No rest for Ballater duo

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TWO Ballater veterans have been keeping heartily fit and entertaining visitors and locals alike over the festive season.

Accountant Graham Brown, who is 72, and his friend, retired aeronautical engineer Tony Cox, 65, decided to keep training this year after the Highland Games season ended, and it has been such a success that they gamely pledged to practice their hammer-throwing skills on both Christmas Day and New Year’s Day while most other people were still relaxing or celebrating. The pair have attracted a lot of attention during their winter training sessions in Monaltrie Park, with some locals dubbing them Last of the Summer Wine or Still Game (after the TV series about wayward pensioners).

They have also attracted the attentions of visitors, who have used the encounters as educational sessions, getting to feel the weight of the different hammers and have throwing techniques explained in a way that can’t be done during the heat of Heavy Event competition.

Graham, acknowledged as one of Ballater’s best practical jokers, has kept the village entertained for over 20 years with his antics, but has also managed some highly amusing feats of endurance like playing the piano with one hand while lifting a ½ cwt block with the other, or balancing a 56lb block on his chest while his friends the late Rosemary Dale played the Anvil Chorus and Jim McCulloch kept up an accompanying beat on the block with a hammer.

On the more serious side, Graham has been putting the shot and throwing the hammer for 58 years, and competing in Highland Games events for the last 21 of those.

He is currently listed in the top ten Scottish Masters Highland Games Records for four of the over 70s events…light stone, light hammer, heavy hammer and ringweight for distance.

His friend Tony Cox, who used to run a marina with his wife Lisa in northwest Scotland, is a relative newcomer to the heavy events, but all the extra training with his mentor Mr Brown has paid off and he is looking forward to competing in some of the bigger events this summer.

Graham said: “People are astonished to see us training. They keep saying: I thought the Braemar Gathering was past?  But we tell them we’re getting ready for next year.”

Graham and Tony are often joined by other toughened veterans like former Games athlete Jim Warrack, 76, and younger enthusiasts like popular Craigendarroch fitness coach Marek Krutul from Poland, but the Christmas Day and New Year sessions just starred the original two.

Graham, who was born on April Fools Day, has form as an arch joker round Ballater, including a long-running play feud with businessman Alistair Cassie which has seen Graham have to retrieve his bicycle from the roof of the Station building and Alistair facing the wrath of locals incensed by a forged application to run a brothel at the back of his shop.

But former weightlifting record holder Graham had only himself to blame when his plan to get Lisa to take pictures of himself and Tony throwing the hammer in Santa hats on Christmas Day went a bit awry.

Graham explained: “You have two weights of hammer,” confessed Graham. “I threw one and it landed on the shaft of the other, breaking it. You couldn’t do that again if you tried!”

Fortunately, he added, Tony is an expert at mending rattan hammer shafts, so the backup event on New Year’s Day went ahead as planned.