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Tonkerís Tales


 After reading Blackjack Bobís piece in the Clatter, I thought it would be good to have a local slant on things, so hereís my contribution.

Firstly Iím not a bike teckie, and this is a series of little stories, so take this as you find it. Iíve never written anything before and am not likely to again, but I hope you enjoy my musings.

My first legal bike was a James 150 bought for £18 whilst I was still 15. The thing I seem to remember most about this bike is that it was green, and had a slidy choke thingy on the carb (told you Iím no teckie).

The day I was 16 and legal I rode it to the centre of Bristol, parked up and went off to the pictures. Whilst I was in there a combination rider came to park in the bike park, couldnít get in the gap, so moved my little bike sideways. Unfortunately for me about a ľ of an inch of stand was on the old silver studs of a Zebra crossing, so some jobsworth gave me a ticket. So there I am 3 hours into riding legally and I had what turned out to be a fine and an endorsement on my provisional license. (Great start to Biking). I think that is what turned me against authority.

All went well with this bike for a while until I decided to go on holiday with an Australian mate of mine to Devon. We left early one Saturday morning in pouring rain and quite cold, no proper waterproofs, so, we all know how cold I got. We got midway between Bridgwater and Minehead and decided to stop under some trees for a fag. Bloody thing wouldnít start again! We tried kicking it over for about 10 minutes and then tried bumping it. We pushed it flippin miles up hill and down dale. Do you think the thing would start? Both knackered by now, we had another fag. It suddenly dawned on me that Iíd turned the petrol off. So very discreetly and without being noticed, managed to turn it on again, cos if I had been noticed, I donít think I would be here now. What I havenít told you is, this Aussie was a big bloke (not fat, just big). Anyway as if by magic the bike spluttered into life and we were off again.

We reached Exford, half way across Exmoor, before further mishap, there we found on the long hill out of Exford up to the top of the moor, that the chain was slipping on a very worn sprocket, so Graham (the Aussie ) had to get off and walk up to the top because of his weight. He wasnít a happy chappie when he got there about an hour later.

During this holiday we bought an old air pistol from a junk shop in Barnstaple. We had great fun with this for a few days, it was quite a weak affair, and you could see the flight of the pellet in the right light. We used to aim at a plastic football across the farmyard about 60 feet away. Anyway in my infinite wisdom and seeing it was so weak and wouldnít hurt, I shot Graham (the big Aussie) in the middle of his back from about 10 feet. I was wrong about it not hurting, because he let out an almighty howl/roar and turned to face me. He had a face you could boil a kettle on!! I decided discretion is the better part of valour, so turned and legged it, with him in hot pursuit. I could run well at that age so he couldnít catch me but he tried for a long time. As we passed the fishing lake for the second time self preservation came to mind so I launched the gun as far as I could into the lake never to be found again. I must add at this point that justice was done though and he got his own back at a later date, but thatís a different story.

On the way home from this holiday we had an embarrassing moment. On a Dual carriageway out of Bridgwater, I tried to overtake an artic, we got level with his cab and couldnít get any further (flat out we were). The driver looked over at us and laughed wound down his window, gave us the hitchhikers thumb, put his foot down and left us behind. Worse was to come, because as we sheepishly pulled back in, two ĎGIRLSí on a Lambretta overtook us also giving us the thumb.

I eventually bent that bike on wet leaves in Clifton, my next bike was a BSA Bantam with no front brake (bent this bike). My next two bikes were an Enfield Crusader and a Triumph Tiger cub (bent both of these). You can see a bit of a trend appearing here canít you, I was always a bit mad when I was younger.

My last legal bike at this stage was a Bonneville with ape hangers; I thought they looked cool at the time, as it happens it was these bars that saved me when I went into a telegraph pole head on whilst racing a GT Cortina around our village lanes. I still managed to crack my helmet in half though.

That bike was well and truly bent and beyond repair! Ö Some say (in my best Jeremy Clarkson voice) that it was that bump on the head that made me the person I am today (trollied).

Anyway that was it, I was just seventeen and banned. Not by the law, by my Parents.

No more bikes allowed! After a six week shooting holiday on the Isle of Mull I returned to find an Austin A35 van parked on the drive waiting for me. Four wheels! Iíd turned respectable(ish).

As some of you know I live out in the sticks in a small village close to the Bristol Channel. There is a river near by that runs into the Channel called the Yeo.

Picture this if you can, a meandering river tidal one side of a big sluice gate or dam and fresh water the other. The riverbanks are manmade and hold the sea back at high tide. The fields the other side of the bank are lower than the sea on a high tide. When the tide is out we are left with the saltings, an area of grass which sheep graze on. So imagine a 15 foot high jump with a ten foot wide flat top.

Now I come to my bike no-one knew I had, it was an AJS 350 I think, I donít really know because it had no markings, panels or covers, but it went. I kept it in the hedge.

We used to ride it along the top of the bank turn down toward the field over some sleepers across a ditch, round a field, back over the sleepers up the bank, take off, drop the back wheel on the bank, down the other side onto the saltings, perfect!!! ĎBeen doing it for months.í Anyway we had a village BBQ on the sea wall only Ĺ a mile from where I had my bike stashed so I asked Sue my wife (then my girlfriend) if she fancied a go on my bike. She said she would, so, off we went along the bank, down the bank, over the sleepers, round the field, over the sleepers, up the bank (this is where things started to go wrong). With two up the bike, it didnít handle as well, we landed heavily and bounced awkwardly going sideways. Sue lost her grip on the footrests before we were going down the other side more or less out of control. It was touch and go for a while but we managed to stay upright. Which was really rather surprising, because, on the back, flapping about like a rag doll, was a screaming banshee who was taking chunks out of my neck and shoulders with her nails. She was shouting at me to stop. When I eventually gained enough control to stop she leapt off and wouldnít get back on again. It turned out she had never even sat on a bike before. (she didnít sit on another for 35 years)

I stopped riding myself then as many of us do - marriage, kids, money you know the score.

Then about ten years ago I bought a Kawasaki to commute to work. Iíd forgotten the smells of biking , you know, the freshly cut grass, the wild garlic, farmyards, oil seed rape in the fields, the smell as you go through woodland, and most of all the wind in your face through on open faced helmet, the feeling of being alive. Youíve guessed it I had the bug again, older wiser and more sensible.

From that bike I went to a Virago, with which I joined the club, a Dragstar, and now a Warrior. Sue is quite happy to get on the back now as well, so thatís a bonus and the rest as they say is history.

There are more stories I could tell, but I would rather read some of yours.

So get writing, if an illiterate like me can do it, we all can!!

Ride safe!