I confess that I have only ever driven, or do you ride, a motorbike, once.
This is despite having had a hankering to both own and drive, or ride, a motorbike for the whole of my life since being aware of the things, this despite having traveled some considerable distances in my teenage years to follow a motorcycle sport, Speedway, I hardly missed a single Saturday night at Halifax Speedway aided in the main by Mr Gamble, father of Mick, yes you do know him, he owned the sweet shop, yes now you remember him.
So much was I a fan of the completely senseless sport of Speedway that forty years later, just last year in fact, I found myself sitting on a bench with Andy Graham at Bamburgh Cricket Club, way up North, watching a Sunday afternoon game when an old bloke happened to walk past, I don’t know how old he was, the sort of old bloke who, when he walks past, you say “Look at that old bloke”, anyway this random old bloke who had a local Geordie accent asks me and Andy what the cricket score was.
We told him we didn’t know, because we’d just arrived see, and then he says “Thats a Yorkshire accent isn’t it” and we had to agree with him for there is no denying a Yorkshire accent in the land of the Geordie even though I now speak Geordie quite well, not to pass as a local you understand but sufficient to translate for my mates.
So this old bloke starts getting all excited about the fact that we’re from Yorkshire, what can I say, maybe he’s led a sheltered life, I mean nothing much happens in Bamburgh anyway, the cricket team they were playing had only traveled five minutes up the road so maybe it really was a big deal for two Yorkshiremen to suddenly appear in front of their very eyes on their bench, anyway this old bloke suddenly mentions Eric Boocock and do I know him.
I gasp in astonishment for that is a name I had not heard uttered since 1973, Eric Boocock, captain of the Halifax Dukes Speedway team.
Stick with me, this story has a conclusion although I’ve forgotten what it was at the moment.
So we start chatting about Eric Boocock and his brother Nigel (who rode for Coventry, just thought you’d like that detail, see how informative this reading lark can be), and this old bloke reeled off a load more names and I did too and suddenly Andy was sitting next to me staring at me most uncomfortably as if I’d just started to speak in tongues, almost as if it wasn’t me that was speaking at all but some Red Indian Guide at a sceance.
Me and the old gadgy we chatted for ages about Speedway in the 1970s, I threw in Brough Park for when I moved up to Newcastle I went to watch the speedway there too and the old bloke was in spasms of delight that someone at last knew what the fook he was talking about, he’d been waiting for over 40 years to find someone to speak to about speedway and he’d found that someone at a Bamburgh Cricket Club match – now my problem was how to get rid of this old bloke for I was running out of names to impress him with and had reverted to just letting him list a string of names and just nod at each one and say “Oh aye, ah remember him aye, like, man” see how I’d slipped into the Geordie by this time too.
When finally he walked off, just walked off in the middle of a sentence, didn’t say “howay” or anything, Andy turned to me and just stared, he was speechless, “Don’t ask Andy” is all I said.
The whole point of which is that despite being such a big fan of motorcycle sport in the 1970s I have only ever ridden a proper motorbike once, just the once, and I fell off the bloody thing.
I’m not counting the time that I fell OVER a motorbike at that New Years Eve party when I added several scars to my face that still remain, oh no, for that motorbike was stationary at the time, didn’t even have the engine running, in fact it was a scrap bike that hadn’t run for donkeys years, AND I FELL OVER IT, well, beer was involved.
So we’re all stood outside Bryans fish shop one afternoon, I don’t know why it was afternoon but it was, and we’d been in the Three Horse Shoes, look, beer was involved again, and we were stood outside Bryans eating some chips when Dave Maud turns up on his Honda 175 and after chatting about nothing for ten minutes I suddenly ask him for a go on his bike.
He tells me to get on the back and I say no, I want to drive the thing so he gets off and gives me his helmet, which turned out to be rather prophetic and fortuitous, I get a 30 second introduction into how a motorbike works and then I point it up the road, twist the accelerator and bingo, I’m off, on Dave Mauds motorbike, me, riding a motorbike.
I went around a corner on it and rode on for some distance whilst at the same time trying to change it into another gear other than first, yes, I wasn’t going very fast, it was stuck in first because I’d forgotten what Dave Maud had said about how to change gear, so I stopped for a short while trying to work out what everything did – I’d just passed my car driving test so all of this was actually legal and everything but the car driving test is pretty much useless for riding a motorbike when it different limbs that do different things on a bike, plainly I was well out of my depth sitting here holding the clutch in all the time because I couldn’t find neutral either.
“I know what I’ll do” I thought, “I’ll turn around and ride the bike back to the fish shop and ask him to tell me all that again”, as a plan it was a very good one albeit with one small flaw, I had to turn the bike around in the road.
Now let me say here that if I’d been driving my car I would easily have turned my car around in the width of that road, it was a wide road, so I turned the handlebars of the bike, gave the throttle a bit of a twist, dropped the clutch and off we went, this time in a sort of very wide semi circle, which was of course my intention.
It was when halfway across the road that I realised that this motorbike wasn’t going to make it all the way around 180 degrees in the width of this road, which was strange because your could have turned a bus around in this width of road and so I sat there, now a passenger on this riderless bike while watching the opposite kerb approach, rather too fast for my liking.
We hit the kerb not with a glancing blow but straight on so obviously we’d only gone about 90 degrees through the manoeuvre, pathetic I know, and the bike knew it was pathetic too, so it fell over, pitching me onto the road and then pinning me down with the petrol tank resting on my knee in a WWF sort of submission hold, like an upturned turtle I lay there helpless to help myself until a few seconds later an old lady came to her garden gate to see what the noise had been, the noise of a motorbike falling over in the road and an idiot shouting out the word “Arrrgh!” just like in all the best comic books.
This eighty year old lady who’d only gone to the front doorstep to bring the milk in had to lift up a Honda 175 while it was still running – and here’s the strange bit, she must have known how to put it into neutral because when I sat back on it, there it was, in neutral.
“Are you sure you’re alright love ?” she asked in that way that 80 year old ladies ask of someone who could by now easily have killed themselves on a motorbike, “I’m fine” I replied and smiled although inwardly I was sobbing buckets and my knee was grazed to buggery like it hadn’t been since I was five years old and had discovered why none of the other kids wanted to be goalie when playing football in the tarmac’ed school playground.
I rode very slowly back to the fish shop in first gear and handed the helmet and the bike back to Dave Maud making sure that the bit with all the new scratches on was not facing him, and now that poor dead Dave has been dead these several years he will never know.