mrs flying scotsman. anne obree. paperback 302pp illus. £10

mrs flying scotsman - anne obree

heroes and legends are most often considered on their own merit. we think of the victors and characters as being wholly self-sufficient entities, ultimately responsible for their own identities, personalities and successes or failures. and that's perhaps the way the world wants it to be. if froome takes top spot in paris next weekend, it's his name that will be entered in the record books, with scant regard paid to the other eight guys in the team whose efforts may well have been responsible for getting him there in the first place.

similarly, the consideration shown to those who tried and failed. in the context of a grand tour it is rare that those who promised much yet did not deliver are thought of having missed out as a result of having ridden in a team that wasn't up to scratch. that's not a situation that surrounds the individual cyclist, eager to make his or her mark in a singular pursuit such as time-trialling, 4000 metre track pursuit, and ultimately, hour record attempts. granted, even the latter has a support team that doesn't actually take to the boards, but even they are of secondary consideration (if at all) to the adoring cognoscenti.

but what of the other halves, the wives and girlfriends, or husbands and boyfriends who have much to put up with as their partners strive for victory, recognition and everything in between. has anyone ever asked anne obree what she thought on discovering the washingmachine in bits on the kitchen floor?

oddly enough, though i think it possible that such a question might be uppermost in the minds of many, it is not one that is answered in mrs obree's mrs flying scotsman, a self-published book, described by graeme obree in his introduction as "...a refreshing view from outside the goldfish bowl that I was in." in truth, the narrative described by anne is not quite what i'd describe as refreshing, in the common definition of that word, but it's certainly refreshingly honest.

"It will be a frank and open account of all our trials and tribulations, while we enjoyed the excitement of Graeme's cycling success before his slide into bipolar depressive illness, and eventually the end of our marriage."

it would surely be tantamount to fullfilling the prophecy encountered in my opening paragraphs were this review to concentrate on graeme obree's cycling career. though anne deals with this in frank detail and admittedly occasionally at odds with how graeme recalled those successes, if it's graeme's career in which you are interested, i'd recommend taking a look at the flying scotsman. this narrative is altogether more harrowing and proving that public success is only the bit of the iceberg seen above the water.

anne's maiden name is weideger, born in st louis, missouri to a scottish mother working as a nurse in the bronx, new york. her father had resigned from the navy to train as a teacher of history and modern studies. throughout the book, anne obree constantly references (perhaps just a tad too often, if i'm honest) her strong belief in god through the catholic church. though her father was jewish, he converted to catholicism of his own accord. her mother was apparently less than enamoured with the heat and humidity in st louis so the family ultimately returned to scotland, settling in the ayrshire seaside town of saltcoats.

unfortunately, despite mrs flying scotsman offering a compelling read across all of its 300+ pages, its self-published nature frequently omits certain of the niceties i'd be inclined to expect in a publication from one of the recognised publishing houses. that is immediately realised in the first couple of pages of chapter one. not only has anne failed to inform us of the year of her birth, but also omitted the year in which her family returned to scotland, making it difficult to place ensuing events in some sort of chronology. in the grand scheme of things, i'm willing to admit to a bit of nitpicking here, but i feel its worth mentioning nonetheless. and an index might have been helpful, though undoubtedly a bit of chore to compile for the first time, self-published author.

that first chapter enlightens the reader as to many of the members of anne's extended family, a subsequent move to irvine along the coast when her father began teaching at kilmarnock's st joseph's academy (incidentally a school often used as the start/finish point for the annual braveheart ride) and receiving riding lessons in kilwinning at the behest of her mother, the start of a lifelong attachment to the equestrian milieu. though her upbringing could rarely be described as unusually restricted, "My mum did not like the violence or sex on TV, and as a practising catholic, she decoded not to have a television..."

a factor that would later become a source of anguish was anne's apparent near-obsession with weight and eating. it is one frequently mentioned even from an early age, even to the point of impinging upon a visit to her gran's home in miami.

"The first day we arrived, Gran took us shopping [...] We were being spoiled although I was watching my food, as I did not want to get fat as all the food was really tasty but high in calories."

anne subsequently trained as a nurse on leaving school and she and graeme met each other via anne's younger brother matthew, who had in turn become acquainted with graeme through mountain biking, then a fledgling american imported sport at which obree maintained a successfully competitive interest, while working in a bike shop and prior to his studying engineering at university.

"I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, so I decided to to go and buy a new bike [...] I noticed that Graeme was indeed handsome, so I thought I would buy a bike but pay for it in instalments so I had an excuse to go into his shop every week to see him."

graeme's fame in the local world of time-trialling was on the rise during the period (the late 1980s) he and anne were dating. he was not only held in high esteem by his peers, but also by anne's brother matthew who apparently often used to state "I can't believe my sister is dating Graeme Obree". according to anne, graeme admiited that, despite his seeming shyness, "he knew he wanted to marry me after just nine days..." followed by his proposing to her shortly afterwards.

despite the optimism afforded by impending nuptials and obree's increasing sporting success, what can perhaps, in retrospect, be seen as the harbinger of all that was yet to come and before the wedding could take place on september 1 1989, anne's brother and graeme's friend, matthew, was killed in a motorbike accident at the same time as anne's father was in hospital seriously ill.

i would be fibbing if i portrayed the remaining 240 pages as being filled with self-absorbed doom and gloom. in the interim, graeme went on to take top honours in time-trialling and track pursuiting, culminating in his two attempts within 24 hours at moser's hour record on the boards of hamar in norway. cycling successes continued for a time after that point, but as graeme's depression surfaced, the obree's lives over the next twenty-something years were certainly not those that you would inflict upon your worst enemy.

the actions of the uci in banning both 'the tuck' and superman riding positions do not escape anne's excoriation. it may well be that their inexplicable actions played an intrinsic part in graeme obree's descent into depression and alcoholism.

anne seems to have gleaned succour from her deep religious beliefs and from bringing up her two sons, while graeme eased his pain by heavy drinking. one can only wonder how obree remained so impressive as an athlete while consuming apparently copious amounts of alcohol. married to a man who made three attempts to commit suicide, had to be committed to psychiatric hospitals on several occasions for his own safety and succumbed to serious bouts of depression clearly had undeniably disastrous effects on their relationship. when graeme 'discovered' he was gay, anne's fortitude in the face of such adversity is very much to be admired.

what is also greatly to be admired is anne obree's ability to produce one of the most compelling books i have read in recent times, despite admitting "...I struggled to get an O Grade, as I was never any good at English. Maybe you have noticed already!" in this assertion, she is correct. portions of the grammar and writing err on the clumsy, while greater attention might have been paid to both spelling and continuity.

though i am loathe to cite specific examples, on page 153 we are informed that "Graeme had been becoming confused with his sexuality at this time [...] He was having an unwelcome growing attraction to men." however, some twenty-six pages later "At this point Graeme was totally unaware of any attractions to men..."

but, in what can only be regarded as a triumph of narrative over the mechanics of delivery, mrs flying scotsman is utterly compelling and not purely because one of the principal protagonists happens to have been holder of the hour record, an olympic gold and a world championship jersey. i have known graeme for a number of years, but i confess i knew absolutely nothing of all this. anne obree is to be roundly applauded for her warts and all autobiography. she and graeme may be divorced, but it's nice to know that they are obviously still in love. just remember, the ex-husband wrote the introduction and told me "The main character survives in the end by the way".

graeme is not the only obree who deserves the epithet 'legend'

signed copies of 'mrs flying scotsman' can be purchased direct from the author. cost is £10 including p+p to any uk address. e-mail

friday 14 july 2017

twmp ..........................................................................................................................................................................................................