Failing to fly

If I bought a bike tomorrow I’d be dead in a week.
In 1986, J and me paid up front for a stack of driving lessons – one of these “we teach you until you pass” things. During the third lesson the instructor told me to pull over and told me that I was using one of the pedals wrong. He then said I “should treat it like a woman’s tit”. I replied that I’d never had my foot ON a woman’s tit. When the lesson was over and I got home, I rang the driving school and informed them that my cash had better be waiting when I walked in for my refund. It was. That was – bar one incident – my only experience with 4 wheels. J failed her test at that time though. 3 years later we moved much further away from the hospital she worked in, and she bought a moped / motorbike. It was – I think – a Kawasaki 125.

It was red, had a fairing and was restricted. With a downhill slope and a gale at your back you could hit about 34 miles an hour before the limiter cut in. Somehow the bike became mine. When we decided I would use it – J had done the safety course because she had bought it – we went to town and bought a helmet. The most expensive one I could afford and full-face. It was white – not that that matters right now and I think it was £90. With a bike that could only go so fast I was pretty safe. I dropped it once when turning very slowly just off a road – wet leaves. Soon after I went round a corner (almost) at the top of the village. Left hand bend and the road sloped away to the right. I wasn’t going so fast but I hit another patch of wet leaves and came off. Slid across the road to the kerb opposite. Ripped clothing, damaged pride and a slightly bent bike with a broken fairing. The bike shop called it an insurance job. We got the cash. I wanted another bike and on the other side of the city we found one. A blue Honda CBR 125.

It was unrestricted. I’d not had a minute of training and yet there I was blasting back home at 80mph – this thing flew. I can remember that the Kawasaki had you adopting a low racing type position so the wind resistance wasn’t a factor. It sure as hell was with this – I was clinging on for my life while bombing along. Fan-bloody-tastic it was. I only owned the bike for a week but I broke the speed limit constantly. One day I was coming back from somewhere and came to some roadworks in the next village. As it happened, I got to the front of the traffic queue as the light turned red. So I’m sitting there idling the engine watching the traffic flow past. This bike – unlike the Kawasaki – did not have a rev counter. With the previous bike I’d learned that I could pull off without stalling at a certain numbers of revs. The lights changed, I guessed the revs and dropped the clutch. The people in the cars to my right must have thought I was a show-off idiot of the highest order as I wheelied past them all. I was crapping myself. How in hell I kept control and managed to drop the bike forwards I have no clue at all – and I found the episode very embarrassing at the time. A few days later I was on the late shift at work and arranged to meet J at the hospital social club. By then she had passed her test so she drove there. We met up, had a drink, bought some chocolate then left for home. Because I was putting helmet and gloves on she left just before me. (It’s amazing how much detail of this has stuck in my head). I drove down to the roundabout at the exit of the hospital, went around it and accelerated into the right hand lane of the dual carriageway. As I did so, a car came into the left lane.

The Honda wasn’t the newest bike on the road and it only had one wing mirror – on the right. I’m on the right and I can see the lights of the car to my left on the trees and signs along the road. I needed the left hand lane. I couldn’t see the car in the rear-view and I couldn’t see it when I glance to the left – it was in my blind-spot. So I twisted the grip and went faster. Still couldn’t see the car – it kept pace. Faster – around 50mph now – still out of sight but still there. There was nothing directly behind me. We crested a hill and started to go head toward a roundabout which was something like 250 yards away. I’m still clattering along trying to get in the left lane but because I can’t see the car I don’t move. I have no idea if I indicated at any point. Then I realised that I had no chance and would have to go over the roundabout. Then I realised that slowing down wasn’t just a really good idea but essential. I was still going 50mph. It’s a big roundabout and the center ‘reservation’ between the roads is huge. It also doesn’t end flatly – the kerbs curve to direct the traffic. I can remember seeing the last bit of kerb as I tried to turn and thinking “I’ll miss that”.

I came too on the roundabout. That’s two wide lanes of road I’d crossed and I was a good few feet onto the grass too. My helmet was several feet away. I was walking wounded, taken to hospital casualty and then left on a trolley – left on a trolley in a curtained bay while I went into shock. I was bouncing with the shakes. One broken bone in my left hand. That was the only ‘major’ injury. It ended up being pinned. I was discharged home, rang work told them I’d not be in for the early shift. The next day hurt a lot. The day after though …. I woke up completely unable to move. Literally. I couldn’t do a damn thing. J had to dress me, take me to the toilet, bath me – at one point she had to nip out and I got thirsty. Had to stay thirsty too because my hands were too painful and too weak to do anything – even a tap. This persisted for a few days. The worst thing about those days though were the baths – we didn’t have a shower. We all have our routines about what we wash, what order we wash and how we wash – and in a bath how we rinse. J got it totally wrong. Drove me nuts – and putting shampoo straight out of a bottle onto someone’s head in cruel. Remember that ! Once those days were passed though the only evidence was some stitches in my chin and the whole of my left arm and hand – my complete hand – being bruised massively. It was amusing when I did get home from the hospital after the accident because the leather jacket I was wearing had two chest pockets. In the left was an extremely squashed packet of cigarettes, in the right was a pristine Cadbury’s Creme Egg. What wasn’t amusing was the helmet. The part that protected my jaw was shattered. It still held together but a gentle push with a finger would indent it significantly. The straps had torn out of the helmet. The helmet saved my life. It scares me when I now see people on bikes without a full-face helmet.

That happened in 1990. At the time, J was pregnant with our eldest. I’ve never bought another bike. I don’t trust myself on another bike. One twist of the grip and the speed … but it’s not the speed that is the problem is it ? The problem is the slowing down. I’m not stable enough, not at all, not for that level of control. If I bought a bike tomorrow, I’d be dead in a week.

One thought on “Failing to fly

  1. Mmmmmmm – takes me back to working in hosp as radiographer. There were two hospitals in the city. 1976. My brother had a Honda 125 trials bike. He invariably came off it and ended up on a trolley in A&E waiting for x-ray. I knew it was him before I saw him because of his distinctive helmet. He went to the other hosp when he nearly killed himself. I’m glad. Not that he hurt himself but for me that I didnt have to see him on a trolley in resus! Selfish or what. He’s fine now – just limps when he’s tired. He can tell you everything about that accident – in the minutest detail – as you can with yours. Strange init?

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