This was one of the poems I wrote for Illuminate Bath 2010. It's inspired by the festival's themes of kinetic energy and light, and by my completion of the John O' Groats to Land's End cycle ride last year. While cycling, I often met people who told me I was going the wrong way: In England we have a thing called 'the prevailing wind', which means that more often than not the wind blows from the South to the North. Of course, I didn't believe a word of it. I'd never heard of the prevailing wind, and had assumed that the wind blows any direction it fancies; however, after a week, I had to concede that I'd made a mistake.
In this poem I have likened that experience to the decisions we make, and which we stick to out of habit, trying not to question whether our difficulties are due to the fact we're heading in the wrong direction; that there could be something fundementally wrong in our thinking.
The Prevailing Wind
At first, I didn’t believe in the prevailing wind.
I always travelled from North to South, thinking my lack
of hearing was natural; the roar in my ears like the pulse
in my blood. I met strangers. They walked toward me and passed
with the slightest of nods. If I turned to watch them go
I’d see children pulling on their parents’ trouser-legs, pointing
back at me. I travelled onwards. My body grew stronger
while others were struggling. I saw a boy leaning forwards
like the prow of a ship, supported by the same wind
he was trying to fight. I saw an elderly woman
crawling. A group of people were pleading with her
‘Please turn around!’ But she spat at their feet.
When I reached the woman, I stopped. I asked her why
she struggled so. The prevailing wind would always blow
from South to North, against her. And where was she trying to go?
The woman couldn’t remember. And by that point, neither could I.
The poem has appeared as a digital animation in Green Park Station and the Pump Rooms in Bath. When I have the animations, I will post them alongside the page version of each poem.