I first met Bonzo in a lay-by on the A31. I was 19 and my 350LC was (once again) out of juice. The reserve tap never worked and it was always running
dry. It was one of those bikes that just takes over, stops you thinking about anything other than getting it set up for the next bend, snicking the
slick little gearbox with your left foot, letting the clutch out and pouring it on with the right hand, a shiver running up your spine as the wail of
the motor rose into a crescendo...right in the fat bit of the power-band....See? Happening again. I swear, there was something magical about those two
strokes, something you just don't get with the big, four bangers.
Anyway, I was sitting on the little white Yamaha, cursing my stupidity once again, trying to shield a cigarette from the rain that was coming down in
sheets and, to be honest, feeling pretty miserable. This was in the days before cell phones so when you were stuck, you really were stuck. I was
trying to summon up the will to start walking when I heard the growl of a big, Jap four being wound down as it pulled into the lay-by and came to a
stop next to me.
The rider, a big, Buddha shape squeezed into a scuffed, black leather, bristling brown beard with flecks of ginger and old fashioned, black and white
era, motorcycle racer goggles beneath a black, open face helmet. His voice that gritty, gravelly Birmingham accent as he called out “Alright
Bruvvah? Zit baff day fer ya? Or ya need sum 'elp?”
That grin, wide between the wire brush bristles of his hairy face was, even then so infectious I could do nothing but smile in response “Ran out of
petrol ain't I?” Nothing else needed saying. I tossed away the soggy smoke, put my helmet back on and climbed up behind him for the ride to the
petrol station that turned out to be only about two miles of howling speed up the road through rain that struck any bit of exposed flesh like icy
This was Dorset, back in the days when someone would actually lend you a can to go rescue your machine with a gallon of petrol and that is exactly
Fifteen minutes later, my “Elsie” was fuelled up and standing under the porch of the cafe attached to the garage alongside the bigger, rougher
looking GS thou of my new, best mate while we sat drinking from big, steaming mugs of strong, brown tea.
“See? Don't matter where you are or what you are doin' how ya feel is down to you exactly and nothing bloody else. All that rain, made you cold and
moody? That cuppa tea you are drinking now wouldn't be half as good if it was a warm, sunny afternoon and you hadn't got yersel' into a state. That's
how a Buddhist sees it. Whatever happens just happens, it's your job to decide if you are going ta take any pleasure from being alive in that moment
I have always been a simple soul and admit, I didn't really get it, still don't if I am honest. Not Bonzo though. He would find the tiny little
diamond of truth sparkling in whatever situation he was in. No matter how negative it seemed on first impressions.
It turned out he was quite the history buff too. We left the cafe to clearing skies and that earthy, fresh smell of the woodland after rain. He wanted
to show me something...After 10 minutes we turned off the main road and made our way slowly up what was actually now, a footpath. Stopping by a small
stone tablet, we shut our bikes off and he pointed and said “Lawrence of Arabia. That's where he had his last off. Was riding his Brough and swerved
to avoid a couple of kids on pushbikes...Hit a tree, never woke up...His last day on Earth that he was conscious of, he was doing what he lived
for...Riding fast.” Bonzo took a small bottle of whisky from a pocket and opened it, tipping the contents over the stone and just standing there
for a long moment, communing with someone separated by half a century but connected by the same drive to move through space on two wheels.
I didn't get that either, not then. We took off and later, as the darkness rolled in, our lights picked out the white lines and cat's eyes curving
this way and that, “Elsie's” howl occasionally being drowned out by the roar of the GS but always able to keep pace...such was her spirit. Finally
we pulled into narrow farm track, rolled about a hundred yards up to an oasis of sodium light and noise behind some old barn. There were about twenty
bikes of all shapes and sizes parked up, from pukka looking Katanas to ratty old pre unit Triumph twins chopped until they were barely
Names and faces passed in a blur of sweet, fragrant smoke and harsh, cheap whisky, Throaty laughter and in jokes between people who were tight with
each other, but accepting of me in a way that made it feel like home.
That first day...Was one of the best in my short life, even now, looking back twenty years. It was the start of a journey and, just like when you pull
on your leather, grab your lid and head out the door without a clue on a Sunday morning...The fact that I never knew where I was going to end up,
meant everything was fresh and I was able to learn, like Bonzo insisted, to take what the world throws at you and enjoy it for what it is.
Funny how it has taken until now for me to get it. Standing with the others by this hole in the ground. Looking down at the wooden lid of his coffin,
rain matting our hair to our scalps, mixing with the tears on our cheeks as we remember our own parts in HIS story.
It would have been easy to just mourn...but we all looked up and at each other, seeing our own grief in each others eyes, but also the love we each
knew and that's when we all got it..and the smiles appeared, shy, knowing things on each face as Bonzo's last lesson tied it all together, right there
in the rain, one last time.
edit on 15pTue, 03 Apr 2018 15:25:15 -050020182018-04-03T15:25:15-05:00kAmerica/Chicago30000000k by SprocketUK because: Linking
For me, the thing that marks your writing is authenticity. There's something very real in your stories, that rings true. I know jack squat about
riding a motorcycle, but I could put myself completely into this story. That tells me an awful lot about it.
That's just it, isn't it? It's what you like, and what fits.
I've never been too hung up on cars - I've driven a sporty sedan, a beat up Honda, our minivan, even a '68 Chevy Biscayne with a 3-on-the-tree manual
transmission. Doesn't make much difference to me, it's what gets the job done, gets me to work and back, reasonably inexpensive, and is safe for my
family. But if I ever buy a bike, it won't be about what works or gets the best gas mileage. It will be completely about what I want. Of course,
I'll have to get a second one for the Mrs., though, she won't want to be left behind.
So I guess I need to finish that novel and make it big as an author - that's about my only shot at clearing enough $$ to buy a pair of bikes, I think.
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