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The Rime of the Ancient Randonneur

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Tony Hull:
It is an ancient Randonneur,   
And he pulls up at the shop.
“By thy long grey beard and rippling thigh,
Now wherefore dost thou stop?”

He stretches forth his trembling hand -
“I’m on a Ride,” quoth he;
“I seek your Mark upon this Card,
To prove if here I be.”

“And hast thou ridden from the Town
These miles full twenty-three??
Sure thou art Mad… unless…
Of course! ’Tis all for Charitee?”

The Randonneur here beat his breast
On which he bore an Auk –
“This Bird doth say I must away,
I may not stop to talk!”

Yet he sat down upon a stone –
They cannot chose but hear;
And thus spake on that ancient man,
The bright-eyed Randonneur.

“ ’Twas  yester-dawn that I set out,
And over hill and vale did go,
(The very thought now wearies);
Six hundred k – quite far, I know –
The Bird doth say I must obey,
Must Ride an SR Series.

And each and every hour to get
A further fifteen k –
’Tis little at the start, I trow
(unless forthwith to climb we’re set
Up Moor of Dart from Tavistock),
But later great doth grow!

(The Randonneur doth proceed full merrily upon his Quest,
with a good wind and fair weather and beans upon toast;
but  he sinneth by conceiving that his journey is surely a doddle.)

The western sky was all aflame,
The night was well-nigh here,
When there appeared athwart the way
The Figure whom all fear…
                                                                                             
Her nails were sharp, her thorns were free,
Her locks were spiked with gold:
Her sharpness shone so all should flee,
The Puncture Fairy bold was she,
Who thicks man’s blood with cold!

And now there came both storm and rain,
With many k to travel,
Until…  Oh No! That this should be!
I struck some flinty gravel…”

The tube did split with a thunder-fit;
The Puncture Fairy smiled;
It was the first she’d ever burst
In conditions quite so wild.

(There doth appear the Headtorch Fairy, who
doth assist the Randonneur as he effects a repair.)

“O Sleep! It is a gentle thing,
Beloved from pole to pole!
Sometimes I even get some at
The official Sleep Control.

But by the hedge that night I lay
And for so long remained,
That limbs did grow most wondrous cold;
And when I awoke, it rained.

But soon the rain it cleared away,
The glorious sun uprist!
’Twas good, as k I tried to slay,
To lose the fog and mist.
And yet, eftsoons, how I did pray
‘Bring back the fog and mist’!

All in a hot and copper sky,
The bloody sun, at noon,
Right up above my back did stand,
And yet I could not swoon.

With throat unslaked, with black lips baked,
All muscles far from firm,
Whatever made me think I could
Do this route as a Perm?

Contours, contours, everywhere,
They make me feel right ill…
Chevrons, chevrons, everywhere,
Nor any one downhill.
                                                                                   
Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a huge great climb;
Seems certain now I’ll never make
The Finish Closing Time.”

(The Randonneur undertaketh further travail;
sorely upon his saddle he yearneth towards
riders in carriages who sojourn in comfort,
yet still move onward towards their appointed rest;
he doth even consider taking upon himself
the accursed shame of Packing;
but the spirit of the Bird doth strengthen him.)

“Last climb but five, I think this is…
It’s only fifty metres;
Five hundred feet??  But I’m confused –
Best work it out in litres.

I bent down low by the bars, for now
A headwind around me beat;
And the sky and the land, and the land and the sky,
Lay like a load on my weary eye,
And the Burning was in my feet.”

(He “continues”, as doth instruct the Routesheet – he
hath not the Magical Box werewith to hear the circling GPS Fairies.
And forthwith are the memories
of the remaining Journey, for the main part,
erased from his mind;
and his penance for the sin of
thinking-it-might-be-a-doddle is completed.)

“Oh dream of joy! May it be true
(Or let me sleep alway….)
Is this the very last Control?
Is this the Arrivee?”

The Randonneur steps from his bike
Though scarcely can he stand;
He struggles well to sign his Card,
With a twisting skinny hand.

(He falls onto a small but strangely spacious chair;
and  the Burden of  “Compulsion to Ride” also falls,
for the moment,  from him;
and yet he doth already begin to avow that
fain he would take it upon himself once more…
… next weekend, for instance.)

He lay like one that hath been stunned
And is of sense forlorn:
A wearier not wiser man
He rose the morrow morn…

… for soon would come both mist and snow
With darkness long and drear;
Yet must he journey ever on,
To keep his Round The Year!

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