The poem I wrote this week for Jon’s JVG Radio Method on 3RRR has the Grand Prix appropriate topic (I’ll bet that was more by accident than design) “WHEELS”.

Click to hear today’s poem… [audio:JVG_Poem20080316.mp3]

I phoned in from down the coast this week, so the quality of the recording is a bit hollow. I think that I will probably have to redo it. I had a listened and have decided to leave it as is. The performance has a certain something that I probably couldn’t capture again.

Ed Bates was playing the slide guitar at the studio. Thanks Ed.


That moron is a genius uttered “Pig” Mills hands on hips
As “Spanner” Chaplee’s billy cart made its premiere
As close to a compliment as had ever passed “Pigs” lips
“Spanner” responded with his usual vacant stare

“Spanner” was a zombie — he’d gaze for hours without blinking
The little that he had was as brief as it was blunt
His economy of words belied a complexity of thinking
There was never a question posed he couldn’t answer with a grunt

The Chaplees were as poor as any in this city
“Spanner” saw it as a challenge rather than a handicap
Determined, self reliant, never opting for self pity
Everything he had he built from himself from scrap

Hard rubbish day was Christmas and Birthday all in one
We’d scavenge through the piles for the treasures they’d reveal
With competition fierce we’d be out before the sun
The most valued prize of all? Any kind of wheels

Wheels off motor mowers, baby’s prams, broken scooters
Anything that turned, didn’t matter about the grip
We’d ferret through the garbage like a band of hungry looters
Pick it clean then move on to the next nature strip

“Spanner” scored the finest wheels to ever grace a cart
He jumped the gun at midnight, went out scouring with his torch
To claim those wheels he had to pull two golf buggies apart
They were sort of on a rubbish pile — if you count the Beasley’s porch

Our street was the “Detroit” of billy cart production
Weekends brought the welcome din of hammers, saws and drills
From blocks of wood on casters to more elaborate construction
But “Spanner” was both “Rolls” and “Royce”, none could match his skills

The chassis was a masterpiece of lateral engineering
Forged from metal desk frames thrown out by Sandy Tech
He designed and built his own form of rack and pinion steering
A lot of rack and not much pinion, but well above usual specs

The deck was fashioned from half a surfboard washed up on Hampton beach
Steel rods for the axles from the Cheltenham Cemetery fence
Mirrors from a Chrysler Royal, cost a Chevy hub cap each
A Customline badge, let’s just say procured at no expense

Came the day of reckoning when theories show their worth
As sweet as Passiona or a very bitter pill
When you stood outside the Lucek’s it seemed the highest place on earth
Even brave hearts faltered — atop the Duff Street hill
Three hundred feet in length then a blind turn at its end
Your shoes against the ground the only brakes on those machines
A cyclone fence awaited those who failed to take the bend
A wall of broken skin, broken teeth and broken dreams

Design and construction built “Spanner’s” reputation
But his prowess as a driver considered ordinary at best
He had the chance to prove them wrong with his latest sleek creation
That day he was determined to lay any doubts to rest

With half a dozen bricks stacked for ballast at the rear
“Spanner” started rolling and quickly picked up speed
Bolt upright, like a statue, no hint of joy or fear
He reached the half way mark — five lengths in the lead

The crowd was shouting wildly but “Spanner” made no sound
His legs at right angles trying desperately to brake
He’d made the deck too wide — his feet couldn’t reach the ground
“Pig” Mills smiled perversely when he realised the mistake

“Spanner” tugged the steering ropes a smidge before the turn
His face showed no emotion though he knew his chance was slim
Those watching from the corner swore they smelt the rubber burn
Tyres designed for gentle fairways rolled straight off the rims

The rear end lost all traction and the cart began to spin
Metal hubs on bitumen threw up a shower of sparks
The bricks flew off the deck whacking “Pig” Mills on the shin
Several decades on his leg still bears those marks

Slammed backwards into the gutter then ricocheted across the street
Side swiped the Fenton’s bin, the chassis snapped and began to sag
Skidded back to the road and stopped at “Squirrel” Tyrrell’s feet
Beneath his tartan hanky that doubled as a chequered flag

“Spanner” sat expressionless, the crowd began to cheer
Then piled the wreckage into a barrow — left “Pig” Mills with the bricks
In the gutter I found the Customline badge and kept it as a souvenir
It’s still floating around in a cupboard somewhere with one of Keith Richard’s picks

“Spanner” moved on to new challenges, the Duff Street hill took its toll
Some of the things he knew aged five, it’s only now I’m learning
Few noticed or cared when the Chaplees moved but the street lost much of its soul
It’s a comfort to know, though the billy cart’s dead, somewhere the wheels are still turning

© Copyright 2007 Ian Bland

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