Poetry – The Bicycle Ride

Here are some of the poems I wrote during my sojourn across Europe in the summer of 2005, as described in Part 1 of The Jolly Pilgrim. I’ve left out the stuff that was too heart wrenching. You may note that some of the prose made it into the book.

 

Dover Castle

Here once
In this magnificent testament to medieval engineering
Armies fought
Engines of war spat fire and death

Now daisies grow on soft grassy banks
Families and children play
Largely uncomprehending
Apart from dates and names on plaques

The only foreign invaders
Have come to swap money for ice creams
So the world has taken at least one turn
From hate and war to tourism and sunny afternoons

- Dover Castle, Kent, May 2005 (mail 1)

 

Rouen Cathedral

 

The Backstreets of Rouen

A series of odd shaped medieval buildings
Tumbled upon one another around a courtyard
In windows are files, pepers, wallcharts – offices
Students rush hither and tither
Carpenters bustle about, intent on projects
On the walls are the faded carvings of skulls and chains
And symbols of life and death
In corners, within the reach of my arm, are cobwebs upon cobwebs, decades of spinning
In the streets around are alleys, feet-wide
Faded Cupid pissing clear water into cobbled pools
How deep is the history of humankind
How varied its culture
How labyrinthine its achievements

- Rouen, early June 2005

 

Campsite sounds

I sit outside my tent
Enjoying food, wine and nature
Behind me can be heard the sound of a family
And the periodic confrontations of parents and offspring
Their interactions are punctuated
With tellings off, adult cries of dispair and occasional slappings
Thus do these children learn the ways of interaction
With their fellow man
What must this tell the soul?
How must this shape their lifelong communications
To hear the anger and frustration of the parents is heart breaking
But hey, no one is perfect

- The campsite in Rouen, early June 2005

 

In the camp

 

In the Evening

I release my breaks
Quattro Staggione, a quart of wine and a cafe au lait inside me
Glide down into a medieval wonderland
Grey walls and dark towers loom up, and are gone

My steed is full of power
Bloated by the food of gravity
Whisks me through the streets
Toward the river

By the Loire, lights run off in marches
And an ancient bridge makes an inverted V
Above cool steady waters
I breath the air of freedom, as the road slides like butter beneath

So as I pass
Joyfully, effortlessly, towards my camp
The birds of prey screech their power
From dark fields

I know how they feel

- Blois, the Loire valley, June 2005

 

Crossroads

In the middle of a forest
Where eight paths meet
Stretching out
Like the arms of some impossible spider
Signs and benches, and a tie place for horses
A mound of stones and dust
And no one but me
A vacant junction
Given over to trees

Behind me
Are a King’s hunting lodge
The home of Captain Haddock
And some Americans, unable to manage the 1.6 kilometres home
And the trees crowd around
Majestic in their home

- Chateau de Cheverny, near Blois, June 2005

 

Two trees at a junction, France

 

French Cycling Infrastructure

The green signs
Finally lead me off the harsh road
With its dirty machines
Its carbon monoxide
Down a purpose-built path
Clean light makes mottled stone shapes on the ground
A canopy of trees above
I sigh in the cool air
And give thanks to the efforts of others

Hunger strikes
I think of the food in my napsac
At once, a vista opens before me
A wide lake
The path circumventing
Picnic tables
Dragonflies bob along the waters surface
I can, literally, ask for nothing more

- On the approach to Angers, June 2005

 

Gentleman by the lake

I sit, scrunching merrily away at my picnic
Watching the lake
To my right, down the bank
An older, middle aged gentleman sits aside the shore
He is smart, casual, neat
Grey hair forms a ring
But the body is lean and fit
He sits with his arms crossed
Bespeckled head bowed in thought
A picture of the thinker
Thoughtfulness personified
But melancholy

My imagination, respectfully, runs wild
I imagine his woes
What if his lover, his partner for life
Is no more
What if he is left to face the world alone
For all his remaining time
Such are his days
How trivial are my own worries
One day, maybe, I shall be him, watched from afar

- On the approach to Angers, June 2005

 

The morning, after breaking camp

 

The fact of the matter

I’ll only be here once
Now, at this time
For it is the fate of man to grow old, and die
Ephemeral
That’s what makes it all so beautiful

- On approach to Angers, June 2005

 

The moment

I sit aside a dune to watch the sun set
In my heart there is some sadness
For around me strangers lark with their friends
Tell jokes and jump about
While I have no one to be with

No
Parties and people have swarmed around me before
Will do hence

Feel the sand between my toes
The wind against my face
The last sunlight touches my darkened skin
The blood pump through my veins
The air courses through my lungs
Here I am
Right now
The beautiful blue sky is before me
Long may I envy it

- Dune du Pyla, near Arcachon, the French Atlantic coast, June/July 2005

 

Inland, from the top of Dune du Pyla

 

Seven days near Arcachon

I go for my last 20 lengths in the empty turquoise pool
Before coffee, criossants and newspapers
Considering the wider world from my sandy, civilised retreat

A refereshing shower under sun-lit corrugate
A wander to the beach to consider the sunset
A swift ride down gorgeous, purpose-built pistes
Between periods of emersion
In biblical texts and scientific beautities
So pedestrian
But all of it, each and every moment, magical
By the sea

- Near Dune du Pyla, near Arcachon, early July 2005

 

Pseudo-Byzantine

A lovely, wholesome, town
Perfect ice cream, cheap internet access, lovely curators
The cathedral overwraught and slightly silly on the outside
Within are decked great gold chandeliers
Multiple domes rise above
Creating cool airy space
Out of clean grey stone

- Perigueux Cathedral 7 or 8 July 2005

 

Pseudo-Byzantine

 

Perfect Camping Spot

Right next to the showers and the entrance
Yet totally isolated with a roof of soft trees
Space for me, and a cool wind off the valley below
Seconds from cheap lovely coffee, and smiling hosts
An outdoor sanctuary of my own
A home away from home

- Tursac, the Dordogne, 12 July 2005

 

His Majesty sits

His Majesty the Sun finds a spot for himself
Enthroned behind a crisp scattered flock of fluffy clouds
Sat amid the clear turquoise evening sky
And the form of his beams
Is like a great claw, light following dark
Spanning the air above me
What unspeakable glory above such a simple country lane
I can do naught but spread my hands to the sky
And laugh

- Fifty kilometres west of Millau, July 2005

 

Viaduc de Millau

 

Descent into Millau

I awake in a farm with a curious young dog
And ride forth to a long-awaited destination
The land is with me
The engine of gravity casts me on
Through awesome, heat-hazed valleys
And I sit aside my rushing beast
Speechless

Later the ether brings news of an old comrade
And trans-global thoughts warm my heart

- Millau, composed on 19 July 2005 in respect of 16 July 2005

 

Tuesday 19th July

I awake next to a clear stream in Millau
And ready myself for the days tasks
A long climb up the side of a great valley
A tough, but ultimately satisfying journeys begins
Then the gods are with me and my steed takes me swiftly
Through half savannah hills and great winding lanes
Cast forward by great slopes
Down the covered mountainsides
They are so heart wrenching, I want to capture the sight of them
But I cannot
For no picture, no word, no phrase can hold them
It is there, in that moment, then

A cool clean white hall of civilisation
Provides nourishment and rest from the sun
Then on again and my brain and muscles burn with unquenchable fire
Till I am cast far, far to the east of that stream of waking
To another, in the wilderness
Where I cool my weary body
And light a fire by the bank
Alone with the stars and the singing crickets
A perfect day

- By a river, the evening of 19 July 2005

 

Cutting up apples

 

11 O’Clock

I stumble, bleary eyed, to the washrooms
To stand under a cold shower
Wash the gum from my eyes
Taking my time to examine my new golden colour
In the mirror
Then back to my tent
Perched, shanty-like, on a terrace
Surrounded by unkempt caravans
The sounds of Italian radio and Italian children
Form a background
And in the south, the gleaming blue sea
I smile and prepare for my day
As it occurs
That it is Monday morning
They have all been at work for two hours

- Between Nice and Genoa, end July 2005

 

On the bus

The nightevening is dusky
I am rested, fed, full of power
The light is energetic, fizzing
Around a foreign city
As a trusted friend drops me off
After a beer
And then I am on the bus
Alert, tuned-up, ready to go
Directions in my mind
My goal adventure
In a foreign city
At night
On my own

- Kranj, on bus bound for Llubijana, 30 August 2005

 

Kranj in the mist

 

Back to the world

So I am released
Later than expected and after a suite of panics
With every passing hour I feel vitality return
To my mind, to my muscles and to the tips of my fingers
And here is the world, waiting for me
With a fresh wind
And cool grey skies
Like an oyster
The trees have changed to brown
Autumn has arrived in my absence
As the seasons turn
A backdrop to my jolly little story
Time to draw red flowers in my notebook
And wait for the taxi

- Infection Hospital, Zagreb, just after I’d been discharged, 20 September 2005

 

Enter Serbia

Two days of damp and ubiquitous slugs
Gives way to dry white and blue days
And lifting spirits
Then there is a long straight road
With houses aside
The border approaches
A final, sudden, rainstorm
Leaves the way dramatic in cloud, light and pool
Then I am in Serbia
The changes are small
The people are wonderful
The feeling is good
I like it here

- The Serbian border, 25 September 2005

 

The road into Serbia

 

Bulgarian Entry Point

So I leave my Serbian comrades
The skies are clear blue with tufty clouds
The roads are clean and smooth
The wind fresh and bracing
The plains gladden the heart
At the border, all the guards are up for a laugh
And so I am in Bulgaria
First town: Vidin
Lets test the water
From here Bulgaria is looking pretty slick
The café is decorated in an attractive, pine beach-front style
Madonna is playing
Nice

- Vidin, Bulgaria, 7 October 2005

 

Romanian Field

Tent set up in the bracing air
Snug between a compound wall and tall crops
100 metres off the road
Red splashed across the evening sky
Where no one will find me
In the Danube Valley

Alone with the smells of fields
Birds calling their journeys above me
The sounds of gypsy violins wafts from east and south
Night draws in
Time to eat my food and drink my luxury beer
Consider the world

- A field, Romania, 9 October 2005

 

Somewhere in Bulgaria

 

Happy

Stopping at a clean café
To eat simple, filling food
With a bright bracing day to go back to
I am totally free
Simple pleasures bring much joy
Happy

- Bulgaria, October 2005

 

End of Europe, End of Summer

I cycle along the beach on the southern Black Sea Coast
The waterfront bars have recently died
Shut up shop
A minority of the rest keep the flame flickering
Go to the end of a long pier
Catch the end of the afternoon promenade

When I reached France
I was two weeks ahead of the English tourist wave
Summer was about to build
Unfold
Flower
It has flowed over me
While I traversed this continent
Now the leaves turn yellow and red
The cold closes in
Stand upon the pier end
A lone gull traverses the multitextured sky
By the sea

- Burgas Pier, 16 October 2005

 

Grinning by the border

Last night faffing around in the tent, feeling very jolly
Today, climbing through hills and forests
Over gorges, among ancient and magnificent trees
The sky blue, not a cloud
The air cold, crisp, real
Stop for a last Bulgarian coffee
A bright square, with a fountain
Turkey is imminent, the signs, at last, include Istanbul
How do I feel?
Happy, content, mildly triumphant
What a beautiful day
What a life
Its good, it’s all good

- Malko Tranovo, 19 October 2005

 

Above the moor, last campsite before Istanbul

 

Last night

My camp is set, my food is digesting
For 150 days have I journeyed this continent
Tomorrow I will be at my destination
Camped far from any road
Among heath
Above me a rocky spur rises
I scramble to the top of it
Blanket wrapped around, water bottle in hand
Sit there like some medieval aesthetic
Above the moor
Valleys below, lights twinkling, north and south
The moon rises to cast my shadow against the next rock
Wolves take up their howl in the distance
I sing, I think, I wonder, I contemplate my path
Under the stars

Tomorrow everything will change

- Turkey, a wolf-infested moor, 22 October 2005

 

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