Am Bratach No. 219
January 2010


Results of the New Year races
by Donald S Murray

Of all the sporting activities in our district when I was growing up, there was no doubt that the ones held on New Year’s Day drew the greatest number of spectators. In terms of its appeal, it attracted greater numbers within the locality than a Scotland-England football match, Celtic v Inter Milan in the European Cup Final and the Olympics combined. It seemed to spark the interest of everyone in the entire community. Even the most unathletic and rheumatic spinsters in the village were not immune to its charms. They would leap energetically from their beds on this particular morning, certain that on at this occasion in their lives at least, they were going to obtain their closest approximation to an erotic charge for decades. This would all be brought about by the physical exertions of one local bachelor or another.

People stood at the windows of most houses to watch those taking part, carefully concealed behind curtains and clutching a pair of binoculars in their fingers. “He’s off,” they might declare as they observed the slow take off of one of the participants from his starting block at a village doorway. The slam of a porch door behind him would echo like a pistol shot as he made his way along the path, moving from one side of it to the opposite. Even if the wind was blowing at less than its traditional Gale Force 10, he had difficulties in staying upright. The athlete would bend, buckle, topple and fall. Sometimes his head would dip and he would mutter in the direction of the earth, letting slip some profanity, a curse he was obviously aiming at the permanent residence of one of his old enemies who had died some twenty years before.

“I’ll never forget what you did... I’ll never…”

Then there were the more advanced athletes. A number of them were far too ambitious to simply attempt a sprint or marathon. They would take every opportunity to tackle the hurdles or steeplechase instead. “Wow!” they yelled as a long and sprawling limb stretched out in the direction of a barbed wire fence, hoping to leap across both ditch and croft boundary as they sought an imaginary short-cut that only existed within the confines of their own heads. “Oops” they would cry as the leg of their best dungarees became snared. After that, they might perform some early form of the ‘hop-step-and-jump’, dancing up and down as they tried their best to escape from their snare. As they did so, their antics would be watched by those who had gathered at their sitting room window, providing a commentary on all that was going on.

#“And he’s pogo-ing up and down on his right hand now. What an amazing achievement! The Fosbury Flop and the Pole Vault at one and the same time! You wouldn’t think that such a movement was possible!”

There were some too who clearly couldn’t survive without their cars. Not even for that one day. Steering their invisible Bedford vans up the village roads, gears would crunch in their brains. Check rear view mirror. Signal. Manoeuvre. Don’t look now. Apply brakes. Central locking. Crash into nearby sheep. Reverse. Crunch gears once again. Move forward. The vehicle’s suspension’s clearly a little dodgy. The road-holding qualities of some of the tyres are in doubt. This chassis is causing a few problems. But let’s not be too concerned about that. Let the village crossroads be transformed into Spaghetti Junction. A straight and direct stretch of road become a loop-de-loop, the district’s equivalent of Disneyland, Alton Towers, Silverstone…Let mayhem ensue. Let crashes take place when one man throws an arm around another, declaring; “Have I ever told you that you’re my best friend? Have I?…”

Sometimes, too, all this would be accompanied by loud music on the portable stereo they obviously brought with them everywhere they went. “A Pheigi, a ghraidh, ’tu dh’fhag mi buileach gun sunnd…” one gentleman might sing, “a’ seoladh an-drast” (or sailing) on — what to the rest of humanity looked suspiciously like — dry land. Or there might be a chorus of the “Crystal chandeliers” that apparently lit up “The paintings” of their dream-girl’s wall. It is hard to imagine how any light might shave urvived the impact of the clash of voices that occurred when all these men gathered together. They shook and trembled, splintered and smashed as the combined chorus crashed through any sound barriers existing in that village before that day. Peace was fractured and broken as the athletes bunched in a circle, competing in their relentless slaughter of song.

There might be other forms of disharmony also occurring nearby. I recall watching a large, stout woman — of, say, five foot eight or so — taking home her husband, some five foot two or so, on the front of a wheelbarrow.

“Amadan! Amadan!” she kept saying, “You’re going to get it when you get home!”

There was a man, too, who had embarked on a long quarrel with his bicycle, trying his best to steer it in the direction of his home.

“Trobhad! Get a move on! You’re just being awkward, I tell you! You’re just being awkward!”

And all this would be watched by another chorus, the group standing in the window. Their faces would be downcast and mournful, disguising at all time the bright and eager glint in their eyes. When their commentary had trailed to a close, they would pronounce their usual judgement on the day’s proceedings, summing all the sporting exertions and endeavours they had seen.

“They’re as bad as ever, that lot,” they would declare, “Bad as ever…”

They would all nod their heads in agreement, wondering how they could get any worse.


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