The Rev Blair, our Chaplain, has been sharing with us his daily reflections For the Duration, and I know that for so many of us they have been a welcome arrival in our email inbox every morning, and help set the right tone for the day.
Over the weeks he has involved a number of guest editors, and I had the pleasure of being a contributor to Saturday’s reflection. Here is my piece for those who missed it.
As a keen (if intermittent) cyclist, I enjoy reading about the history and characters of the sport and the story of one rider has always fascinated me. Eugene Christophe is notable for being the first ever Tour de France rider to wear the famous yellow jersey, but also for being the sport’s unluckiest competitor.
Christophe fought in and survived the First World War, and by 1919 he found himself back on his bike, wearing the Tour de France’s first ever leader’s jersey. He was riding strongly in the penultimate stage of the race; the Tour was his to lose. And lose he did. As he rode over a section of cobbled road, his forks broke. This forced him to stop, find a forge and effect a repair. He cycled on to the finish, but the time he had lost pushed him down to third place.
This was not a first for this determined Frenchman. In the 1913 Tour, before WW1 had interrupted his career, he had been cycling through the Pyrenees when he suffered the same mechanical failure. As he was on his way up a 4,100ft Pyrenean pass, in a strong position to win the overall race, a careless driver clipped him with a race vehicle, breaking his front fork.
While another man might have given up, Christophe did not. Weeping through fatigue and despair, he carried the pieces of his bike back down the mountain pass to a forge; an eight-and-a-half mile, two and a half hour walk. The race rules forbade outside help, but Christophe was a skilled mechanic, so he built a new fork by hand. He got back on his bike and rode over two more mountains before finishing well behind the new leader. His chance of victory was lost, and to add insult to injury, he was given an additional time penalty for allowing the 7 year-old son of the blacksmith to work the bellows while he built his forks. In spite of this, he kept going and rode to finish the race in seventh place. A plaque commemorates his endeavours on the site of the forge and it reads: “…Eugene Cristophe didn't abandon the race that he should have won, showing a sublime example of willpower.” (Note the spelling mistake in his christian name.. this typo appeared on the original plaque that Eugene Christophe was invited to unveil in 1951 and was left uncorrected for almost 50 years.)
The maxim ‘bad luck comes in threes’ could have been written with poor Eugene in mind. In the 1922 Tour, he was in the top three, contending for overall victory, when, descending through the Alps, his fork broke yet again. His career ended a few years later and he never won the race that had brought him so much misfortune.
The public took Eugene Christophe to their hearts – in 1919 they raised money to pay him the equivalent of the winner’s purse, so moved were they by his misfortune. He had many nicknames, one being ‘The Eternal Second’, but he was hugely admired and respected for his determination never to give up. He never shied away from talking about his experience and as a result he was fondly regarded and greatly admired.
Sometimes in life, we work hard, seemingly for little reward or recognition and that is sometimes tough to take. How we respond and how we keep going, like the willpower shown by Eugene Christophe, will say a great deal about us and how others will view our efforts in time.
We have enjoyed some beautiful weather over the last few weeks, and this has helped many of the pupils, staff and parents clock up their km for the Centurion Challenge. @MerchiSport reports that there are now 26 Centurions; well done everyone for taking part and remember to sign up for the Virtual Trip to Bulawayo for your next challenge (details below)! Merchiston Juniors have been enjoying some outdoor learning with World Bee Day and pond dipping, and it was great to see that the Pringle Centre Virtual Sports Day was such a success. The ice cream floats @merchijuniors look very refreshing too! The Chalmers West Afternoon Club has also been active: check out @MerchiCW for their movie trailers and baking exploits. Over @Merchi_CE, Mrs Darling, Chalmers East Housemother has revealed her masterpiece of the House photo, which includes Maggie the dog.
Congratulations to Hamzah and Rory for achieving their Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award. This is a huge achievement, and represents high levels of self-discipline, motivation and time management. Well done!
Well done to Freddie, who has been making scrubs and masks for the NHS as part of his Duke of Edinburgh Volunteering. Great work, Freddie!
CO-CURRICULAR AND PUPIL SUPPORT UPDATE
Virtual Trip to Bulawayo
The whole school fundraising campaign for Our Neighbours Community Project in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, was launched on Monday. Follow our progress @MerchiCocurric and email email@example.com if you would like to get involved. Further information about the cause, and how to donate, is available on our website.
As we are all using technology even more than before, we want to make sure that everyone is keeping safe online. The National Crime Agency and CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection) are increasing their efforts to promote online safety messages to young people, parents, carers and teachers and have launched a new #OnlineSafetyAtHome campaign. This hosts six websites with appropriate advice about staying safe for different age groups, which you should find very helpful.
If you are a parent, you will find the full version of the Headmaster’s weekly message on the Parent Portal. Please also visit the News Centre to see all our latest news, blog posts, podcasts and social media posts.