The sun was smiling warmly as I walked out of the relative gloom of the Chequers Inn, in the tiny rural Hampshire hamlet of Well. I carefully cradled my pint as I walked to one of the somewhat rickety tables overlooking the small car park.
Sitting down at a secluded corner table, I wrestled with my packet of cheese and onion crisps, childishly relieved when the deceptively tough bag finally submitted and dutifully opened, spilling the yellow discs onto the aged wood.
In direct contravention of my dear old Mum’s advice, I gathered them up from the slightly damp, green stained table top, munching them in indecent haste.
Leaning back against the mellow bricks, I could see my motorcycle. It too appeared to be resting, leaning against its side-stand. I smiled. Metaphorically, all she needed was a cigarette…
She was a bit of a beast. Conceived in Milwaukee, she was a diva, and a total extrovert. Dripping in chrome, she was loud, brassy and turned heads wherever she went.
I smiled to myself. 103 cubic inches of American muscle. Deep iridescent metal flake crimson. Acres of chrome. Slash cut muffler and tyres that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Range Rover 4×4.
I took a pull on my pint. Here I was, aged sixty, blatting round the backroads of leafy Hampshire on a hooligan’s machine.
Idly reminiscing, I thought back…
How did I get to be biking?
In a heartbeat it was 1977 again and I was 18, free and single. I was earning a decent wage as an apprentice communications technician, and was enjoying combining working on the tools, and attending West Kent College of Further Education.
It was there that I met my good friend DC, (you know who you are!) who lived in one of the villages south of East Grinstead, where I lived.
Every Friday evening, I would drive the seven miles to Chelwood Gate in my careworn 1969 Vauxhall Viva, and pick up DC, Chip, and our ever-faithful wingman, Elvis.
From there, we would hurtle through the byways and farm lanes at stupid-crazy speeds, playing 50s rock n roll at maximum volume on the eight track. Back then we were all into rock’n’roll, and Chip and Elvis even wore the obligatory drapes and crepes, and both had great haircuts – the Tony Curtis look. I swear that Elvis got through an entire man-sized aerosol of Cossack spray every Friday. His quiff would probably have stopped a round from a Kalashnikov assault rifle at fifty feet!
DC was more of a greaser type, with leather biker jacket and jeans, and although I had a Tony Curtis, I went for the American college-boy look, with drainpipe Levis and baseball boots.
And so it was that fateful Friday…The old country manor house set deep in the West Sussex woods reverberated to the sounds of classic rock and roll – just a normal Friday evening really.
The resident band, The Whispering Sands, were ripping it up, with a rendition of Wipeout, and the dance floor was a mass of gyrating figures, some bopping, some jiving, and others just swaying.
The crowd parted for a moment – just long enough for me to spot her. Tall, willowy, and with a mane of copper auburn curls. Sensing my stare, she grinned, and waved me to come over and join her.
I swallowed the lump in my throat. I was not renowned as a dancer of any kind. More of a self-propelled clothes horse – that was my style. Still, it was too good an offer to decline, so I made my way over.
Thankfully, the band ran out of steam at that point, so I avoided having to dance, and we found a quieter table and sat down.
After an awkward introduction, we settled down to chat amiably, and all too soon it was time to leave. I did however, manage to get her phone number, which I hastily scrawled onto a damp beer mat.
In a blink she disappeared into the night, leaving me wanting to see her again.
Two days later, I called her, and she seemed pleased to hear from me. I asked if she wanted to go for a drink. She immediately agreed, and suggested a small pub in one of the nearby villages.
“When should I pick you up?” I asked, hoping to find her address.
“Meet you there at seven o’clock. Public Bar”
I was about to respond, when I realised that she had hung up.
Later that evening, I parked up in the small car park at the Punchbowl Inn in Turners Hill. I checked out the public bar, but she wasn’t there, so I ordered a pint of Harveys and went out to sit in the beer garden, which sat adjacent to the car park.
The mid-May sun was low in the clear cloudless sky, and was painting the local roofs gold.
I could hear my car clicking softly as it cooled down. The outside of my beer glass soon had a sheen of condensation.
I was checking my watch for the fiftieth time since arriving, when a light blue motorcycle swooped into the car park, it exhausts crackling and popping. The rider got off, and pulled the bike onto its stand, and then removed the blue crash helmet – revealing a shock of copper curls.
Turning, she saw me, waved, and walked over.
“Nice bike” I ventured.
“Its new. I only got it three weeks ago.” She grinned. “It’s already run in!”
I walked over to get a better look at it. Iridescent blue, with gold pinstripes, gleaming chromework, and a gloss black frame.
Suzuki GT185 proclaimed the badge on the side panel.
I then realised that there was an open face helmet with WW2 Fighter pilot goggles strapped to the small rack behind the seat.
“Drink up” she said. “Leave your car here. We can go to the White Hart at Ardingly”
“On that?” I asked.
Looking at me levelly, she said “Call it a rite of passage.” “That’s assuming you would like to see me again.”
I hastily pulled the helmet on, feeling my stomach start to knot. I eventually managed to fasten the strap, and pulled the goggles down over my eyes.
She was already rigged, with helmet scarf and gloves on. Leaning over, she popped the small pillion footpegs down, and got astride. I awkwardly climbed aboard, and held onto the chrome rack with a vice like grip.
The bike suddenly started, and she yelled at me to lean with her, and relax. With that she swung the bike back onto the main road, and we sped off, with fantastic acceleration.
It was a truly visceral experience, the joy of speed, the sensory overload of seeing hedgerows and houses pass in a blur of colour. The smell of two stroke exhaust, and the smooth roller coaster swings of the bike as we rounded bends. The weird feeling of the footpegs dancing up and down as they followed the wheels trajectory – I could not only see the road, I could feel every ripple, every bump.
All too soon, we stopped at the White Hart, where we stayed for the rest of the evening.
Driving my car back home was very much an anti-climax, and at that point I decided to get a motorcycle.
Within three weeks, I was the proud owner of a second-hand Suzuki GT250, in iridescent blue, with gold pinstripes, gleaming chrome and glossy black paintwork.
I then owned a variety of bikes of differing sizes, including a TS250, RD 200, TD175, RD250, XS250, KH250, and then, having passed my test, Suzuki T350, GT380, GT550, GT750, Triumph Bonneville, Yamaha XS550, XS750, Kawasaki Z900, and then more latterly, after a gap of some twenty years, Suzuki GS550, Triumph Bonneville, Suzuki V-Strom, Harley Davidson Switchback, and now my Triumph Trophy 1215 SE.
And not to forget a Honda Silverwing 400cc scooter, which is very different and was a good commuter for an 80-mile daily round trip.
I’m now sixty. Still riding. And all because of a girlfriend in 1977 who owned a bright blue Suzuki GT185.