They built it for the battlefields of France
In ‘forty-four – a paratrooper’s way
Of gaining rapid ground as the advance
Drove inland from Gold Beach that Longest Day.
Our active service won’t force us to face
The wait inside a dark Dakota till
A green light sends us roaring into space –
And time’s the only thing we’ll ever kill.
But still, we’re comrades in a long campaign
Against our cratered roads, the armoured might
Of cars, wild weather, human weakness, pain;
A just and righteous war we’re proud to fight.
Each day a small but vital victory
In life’s unending struggle to be free.
A little tribute to my faithful 1940s-replica Pashley Paramount: now the snow’s gone at last, we’re back on the road, doing battle with floods…the poor old bike certainly doesn’t look as shiny as it did when I took its picture in Brittany last summer. N.
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.
The big John Deere
Is working late;
After so long waiting
For a reborn sun and drying wind
To strip winter from the soil
They’re staying out,
The ten-foot, two-tonne roller
Treads thick, green scents
From the tender grass;
Driving in frost-lifted stones,
Making pancakes out of molehills,
As it wraps broad silver bandages
Round the bruised and pummelled pasture.
But these bent blades will be re-forged,
Stronger, and in greater numbers,
Ready for the tearing mouths
And hooves of summer cattle.
The roller passes on –
No time to lose –
And the soft earth breathes again:
When pressed, we do not break;
Though crushed, we do not die.
I promised my good friend and fellow poet John Stevens another tractor poem; I had something different in mind, but this one came along first, during a ride on the Paramount yesterday as afternoon gave way to evening. Apologies for the pic; a long-range phone-camera effort, I’m afraid.