the srampagmano tales by scarlett parker. illustrated by faith buck 53pp £6.99 softback £2.05 e-book

the srampagmano tales

"O Tam! had'st thou but been sae wise,
As ta'en thy ain wife Kate's advice!
She tauld thee weel thou was a skellum,
A blethering, blustering, drunken blellum;

you will perhaps recall my modest tirade regarding the efficacy of teaching poetry to the disinterested, more used to looking at the goings on outside the classroom window. i have always found it rather clever that there are those who can author a skilled narrative, all the while ensuring that the last word of each line precisely rhymes with that of the following. the more modern the poetic genre being explored, the more each seemed to rely upon an inferred rhythm as opposed to the more expected rhyme. the word poetry is one bedevilled by many alternative definitions, so there's no guarantee that the epithet will result in words with a matching phonetic.

i do, from time to time, have second thoughts about my possibly simplistic expectations. though i'd prefer to read such as robert burns' tam o'shanter (an extract of which opened this diatribe) where there is a grand element of storytelling involved, it is highly subjective of me to all but dismiss the poem as a means of personal expression, often akin to the works of kandinsky, picasso and klee, where joy could be presented in colourful, yet willfully obscure fashion. as the girl who has a desk opposite my own is often want to say "it's just as well we're all different."

to briefly return to my contention that the word poetry has a variety of definitions, i have heard it said that the bicycle resembles nothing more or less than poetry in motion, a statement with which i can but wholeheartedly agree. but quite obviously, a bicycle does not rhyme. it can, however, be the catalyst engendering poetry of a particularly high order. take, for example, the sonnet redouble composed by the redoubtable rab wilson as a paean to a 1957 flying scot. as rab himself said "'I believe this is one of the most beautiful things I have ever written. It is at once a poetic elegy and a celebration of a once mighty Scottish industry. 'Flying Scot' bicycles are as beautiful as Ferraris or Bugattis, and engineered with the same incredible attention to detail. The poems tell their story through the eyes of the people who owned, built and rode these famous machines, and at a time now when cycling is becoming ever more popular in the public eye, for all the right reasons!".

that, to me, is the very point of poetry. i am conscious, however, of being rather more guilty of praising the technique of the poet than necessarily that of the subject matter. all too often, reading a poetic narrative that successfully combines a story of interest with impeccable literary and rhyming skills, runs the risk of praising the scaffolding rather than the building round which it is erected. such a danger, however, will always exist and it is surely up to the incumbent simply to beware of such foolhardiness. after all, both burns and shakespeare are guilty as charged, but we surely appreciate their wordage and chronicles both in spite of and because of their skills with the rhyme?

though i have so far paid particular credence to scottish narrative poetry, there is one which stands out amongst all as amongst the finest ever composed. the story of a group of thirty people travelling as pilgrims to canterbury in england written between 1387 and 1400 is unlikely to have escaped the attentions of those who may never have read any of its lines. though i could not, with all honesty, repeat even a single line of chaucer's the canterbury tales, i did in fact study it as a part of my a-level english literature evening class many years ago and have, i believe, at least two volumes still occupying space in my bookcase. (admit it; you're impressed that i actually have a bookcase?)

"Whilom, as olde stories tellen us,
Ther was a duc that highte Theseus;
Of Atthenes he was lord and governour,
And in his tyme swich a conquerour,
That gretter was ther noon under the sonne.

it would be a foolish person who would not argue that the english language has undergone a few changes since the fourteenth century. in fact, modern day scholars are unsure about the correct order of the many stories that comprise the canterbury tales. the printing press had yet to be invented, the tales have made their way down the centuries by means of several handwritten manuscripts. we must pay homage to johannes gutenberg who provided history with the joys of movable type around forty years after chaucer had completed his tales. for his invention has served us well throughout the intervening period, even if it currently finds itself under attack from movable pixels.

a poet who has found himself inspired by chaucer, the bicycle, the printing press and movable pixels has recently bequested the world with the cleverly titled 'the srampagmano tales'. scarlett parker is a club cyclist currently riding with cs grupetto who's had moderate success in niche disciplines like hill-climbing and roller racing. "I've won a few 'training crits', done okay in medium gear TTs, and also played a fairly large part in organising a fortnightly train-assisted nightride that was conceived by a couple of people on the London Fixed Gear & Singlespeed Forum.
Thrashing a 70" fixed around pitch black country lanes has definitely been a high point in the saddle. I work in an academic library and consider myself most definitely a jack of all trades, both in work and leisure."

the srampagmano tales concern themselves with a readily recognised group of cyclists, considerably fewer in number than chaucer's two and a half dozen. the roadie, the courier, the sportiviste, the trackie, the rouleur, the fakenger, the randonneur, the tester and the grimpeur all contribute to the tales by means of their individual mannerisms and cliched cliques. these are remarkably accurate caricatures; has scarlett spent many an idle hour at look mum no hands! making mental notes?

"Despite the fact I live a stone's throw from LMNH, I rarely frequent the place. I'd had numerous discussions with my wife about opening a similar place, but lacked the capital or business nous to follow through, and then suddenly LMNH appeared. In fact, I first found out about it when Lewin contacted me about a 'for sale' advert I'd placed on the LFGSS forum for a vacuum cleaner. On the one hand, I'm part of a slightly less affluent local population who can't really afford the cost of cafe culture, and on the other, I have decent coffee on tap at home, so I'd probably have been more likely to frequent the joint had it sprung up further afield. The accuracy of the caricatures is more a facet of time spent in various cycling circles, on the road, in clubhouses, and online."

it would perhaps assist the reader of this feature were i to illustrate by way of an excerpt, just how accurate, yet consummately clever, parker's renditions are. the following is from the courier's tale.

"The battered pair of Sidis on my feet
A pestle to the mortar of the street
Reduced to pounding pavements in frustration
When tyres and banks have problems with inflation
For dwelling at the sharp end of economy
Gives rise to times of undesired autonomy."

does scarlett figure that the civilian population see cyclists in so many forms, or are we likely all one large agglomeration to them? "The UK, like other English-speaking land masses, seems to suffer from a skewed and negative perception of cyclists, conveniently lumping them all in to the same sociopathic collective. It's a shame, as the majority of parents still provide and witness the two-wheeled rite of passage for their children, but clearly 'adult status' is something attached to a set of car keys in most people's eyes. In many ways, we're one of the last minorities for whom there's no legislation protecting our rights and identity. I'm sure this must be changing in some locales; certainly in London you're exposed to a wider variety of cyclists during the rush hour than you were five years ago."

art or craft has many different pathways; depending on individual proclivities, the end result can occupy wildly differing forms. i have already paid testament to the poetic form with which i find myself at odds; no point, no rhyme, wrapped tightly around an obscure sense of metric rhythm. and while i'd be lying if i said i understood much of what chaucer was intent on telling me, i do rather enjoy the format and, to be honest, much of the inscrutability brought on by his mediaeval english. by the very nature of parker's book title, chaucer was first and uppermost in his mind during the composing of the srampagmano tales. why chaucer?

"I had reasonable results in the Catford, Bec, & Wigmore hillclimbs in the past, riding fixed, and this would involve a certain amount of time riding along the Pilgrims Way. I revisited a translation of the text out of a vague curiosity, and certain parallels presented themselves: it starts with a prologue like the Tour, there was a group of people from different walks of life who shared a journey and were united by a common interest, and Chaucer's language managed to convey a great breadth of theme and variety of mood to everyman. I can't claim to be a great authority on The Canterbury Tales, but I didn't see this as a reason not to use it as a framework for what I had to say."

the daily writing of thewashingmachinepost occupies not only the hours it takes to complete, but what i rather grandiosely like to think of as my period of research. if i combine the two connected parts in a less than pre-determined manner, i have, literally, at my fingertips the wherewithal and endeavour to make the english language do as i wish it to do. more often than not, it fails to acquiesce to my proddings, but every now and again the ley lines are found to be in some sort of order and the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.


does scarlett parker enjoy pushing words around on a page until they say what he intended them to say? "Yes. Writing verse is like doing a jigsaw puzzle, and when I started writing this, it was during snatched moments at work in a customer-facing role. I needed a format that I could dip in and out of without resenting people for breaking my concentration. Writing fiction of any great length is too immersive, at least for me, to be done in that kind of context. Each line or couplet is a challenge of its own, and you have to indulge in word play to get the desired result. The same kind of behaviour just gets in the way when writing prose, and can lead to the worst kind of verbiage."

with the art of writing much diminished by the advent of e-mail, text and word processing in general, there are some excruciating examples of writing and basic commnication to be found in all walks of life. though i cannot admit to having handwritten a note to any near and dear relatives in the recent past, i am arrogant enough to consider my typewritten prose to be at least as good as the next man or woman's. rhymes, however, are of a nature that escapes me completely. if put my mind to it and obscure all distractions, i can perhaps arrive at a slightly less than satisfactory four line limerick with which to decorate a greetings card. but it's unlikely i could manage more than one in a week, and certainly not without a decent following wind. for scarlett, did the rhymes flow freely, or were there hours of consternation?

"A mixture of both. I started by trying to write 16 lines that closely mirrored the opening 16 lines of The Canterbury Tales, then laboured over the prologue. Then I shelved the project, thinking that I couldn't sustain the iambic pentameter or find enough rhymes.
"About three years later, I had to get a new role at work due to childcare arrangements, and found myself in a fairly tedious front-of-house position with a lot of time to kill. I pulled out my old notebooks and started again. Within a few weeks of scribbling, I felt like I'd sharpened up my craft, so I redrafted the prologue and then worked on the Roadie's Tale. Like Chaucer's 'Knight's Tale' this was to be longer than the others, so I knew that if I could get it done, I'd be confident in my ability to do the rest.
There were days where I'd labour over two lines, then wake up the next morning and cross them out and replace them with a couplet that just materialised out of nowhere. It's not dissimilar to riding a bike. Some days you have good legs, some days you have good words. But there's no escaping the ongoing rituals that prime you for those special moments."

though i am loathe to bring the x-factor into the picture, when the audition stages are being presented, every now and again a singer appears with a voice that i think surely cannot have remained hidden in obscurity for so long. in my own days of schlepping up and down the dual-carriageway in the back of a transit van, just waiting for imminent stardom to to open the back doors and welcome us with open arms, none of us would have looked for an x-factor as a way to stardom; we'd simply have gigged our backsides off. the srampagmano tales has arrived on stage almost perfectly formed, perhaps suggesting that scarlett parker has a palmares of which this is simply the most recent manifestation. is this his first publication?

"I've had bits and pieces appear here and there. I wrote a few short pieces (of prose) for Will of HubJub/63xc fame and had a non-cycling magazine article go to print, cycling haiku and limericks on the internet. The rest has been unpublished; a novel (of therapeutic value more than literary), lots of short stories, reams of lyrics from my time spent in bands and recording music on my own. This was the first thing that felt like 'an instruction that came from without', and hopefully it fills a gap that needed filling on the cycling literature bookshelf."

to briefly return to the opening gambit of yesterday's review of daniel friebe's allez wiggo, the pictures that are worth a thousand words (or iambic pentameter) are by way of faith buck's silhouette illustrations, a feature that immeasurably enhance the book's 53 pages. is she a cyclist too?

"I don't think she'd describe herself as a cyclist (she's my wife, incidentally, and the dedication is to my son), but she does ride a bike from time to time. She'd be the first to admit that she's not interested in drawing bicycles, but I think she's captured the view-from-the-saddle and sense of space that is one of the most rewarding aspects of cycling.
"I knew I wanted illustrations; people aren't accustomed to reading verse at this point in time, and I thought visual distractions would be a useful incentive or reward. Once I'd communicated the fact that I didn't think pictures of bicycles were necessary (or relevant even), she started sketching. I had about three tales to go at that stage, and it wasn't long before she'd overtaken me, and was waiting on me to provide her with the text for the final tale. We've been together nearly 20 years, so you'd hope we'd have found a way to complement (and compliment) each other creatively by now:)"

hopefully, your appetite for some bicycle related poetry will have been whetted by now, leaving only the imperative questions to be asked, namely, how much does a copy of the srampagmano tales cost, where can it be purchased and is it, in the absence of a publisher's mark, self-published?

"RRP is £6.99. It will be sold through Look Mum No Hands! (instore and online). All the Amazons will also be distributing it (available from around mid-December) and I may try stocking some in independent London bookshops. The ebook is currently on Amazon price £2.05, here. And yes, it's been done via the print-on-demand route. I decided to try this avenue rather than waiting on the approval of agents and publishers. I understand it's all the rage."

"Before the signal to commence hostilities
I weigh up rivals and the possibilities:
To force the pace, accelerate, attack
Then feign exhaustion sitting at the back?"

look mum no hands |

monday 29th october 2012


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