The arguments about a motorbike – to get one or not – started months before I would be eligible for a licence. Naturally, I wanted one. Naturally, my mum was adamantly against it. Didn’t I remember being run down and nearly killed. Motorbikes had more accidents and more riders died, she insisted. She was right but, on my side, there was naked desire and a mountain of denials.
My dad was strangely quiet, leaving the haggling to the two of us. He knew the lure of a motorbike and the pleasure. I’m not sure my mum ever forgave his decision to let me have one. It was best that I got it out of my system now, at 16, he said. What he told my mum – I later learned - was that I would only ever have one bike while I was under his roof and that I would only have it for a year.
So, it was to be Christmas time in the summer. I started browsing catalogues, gazing in bike shop windows, and ogling everything with two wheels and an engine. The motorbike couldn’t be more than 250cc for a learner’s licence. There was still plenty of choice. The Japanese and Italians offered sleek machines with racing go-faster gear). Top speeds around 80 mph. Yes. (NB (They were illegal in their own countries – too fast). British offerings were staid in comparison. They had wide handlebars no style. 60 mph was their maximum speed. I wanted a Yamaha or a Honda. My dad preferred the British. He also preferred second hand.
We found a Honda that was sleek, not too fast, and second-hand. Here it was. Then it wasn’t. The bike had had major repairs done to its suspension and steering. My heart sank. So close. The motorbike chapter seemed closed.
Dads can be like icebergs, though. And so he was. A lazy summer day transformed into an extraordinary day, into a brilliant one. A vision stood on the front lawn - a brand shining new BSA Bantam D14/4 motorbike. In the doorway, my mum and dad grin like Cheshire cats. Yes, even my mum. It wasn’t a sleek Japanese buzz bomb. It was a staid British bike. But it was bright and shiny and mine and on my birthday.
There was a problem - I didn’t know how to ride it. The iceberg did. One job he remembered from the war was how to be a motorcycle despatch rider. He’d never forgotten how. He took MY bike for its maiden run just to dust off the cobwebs.
My dad was a big man. He folded over the bike, looking not so much like a rider on a motorbike but more a big kid on a small tricycle. Except, of course, this kid had a cigarette clamped firmly between his lips. He made it around the town, declared the trip a success, and off we went to the school yard to teach me just how to ride a motorbike.