A charm for Hallowe’en

A Charm Against Ye Knavish Trick-or-Treaters

 

Attend ye, this All Hallows’ Eve,
Heed this warning: take thy leave,
Get ye hence, touch not this door,
Retrace thy steps, disturb no more
Our sweet repose at close of day.
Thou art not welcome, go thy way.
Thy witch’s hat and monster mask
Shall not avail thee: prithee ask
Not here for toothsome snacks or sweets –
Demand elsewhere thy tricks or treats.
For in this house a creature lies
With sharp white teeth and burning eyes.
Flee while ye may, rouse not his wrath
And take again thy homeward path.
Be ye not heard, be ye not seen
Within our bounds this Hallowe’en.

 

A year later, it still makes me smile. N.

Reading the road

 

Butterbox Lane.
Stuck the knife in
And laid it on thick:

The wheel to follow.
Dishing it,
Not taking it.

Picked up a tailwind
Blew down Sloop Lane
A two-wheeled man ’o’ war.

Long drop on Ketches
Pulling hard as the hangman’s rope
Through woods slowly bleeding to red-gold death

Witches Lane. Flying,
Speeding, spellbound.
Wicked. Cackling.

Burned Down Street
To the old powder mill.
Blasted the climb beyond.

Rolled up Rocks Road.
High Street shuffle.
Last hill home.

Seeing the signs.
Feeling my way.
Reading the road.

 

Free-verse recall and redolent Sussex road names from yesterday’s ride. Our Ketches Lane has an ‘e’ Charles II’s notorious hangman never had, so there’s probably no connection, but I can’t help thinking of Jack Ketch and his eponymous knot every time I ride along there. N.

Clean

 

Poor bike. Looks like
You just came last
in the Tour of Flanders,
or spent the day
on the road to Roubaix
and, en route, passed
through all the seven circles
of cycling hell.

But mud and crud
Aren’t all that I
Must try washing from you:
A deeper taint
Now dulls your blue paint;
The rumours fly
And history’s rewritten
As more men tell.

Yet still, I will
Keep faith with you,
My partner for so long.
You are no fake:
Their crimes do not make
What we’ve been through
Any the less. We did it
And did it well.

 

Took the road bike on my own little ‘Tour of redemption’ today. As I’d hoped, the weather was foul and the roads were filthy – real hardcore stuff – and I chose a route with plenty of hills (not difficult round here!) I’d just finished reading Tyler Hamilton’s illuminating, and heartbreaking, book The Secret Race and desperately needed reminding just what it was I first loved about this crazy sport. Thing is, my road bike is the same as the one Hamilton, Armstrong and the US Postal Service team rode at the ’99 and ’00 Tours (which is why I got it) That big sponsor’s logo on the seat-tube, which I used to be so proud of, now seems like an indictment: from what I’ve just read, USPS should probably stand for Users of Suspicious and Prohibited Substances.
Anyway, had a brilliant ride, and came back with the bike looking as though it had just been dragged out of a canal; this poem came to me while I was washing it down. The truth I discovered today was that whatever Armstrong et al may or may not have done, they can’t make my light, fast, beautiful bike heavy, slow or ugly. The bike is bigger and greater than the sport of cycling, and I can still enjoy the one without the other. All is well. N.

 

(NB The Tour of Flanders is a legendarily demanding one-day ‘classic’ race held in Belgium every spring. The weather is usually appalling. Roubaix is the unlovely industrial town where the almost-as-tough and even-more-famous Paris-Roubaix classic ends. Both races include lots of cobbled roads, and the list of past winners is a roll-call of the sport’s serious hard-men.)

A sense of wonder

Some rhapsodise about the ‘New Car Smell’
(I’m told that you can buy it in a spray
To endlessly relive the golden day
The car came off the forecourt) but I’ll tell
You something, there’s no greater thrill than this:
That bike-shop scent of packing grease, clean tyres
And polished paint; a perfume that inspires
The ecstasy, the unselfconscious bliss
Of childhood Christmas mornings. Just a toy
Perhaps, but is there any other thing,
At any price, so wondrous, that can bring
Such joy, turn weary man to giddy boy?
This is no mere machine I’ve bought today.
It’s freedom. And we’re going out to play.

 

After the relentless doom and gloom of recent days, I wanted to write something a bit more uplifting – and what better subject than a new bicycle, with all its attendant innocence, joy and promise of freedom and redemption? If you haven’t bought a brand-new bicycle (for yourself, not your children) for a while, go do it. I find I need one every couple of years…it can be an expensive habit, but there are far worse ones. N.

Feet of clay

 

So now it’s all exploded
Off the back pages onto the front –

Confessions and contrition
Hearts emptied, guts spilled

Laundry aired, carpets lifted
And all the dirt swept under them

Dragged out into daylight
In a cloud of told-you-so –

Who’s left to raise
A glass or monument to?

Whose triumphs were their own,
Unaided by the blood-bag, syringe or pill?

What is there to believe
When every word and pedal stroke

Is now proved false
Or too good to be true.

What is a history worth
When spangled with asterisks

Stacked on footnotes
Or just left blank

As ink and decency recoil
From such names and such deeds.

All that comes out clean
Unsullied and unstained

Is the machine:
The one they all professed to love

But simply used.
It is not them. It is itself.

And in itself
It makes us more than men –

Faster, stronger, more alive
Than we ever dared to dream.

A fine, benign addiction
My stimulant of choice.

And even after everything
I’ll still take it every day.

 

A hard piece to write, and a very incomplete and inadequate expression of what’s in my mind right now. I’m still reeling from the USADA’s decision to annul Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour de France victories, Tyler Hamilton’s (long-overdue) confession and all the other dreadful revelations that have engulfed cycling in recent days. We all knew things were rotten in the sport: we just didn’t know – or dare to imagine – just how bad they were. Now we do know. And I’m so angry, disappointed and disillusioned, I don’t think I shall ever watch a professional bike race again. Sorry, Bradley. All that’s left is the bike itself. Which, thank goodness, is still more than enough. N.

Sold

 

The car drives off; and in my hand a heap
Of well-creased tens and twenties, counted out.
A handshake and the trade was made.
                                                 So light
And yet it always weighed my spirit down;
                                                 So swift
And yet it could not match my shifting moods;
                                                 So strong
And yet it had no hold upon my heart.
                                                 So long,
Then, to a dream – or so I thought it was:
No longing or regret assail my soul;
No second thoughts, no doubts disturb my mind.
And if I grieve
It is not for the thing itself
But at my own indifference.
And quickly as it comes
The small, slight sorrow slips from me
And I am free.

 

I’ve bid au revoir to the Trek Madone. Didn’t ride it much, miss it not at all. A salutary lesson in the transience of possessions. But I’m still pleased to say it’s gone to an excellent new home. N.

New e-book

 

More excitement: my second e-book is now on sale in the Kindle store at Amazon. It’s a collection of my Old English-style riddles, beautifully illustrated by my immensely talented friend and colleague Dan Tero.

Once again, my heartfelt thanks to all those whose comments and suppport have given me the confidence to realise this dream. And this latest creation really is more than I could ever have imagined. N.