Confessions of a MAMIL

We’re old enough
To know better,

But not yet so near death
We cannot dream

Of swapping our grey, empty days
And little, easy lives

For a cobweb-light,
Diamond-hard machine

A jersey dipped in liquid rainbow
Dossards, bidons,

And the road:

Of half-killing ourselves to hit
The finish – stark, unarguable –

Not some arbitrary deadline
Forgotten soon as reached;

Or accepting kisses and bouquets
On a podium before a cheering crowd

Not the one-line email, casual word
Or whistling silence when all is done.

A dream reality would shred
Like sunburned skin on scorching tarmac –

A fantasy that, knowing what we do
Of life, fate’s machinations and ourselves,

We should have left behind
And yet

When this is what remains
Of all that greatness we once thought was ours

Perhaps we’ll be forgiven
For holding on so tight.

 

MAMIL: Middle Aged Man In Lycra. And yes, I am – and proud of it. 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.

A good bike

 

Is there a better thing, I ask myself
In this world than a Good Bike? And by that
I mean the bike that runs exactly as
You want it to, and makes you happy when
You look at it; whose little dings and scuffs
Aren’t flaws but battle honours; and you’d know
Within an instant if the saddle height
Were altered by a fraction of an inch.
A bike like this cannot be bought: it’s made –
Transformed from shopfloor-shiny by the road,
Necessity, communion and time.
So one-and-only, so completely yours
You’d know it at a hundred paces. Build
Another like it, piece by piece, down to
The smallest bolt, it wouldn’t be the same.
Now your idea of what makes a Good Bike
Won’t be the same as mine. You may define
It as the latest, lightest, fastest, made
From moondust, spider-silk and starlight. Or
Could be the budget gas-pipe clunker: fell
Out of the Ugly Tree and hit each branch
On its way down, but never failed you yet.
A Good Bike is the one you’re always glad
You took today. And want to ride again.

 

My Pashley Paramount, on its holidays in Brittany this summer. A Good Bike if ever there was one. N.

A good way to go

 

This is my kind of road:

“No entry
Except for agricultural vehicles
And bicycles.”

A gentle road, benevolent,
With its priorities exactly right –
A road on a human scale,

Where I might meet
Madame on her old Motobecane
With baguettes in her basket;
A tourist couple, side-by-side
Puffing, sweating on their shiny his-’n’-hers,
Or a quartet of ancient Anquetils,
Paunchy on immaculate Looks and Lapierres,
Trusting in cash and carbon-fibre
As specifics against the years.

A John Deere hauling big round bales;
A rusty Renault puttering home
With a couple of hundredweight of hay;
Dusty Axions, hot-running, gunning it at 30 k,
Ten-tonne loads of wheat and barley bucketing behind,
Or a Lexion, filling the lane from verge to verge,
All flashing lights and turbofans, a factory on wheels.

A thoroughfare of real life,
The traffic of an older, saner time
Where nothing’s moving faster
Than a decent horse can run,
And everyone is close to home.
A road that truly gets me
Where I want to go.

 

Another piece from Brittany. The fact that it’s in free verse (almost the first I’ve written all year) is a good clue that I was finally starting to relax by this stage of our holiday! N.

Double sestina

 

Double metric

And so it was decided: on that day –
Midsummer’s Eve – together they would ride
Two hundred k. A long day on the road,
The double metric; yet the fire inside
Would not be quenched, despite the threat of rain.
The workshop lights burned late: tea cooled, time slowed
As tyres and chains were checked one final time,
The last dust speck removed from frame and wheel,
Until, at length, the moment came to climb
The stairs and sink in dreams. The work and pain
Could wait until tomorrow to be real.

They’d known each other many years. A real
And lasting friendship had been forged one day
When Dave ran through a pothole, smashed a wheel
And crashed, a flailing mass of limbs and pain.
A minute back, Mike saw it all and slowed,
Pulled over, made the calls, then set to ride
Behind the ambulance. Dave healed in time
And when the moment came to take the road
Again, Mike nursed him up each breathless climb
Gave confidence on roads left slick by rain:
They’d ridden countless miles since, side by side.

They knew their plan was on the crazy side:
What looked fine on the map might not, in real
Life, work so well, especially in the rain.
Mike warned: “Two hundred clicks is a long way
If everything goes perfectly; but slowed
By mishaps, weather, it’s a nine-hour day
At least.” But they were still resolved to ride
And serve their time as convicts of the road;
On burning, windswept flat and airless climb,
Legs leaden, stinging eyes fixed on the wheel
In front, tap out the rhythm, block the pain
And narrow down all sense of life and time

To This and Now. Dave woke at six, in time
To get up, dress, eat hugely, crack the side
Gate open with a burglar’s stealth. Mike slowed
And stopped outside. “No sign of rain,”
He grinned. “All set? Grand. Let’s get under way.”
And in that moment, everything was real,
And as they laboured up the day’s first climb
Dave knew that they were truly going to ride
The double metric. No cars on the road
At this ungodly hour; any pain
In joints and muscles quickly gone; the day
Yet fresh and cool; the hum of wheel

And purr of chain the only sounds as, wheel-
To-wheel, they ticked off clicks and time.
With thirty gone, they stopped to stuff their rain-
Proofs into jersey pockets. “That last climb
Was pretty tough,” Dave panted. “And the day
Ain’t over yet,” Mike quipped. “Lot more to ride
Before we stop for lunch.” Both riders slowed.
“Sit on my wheel for now. I know the way:
We’ve got a stretch of fairly easy road
Ahead; it’s rolling – sprinter’s hills – no real
Big climbs.” Dave nodded, then slipped from Mike’s side
Into his slipstream – balm for cyclists’ pain.

At eighty k, another dose of pain:
A hill so steep, each felt that his front wheel
Might rear up any moment. Then the rain
Began, just lightly, as they topped the climb.
“I guess we’re lucky we got all this way
And stayed dry,” Mike remarked. “Ten more to ride
Then lunch.” They rode into the village, slowed
By cars, then found a café as the day
Was turning wet in earnest. “Now the real
Fun starts,” Mike chuckled. Both men took their time
With sandwiches and cake. Meanwhile, outside
The rain lashed down. “Come on, let’s hit the road,”

Dave said. With jackets zipped up high, they rode
Out of the village. In a window pane
Dave saw himself reflected. As he slowed
To look, he thought of all the time
And work that he’d invested, and a real
Pride rose in him. He knew this was the day
He’d finally made it back. “Hey, Mike – let’s ride!”
He yelled, exultant. On the first big climb
He set the pace, bike rocking side to side
Beneath him as he stamped the pedals; rain
Flared up in fantail fountains from each wheel.
He reached the top, looked back, and saw that way

Behind, Mike laboured, trying to find a way
To keep the gear going over. But the road
Is merciless to those who have no wheel
To follow. So Mike struggled through the rain
Alone, until he finally reached Dave’s side.
“I didn’t mean to drop you on that climb,”
Dave said, shame-faced, remembering the day
Mike stopped for him, “I know I should have slowed
And…” “That’s OK,” Mike gasped, “I tried to reel
You in but you were too strong. Dished out pain
Like that when I was your age. Guess that Time
Is catching up with me at last.” The ride

Now took them through deep woods. There, on a ride
Cut through the beeches, nine deer made their way.
Mike pointed to a doe, her fawn beside
Her. “Love a sight like that: just makes my day.”
The rain eased off, then stopped; and from the road
Steam rose and sunlight glittered. “About time,”
Dave beamed. They didn’t stop but simply slowed
To tear off waterproofs, then hit the climb
That turned them homeward: each spin of the wheel
Now brought them closer to the end. The pain
Could be endured; they’d stepped outside of Real
Life, as it’s called, embraced the cold and rain

And come through smiling. But the summer rain
Had one more snare for some unwary wheel.
The runoff spread sharp grit across the road;
In gutters, flint-shards waited for their time.
Just as Mike said, “We’ve made it through the day
Without a flat,” he heard the hiss, cursed, slowed
And made a gentle stop on the roadside.
Both felt the miles in legs and back. To climb
Off, break out tools and spares, get under way
Again was cruel work. “Man, what a pain,”
Mike groaned; “Why then?” and Dave agreed with real

Warmth, nursing throbbing fingers. Now the real
Fight started. Though the skies were clear of rain
They faced an older, stronger rival: Time.
The hundred miles they’d done began to weigh
On them. The minutes passed, and yet the road
Seemed to stretch longer. Each withdrew inside
A private world, no wider than the wheel
In front but infinitely long. Each climb
Became a Calvary. The will to ride
That had sustained them through their epic day
Now floundered in a rising tide of pain;
Tired muscles cramped, legs stiffened, pedals slowed.

The final forty. By now they had slowed
To touring pace, and nothing seemed quite real:
Bright sun now burned skin soaked and chilled by rain
Not long ago; there was no World, just Road,
And when he closed his eyes, each saw the wheel
In front he’d watched for hours. Then the pain
Was over, finally, as, side by side
They pulled up at Dave’s house. Nine hours the time.
They shook hands, smiled, and Mike was on his way;
A quiet end to their grand Midsummer ride,
But all they’d shared, each minute, mile and climb,
Went deeper than mere words could go that day.

For it’s on life’s hard roads we find our real
Friends, and ourselves. On that steep climb, the time
You couldn’t hold the wheel, but they slowed
And helped you find a way – out on the road
Through wind and rain, however far you ride
You’ll make it through the day, endure the pain
When you’ve a true companion by your side.

 

Well, I finally did it: the double sestina. I won’t weary you with the prosodic intricacies of this frankly idiotic form; suffice to say it has 12 end-words (the ‘standard’ sestina has six) which are used in a set order to create 12 stanzas of 12 lines each – plus a final stanza, called the envoi, that uses them all, again in a set order. Even for me, 150 lines of iambic pentameter feels like rather too much of a good thing, but I could hardly go through the Year of Living Metrically without giving it a go. And now I have, I feel no need, or desire, to do it again!

The ‘double metric’ of the title refers to a ride of 200 kilometres. (A 100-mile ride is a ‘century’, and 100km is a ‘metric century’.) I’ve ridden the double metric on quite a few occasions, and I have to say it’s a lot less exhausting than the double sestina. N.

En attendant l’hiver

The hardest 100 days

A warmth, not unwelcome,
But strange, unsettling,
Lingers in the land
Like a swallow
Uncertain of the way to Africa.

It will be gone
Soon:

I felt it on today’s descents,
The air pooling in the dips
With a graveyard-at-midnight chill.

Then the real cold will fall
Unwelcome as the big gas bill
That surely follows it
Distant but devoted
As a stray dog.

And with it will begin
The hardest hundred days:
Of thick clay dinner-plates
Stuck to boot-soles,
Wet waxed cotton and whippet-coats
Hanging in the hallway,
Bicycles brought home
Muddied like hunters,
Old cracks and wounds in finger-ends
Split open like beech-bark.

And for all its wet and weariness
There’ll never be a minute
I’d rather sit inside and watch
Than be out living in it.