Blast-frozen like a cut-price chicken,
Face flayed red and fingers numb;
Feet reduced to frosted nuggets
One mile down. And more to come.
No heater, windows, roof or doors
To shield me from this easterly
Whetted to a razor’s edge
And driving in relentlessly.
But let it do its worst. I’m rolling,
Motor running smooth and fast.
Engineered for harsh conditions;
Forged and tempered. Built to last.
A sudden, fragile truce.
For an hour
And yields the field.
A shell-shocked sun
Blinking in bewilderment
In the spin of silver spokes;
As I ride out to greet and grasp it
With my bare hands.
Later, locked in the deep dark
With Spring’s brief kiss
Still warm upon on my skin.
A parting and a promise
That I will hold her to.
Round the corner
From calm, unthinking black
To glassy, deathly white
In one sharp breath
And a shocking spike
Driven through my chest:
With the solid, blessed earth
From the soothing clasp
Of friendly, faithful friction.
Nerves yanked tight,
Every wolf and lion our fathers ever saw
Springing out of time
And suddenly recalled;
The helpless dread of drowning
On dry land.
And then the sagging joy
Of grip and sanity regained.
But more awaits:
I feel it in my bones.
After more than 20 years and many thousands of miles in all conditions, I readily confess that I’m still petrified, almost literally, by icy roads. There’s not much ice about at the moment – indeed, there’s hardly been any all winter – but yesterday I rounded a corner and found myself on a veritable skating-rink, the surface smooth and glassy from verge to verge. I got through OK, and in my whole cycling career, I’ve had only a couple of minor ‘offs’ on black ice, never a serious fall, so I should really get over it. Just can’t, somehow. N.
A molten copper sun
And roads left parched
By a week of quicklime frosts
Sets the old urge surging
Through my sluggish blood and ruined bones,
Shaking lost desires from their long winter sleep.
Tool up, clip in, tuck down
Turn the taps on full
Settle to the work.
And so the wheel turns.
The road bike has been waiting patiently in the shed all winter for the roads to dry up and the sun to put in an appearance. Yesterday, finally, it all came right. And it was good. N.
I fear the sudden fall –
The shrieking plunge into the void
In all its shifting forms.
I have history here:
A lifetime’s toil in trying to tame
My rebel brain and its wayward chemistry.
Yet here I am
Hurling myself downhill
Into this blind curve
Poised on the point where what just can
And what just can’t be done converge.
So many years
Holding on so tight
But still just crazy enough –
In this moment
To be letting myself go.
More rain. Each drop that falls
Is a cold, hard reason
To play it safe today and stay inside.
An instinct to protect
A holy wisdom, faithfully applied.
But in every silver splash
I glimpse an eye that slyly winks
Inviting me to hang it all – and ride;
To tell the child within
Not to heed that warning voice,
And revel in the freedom to decide.
Strange as it may seem, I actually love riding in the rain. There’s something empowering and uplifting about being out in conditions that keep others indoors – and in knowingly, deliberately, joyfully getting wet and filthy, which my mother always told me not to do! As has often, and rightly, been said: there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. N.
A page unturned
A bow unstrung
A match unstruck
A song unsung
An unbacked horse
An unheard choir
An unmade bed
An unlit fire
A cake uncut
A book unread
A keg untapped
A word unsaid
A handless clock
A limbless tree
A roofless house
A shoreless sea.
A silent scream
A soundless shout.
A lifeless life.
A day without.
Bad weather and meetings away from home have conspired to keep me off the bike the last couple of days. A poem for anyone sundered from the object, activity, place or person that means the most to them today. N.
This is my world: no flat road to be seen;
A jagged country chipped from ancient stone.
Not high, my hills, but fierce, their ramps and walls
Burned deep in heart and lungs, their contours carved
In calves and quads. Then every hard-won inch
Is gleefully abandoned on the drop;
Hard hauling to the roof, a deep-drawn breath
Then hurled down to the basement. And repeat.
Why seek so hard a road? What rare reward
Lies in such fruitless work? In desperate days
Where all seems doomed and doors are slamming shut
To take it on, eyes open, willingly
Endure a needless hardship and survive
Is proof we’re living yet. And in control.
Went out and rode one of my more egregiously hilly routes today. Not especially long (about 24 miles) and tops out at a mere 623 feet, but packs in a lot of climbing and descending. Nothing like it for clearing out a cluttered mind. N.
Dirt, sure. But not the ground-in grime
Of long neglect,
The careless patina of time
No nameless filth, no gnawing rust
To stain and blight;
No petrified, cemented crust
Of oversight –
No: these are battle honours, scars
Earned in the field
That tell, through long and bitter wars,
We did not yield
But faced down Winter’s worst, and won.
So let them stand
Until a cleansing, reborn sun
Reclaims the land.
No warmth left in the cast-iron soil, or weak winter sun.
A cold, colourless world, emptied of all life.
Silence lies on the leafless woods and bare, frosted fields;
Ice lurks in shadows, a wicked, watchful eye.
Naked hedgerows, armed with thorns, frown over dank ditches;
Half-lost lanes languish, scabbed with old farmyard filth.
And in this desolation, your swirl of red and gold
Sparks hope of brighter days and tales to be told.
By this stage in an English winter, everywhere is looking a bit dead, grubby and neglected. But Nature has a way of redeeming herself, as she did yesterday with a charm of goldfinches, who burst out of a hedgerow as I rode past. At that moment, all was forgotten and forgiven. N.