after so many years all those miles half a lifetime willingly paid over
I can still forget that
after so many hours all those words hollowed out by all the hiding
I can repair all that
after just a moment stolen from reality with this magical machine.
And I am thankful that
after each forgetting it is there to remind me and pick me up again.
Missed a couple of days on the bike this week owing to poor weather and work commitments. Felt awful, darkness closing in etc. Went for a ride yesterday and things got themselves back into some kind of balance. Can’t understand why that surprised me; or why I so easily forget that, very often, that’s all it takes. Yes, I’m obsessed, and should probably be worried that my mental state is so bound up in whether or not I’ve managed to get out today. But I am absolutely certain that the bike has saved me from seeking solace in things that would be a lot worse for me; and I am so grateful to it for finding me all those years ago. (The pic is my much-loved Brompton outside the church in La Chapelle-au-Mans, Burgundy, on a very hot day back in June.)
A drowsing acre of rough-cut grass walled off from the waking world. Beneath pale stones, splashed with flowers the founding generations mingle, one with their home ground, as their crisply chiselled names bookended with joy and mourning slowly soften with the seasons.
Spinning down to this quiet corner from the village on the hill – the home I left long years ago – I find myself among old friends see more familiar faces here than there; my past interred in ordered rows. And so I turn back to the road; my world between two worlds.
These are my terms. I am. Have always been. Foundation of all things; bones of the earth. No number for the ages I have seen; To ancient fires and ice I owe my birth. I suffer you to stumble up my slopes To brave my bogs and burns, my sudden squalls. I will indulge the crampons, axes, ropes With which you arm yourself to storm my walls.
But I will not assist or lend you aid When storm clouds break upon you and the snow Screams in. You own the choices you have made; I stand impartial, neither friend nor foe. And when the wind and wet conspire to tear Your trembling fingers from their fragile hold I do not weep, rejoice, laugh or despair; Dispassionate, I watch events unfold.
And should you overcome all things, succeed And stand upon my peak in victory I offer no opinion on the deed: Your gain and loss are all the same to me. I have no truth, no answers. You will find Them in yourself alone. I am the place Where you may dare the darkness in your mind And meet your strengths and frailties face to face.
All things must pass; and yet I shall endure. The world may change, but I will always be. When doubt and chaos reign, I still stand sure. When truth is hard to find, remember me.
For Burns Night: inspired by our trip to the Scottish Highlands last year. Scotland’s mountains aren’t high by world standards but they’re rugged, remote and can be tricky to navigate; combine that with their notoriously fickle, often brutal weather and they’re definitely not to be trifled with. The image shows Ben Loyal, a magnificent Munro in the far north: the title is Scots Gaelic for ‘the great mountain’.
just turn off a couple of sockets, rip a few wires out of the wall, feign deafness when the telephone shrieks, leave the computer stone-cold, silent and go.
I need no one’s permission, require no licence, warrant, pass or explanation:
I have only to will it make that choice and I can be entirely unreachable untraceable fall right out of time and knowledge be nothing more than a man on a bicycle you pass, glimpse and instantly forget.
And only the instinct to survive is stronger than the temptation.
Life they say is not a rehearsal. And having given the matter due dawn consideration I am inclined to believe they might be right. After all we don’t get a chance to take it from the top once more with feeling; no going back over our errors, missteps stumbled entrances, fumbled lines. So I’ve always taken the cliché to mean that life must, therefore be a performance: but who would willingly take on the role; saying our piece, making our moves with little prospect of applause, just reward or even a good review for a run that only ever ends one way. No. On balance, Life is, I think, more an audition: each day we must take a deep breath step into that spotlight open our hearts strut our stuff reach down deep give our all in the hope that it will be enough. And some days it is. And some days they’ll let us know.
I find myself surrounded now By millions drenched in pure nostalgia – One hundred per cent proof against The world they see as forced upon them – For a time and country they never knew That like Arcadia or Atlantis Is all the more beguiling For never having been. Their wish to rewrite and rewind our history And fervent fealty to their imagined glory Have won for them the crown and flag I used to see as mine as well And in so doing made a shell-shocked fiction Of all I thought I knew. And so I will allow myself A little longing of my own For another life I never lived And, had it been handed to me then Would probably have refused As one too frightened, small, suburban For something so grand, hard-edged, expansive. So permit me a moment’s misty-eyed Far-back-reaching, sadly sighing Regret for all I never was And in all honesty, humility and likelihood Never could have been.
Me: So. What makes a good and worthy life? My best friend just looks at me With fond, pitying eyes that plainly say What kind of question is that? Please. I need to know. OK. First, eat. Anything and everything put before you. Plus whatever you can find. You may surprise yourself. Then sleep. Dream. Find the warm spots. Let others envy your repose, so instant and complete. Yet always be ready to respond. There is promise in every sound and movement. You just never know. Ignore the stick, the ball, the bird: Mere distractions, unworthy of your speed and skill. Not so the cat, the rabbit: Always engage with your true work. For you will have your day. And those I meet? Some will reach out, some recoil. Learn when to press for friendship, and when to walk away. What are my watchwords? Loyalty without subservience. Courage without recklessness. Fierceness without savagery. To sum up, then… Live enormously. Love immoderately. Serve unfailingly. Be adored, remarkable, irreplaceable. And is that enough? I ask. My best friend’s eyes are laughing now. You tell me.
Their greatest fans, of which I’m one, would readily concede that whippets aren’t the brightest dogs in the world – they’re born to run, not to think – but like all canines, they know a thing or two about living. Even an example as irredeemably obtuse as our beloved Viggo is consistently in tune with what’s truly important in a way I never seem able to maintain. How I envy his simple outlook, uncomplicated moral code and serene, untroubled mind, especially in times like these. N.
All voices mute. All books closed. And so I took myself into the hills Wandered among the woods and fields To tap the wisdom of the world.
Seek my silence, said the land. Breathe my air. Watch the shadows cross my face, the trees bend with the wind. Understand my deeper workings But never let your knowledge close the door on wonder.
Follow the roll of stars and seasons, The great wheel turning in the earth. Plough, sow and harvest; but guard the goodness in you. The sin is not in lying fallow, but working gifted ground to dust.
Feel my bones beneath your feet. Be that bulwark for those you love. And as time and fortune wear and shape you Be shot through with truths as hard as flints That strike sparks, blunt blades, outlast events and weather.