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
In defence of something precious,
Not some senseless, sightless
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.
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
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.
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,
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
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.
There’s weather coming in;
Riding a wind
Out of the north
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
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.
To stay inside,
Leave the bike
Snug under cover
Till it’s all blown over.
Written for me this morning by my nine-year-old daughter. She explained she wanted to cheer me up. Mission accomplished, I’d say.
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?