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 name of the game

5 July 2011 § 11 Comments

Moral dimension

If I were a pro
Whose name and logo
Would I be prepared
To wear
In exchange for a berth
In the greatest annual
Sporting show on Earth?

A big foreign bank’s?
Thanks, but no thanks.

A car-hire firm’s?
Not on their terms.

Some Big Pharma name?
Spare me the shame.

Liquid gas? Coated steel?
Come on now. Get real.

GPS, smartphone makers?
Sorry. No takers.

Owned by voicemail hackers?
Not my ideal backers.

The national flag?
Not really my bag.
(And, while highly evocative,
The Cross of St George
Might be seen as provocative
Should Le Tour
Ever take in Agincourt).

But since my fate is
Amateur status
I’m free to remain
Plain
Unclaimed
And unstained.

Tour fever

4 July 2011 § 4 Comments

Same old cycle

Every year
Right about now
I’m laid low
With an acute attack
Of Tour Fever.
A curious ailment
Rare now in these isles
Where most are inoculated
Against the bike in childhood.

The peloton bug
Bit hard long years back
When Big Mig’s five-straight run
Was sputtering to a stop
And challengers flocked from other lands
Like knights desperate to draw
The sword from the stone.

My affliction flowered
Prostrating me on the sofa
For hours and days;
Delirious with dreams
Or falling into darkness
As another god proved false.
And with each new wound
I assumed
My immunity would grow.

But the cure’s proved incomplete.
And now, as summer waxes,
My pulse sets up its hammer beat
My thoughts slip south
And my heart prepares
To be filled to overflowing
And broken
Yet again.

The drought breaks

6 June 2011 § 12 Comments

Summer Dies

This morning brings
A triple killing:

The Sun
Smothered with a grey cloud blanket;

The cracked ground
Drowned and beaten to a pulp

And my long run of hot, dry roads
Murdered in cold rain.

A summer born and dead too soon.
And the garden sends flowers.

Resurrected

24 April 2011 § 4 Comments

Good Friday

Easter last, my body
Betrayed me;
And after all I’d done for it, too.

Overuse, genetics,
Or a fractional misalignment
Of joints and bearings turning over
Hundreds of hours and
Thousands of miles
Hammered nails
Into my bones
And all I’d known and been and loved
Was left to die.

I cried out
In the darkness

And my God
Did not
Abandon me;

So now you see me
Resurrected;
The veil of fear and anguish
Ripped in shreds and whirled away
In my busy slipstream.

And all that had seemed
Dead and buried
Is restored to me
And glorious.

Today
Is a good day.

My heartfelt thanks to everyone who sent good wishes after my last, rather gloomy, post; things are a lot better now. This time last year, I thought my cycling days were done: on Friday, I took the Madone for a spin and it was just like old times. No pain, no taking-it-carefully, just spinning along on a big gear in the sunshine, feeling fast, fluid and strong again. I know there will still be less-good days (I am who I am) but this Easter weekend has reminded me just how much I have to be thankful for – including the wonderful support I get here.

Under pressure

11 March 2011 § 4 Comments

Under pressure

The big John Deere
Is working late;
After so long waiting
For a reborn sun and drying wind
To strip winter from the soil
They’re staying out,
Getting on.
The ten-foot, two-tonne roller
Treads thick, green scents
From the tender grass;
Driving in frost-lifted stones,
Making pancakes out of molehills,
As it wraps broad silver bandages
Round the bruised and pummelled pasture.
But these bent blades will be re-forged,
Stronger, and in greater numbers,
Ready for the tearing mouths
And hooves of summer cattle.
The roller passes on –
No time to lose –
And the soft earth breathes again:
When pressed, we do not break;
Though crushed, we do not die.

 

I promised my good friend and fellow poet John Stevens another tractor poem; I had something different in mind, but this one came along first, during a ride on the Paramount yesterday as afternoon gave way to evening. Apologies for the pic; a long-range phone-camera effort, I’m afraid.

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.

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