from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Zen & the art of motorcycle maintenance take two

The truth comes knocking at your door (he says). You open it. Go away, you say: I'm looking for the truth. The truth goes away, puzzling.

I look up from the story. I know this almost as well as I know my hands. Well, OK, maybe my shoulder blades. Is this his, or Zen/Taoist/Confucian? I smile. Oh yes – I remember.

I know almost nothing about motorcycle maintenance. I did, sort of, learn to ride a BSA Bantam belonging to my first boyfriend when I was a student; one of the few bikes which allowed my feet to touch the ground at a junction. A later non-boyfriend stripped his motorbike down, oil and all, on my bed – luckily I was away at the time, having lent him my room in the long vac, as a student. Having wrecked my bedding, he paid me a very small amount of compensation – I don't know, £20 maybe? – enough, in those days, to buy me a second-hand guitar (and I didn't worry too much about sheets and bed-throws). I'd just learnt to fingerpick the best Donovan songs when my not-yet-husband decided to take my guitar on an extended tour of Europe, neglecting to tell me. The things we did in the name of being laid-back, man, in the late seventies...

Anyway, my friend Bridget, who (no doubt illegally) stuffed my dog between the two of us on the back of her motorbike in Dorset one summer – she knew how to strip down a motorbike, too. Our friends used the universal joint she took out of her Honda as an ashtray for their – errr – joints.

I did know a bit about how to fix my Citroen deux chevaux, though. A memorable incident on Totnes High Street, which is quite steep, when my fan-belt went (I was mid-twenties I guess), had me tearing a narrow strip from the all-round hem of my much-loved green and blue and cerise skirt to makeshift a fan-belt. It worked. And here's a story: another deux chevaux of mine caught fire on the motorway. I have a memory of attempting to douse the flames using my wooden clog and a neighbouring puddle. Turned out a mouse had eaten through the corrugated card – not kidding – heating duct under the bonnet, and the tube had dropped on the exhaust manifold and ignited.

So here I am. I haven't met him for 30 years. Now I pick him up on impulse from the bookshelf, settle on the sofa beneath the skylight in the lovely room with the French window and huge woodburner, and – hesitate. You can't always revisit. I open him.

We haven't forgotten each other. I grin. I know him.

The truth comes knocking at our door. What does it take to answer it, say YES?

Another grin. My girl knows him too: in between last time and this time, at round about the age I was when I first met him, she too found him, read him, got him. Thumbs up to you, beautiful daughter, she-who's-learning-to-answer-the-door-to-the-truth.

And a bow to you, Mr Pirsig.


  1. Evocative and spirited. I look forward to reading more of your words. And maybe I'll finally get round to Mr Pirsig.

  2. Oi, that's my copy ;)

    E xXx

  3. You serious?? Could you tell from the creases?? I wondered why it was SO battered - you must have pinched mine first then darling anonymous daughter and distressed it a little on your travels - (unless you're a carbon copy who also turns down exactly the same page corners to mark exactly same quotes as I do...) ;-))) xxx

  4. yes, it reminds me to re read this great book. thanks

  5. Nice for me to see the battered cover as I was the designer and illustrator who created it... seems like a lifetime ago... and I guess it was.

  6. Hello Ian! Wow, that's a treat to have the cover designer visit! :-) And I know I don't need to tell you how iconic that cover is, now, yes a lifetime later, and how it makes me smile to have had this brief contact with its creator! Thank you for bothering to comment. Oh and for the cover!


Blog Archive