"The Guineas"

Or, How they brought the Good News from Newmarket to Girton

Original Text: 
Owen Seaman, Salvage (London: Archibald Constable, 1908): 7-10. Internet Archive ABT-4796.
2I pedalled, Joan pedalled, we pedalled all three;
5As with bells hard a-ringing and horns going Toot!
7Conversation was none; we were nursing our breath,
8As we rode, knee to knee, in the silence of death;
9Not a lurch was observed, not a wobble was felt,
11Then stooped to the wind with my back like a bow.
16Her nose being rather too near to her lamp;
19Three moribund infants lay out in our wake
20As we panted "So long!"--for appearance's sake;
25I omit to record the expressions she used.
26With a list of the various parties accused;
27We remarked on her luck, but declined to alight,
28Though our hubs were red-hot and our bearings were tight;
29So we splashed through a puddle and spurted again
31To the right with a skid at the gutter we raced;
34But we flattened our chests on the handles, and flew;
36When Doris was heard to say something like "Dear me!"
37She was right--as she proved to me, later, in bed--
38For her axle had split, and the same with her head;
39Though I guessed she had gone to her ultimate sleep,
41For I still had to tackle the best of a league,
44With my tongue hanging out and my hair coming down;
45Then I rose in my seat and went out of my mind
46To the clink of our winnings that waggled behind;
49Of the rest I remember a roar of applause
51There was whiskey for one and an oil-bath for two,
52Which they said, very frankly, was only our due,
53Who had broken the record, and several teeth,


1] A parody of Robert Browning's "How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix."Newmarket: Suffolk market town and a British and world centre for horse-racing. A bicycle route now exists from Newmarket racecourse to Cambridge that uses a route similar to the one described here. Back to Line
3] paddock: "A turf enclosure near a racecourse where horses and jockeys assemble before a race" (OED, "paddock," n.2, 3).Varsity: the university's rooters in a sporting contest. Back to Line
4] "Done!" that is, no more betting (now the race has started). Back to Line
6] debouched: come out from an enclosure into the open. Ring: parade ring or "circuit at a racecourse round which horses can be walked to warm up before a race" (OED). Bottisham route: six miles east of Cambridge, and halfway to Newmarket. Back to Line
10] bloomers: "A style of female attire consisting of a short skirt and long loose trousers gathered closely round the ankles" (OED; the speaker is a female). Back to Line
12] The cranks used by the legs to propel the bicycle are about 160 mm. long, the size used by riders of average height. Back to Line
13] Quy water is a stream or lake near to Stow Cum Quy, Cambridgeshire.queered: confounded, impeded. Back to Line
14] stove in: made a hole in. Back to Line
15] Teversham: a town on the Newmarket Road near Cambridge. Back to Line
17] Barnwell: presently a suburb of Cambridge on the Newmarket Road, whose name comes from Old English "bearn" (child). Back to Line
18] ruck: heavily rutted road. Back to Line
21] Nemesis: fate (Greek mythology). Back to Line
22] scorched: motored a bicycle at high speed (OED, "scorch," v. 1, 3). Back to Line
23] King's turrets: King's College, Cambridge. Back to Line
24] Dunlop: brand of bicycle. Back to Line
30] Midsummer Common: area of public land in central Cambridge used for the Cambridge Summer Fair.Lane: Jesus Lane. Back to Line
32] Union: the Cambridge Union Society on Bridge Street. Back to Line
33] rent: torn.off-knicker: possibly, a plus-four cut off just below the knee to ensure that the leg cloth did not catch in the bicycle chain. Back to Line
35] Bridge: many bridges cross the Cam, but possibly the one at King's College is meant. Back to Line
40] Now that both team-members Joan and Doris are out of the race, winning depends on the speaker alone. Back to Line
42] treadles: pedals. Back to Line
43] Cambridge Castle, now Castle Mound. Back to Line
47] Clapped my boots: rapped her boots together.waived: dispensed with.ran amok: ran madly, wildly, without a thought of the consequences. Back to Line
48] Girton College, Cambridge, a women's college until 1977, several miles northwest of the centre of Cambridge. Back to Line
50] spoke: a spoke in one of the bicycle's wheels. Back to Line
54] yellow-boys: guineas, made of gold. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: