‘Put Me Back on My Bike’

‘Put me back on my bike,’ are certainly not the dying words of the British cyclist Tom Simpson as he lay on the Mount Ventoux on the afternoonof 13 July during the 13th stage of the 1967 Tour de France, but they speak volumes, not just for a drug – addicted world champion cyclist, but for me, too.

I have written about Tom Simpson in a much earlier edition of this blog, but I want to return to his story this time, because the circumstances of his death speak to me in my all too vibrant and shimmering life, at the moment.

A combination of factors brought Tom Simpson to that fateful stage of the Tour de France that day.  The primary factors were the fact that he was one of the world’s premier cyclists of the era (having won the World Championships two years previously) and his frenzied desire to win.  It is this frenzied desire and the extremely hot weather that day on the slopes of a mountain that, after leaving the shady foothills offered no cover at all, and a merciless glare.

Today, I identify with Tom Simpson.  Delusions of grandeur?  Tom Simpson was an elite racing cyclist, for sure.  I am not.  However, what I do share with Simpson at the moment is that frenzied desire.  To win bike races, no; but to find out about lots of things, be intersted in everything that is going on around me?  Yes.  To be full of ideas – for days now for this humble blog.  Yes.  Today there are elections of one sort or another going on in France, Greece, Italy and Serbia.  O.K., so I am a Francophile – I should be interested in who will occupy the Elysse Palace.  But local elections in Italy? A lack lustre general election in Serbia?  And all this shallow interest in world affairs is shooting across my mind at 80 mph.  That’s the kind of frenzied desire I’m talking about.  Put me back on my bike like this, and who knows what speeds I will reach careering down the hill I live on, on my way to the station in the morning?

Simpson was suffering from a stomach bug, massively dehydrated, and had been seen drinking brandy in the foothills of the Ventoux.  When he died medics found amphetimines in the back pocket of his jersey.

Tom Simpson was clutching his handlebars so tightly when he fell off his bike that day that they had to be prised away before he could receive treatment.  Race medics tried in vain to maintain his breathing with an oxygen mask to no avail.  Heart massage failed, too.  His last words, heard by two men at the scene, were a desperate exhortion to his team mates: ‘Go on! Go on!’

And it’s that that worries me at the moment; the same driving force, out of control, detached from reality, sending me spinning to who knows where…and it feels sooo good.

Fragment Thirty – Six

I know not what to do: my mind is divided – Sappho

I know not what to do,

my mind is reft:

is song’s gift best?

is love’s gift loveliest?

I know not what to do,

now sleep has pressed

weight on your eyelids.
Shall I break your rest,

devouring, eager?

is love’s gift best?

nay, song’s the loveliest:

yet were you lost,

what rapture could I take from song?

what song were left?
I know not what to do:

to turn and slake the rage that burns,

with my breath burn

and trouble your cool breath?

so shall I turn and take

snow in my arms?

(is love’s gift best?)

yet flake on flake

of snow were comfortless,

did you lie wondering,

wakened yet unawake.

Shall I turn and take

comfortless snow within my arms?

press lips to lips

that answer not,

press lips to flesh that shudders not nor breaks?

Is love’s gift best?

shall I turn and slake

all the wild longing?

O I am eager for you!

as the Pleiads shake

white light in whiter water

so shall I take you?
My mind is quite divided,

my minds hesitate,

so perfect matched,

I know not what to do:

each strives with each

as two white wrestlers

standing for a match,

ready to turn and clutch

yet never shake muscle nor nerve nor tendon;

so my mind waits

to grapple with my mind,

yet I lie quiet,

I would seem at rest.

I know not what to do

: strain upon strain,

sound surging upon sound

makes my brain blind;

as a wave-line may wait to fall

yet (waiting for its falling)

still the wind may take

from off its crest,

white flake on flake of foam,

that rises,

seeming to dart and pulse

and rend the light,

so my mind hesitates

above the passion

quivering yet to break,

so my mind hesitates

above my mind,

listening to song’s delight.

I know not what to do:

will the sound break,

rending the night

with rift on rift of rose

and scattered light?

will the sound break at last

as the wave hesitant,

or will the whole night pass

and I lie listening awake?

Hilda Dolittle a.k.a H.D.  (1886 – 1961)

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