A higher state


The weight of the world
Slips off my shoulders
And into my back pocket
As the road tilts
And the universe shrinks;
Wrenching the pedals like bolts long rusted in,
Chain strained into a steel girder,
The newton-metres packed like powder
Into every joint and tube.
Forget the top
Dismiss desire:
To move
To breathe
To keep
My heart and limbs from tearing loose
Is enough;
This yard of chalk-bleached, frost-cracked road
This shard of telescoping time
This roaring in my ears and chest
Are all I know and understand.
A welcome stepping-off
And reconnecting with the world.


For no other reason than I felt like it, today’s 30-mile outing included the steep, narrow road (known as a bostal in these parts) that zig-zags up the north face of the South Downs to Bo Peep. It’s a cul-de-sac, ending in a car park on the South Downs Way: to the south, there are wide views to Brighton and the English Channel; to the north, a notch in the hills frames a slice of the Weald. I haven’t ridden it in several years – and after a mile I remembered why. The whole 1.5-mile climb has a rather underwhelming average grade of about 5% (1 in 20) but this kicks up to a shade over 11% (1 in 9) in the second half. (To illustrate the true paltriness of my achievement, the classic Tour climb of Alpe d’Huez is eight miles long, at an average grade of 8% (1 in 12), and is usually preceded by about 100 miles of racing including several other Alpine summits.) I was reduced to walking pace on the final horrible ramp before the top, but somehow managed to avoid using the dreaded gear-of-last-resort. The descent was like being thrown off a tall building, prompting fervent prayers of gratitude to the cycling gods for giving us the hydraulic disc brake. Good vibes all round; and reassuring to know my aging carcase can still be persuaded to do these things. Albeit not very often. N.

Shadorma: Solo

She’s so small
Up on stage, alone:
Just her bow
Her fiddle
And three hundred eyes on her.
Nothing we can do

Or say now:
It’s all down to her.
She holds us,
This whole room,
In her little hands and gaze.
A cough. Then silence.

The first notes
From the piano.
Shakes her head –
No: too fast.
The grown-up nods, starts again.
Yes, good. Attagirl.

Long F sharp.
All around the hall
Eyes widen
Mouths open.
She’s got them. Won’t let go till
She’s good and ready.

No idea
How she’s doing this:
So poised, cool,
In control;
And all the while there’s this sound
Sent straight from heaven

So it seems.
I can barely breathe.
No more my
Baby girl:
She owns this place, this moment.
And so it begins.


My daughter performed Massenet’s ‘Meditation from Thais‘ at her school concert on Thursday evening. We’d heard her practising it at home, of course, but like all great performers, she saved her best for the big night. She played it on my father’s old fiddle, and it was great that he was there to hear it, too. Have to say that from my childhood recollections, it never sounded like that when he played it…N.