They ploughed this land in March. Back then, it lay
Dark, heavy, full of winter rain, and turned
In thick, slow-breaking waves. Spring baked the clay
To bricks and horse-heads when the sun returned.
They worked it down somehow and, fingers crossed,
Drilled wheat and waited. May breathed savage heat
On helpless shoots. By month’s end, all was lost,
Each lifeless leaf a limp flag of defeat.
And so they let it go. The big John Deere
Came armed with power harrow to the field.
They reaped an early, empty harvest here:
Brown dust and diesel fumes the only yield.
To start, to break new ground, takes guts and will.
But knowing when to quit is harder still.
I wrote it.
I meant it.
And so I sent it.
Cut the connection.
Made with precision.
Email spares us many a tricky phone call or face-to-face conversation these days. Doesn’t mean it’s always easy, though. Inspired by real events. N.
Tell me: who are the great, all-knowing THEY?
No faces, names or mandate, yet with power
To buy and sell us by the pound and hour,
Strip money from our schools and give away
Our countryside for houses, make us go
On mindless missions, drag us out of sleep
Too early, ride us hard all day, then keep
Us half the night. They draw the lines we toe.
So what, then, is my life to them? They don’t
Know me, though they may think they hold my fate
In their dead hands: they’ll never pass my gate
Or walk my road. They never have. And won’t.
That’s fine by me. This lesson I have learned:
That less is better where THEY are concerned.
For everyone who has to be somewhere or do something today because THEY say so. N.
Work-sick, world-shy and heart-weary, I went
To ask the woods if they remembered me.
Would I still find words pinned to every tree
Like poor Orlando’s poems? I had meant
To come there sooner, spend more time among
Them, walk their well-known paths and hunt for rhymes
Like birds’ nests. Of our tiny daily crimes
These are the worst: to leave our songs unsung,
And sights laid on for us unseen. The drive
To Do leaves us so little time to Be.
We’ve endless choice: let’s use it, and be free –
Make livings matter less than being alive.
Come with me, seek the solace of the wood:
Look on its works, and see that they are good.
Thanks, Tom. N.
The sign is clear,
Can’t be denied:
Guess I’ll just have to
Spotted this intriguing notice on the door of the sports pavilion in the village where my parents live. I think they’re probably referring to football and cricket boots; but it’s a lot funnier if you read it the way I did. N.
I have been one acquainted with the bike.
I’ve ridden out in rain – and back in rain.
I’ve felt the snowflake sting, the hailstone strike
I’ve carved through screaming street and lonely lane.
I’ve laboured on the endless, airless climb
Rejoiced in conquering gravity and pain
Forgetful, free and falling out of time.
I’ve found myself on roads the Tour de France
Has passed along, cruised Paris’s sublime
And sacred boulevards; made others dance
To my tune all day long, and mine the wheel
To follow if they can. My years advance
But I’m kept young by carbon fibre, steel
And aluminium magic. All my ills
In mind and body slip away; I heal
Myself with massive dosages of hills
And saddle-time: the only cure I need –
Don’t give me platitudes, prescriptions, pills.
But I’m addicted; yes. I love the speed
And freedom of it – love the work and sweat,
The downhill fear, the knowing how to read
The road, the muscle memory, the wet
And dry, the heat and cold, that strange dreamlike
State on the double metric. I forget
Myself, can find myself, be who I like.
I am still one acquainted with the bike.
This piece was inspired by Robert Frost’s achingly beautiful I have been one acquainted with the night, which was the first terza rima I ever read, and is still my benchmark for this mesmerising form. Have a great weekend. N.
I saw it on a Tour team-car roof-rack
In ’99. Pau. Frame greyed with the grime
Of rock-hard Pyrenean cols like coal-
Dust on a miner’s face. A strip of tape
On the top-tube, which bore, in small neat caps,
A name that blazed across the world that year:
L. ARMSTRONG. His. Right there in front of me.
Took five years’ waiting
but I got mine. That
Changed everything. Just-going-for-a-ride
Became twelve thousand k a year; the road
My second home; the bike a part of me.
And it was war, fought on so many fronts –
Fatigue, foul weather, gravity, the grind
Of spinning out the endless hours alone;
The predatory cars, the sudden crash
As glycogen reserves ran dry. I lost
Some battles; won my share. My days had shape
And structure: strong, continuous and true
As my bright-silver-spinning handbuilt wheels;
The steady scrolling of the countryside,
The hollow roar of tyres, purring gears
The biopic and soundtrack of my life.
And that was just the way it was. For years.
I tried to quit. I swear.
I went two weeks.
But my heart hurt more than my ruined knee
So I came back. A little easier,
Though still five days a week: the full-time job
Of being alive. Not all addiction’s bad.
I still waste hours in wondering, chasing wild
Geese up blind alleys, trying to figure out
All kinds of why and what-the-hell and how.
And all the time the answer’s waiting there
Downstairs. It slouches up against the wall
Like hired muscle: hard, honed; clear intent
In each smooth tube, taut line and swelling curve.
A circumnavigation on the clock
Now, memories bound tight in every strand
Of carbon fibre in its frame. It is
The constant – one of very few I have –
And balance-point of life. So if I ask
About my calling, cause, trajectory
I beg you to remind me – it’s the bike,
Stupid. Then send me back out on the road,
Where I find all this crazy world reduced
To simple, fundamental principles
And I am certain – just the way I was
Behind the finish line on Stage 16 –
Of all I want and need. It’s still the bike.
The driest winter ever – twice – brings drought:
The reservoirs half-empty, hosepipes banned,
Groundwater critical, dark talk about
The standpipes springing up across the land
Just like they did way back in ’76.
With twice the average rain we’ll be OK
They tell us (that is, if they ever fix
The countless leaks that let it slip away).
The story’s different if you walk or ride:
No water shortage here that I can see.
Seems I get soaked each time I step outside:
My boots protest; bikes glare accusingly.
And whether you believe that we’re to blame,
Ask me, it’s started. Things won’t be the same.
Everything I had to know
I learned from country music:
‘bout Love and Life, man-and-wife.
Foolish hearts, brand-new starts;
Bitter 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,
Hot falling tears, ice-cold beers;
Cheatin’, lyin’, laughin’, cryin’,
Wantin’, choosin’ winnin’, losin’.
Long slow dances, lost romances,
Hit the track, want you back,
Please-don’t-go, the rodeo,
Hanging tough, I’ve-had-enough
Harsh words spoken, promise broken,
Slamming doors, forever yours.
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.
This is a reworking of a piece I originally posted a year or so ago. Still makes me smile. Have a great weekend, everybody. N.
So. You might think I’m just riding along
With no agenda, purpose, urgency
(I know that’s how it looks) but you’d be wrong.
I’m not here simply for the scenery:
This is my office, and I’m working; words
Are waiting in the woods and fields for me,
And ideas dart, elusive as the birds
That hurry in the hedgerows as I pass.
What’s been, what is, what hasn’t yet occurred:
The rhymes and rhythms ripple like spring grass
In glossy swathes, which I will harvest when
I’m back in that false world of bricks and glass
And peddling their illusions once again.
For now, I’ll breathe clean air, survey the land,
Draw in the scents of flowers and soil. And then,
With all of this material to hand,
I’ll set it down on paper. I belong
To this place: everything I understand
Is here and, through this labour, I grow strong.
Though you might think I’m just riding along.
Thought it was time for another attempt at the terza rima, which I’m determined to crack eventually. Its endlessly circulating rhymes (ABA BCB CDC DED etc) seemed just right for a poem about cycling, which is, after all, a game of rotation and movement. The title, incidentally, is a bit of bikeshop-speak: mechanics get so many people bringing in ailing or busted machines and beginning their tale of woe with ‘I was just riding along when…’ that ‘JRA’ is now a common, if somewhat sardonic, abbreviation on many workshop job-sheets. N.