a spare, but another half-hour's 'pumping' was involved. During all this interval air was escaping from the back tyre.
(...) My exertions with the pump were so frenzied that the despicable instrument came away in bits in my moist hands. I was now stranded in the rain. I had begun to walk it when a passing small boy consented to allow me to use his pump for a fee of one shilling. For a second shilling he was prepared to supply labour also. By the time I was again in the saddle, the front tyre had begun to evince an ominous bumpiness. I had savagely made up my mind to continue riding with a flat front tyre when - quite suddenly - the two-shillings-worth of air in my back tyre suddenly ran out of it, making further equitation impossible. My heart palpitations were still violent, the pulse quick, temperature up, respiration irregular and painful. I managed to dismount and rested for some time under a sodden tree. I was on my way to... the Central Bank, mind you. ?Central! When I arrived there eventually, wheeling my airless bicycle, I was a much older man. Seventeen attempts to borrow pumps on the way had been fruitless.
I fear I showed my exhaustion somewhat, though I always try to appear business-like and calm in the presence of subordinates. The Board was solicitous, offered the deepest chair, produced the brandy.
And now, gentlemen,' I asked, 'what can I do for you? What seems to be the trouble?'
The Chairman opened up. 'We wanted to have your advice on an important matter. Frankly, we are very worried about the danger of inflation. Inflation, if by any chance it should become widespread in this country...' I... I... I ask you! (!!!)
The Best of Myles', by Myles na Gopaleen (Flann O'Brien), published by Harper Collins/Flamingo 1993, paperback. ISBN 0586 089 500. £6.99 in the UK.
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If I were not a man, I would like to be a bird. As I am a man, I do the next best thing, and cycle
Rev. Maltie, 1892