The Squat Pen: The purification of Fabien McQuillan

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is who I am... and what on earth is going on.

Well, my name is Fabien McQuillan and I recently moved from Belfast to the middle of Tyrone. God's country, or so I'm told. My fine wife Fionnuala hails from there and we got the opportunity to buy her granny’s home.

I was hesitant at the start but Fionnuala said it was so the kids could have a softer, sweeter, longer childhood. Guilt is like a loaded shotgun.

Anyway, I decided to write a diary of sorts – I've scribbled a few short stories in my time – and someone in The Irish News got wind of it and, well, here we are.

It's really quite beautiful for a start. Tyrone is full of drumlins – little oval hills, edged in hedges and sometimes topped with farm houses. Huge tractors mow them from spring to autumn and they are cared for like eggs. Beautiful. But the locals don’t seem to notice.

Once Fionnuala was with me and Eric on a walk and I was waxing lyrical about the drumlins and she said, “What are drumlins?”

I stopped and stared at her. “The lovely little hills that are everywhere. Drumlins. What do you call them?” “Nothing,” she said, walking on. “Are you not going to pick up Eric’s poo?”

Fionnuala is beautiful too, though I have to be careful about telling her that. She would gaze coolly at me and wonder why. She is a pragmatist through and through and the priorities in our house are the children, the children and lastly the children.

We have two girls and a boy, all under the age of seven. The dog, Eric, comes just below me on the to-love list, but I am truly happy. She, like a lot of women, has a lot of love to go round and I, like a lot of men, am completely self-obsessed and selfish.

And thus, I found myself on the hunt for a bike. I have always loved road racing, right from an early age when Roche and Kelly blasted round France in the crippling heat, and still hanker after a trip to Le Tour. But as that remains a cherished but vain hope, for le moment, I decided to buy a bike. Another advantage of being down here, I thought, as there are mini-pelotons blasting round Tyrone all the time.

One of the dads at the football invited me to join the village cycling club. “All comers welcome. As long as you’re a clift you’ll blend in.”

I wasn’t sure what a clift was but I knew I needed to do a month or two of practice first. Fionnuala was sceptical. “You do know how treacherous these roads are, Fabien? If you get clipped by a lorry that’ll be you.”

“So, you love me after all. Unable to bear the thought of dead me.” Her eyes smirked. “Scraping your lycra’d body off the tarmac wasn’t in our vows. I’d remember that.”

Of course the hunt for something you're buying is infinitely more delicious than the owning. New or second hand? Aluminium or carbon fibre? Trek, Giant or Bianchi? Oh God, the mouth waters and the internet creaks under the surfing.

Eventually though a decision was made and a used 20-speed Specialized Tarmac in white was bought for only £200 more that the agreed £500 limit (say nothing). I sped off on its maiden voyage.

Not half a mile from the house I turned a corner at a lick, enjoying that body geometry saddle, when a tractor spreading slurry in a field did a sudden turn and slapped me with a wave of stinking sh***. After the shock, I realised some had gone into my mouth and threw up. All over myself. Hung for a sheep as for a lamb.

That evening Fionnuala had a few friends round for some wine and told them what happened. They literally cried laughing and ruffled my hair like a child.

“Poor Fabien,” one said. “You were baptised! That’s you officially welcomed to Tyrone. That was your Christening.”

:: Fabien's diary will continue weekly as he gets to grips with the unwritten rules of life in rural Tyrone.