I’ve just come back from being tail-gated by two very large motor-bikes, unless tail-gating is something which is only permissible between two unconsenting cars. Anyway, the slogan ‘Think Bike’ did certainly come to mind as did the word ‘Bastards’. Driving is dangerous enough without being harassed by outsize Suzukis.
Nonetheless, I did once have a motorbike (stop laughing at the back), although it was so small in the c.c. department that I think it qualified as a moped (you don’t see them any more, mopeds, things you had to crank up by pedalling when you came to a halt e.g. at traffic lights. My sister had one, and was knocked off it, and knocked out. She came to in a squash court, surrounded by young men, which was a bit alarming, until it turned out she had had her accident right outside a boys’ public school, whose occupants were either curious or gallant or both. She had two shiners as a result). But mine had no pedals.
Yes, I had (puts on record of ‘Born To Be Wild’) a Honda 50. It was before the year – perhaps only just before the year – when you had to wear a helmet. I did buy a helmet, though, and customised it with some stripey paint, so that it looked like something that had come out of a toothpaste tube, just as I had customised my, er, fingernails, and, yes, all right, a pair of shoes. I was investigating my feminine side. I was 19.
My helmet, however, made me look like an alien from Dan Dare, so I never wore it. I just buzzed about Oxford, and, once or twice, I made a couple of lovelorn trips to the University of Warwick, which must have been 25 miles. Since the maximum speed uphill of my Honda was no more than 17 m.p.h., at which speed I was overtaken by joggers, I suspect the journey must have taken me hours and hours; besides which, it was pointless. The girl I was after was already fixed in a new relationship (and is still there, in the relationship, not Warwick).
The Honda got me into small amounts of trouble. I cut a corner on my way back to my college one afternoon, only to find that there was a demonstration against something (there was always one somewhere if you wanted one) going on just beyond the point where I had made my illegal turn. And there were about thirty policemen there to watch me. I got off the bike very fast, and made as if I was studying its workings very intently. One of the policemen came up.
‘It’s the brakes,’ I lied. ‘I had to cut the corner because the brakes weren’t working.’ The policeman sighed. He took the bike to one side, and tested it. Good news! The brakes weren’t working! Wait a minute: good news?
If I look very hard, e.g. with a magnifying glass, at my left wrist, I can just see a patch on it where the skin is unnecessarily crinkly. This is the only real evidence left that I had a Honda 50. It was a cold day, and, having neglected to wear gloves, I was riding my Honda 50 along South Parks Road with my left hand in my pocket, at about 15 mph (the left hand doesn’t operate anything on a Honda 50 – the right hand does the work). Right hand to brain: ‘I am cold’. Left hand to brain: ‘I’m not.’ The brain responded without any undue brilliance. I swapped hands, placing my left one on the right handle-grip. If you think about it, and I wasn’t, that’s bound to pull the bike over.
When the bike stopped sliding into the parked car, I had ripped some skin off my wrist. Miraculously, my head had had no contact with the ground. And the bike was still running. A man came hurrying across the road to help me. Was I all right?
All right? I was the main idiot in the universe at that moment.
‘It’s okay,’ I said. ‘I just forgot my gloves.’