STORYLINE - 6: 'Crafty Mike...' (he had a bike, but it was no Harley)
The marque... the bike
"Crafty Mike, he had a bike,
It was a Norton he didn't like", Rick laughed as he tried to put together a rhyming couplet. The glass in his left hand was almost horizontal when the beer he had in it spilt onto a newly-polished pub floorboards and cleaned carpet. The landlord behind the bar drilled holes into him with his dark eyes under bushy brows. Rick stared dully, almost insolently back at George the publican, flicked the ash from his cigarette onto George's carpet and started afresh.
"He rode it down to Royston town, right past the Silver Ball. Jack Flash and all his pals just gawped when they did see, our Mike was doing wheelies past them all -" He didn't finish.
"Naw, Rick, it don't scan. You'll have to do better'n that! This competition you want to go into is offerin' a Harley to the winner. Trim it a bit", Ruth, sitting behind him shoved his chair with one foot and half his pint - what was left of it, anyway - emptied over the carpet.
"Right, that's it - you're barred! Get out!" George slammed the bar flap back, strode out into the Saloon and grabbed Mike by the collar. He grabbed the fur-lined leather jerkin collar and bodily lifted Mike from the wooden armchair he sat in and dropped him at the front door. "And stay out!"
"That was out of order, George!" Steve protested, and cringed when George threw him an icy stare.
"If you like him that much, then join him!" George made to usher Steve out of the door but 'Li'l Greaseball', as Steve was known, sloped off and out, followed closely by Tina and Ruth. "Tactical withdrawal", somebody giggled at 'The Volunteers' window table, "Dunkirk style!"
George glared across the room, shook his head and all was silent again. Some old boys went back to their dominoes and talk in the saloon turned to growing tomatoes or raising chickens.
Outside Rick and Steve revved up their engines, Rick on his red Kawasaki with Ruth holding on, Steve on his blue Honda with Tina behind on the pillion, laughing into the chill autumn air. Rick set off with a bang, Ruth almost falling off, and Steve's Honda whined away into the distance. Peace reigned again in the sleepy Essex countryside.
Rick thundered down the back road to Epping Upland with Steve in close pursuit. He didn't have a clue where he was going on this boring Saturday afternoon, but he was set on burning rubber. Steve just followed everywhere Rick went, and the girls couldn't care less as long as they had a laugh wherever they stopped.
Within the hour they were hurtling into Reed, almost in Cambridgeshire, and slewed into the large car park of the Silver Ball. Bikers, cyclists, lorry drivers, police drivers and despatch riders all converged here. Breakfast was served all day long, tea and coffee flowed like oceans in cups. This was fertile ground for literal creativity, and any spilt drinks were mopped up by the owner's Eastern European kitchen hands. Paradise in a square room!
"Tea, darlin", Rick leered at the good-looking Polish girl behind the counter. Ruth dug her elbow into his ribs. He played the injured party and the Polish beauty screwed up her nose, trying not to laugh. "Ru-u-uth!" .
"An' we'll have coffee", Ruth pointed a thumb over one shoulder at Tina, "Oh, nearly forgot. Silly me, eh? An' a coke for little Stevie".
"Thanks a bunch, Ruthie!" Steve burbled and walked to one of the tables by the window wall. Tina joined him and waited for the other two with the drinks.
"You could've taken your can, Greaseball", Ruth jeered and made to toss the can.
"Don't!" Marco snapped. "Last time somebody did that my girls spent half an hour cleaning up the mess and my customers had to wipe the fizzy drink from their clothes!"
"Aww!" Ruth pouted and barked at Steve, "Getcher body here an' take this bloody Coke, will you?!"
Steve shamefacedly slouched back to the serving hatch to rescue his drink, pulled the ring on his way back and nearly drowned himself in sticky brown fizz. Marco glared and thumped the counter. One of his girls hastened with a mop to soak up the tacky mess, and as eyes went back to reading talk started again.
"What d'you get out of that machine of yours?" One of the bikers asked Rick.
"What d'you mean?" Rick stirred his tea, clinked the spoon against the side of the cup and pushed it across the table for Ruth.
"What d'you get per gallon?" the young stranger grinned sideways at one of his mates.
"Dunno. Never thought about it", Rick answered morosely. He wanted to get back to his verse. He asked Ruth, "What rhymes with Royston, Ruth?"
"Try moisten", the young stranger offered.
"What?" Rick screwed up his face and looked upward at the ceiling.
"Use moisten", another of the bikers paraphrased his friend's words. 'Rhymes with Royston - moron!'
"It means make it wet", Ruth smiled sweetly. She felt like crowning Rick with the tray she carried their drinks on.
"I know!" Rick pouted sullenly at Ruth, and looking at the biker asked, "How do I work that in?"
Laughter erupted. Suddenly everyone was in on his verse-writing.
"Why do you need this?" the young biker asked.
Rick tried to stare him down, but ended up blinking. He blurted out,
"I need to write a verse for a competition".
"Oh, that's easy!" the second, older biker laughed. "You could use a few names in it, like Mike Surtees".
"Who?" The bikers roared with laughter at this, and the older man answered,
"He was a racer - a great racer! You could use 'Hairy Bikers' in it".
This was something else that left Rick at a loss. Steve writhed with embarrassment.
"What d'you watch on 'the box', if you don't mind me asking? D'you read 'Motorcycle News'?"
"That's where the competition is", Rick's tic came back. He'd tried for years to rid himself of it, and now it was back. He flinched when one of the bikers handed him a magazine.
"Is it that competition?" the biker asked and tapped the top of the page. By now everyone sat forward, listening in. Few came as dense as Rick.
Rick stared at the page, his mouth opened, closed, opened again and he sputtered,
"It is that one! Ruth, this- this is the competition!"
"No use telling me, love", Ruth answered and turned to Tina, bored with her boyfriend. She didn't want to be associated with a loser, not with all these bikers laughing at him!
"It's just - well", the biker was trying to think of a way of telling Rick something that would really make his day. "Did you look at the date at the top of the page?"
"No, why?" Rick looked from the biker to the magazine page. He just didn't get it.
"It's last month's", the biker sat back and drained his cup. "I won the bike badge. It's out there on my Harley, at the front of the cafe".
"It wasn't a Harley you won?"
"Well, it was Harley, but not a whole bike! What d'you think? You're never going to win a Harley bike in this magazine".
The laughter still echoed in Rick's ears when he reached home - on his own. Even loyal Stevie was too embarrassed to be seen with him after that.
If you can't be an easy rider, maybe at least you can be an easy reader. Roar through the pages here, scan for your fave bike, history makers all
Got a biker tale?
Southern England was a 'war-zone' back in the 60's when 'Mods' clashed with 'Rockers' on the south coast. The 'Mods' rode motor scooters and wore snazzy suits and outfits. In the early days their brand of rock music was 'The Who'. Pete Townsend wrote a rock opera, 'Quadrophenia' about one youth who went through a gamut of emotions and experiences with girls and his mates.
As for the 'Rockers', (Mods called them 'Greasers') they enjoyed heavy rock music, the Stones were popular with them, although their music was lightweight to some. There were 'Chapters' of Hells Angels who probably dreamed of owning a Harley. Couples were 'married' over copies of the Harley Manual. Many didn't even have a motorbike.