Tuesday, 4 August 2009
In which I discover my head is too big.....
Physically, of course. Ever since I was knee-high to a pedal I have cycled, albeit in patches. Not long distances. Not like a proper cyclist with proper cycling outfit. Not even cycle clips. Not setting out with a route planned on a map as I once dreamed of doing in my early teens, all gleaming thigh, handsome jaw and plastic drink bottle. My cycling is just getting on the bike and doing fairly small circles. I am, after all, a busy man and don't have time to be doing big circles, unless, that is, a magazine or publisher is paying me to do so.
Besides, the thigh is no longer gleaming, nor are the lungs or heart in any kind of long-distance shape. But then they never were. I was, in my youth, rather fast on the flat. I ran a good 100 yards, even for Middlesex schools on one occasion. I could fly reasonably fast down the straight. So I was played on the wing in football, and, a few times, on the rugby field too. I was - still am - of fairly broad chest and good drive. Nothing above 440 yards though. A series of 100 yard sprints was fine, but not the long jog, nor the long pedal.
Out of this I developed my theory of why I was a poet rather than a novelist or scholar. Poetry was a series of sprints, and even my longer poems, the sequences, were essentially sprints. I composed, and still do compose, in sprints, headlong, light on the feet, driving forwards over the relatively dark terrain of language and feeling. I am productive by sprints because I have stamina - sprint stamina. I prefer running up stairs two at a time practically on my toes. I dance light. My hair and nails grow fast. Everything is metabolically calibrated to high-energy intensity: think fast, feel fast. When I hand write I tend to begin my second word before I have finished my first.
The thing is I haven't done much cycling in the last year or so. Too much the busy desk-bound man. But I have to do some exercise, so a regime of cycling and table tennis might be the best I can manage.
Which takes me to the issue of the big head. It doesn't look that big until I try buying a hat. Somehow the circumference is always too wide or the wrong shape, a freak of nature. Last time I was teaching at Oxford someone was telling me she cycled an hour to work each day. She also told me that a friend had had a cycling accident and was now brain-damaged as a result. She beseeched me to buy a cycling helmet. I smiled and broke the sink that evening when my glass slipped from my hand.
Today, at last, C and I went to buy cycling helmets. C has a fairly large head too it seems, but she soon found one that fitted. But nothing, not a single helmet in the shop, fitted me. I felt faintly monstrous. Faintly Boris Karloff. I asked the boy serving to order me a bigger one from the supplier then left and carried on the cycle ride in my usual unhelmeted fashion. The air was lovely, a light warm southerly breeze, under the railway bridge, over the highway bridge, out past fields full of poppies, a weasel darting in front. It was as if the First World War had never happened. But then that is Norfolk for you.