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8th June 2004


Opinion: Memories of an Old Rocker (2)

In the previous episode, The Oldest Rocker In Town introduced us to the ton-up boys, the Ace Cafe, and spaghetti bolognaise. This time it's mods, rockers, beehive haircuts and binning a Velocette Venom...

We used to ride to the south coast a lot and the best places were Brighton, Hastings, Southend or Margate. Southend had best funfair called The Kursal and we would always go and see the wall of death. I am so glad that you can still see this today and it always brings back great memories and admiration for the brave entertainers as they ride to the top and the magic movement of the wooden wall as they did impossible tricks on unsilenced bikes. They used old Harleys or Indians and always wore white shirts with black horse riding jodpurs tucked into high black boots.

Deliberate Mistake. Spotted it yet? Blummin' picture editors.Brighton was our nearest one and it was always a good fast ride. I can always remember that whenever a road sign appeared saying 'bends', everyone would change down a gear and accelerate. Great fun with lots of sparks coming from scraped silencers or centrestands.

There was a short tunnel through Reigate which always prompted a quick change down and opening up of the throttle to see who could make the most noise. Everyone would be smiling as we came out the other end.

The best mad run was Hastings as it had the most bends, and I must confess to disappearing, without injury or damage, through a hedge on one run, much to the amusement of my mates.

I was into racing and our favourite tracks in easy reach from London were Crystal Palace and Brands Hatch. We always spent the Saturday polishing the bikes ready for the Sunday run to whichever circuit was on. Problem was that after a day watching great racing we would leave the circuit and all think we were Derek Minter or Mike Hailwood, and the journey home was always a bit fast and scary.

Another good meeting place was the famous Johnson's Café up past Brands Hatch on the A20 in Kent. This was the café where the owner was warned (and I believe prosecuted) for giving out prizes for the fastest rider. A record would be selected from the jukebox and the idea was to race from the café to the first roundabout and back before it had finished. Many a rider crashed while trying this one. Johnson's attracted a lot of road converted race bikes and it wasn't unusual to see Manx Nortons and other race machines being thrashed up and down outside the café.

When I was 19 years old I worked with a mate called Mick who bought a new Clubmans Venom and wanted to see if it would do 100mph two-up (that magic speed again). The rest of the guys at work suggested that as I was the lightest I should be the one to go with him (so much for good workmates!). We rode to Guildford where we clocked 95mph on the bypass. After a stop he told me we should reach the ton on the way back as the wind would be behind us. I didn't tell him that I already had the wind behind me! We set off and with us both crouched as low as we could he pointed to the speedometer -- and we had reached the magic 100mph.

It was at this point that he lost control.

We were in all sorts of trouble as he fought to control the Velo on a slight bend. Luckily he managed to slow down before we left the road, shot up a grass bank, demolished a barbed wire fence and landed in a field full of very shocked cows. I can remember landing and hearing an almighty thud a few seconds later, which turned out to be the Velo landing about two feet from me.

My first reaction was sheer panic as I thought I had gone blind. Turned out my goggles had dropped down over my eyes. When I lifted them and saw how close the bike was I think there may have been one extra cow pat in that field! Lucky for us a car had seen us leave the road and called an ambulance. I ended up with a few puncture holes in my leg due to the barbed wire wrapping itself around me and lots of bruises, but poor old Mick got a broken arm and his new Velo written off. To this day I don't like to go pillion!

When the scooter craze started in about 1963 us ton-up boys, thanks to the press, became 'rockers'. So the Mods and Rockers battles started. I was at Brighton when the big one went off and it did get a bit hairy at times, but a lot of it was down to the press. I was talking to an old school friend who was a mod and was approached by a reporter who asked us to have a pretend fight so he could get some pictures.

Jerry and his missing boot. It's a long story...There were a few nasty moments but mostly a lot of shouting and insulting each other. One day my mod friend asked me to test his scooter out as he thought it wasn't running right. On the test run I stopped at a set of lights and two rockers pulled up on one bike. The passenger got of and gave me an almighty push, causing me to land in a heap on the floor, then they rode off leaving me to pick up a scratched scooter. When I returned to my mate and told him the story all he was concerned about was the scratch on his beloved scooter. That's the nearest I came to thumping a mod!

As the years progressed a lot of my biking mates left bikes and bought cars. I decided that I had better get a car licence and my dad let me drive his Morris Minor with L-plates while I took some lessons. On the third lesson my instructor asked me if I had a proper coat as my Barbour jacket was making his car seats dirty. I realised then that I only had motorcycle ones so had to do the rest of the lessons wearing a borrowed jacket. I passed my test first time but still had no interest in owning a car.

At 20 years of age I decided that I would buy one as the new girlfriend was giving me a bit of grief. She always had the beehive hairstyle and she was fed up with trying to fit it inside a crash helmet. We would always meet our friends at the pub and, as it was winter, they would arrive all smart and warm and we would come in bloody frozen and with flat hair and eye make-up running down her cheeks.

I had a Velocette Venom and I didn't want to sell it so I borrowed some more money from my dad for the deposit and thanks to good old HP bought my first car (the things you do for love). I bought a 100e Ford Anglia with three-speed gearbox and sidevalve engine. It was a heap of rubbish and had vacuum controlled windscreen wipers that stopped when you drove uphill and went at warp speed when you went downhill, and quite often the wiper blade would fly off... leaving me to retrieve it in the pouring rain. So much for keeping dry!

Well here I am aged 59; still riding bikes, still going to rock 'n' roll venues. The memories of the good old days will never go away so I now have a Wurlitzer jukebox in our dining room, full of good 50s and 60s music. My garage contains what are to me the ultimate rocker's bikes, my 1961 DBD34 Gold Star, 1961 Rocket Gold Star and a 1959 Triton. I wonder if I could fit in a Ford Anglia and a scooter... no bloody way!

Nice little Vespa GS160 would go well with this lot...

Still a Ton-Up Tearaway?


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