I have met three mad axe men in my life, although only one of them actually had an axe. The first one had a bicycle. I was nineteen, never visited France before, and it was Bastille Day. My friends and I were staying near St Omer in a tiny youth hostel down a wooded lane. There was no warden. Just us and three Irish boys. Together we all went off to the village dance. The others entered into the spirit of things. But not me. I was young for my age, self-conscious and proud. Embarrassed because I didn't know how to dance. After a while I told one of my friends I was going back to the hostel but not to tell the others till I'd gone. I didn't want to interrupt their fun. It was a warm summer night. The stars were out and the hostel was about a mile away along a quiet country road. After a bit a man on a bicycle came up behind me. "Bonsoir mademoiselle" he said. I was nervous and didn't reply. He repeated himself. I was still silent. On the third "bonsoir" I spoke. "Allez vous en." But he didn't. He continued pedalling just behind my right shoulder with his "bonsoir". And I continued with my "allez vous en". But I began to feel scared. The wooded lane to the hostel was getting closer and the hostel was empty. There were no houses around. My "allez vous en" got louder and fearful and angry too. But the "bonsoir" remained there on my shoulder. Eventually in a panic stricken rage, with another "allez vous en", I turned round and began to beat the cyclist round the head with the stiletto heels I was carrying. He backed off. Relief. But only for a moment or two. There he was again at my shoulder "Bonsoir mademoiselle." I was nearly at the dark wooded lane. I was terrified. I turned round again and screamed "Bonsoir" at the top of my voice. "Bonsoir mademoiselle," said the cyclist and pedalled off into the distance. I shot down the lane into the hostel and lay on my bunk doing deep breathing exercises until I could see the funny side. A lesson in good manners. But looking back I think the cyclist needed to learn a lesson too. My second mad axe man didn't arrive until I was in my sixties. He also had a bicycle. I was walking alone in Pitmeddon forest. There are lots of trails and I know most of them well. One I'd never gone down was a straight narrow path between tall dark forbidding pines. At the end was a gate and light. Curiosity got the better of me and I went along to see what was over the gate. Perhaps there would be a view down the hill to the Tay estuary. There wasn't but I stood for a while dreaming and enjoying the bare hillside in front of me. Suddenly a pair of hands descended onto my shoulders. Leaping round with a strangled scream I was confronted by a cyclist in a yellow waterproof jacket. Apologies all round. He'd come down the track to see what I was looking at. Realised I hadn't heard him. Put his hands on my shoulders so as not to startle me. My mind boggled at his idiocy but we had a friendly little chat and then off he went. Nevertheless I hadn't taken to him. How could he have thought his hands would be reassuring ? Maybe part of him quite liked the idea of giving someone a fright. I climbed over the gate and continued my walk on the open hillside. That's the trouble with woods. You can't always see the mad axe man coming. My third encounter came a couple of years later and finally involved an axe. Some work had been done to extend the Fife Coastal Path at Newburgh and I was having a meander along the new bit. In the distance I could see a figure who seemed to be doing something. As I got closer I realised he was talking to himself and chopping at a solid stone wall with an hatchet. The mad axe man at last. Cue for an immediate retreat. I thought about it but came on. Slowly, mind you. Making contingency plans as I came. I was a fast runner. I could plunge into the Tay and swim. Then a Labrador came racing towards me, tail whirling. That settled things. It couldn't be a mad axe man. Who ever heard of one having a Labrador ? And of course he wasn't. When I got up to him I could see what he was doing. Chopping away at the roots of ivy which had climbed the six foot wall and made its way to the top of the trees on the other side. We ended up having a long conversation about ivy, how far the path extension had got and the joys of talking to yourself. I even told him about my mad axe man fantasy and we had a good laugh.
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Mad axe men I have met.
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