The Angry Corrie 2: Jul-Aug 1991
Following the worldwide multinational distribution of TAC1, one of the first letters to plop through your editor's letterbox included, as a postscript, an enquiry: "Any market for cycling tales? - they involve much drinking." Well, the short answer to that was always going to be No, there already being quite enough spokespersons for the freewheeling world of spokes, derailleurs and 12-speed panniers (although how's about a cycling fanzine someone).
But the arrival of the letter conveniently coincided with that of a cycling issue which impinged on hillwalkers also. So, ever opportunistic and looking to get in there before Kirsti Wark or Sheena McDonald wheeled out some tedious 100-Scottish-cyclists -type programme, TAC nobly decided to devote its second-ever editorial to ScotRail's atrocious banning of bicycles from Sprinter services.
The issue was, unlike much of that which passes through these pages, clear-cut and incontrovertible. Until only a few years ago, cycles of all shapes and sizes could be conveyed, free of charge, on trains of all shapes and sizes. Then the arrival of the 0943 to Thatchertown (calling at Freemarketville and Costeffective Ness) put paid to all that. The soon-to-be ubiquitous Sprinter trains were introduced, and it quickly became apparent they were patently lacking in storage space for gangly bicycles. Sure enough, a three-bike-per-train limit was soon introduced, with a £3 booking fee to boot. Tough shit if you happened to arrive at Rannoch Station hoping to get back to Glasgow on an already cycle-saturated train. Tough double shit if - as has happened - you arrived there, with your beloved, on a tandem.
This alone would have elicited a fiery response from TAC had it had the temerity to exist in the far-off days of the late eighties. But what really riled, what couldn't fail but set your editor's fingers venomously a-tapping on his VDU keyboard, was the recent decree by our thoughtful ScotRail executives, in all their chauffeur-driven wisdom, that bicycles were to become machine non grata on Sprinters altogether. So much for all those shiny happy people who, only a few short years ago, followed the advice of the Chingford Skinhead to get on their bikes: now it was time to get back off them again. Hard lines all you wellmeaning pedalpushers: penpushers and bureaucrats still ruled OK.
The consequent effect on leisure-time activities was where TAC and the country's hillusers came in. Even before the blanket ban (or should it have been wet blanket ban?), there had been protests from the bicycles-as-an-aid-to pedestrianism lobby. Now, with the situation having worsened exponentially, there were to be no more walking/cycling weeks up north for non-carowners, no more timesaving Munrobagging spins in from Corrour or Dalwhinnie to Ben Alder, no more youth hostelling jaunts from Killin to Pitlochry to Kingussie to Loch Lochy then back home to Leicester on the overnight train from The Fort. Nor was it even as though these activities had become popular only in recent times and could therefore be ditched on a kind of last-in, first-out basis. People had been stashing ancient Raleighs in bushes at the bottom of hills since long before Muddy Fox dreamt of painting bikes pretty colours and tacking on a few extra bottom gears.
Unless you owned a dormobile or a car with a fancy roofrack, the likes of Glen Tilt and all its sibling approach routes were again to be trudged up at Naismith's time-honoured pace. It seemed that of all the many and varied ghosts stalking the highlands - the Grey Man of MacDhui, McCook dangling from his Loch Ericht lintel, Banquo's gory locks, even the spectres conjured up by the Brahan Seer and the Green Baize Seer, David Icke - none was half so real or pertinent as the omnipresent spirit of Dr Beeching: living on, insatiable and inexorcisable, closing down lines, disrupting services, mutating public transport into a privilege rather than a right.
Then, no sooner had these indignations been turned into prose as clipped as a pair of cyclist's trousers, and with the editorial already "put to bed" as we publishing types like to say, what do bloody ScotRail do if not reverse their decision and lift their moratorium! Not only that, but plans were simultaneously announced to reintroduce real, spacious diesel-hauled trains on occasional West Highland Line services. Bugger and blast! Your editor must have been the only cycle-owner in the country to utter an audible obscenity on hearing the good news. If only they could have waited a few weeks - a fortnight even - then the cyclists and walkers of Scotland could have read TAC's witty, quicksilver editorial and had their bikes back on the rails. The nation could - to use one of the language's most nonsensical cliches - have had its cake and eaten it too. But now the cake could only be eaten, not had or had and not eaten. So much for free market solidarity. How was TAC ever to achieve stockexchange status when fellow corporate entities such as ScotRail delivered this kind of callous bodyblow?
But then, through the veil of tears, amid the mountainous clumps of torn hair, your editor perceived, in a blinding flash, The Truth. Not even St Paul, cycling down the Damascus Rd, had experienced a moment of such revelation. The two events - the editorial and the ban on bikes - were not isolated and mutually exclusive bodies spinning aimlessly in the voidi but were intimately interconnected: cause and effect, chicken and egg, iceaxe and crampons, pie beans and chips. Of course! How could your editor have been so stupid? In this cruel, cruel world of intrigue and industrial espionage, it simply had to be that the perfectly worded editorial had been leaked to ScotRail, and that their board of directors, in fear and trembling of the awesome influence of this new, hugely powerful hillwalking organ, had been left with no choice but to perform an abrupt about-face. Should they not, then the famous fanzine would create a stink of such Cairngorm-bothy proportions that all would end up losing their jobs, company cars and portable phones - not to mention their free BUPA membership.
All of which begs an interesting question. Having prevented ScotRail from going corporately loco, what other major hillwalking conundrums could be resolved merely by the writing - not even the publication - of a TAC editorial? Erosion on the more populated peaks? Ski-developers v Conservationists? Just why so many beards? What ever became of Betsy Brantly? With these and other issues in mind, your editor has rapidly set about stockpiling ream upon ream of radical copy in his highrise Glasgow garret. He awaits the future with interest.