Thaw

27 December 2010 § 1 Comment

GOING, GOING…

Today, I embrace the hated headwind
As a friend; sweeping up from the south,
Driving the Arctic air back where it belongs.
Along the kerbs and verges
Cracked ribs and ferny fringes
Of rotting, softening ice
Print meltwater barcodes across the road:
All snow is now reduced
In winter’s closing-down sale.
The wind has changed
And everything must go.

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.

November’s here…

7 November 2010 § 3 Comments

COLD FRONT

There’s weather coming in;
Riding a wind
Out of the north
Its teeth
Sharpened on icebergs
It bit off the edge of the Arctic.

Shredded by the jet-stream
A tired cloud trails a thin rain
That dots the pavement
Freckles cars
Chills the air
Like crushed ice in a glass.

The heavy stuff
Is stacked behind
In a sickened sky
That brings a fevered flush
To house-bricks and staring windows,
Jaundices the page.

A day
To stay inside,
Leave the bike
Snug under cover
And wait
Till it’s all blown over.

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?

Reading the road

13 October 2010 § 3 Comments

One of my regular rides takes me through the parish of Chiddingly (in accordance with local custom, the ‘-ly’ is pronounced ‘lie’, not ‘lee’) which, like Rome, encompasses seven hills. My route crosses three of them in succession, and I’ve always liked the historical logic of their names that allows me to track my progress. From north to south, they run as follows:

ROAD TO WAR

Ride over Pick Hill,
Whose sandstone sides
Were first cratered for their ore
To arm the legions,
Its quiet woods scabbing over
Long centuries of plunder.

To Gun Hill
Where the ironmasters cast
Culverins and cannon
For Device Forts and men o’ war;
Our stolid breed of Sussex men
The muscle in Good King Hal’s arms race.

Then Thunders Hill
These days disturbed by little more
Than tractors, Sunday motorbikes
And neglected car exhausts –
Still echoing to the martial roar
Of the past along the road.

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.

Tour 2010: Stage 20

26 July 2010 § 8 Comments

The final kilometres of this year’s Tour were played out in traditional fashion in Paris. Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) won his fifth stage, and also became the first rider ever to win on the Champs-Elysées two years running. Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-Farnese Vini) was second, which gave him overall victory in the green jersey competition.
Alberto Contador (Astana) won the Tour without winning a stage and having been pushed every inch of the way by Andy Schleck. Could we see a change at the top of the sport next season? One man who’s definitely heading for the exit, this time for good, is Lance Armstrong, who finished an anonymous 23rd – not the glorious last hurrah we’d have liked to have seen from the seven-time winner.
It’s been a great Tour, and for the first time in years, I’ve enjoyed it from start to finish. So, inspired by my blog-pal Chloe, my closing entry in this three-week poetry marathon is a retrospective of the entire event in haiku; one for each of the 20 stages.
Thanks for joining me on the road to Paris.

PROLOGUE

Twenty-two times nine
Slaves to the clock. One stands; cries
‘I am Spartacus!”

STAGE 1.

Stage, one; countries, two.
On the run into Brussels
Petacchi sprouts wings.

STAGE 2

Spa cure for the blues:
Chavanel is in yellow;
France is feeling good.

STAGE 3

On a day in Hell,
Cobbles claim men’s bones and souls.
But Thor’s in heaven.

STAGE 4

As the Champagne flows
For Petacchi once again,
Has Cav’s bubble burst?

STAGE 5

So the lead-out train
Gets it right. And suddenly
Cav is back on track.

STAGE 6

First Cav couldn’t win
Now it seems he cannot stop.
Two down, three to go.

STAGE 7

Second time around
Taking yellow the hard way.
Chapeau, Chavanel.

STAGE 8

As the road heads up
Schleck breaks free of gravity.
Shades of Charly Gaul.

STAGE 9

On the Madeleine
Sandy’s out there on his own.
Still is at the line.

STAGE 10

Where Beloki fell
Paulinho makes no mistake
Keeps his winning Gap.

STAGE 11

Cav makes it thirteen
Beats Robbie, Cipo, Zabel
Along with the rest.

STAGE 12

Alberto goes clear;
Andy loses by a hair.
Shape of things to come?

STAGE 13

Vino’s comeback win,
But his past means this is not
One to Revel in.

STAGE 14

Riblon wins alone:
After three lean, unseen years
The Ax man cometh.

STAGE 15

Centenary day
In the Pyrenees. Vockler
Leaves them on a high.

STAGE 16

Peyresourde, Aspin,
Tourmalet, Aubisque. Such names
Don’t scare Fédrigo.

STAGE 17

And then there were two.
On the highest, hardest road
They are on their own.

STAGE 18

Sprinters call it home.
Cav blazes into Bordeaux,
Claims a vintage win.

STAGE 19

Schleck is cast to fail.
Doesn’t read the script. Almost
Forces a rewrite.

STAGE 20

Number five for Cav,
Three for Contador. For Lance
It’s seven and out.

Longjumeau-Paris Champs-Elysées, 102.5km
Won by Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia)

Maillot jaune: Alberto Contador (Astana)
Maillot vert: Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-Farnese Vini)
Maillot au pois: Anthony Charteau (Bbox Bouygues Telecom)
Maillot blanc: Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank)
Team classification: Radio Shack
Lanterne rouge: Adriano Malori (Lampre-Farnese Vini) @ 4h 27m 03s

Tour 2010: Stage 19

25 July 2010 § Leave a comment

The form-book suggested Andy Schleck could lose minutes to Alberto Contador in the only individual time trial of this year’s Tour. As things turned out, it was a lot closer than any of us – including the protagonists themselves – ever imagined. At the first time check, Schleck was actually slightly ahead of the maillot jaune; on the line, he’d lost just 31 seconds, giving Contador a winning margin of 39 seconds – the second-closest finish in Tour history.

A CLOSE-RUN THING

Thirty-nine
On the line.
First check:
Schleck
In front by a nose;
Too close
To call;
Left it all
To Alberto
To do
Or die.
But a guy
With four Grand
Tour wins in hand
Doesn’t crack
So easily
And finally
The man came back
But he was spent
And what it meant
Was clear
From his tears.

Bordeaux-Paulliac, 52km ITT
Won by Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank)
Maillot jaune: Alberto Contador (Astana)

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