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.

Too much of a good thing

23 June 2011 § 15 Comments

Losing myself

I have found myself
So filled with others’ clamour
My own word-hoard is spent and plundered.
I have measured each hour’s value
While leaving its true worth unweighed;
Made walking in the woods and fields
Another tick on the to-do list,
Gloried in the dawn departures
And burning quarts of midnight oil,
Talked of plans and strategies,
Of doing, being, wanting more.

So I must lose myself
Again; become forgetful,
Run my hands along the bark
Of growing trees, watch the wind
Turn ash-leaves silver,
Smell the grass the cows have trodden,
Find my old ways through the woods.
And if I wander far enough
I know that I will meet myself
Coming back again.

Power plants

15 June 2011 § 9 Comments

Photosynthetic

From the air they softly suck the gas
That, one day, could kill us all.
Unseen, their chloroplasts
Surge and jostle to catch the sunlight:
Microscopic power stations
Blanketing the world,
Making fuel enough
To heat, light and move us
Six times over, while emitting only
The elements of life itself.
In due season
They seduce our senses courting bees
Then freely let their future fall
Into our waiting, hungry hands.
They have no voice
But that the breeze bestows;
No locomotion of their own, yet set
The earth itself astir,
Heaving, splitting – and, when they are gone,
Surrendering to gravity,
Water and the wind.
Without them, we would suffocate,
Starve, sleep unsheltered, till
We stumble to a sweating, shivering end.
This we know
And so
In labs, the white-coats burn through time and millions
In their attempts to do what Nature
Cracked a billion years ago.
While she continues, quiet and unremarked,
In every leaf and blade of grass.

Inspired by last night’s BBC documentary Botany – A Blooming History. Photosynthesis is so easy to take for granted, yet it’s the most fundamental process on earth. During the programme, they showed some leading-edge research being done at the University of Glasgow that’s aiming to reproduce photosynthesis in the laboratory. It’s important work, potentially unlocking unlimited sources of free, clean energy. The scientists are using electricity, platinum electrodes and all kinds of complex apparatus to separate water into its constituent elements, hydrogen and oxygen. Something the humblest plants have been doing, using nothing but sunlight, for a thousand million years, and we’re still decades away from fully understanding, let alone copying.

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.

No place to go

4 June 2011 § 6 Comments

Memory Lane

I started down it
Thinking –
Boy
I’m glad to be back
Here. Faces were familiar
Seemed pleased to see me;
Places appeared
Just as I left them
And every breath was charged with scents
Unchanged by clock or calendar.

But soon
I found the surface breaking up
Sharp shards of recollection
Getting in my shoes
Things long-buried
And best forgotten
Dug up and left along the roadside
Heavy traffic coming fast
Round blind corners
And no sign that suggested
It led anywhere at all.

Three chords and the truth

23 May 2011 § 6 Comments

Chapter and verse

Everything I had to know
I learned from country music:

‘bout Love and Life, man-and-wife.
Broken hearts, brand-new starts;
Getting in fights, lonely nights,
Smoke-filled bars, steel guitars;
Untamed broncs, honky-tonks,
Pickup trucks, last few bucks;
Missing you, dreams come true,
Endless highways, long hot dry days,
Tall tequilas, eighteen-wheelers,
Rivers of tears, ice-cold beers;
Cheatin’, lyin’, laughin’, cryin’,
Wantin’, choosin’, winnin’, losin’.
Long slow dances, lost romances,
Slamming doors, forever yours.
Words unspoken, promises broken,
Bridges burned, lessons learned.

Seemed everyone I heard was giving
Three–minute manuals for living.
And the only thing that I done wrong
Was thinking life was like a song.

Apologies for the radio silence: I’ve been working on a long-stalled novel for the past couple of weeks, and the blog’s taken a back seat. I wrote this silly poem this morning just as a bit of a loosener, but decided to post it to reassure my much-loved readers that I haven’t dropped off the face of the earth. Thank you for sticking with me; I’ll catch up with all your work during the week.

Something old

9 May 2011 § 9 Comments

Shirt tales

I’m wearing it
In a picture
Taken by a stranger
Far from home.

Beneath my feet
Washed gravel and smooth grey stones;
Behind me, a river that was snow
Less than an hour before
Falling in foam over stacked black rocks.
Dark pines. Distant peaks.

That summer, it was new,
The bargain canny student eyes
Spot at a hundred paces.
Since then

I’ve lived another lifetime
And many lives. Without the photograph
I’d never believe the farmhand’s hands
Muscles built in harvest fields
Sun-bleached hair and unworn, unlined face
Were ever mine.

And I’m still wearing it
(Time’s been that kind to me at least)
Afraid to let it go –
And with it, the smiling boy
Standing on the river’s edge
Still free to dip a toe or jump right in
Surrender to the roar and flow
Or wander on again.

In her beautiful song ‘This Shirt’, Mary-Chapin Carpenter recalls the events and memories caught up in ‘an old faded piece of cotton’. I have a shirt just like that; it’s 21 years old this summer, but I just can’t bring myself to throw it out. Partly, it’s because I’m thrilled at still being able to get into an item of clothing I had as a student; partly because it’s so darned comfortable;  and partly because it appears in all my holiday photos – including the one I’ve described here, taken in Banff National Park, Canada, on a trip that changed my life.

Back from the dead

25 April 2011 § 10 Comments

Dead lucky

He didn’t know
When he spied the dozen
Cakes left cooling in the kitchen
That underneath its icing
And chirpy chocolate eggs
Each contained
Concealed in its sweetness
Small wrinkled packages
Of death by renal failure:
Just that they were there, unwatched
And within reach
Of his questing needle nose.

A lethal dose
In those few furtive swallows;
A moment’s greed
Became a frantic hour
Of hectic emetics
That proved
Fruitless.

So to the vet’s
Sunday-afternoon silent
Where fair faces and healing hands
Made saviours of simple soda crystals.

The lad rose
And walked away.
And once again on Easter Day
Death
Was made to taste defeat.

Yes, I’m afraid the whippet’s been in the wars again. Yesterday, he stole a couple of my wife’s delicious homemade Easter muffins off the kitchen worktop when we weren’t watching. Trouble was, they contained sultanas, and any grape, fresh or dried, is potentially lethal to dogs when ingested, even in tiny quantities. We couldn’t make him vomit them up, so it was off to the vets, who fortunately are two minutes’ walk away. They took the lad off into a backroom and got some soda crystals down him, which had (from our point of view, if not his) the desired effect. He seems none the worse for his brush with death, thank goodness, but by golly it’s hard on the nerves. I hope it doesn’t contravene any rules of the RCVS to publicly thank Rose the vet and Bex the nurse for their prompt, expert and sympathetic treatment – both of the lad himself, and us.

Back on his feet

18 April 2011 § 7 Comments

Up and running

Hopping, he was:
Near hind hitched up as though the ground
Was suddenly too hot to bear;
A trembling velvet milking-stool,
Head and tail hanging low,
A look of ‘better-leave-me-sir-I’ll-only-slow-you-down’
In his martyred, liquid eyes.

Rest and four days’ lead-walking.
Easy for the vet to say:
Hell on feet for us; the lad
A little keg of gunpowder,
The wire-taut lead a fuse
As every squirrel, cat and rabbit
For miles around chose these four days
To wander idly across our path,
And grin at our tempestuous tangles
And yelps of hopeless rage.

But then to see him free again,
Eating up the football field
In strides five times his length
And hear the thrumming of four sound feet
Behind me, feel him blow by
Like a train not stopping at this station,
Makes my heart lighter
Even than my wallet
And restores the swing
In my own step.

Soul music

15 April 2011 § 9 Comments

Hardy Perennials

Left pop-eyed by an hour’s hauling
Through worthy, densely-noted classics
We put the hallowed names aside,
Relaxed our reverential frowns
And turned to those prolific geniuses
Trad. Arr. and Anon.
‘The Soldier’s Joy’ and ‘Six-Hand Reel’
Sparked new quickness in my fingers;
Reinvigorated lungs
To send the trills and grace-notes swirling
Round the room like silver swifts;
Warmed me through like strong mulled cider.
Not holy writ with Koechel numbers,
Catechism in compound time,
But tunes that sprang from workfolk; fiddlers
Hardy and his fathers knew. The music
Of the Christmas party, country wedding, village dance
Dick Dewy and the Mellstock choir
Played beneath that greenwood tree.
A heritage all-but forgotten
In this downbeat, download age,
But mine to claim, preserve and play,
With or without the printed page.

Inspired by this week’s Community Orchestra rehearsal. Like most people who play orchestral instruments, I revere Beethoven, Bach and the other Great Masters; however, I generally prefer to listen to their better-known music, and certainly don’t have the technical skill or theoretical knowledge to play it properly myself. So it was a huge relief at the end of the rehearsal to be handed a set of fiddle tunes collected by Thomas Hardy. Like his father, grandfather and various uncles, Hardy was an excellent musician and played the violin in his local church band, or choir – the inspiration for  the Mellstock players in Under The Greenwood Tree.

Having spent most of my childhood in Dorset, I have a great love of the old folk tunes, which are our true musical heritage. If the classical canon is music’s great literature, folk tunes are its oral tradition; the tales handed down through generations that tell us something of ourselves. And while a Colossus like Beethoven can wring my heart, these humbler melodies speak to my soul in a language I truly understand.

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