Recidivism

26 July 2011 § 4 Comments

Fail

I tried so hard to quit:
Did my utmost to hang ‘em up,
Laboured long to let it go,
And strived to make it
Something-I-used-to-do.
I bent my will
To turn a corner
And after ceaseless struggle
Thought I’d found
A different path
And determined to walk it
Without a glance behind.

But everything about
The bike and all the life
That went with it
Just sounded wrong
When put into the perfect tense.

And so
I’ve slipped back into my old ways;
Willingly submitted
To the hard and fast rules
Of the road.

And I have to say:
Failing
Never felt so good.

Breakaway

25 July 2011 § 8 Comments

Breaking away

Today
This sunny Sunday lane
Is our own private
Tour parcours
Complete with mimicked Phil-and-Paul
To lend us greater speed:

“And now
The leader
In the Best Young Rider competition
Makes the move
On the inside –

The gap’s opening up –

And the champion
Must respond to this:

He’s digging deep

Let’s not forget
He’s the oldest man
In the race,
So you’ve got to ask;
Has he got the legs
To counter the attack
And close it down
Or are we about to see
A new era ushered in?”

Of course
If I chose
I could go
Straight over the top of her;

But, smiling, I permit
Her cheeky breakaway to succeed
And sit on her wheel;
Training for the big attacks
And moves I cannot answer
In the stages still to come,
Knowing that one day I’ll have to watch her
Head up the road alone.

Written after yesterday’s ride with my 10-year-old daughter, who seems to have inherited my competitive streak on the bike…my fault for encouraging her to watch Le Tour, I guess. For those who haven’t been glued to ITV4 or SKY for the past three weeks, ‘Phil-and-Paul’ are the dynamic commentary duo of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, who have been the ‘voices’ of cycling to British fans for over 30 years.

Hit and run

11 July 2011 § 10 Comments

Dutch courage

Don’t know him –
Never met him. Probably never will.
Just another skinny guy
In shiny shorts and sponsor’s jersey
Getting paid for doing something
The rest of us do for love.

But in a breathless
I-don’t-believe-this instant
The car swerves
Wheels touch
And Johnny’s spinning off the road
Somersaulting into a barbed-wire fence
At forty miles an hour
While a billion stomachs
Take an express elevator down a hundred floors
And all France is swept
By a mistral of gasps and blasphemy.

And suddenly
I’m right there with him,
A brother in the hit-from-behind nightmare
Those of us who ride the road
Must smother daily;
Each of the three-dozen stitches
In his gouged and shredded skin
A tally-mark for a million times
It didn’t happen;
And a knot tied to remind us
That it can.

A truly horrendous – and unforgiveable – crash on yesterday’s stage of Le Tour, from which the Spanish rider Juan Antonio Flecha and Dutchman Johnny Hoogerland were lucky to escape with their lives:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYPDAry-A-s

I won’t post links to the images of Hoogerland caught up in the barbed-wire fence that have appeared on the web this morning; suffice to say they’re not suitable for those of a nervous disposition. It remains to be seen whether he’ll start on Tuesday (today is the Tour’s first rest day, thank goodness) but if he does, it’ll prove yet again just how tough these riders are; and, on a more troubling level, just how all-important Le Tour has become, and the pain and risks riders are now prepared to accept to stay in it.

The road twice travelled

9 March 2011 § 8 Comments

A different view

The spirit that drove us
Off the plain, over the water,
Through the mountains, to the moon,
Rebels at retracing a single step.
But every road
Is two roads:
Heading out
That flock of pigeons lent the shaw
An outlandish foliage of white and grey;
Now they dot the grass below
Like morning mushrooms in September;
When it was on my left
I never saw that ditch was newly cleared,
Its sloping sides scraped clean, and smooth as butter;
Those ponies are on their feet now;
A new buzzard casts its shadow over Plashett Wood;
My old friend the kestrel
Is back at his habitual post on the telephone wires,
Where his vole-revealing eyes relentlessly defoliate the field;
And I’d swear those primroses
Weren’t shining palely in the hedge-bottom
When I passed five minutes back.
In the time it took
To stop, decide, dismount and wheel around
The world has turned,
Reshaped itself:
The steep ascents I struggled up
Are gentle swoops and whooping glides;
The sun is warm and on my face
And those two magpies in the meadow
Cancel out their single, sorrowful brother
And send me smiling home.

Reckoned it was about time for another cycling poem. Normally I aim to ride in loops, but on Monday, I ended up doing an out-and-back. A simple switch of direction and suddenly everything was different. I was amazed by how many things (even if only small) could change in a few minutes, and how much I noticed going back that I had missed completely heading out.

Precision

4 February 2011 § 7 Comments

Bike-riding shows me something wonderful in Nature every day. Some days it’s a big thing, like a fox or a rainbow; other times it’s just a tiny moment of perfection like this one.

ABSOLUTE PRECISION

As I pass
A blackbird bursts
Out of the hedge
Like a mortar shell
And
In its sudden startled flight,
Bullets between the lowest bars
Of a white farm gate
Across the road;
Laser-guided through a gap
Just wingtip-wide, then
Ricochets across the yard
To lodge in a tree
That happens to be
In the right place at the right time.
While I congratulate myself
On avoiding the pothole
I spotted at a hundred feet.

Near miss (2)

22 November 2010 § 1 Comment

The signs were quite clear: Men Working; Road Narrows. But the guy in the car behind me decided they didn’t apply to him. So with engine screaming, he overtook, downhill on a blind bend, barely squeezing between me and a parked truck, which two blokes were loading with branches they’d just finished cutting from the trees beside the road. I just hope he was going somewhere really, really important.

NEAR MISS (2)

If you’re going to kill me,
Do it right:

Pull a gun
Stick a knife
Hurl a fist
Or press your thumbs against my throat;

Give me an end
To make a song
Or tale my little one can tell:
A glorious fall
In single combat
One-on-one
In defence of something precious,

Not some senseless, sightless
Snuffing-out
On a rainy Monday
A mile from home.

If you’re going to kill me,
Do me this much kindness:
Look me in the eye
And prove you are
As much a man as me.

Back in business

22 November 2010 § 2 Comments

Yesterday, I rode a metric century (100km) – my first this year and my longest ride since the whole arthritis thing kicked off back in the spring. It was a local Reliability Trial; a classic-end-of-season cycling club event in which the aim is to complete the course as close to a set finishing-time as possible. I’d trained quite carefully and everything came right on the day. Having thought I may have to quit the sport a few months ago, it really feels as though things are back to normal. And not a moment too soon. This poem (bit of a long ‘un, I’m afraid) is dedicated to my good friend and ride partner Kev Smith.

TRIAL OF STRENGTH

Early. Quiet. Cold.
Firing up old instincts
I’d once feared dead.
We have the road
To ourselves; no sign
Of our 149 opponents.
We get the first hints
A mile from the hall:
Here they are, all
Parked up; late-model German estates
With vanity plates,
Antlered with roof-racks
Or the back seats down. On the roadside
Anonymous riders
Refitting wheels, shoving shoes on,
Slipping bidons into cages.
At the start, we gather
A curious brotherhood
In our ill-matched winter kit.
Best bikes and old hacks
Stand stacked three-deep
Against walls, propped on posts
As we make the most
Of the chance to chat, check
Equipment. No turning back
Once we’re over that line.
So we sign our names,
Roll down to the start,
With every heart
Tightened. And – go.
A hundred k ahead, so start slow
On the back of the bunch; sit in
And spin. First hill and we’re splitting
Into twos and threes. For some
You can tell there’s a long day to come.
Easy for the first ten
Or so, then
Hit our first real big one, and
In seconds the field’s flung to hell and gone.
Head down, drive on,
Spot a gap like a lift door
Just before it shuts: dive through
Straight up the middle, between two
Riders right on the limit.
Make it look easy. Just like old times
On these fierce, familiar climbs,
Putting clubmen to the sword,
Breezing by without a word
To ride alone to the summit,
Drink, draw breath, then plummet
Into the valley with fearless
Fury, carving through corners careless
Of speed and the laws of physics,
Held to earth by two hard, trusted slicks
And a deep belief it will never
Happen to me. Up again and over
The high point of the ride
Which I found cloaked in cloud
The day I chose to check
The route, but now the mists peel back
To flood the land with sun.
Here, halfway round, the real work is done
So settle down for the long haul home.
The wind that helped us out here has become
The enemy, cold and in our faces,
And the hot, hard chases turn to steady
Toil in the headwind
That slowly sucks the strength
From legs and lungs, wears down the will. At length
We cross the line, with just enough left in the tank
To get us home (at least, we think).

The cold and hills will not prevail.
We took the test. We did not fail.

Fiction…

9 November 2010 § 1 Comment

CYCLING WIDOW

She hears them first:
The whirr of freewheels and shining chains,
A brake’s shrill shriek of indignation
A volley of clicks
As cleats pop from pedals.
Familiar as church bells
Summoning him to his devotions.

And here they are,
Congregating in the driveway
Like geese in the meadow;
Migrant birds, bright in winter plumage,
Summer’s hard edges hidden
By soft-brushed Roubaix and crisp Gore-Tex.
In their Monday-to-Friday suits and ties,
Stripped of helmets and dark glasses,
She’d hardly know them.

He goes to them
And, with one foot left in the world he shares with her,
Looks up,
Waves a gloved hand,
Then crosses into somewhere
She’s never been.
In his jersey pocket
Is the cake she made him,
Carefully wrapped in foil.
Cleats snap like starting-pistols
And the little peloton rolls away
Leaving only tyre-prints like pencil lines
And a gauzy laughter contrail.

He said something about
A long one.
But then, it always is with those boys.
He’ll be back for lunch
Late
Filthy
Abject
But glowing
Like a man home from the hunt,
Big with life, all his strength expended
Barely holding the blood and fire in
After fifty miles.
She pours more tea, butters toast,
Sinks into the sofa and the Times
Doesn’t hear the sirens.

NB No cyclists or their partners were harmed in the making of this poem. But just because something never happened doesn’t mean it’s not true.

The next generation…

4 November 2010 § 2 Comments

Written for me this morning by my nine-year-old daughter. She explained she wanted to cheer me up. Mission accomplished, I’d say.

THE CYCLIST

He pedals hard,
He pedals fast.
Trees and hedges
He whizzes past.

He’s a very good rider,
Training for the Tour.
He’ll win this one
I’m very, very sure.

Then suddenly, he finds a hill.
A big one, 4000ft tall.
If he rides this one
He’ll outride them all.

He starts to sprint,
He wants to win!
“He’s done it!”
His team-mates start to sing.

How do I follow that?

Out and about

4 October 2010 § 1 Comment

One of the things I’ve learned recently (and belatedly) is that you don’t have to go far or fast to have a proper bike ride. I did this little route yesterday with The Guv’nor, snatching the only half-hour of the day when it wasn’t raining; although it never takes me more than a couple of miles from home as the crow flies, it’s full of interest, both from a technical riding point of view, and in the sheer variety of things to see on the way. As backyards go, I guess it’s pretty good.

CLOSE TO HOME

It begins, like them all,
With a hill.
A well-known haul
Up from the town and the river
To the greensand ridge.

A straight mile, more or less,
Attention divided
Between fast-moving traffic
And cauliflower clouds
Heaped over the Downs.

Change down, toil up
A hundred-yard climb
Left rugged and rubbled by frosts
Then a long, cooling plunge
To the heart-in-mouth bridge

And charge for the stiff pull
Through a tunnel of trees;
Sandy banks brock-burrowed
Deep shadows harbouring
The shy deer.

Into the village: sharp left
At the Hare and Hounds
And light out for home
Slashing through esses
Past the Big House, the farm shop and stables

Then stoop like a falcon
Down Bird-in-Eye Hill
And into the final few furlongs
Of brick terraced houses
Parked cars, potholes, patched tarmac, impatience.

Four-and-a-half miles;
About twenty minutes (on a good day).
Not far, not fast,
But a little of everything
I look for in a ride.

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