If I was to tell you that I was a biker you’d probably laugh to yourself and imagine a guy with stupid clothes on that fitted too closely or think of that person who glared at you at the roundabout even though he was wearing a brightly coloured flouro vest or better still someone who sat in a cafe and talked too loudly while wolfing down a cooked breakfast and drinking way too much coffee or tea.
Well you’d not be far from the truth. In fact you’d be too damn close to it.
You choose to ride a bike for a variety of reasons. You hate cars. You love cars but you’re sick of being in them. You’re a bit of a hooligan. You want a cheap form of transport. You don’t mind getting a bit cold and having no stereo although some bikes do have a stereo. Everybody has their own reason or reasons and why you choose to take your test and take up the sword is totally and entirely down to you.
My stepfather died just over two years ago. When I got an email from out of the blue I wasn’t ready for the news and as my eyes shot past the words I kept going till the end because I knew deep down that this was on it’s way even though I knew not when it would come. Nick’s dead. Nick has died and is no longer. Nick was once with us but now Nick has gone and he can’t be with us anymore.
When I was eight years old I was living with my mother and her boyfriend in an idyllic and rural part of Surrey. I went to school and Mum had a job in the local curtain shop where she’d ply her craft and smoke cigarettes with her colleagues. It was called Taylor Furnishings and it was in a town called Dormansland. Well the name said it all. Mum could make curtains but she was bored bored and she longed for a career in journalism and a man she could love.
So that’s where Nick came in. I remember that first roar of the motorbike as it came up the side of the house one autumn evening and seeing this man, full of life with little round spectacles and a moustache and thick curly hair. He was tall and loud and he could drink and drink and he smelt of charisma at every turn. He had Mum in fits of laughter within minutes and I looked on and saw Neil Booth the man she lived with sitting there quietly taking it in. Later on he would corner me and say ‘where the fuck is she? you know where she is!’ but really I didnt. I knew she was with Nick but I didn’t know where.
Gradually he began to come round more and more. Once he came over in the day and we sat and watched television and he showed me his swiss army knife. It had all kinds of blades and little gadgets and I sat mesmerised. Then I got up and took a photo of him with my pocket camera and to this day I don’t know what happened to that print. It is buried as he is but still in my mind I see the same healthy man, he must have been forty then with a glint in his eye and that hooked gypsy nose.
One afternoon I was back from school and doing my chores. I’d got the logs in and I was feeding the animals like I always did and then I heard the sound of a motorbike on the front path. It revved like an animal and I felt slightly scared but then I walked out back to where the garage was by the apple trees and I saw it move up the drive and round the back to where I was waiting.
I could see Nick had a spare helmet and I took it from him and looked at it.
‘Do you fancy going for a ride?’ he said.
‘I dunno. Is that alright?’ I said.
Then he told me to go and get my stuff because I was going to be staying with him at his place tonight.
‘What about Mum?’ I said.
‘Don’t worry she’ll be there too’ he said.
I went and got my bag with my schoolbooks and then I took the spare key, turned off the light in the kitchen and closed the door behind me. Dixie was on a rope by her kennel and she looked at me like she wanted to come too.
‘Don’t worry Dix’ I said, I’ll be back soon’ and I walked out past the barn to where he was waiting with the cycle.
It was still running. It was green and I saw the letters BMW on the side.
‘Right I’ll show you how to put this on.’ he said and he began strapping the helmet on my head. When my head went in I felt like I was already in another world, slightly comforting and a little claustraphobic. While he messed around with the fastening I looked at a pear tree and noticed some crows flying by. It was October and the nights were drawing in. I could already feel the cold.
‘I brought you this too,’ he said and he gave me a strange leather jacket to put on. I’d never seen anything like it. It had padding in the shoulders and felt too close on me even though it was meant for an adult.
‘Zip it up tight’ he said.’That way you won’t get cold’.
I zipped the thing up and put my bag over my shoulder.
‘You got your homework?’ he said and he laughed. He had his spectacles on and he had to shout for me to hear him as we were both wearing helmets.
‘Now get on’ he said.’One leg at a time’. ‘Put one on here then lift yourself over’ he said and he pointed to a small peg sticking out of the bike. I got up and swung my leg over the other side and found the other peg. The seat felt pretty comfortable but I felt precarious and unstable.
‘Now put both hands round me and hang on!’ he shouted and I did as he said. I heard another heavy click and the bike really started to rev and growl like some beast. It felt good. We edged off and began a long slow turn back down the drive. He gave it more throttle and we picked up speed as we moved along. I could feel the wind in my face and it smelt good. I could smell the apples in autumn and all kinds of other things that were natural and good and that I loved about this place.
That night at his house I found myself sitting in his small downstairs living room with a few others. There must have been 6 people there including himself and my mother and we all sat around on low sofas talking and having fun. It must be said I didnt do a lot of talking but I did do a lot of watching and these were some of the things I saw.
There were four motorbikes in the room leaning up against the walls. There were pictures, I don’t remember of what and there was an open fire going. Above the fire was a large chrome grill from the front of a Jaguar which hung ominously like some great charm looking out over the room. The bikes seemed to be in differing stages of repair although they all looked interesting if not entirely attractive to me.
‘Come and look at this Gabes’ said Nick and he beckoned me over to a large cycle with a low seat and long steel front forks.
‘This is a Harley’, he said. ‘A lowrider’.
I looked at the bike. It seemed to make no sense although in it’s ridiculousness it also seemed quite impressive. I could hear a woman cackling with laughter and the music was getting a little louder and the Harley seemed to fit in with all this.
“Come and look at this one’ he said and I walked over to a bright red cycle in the corner.
‘That’s a Ducati,’ he said.’Bloody uncomfortable!’
I liked the way he said Bloody and I liked the way that Ducati looked. It was spartan and aggressive and stylish and it looked cool. I could see someone’s name written all over it, ‘Mike’ something and there were also flashes of green and white.
‘I’ll come and pick you up on it one day’ he said and he laughed. He was always happy and he never complained. I’d never been around a man like that but I wasn’t sure I trusted him.
‘Your mum’s going to be living here now,’ he said and he took a swig from his bottle of beer.
‘I’ll be able to take you to school in the mornings on the bike,’ he said. ‘Would you like that?
‘Yeah ok,’ I said. I didn’t really think about it much but it sounded ok to me. Mum was talking to a woman in the corner. she looked happier than I’d seen her for her a long long time. I was happy for her.
‘I think I want to go to bed,’ I said and Nick looked at me.
‘There’s a room upstairs.’ he said. ‘I’ll take you up and show you.’
I went over and said goodnight to my mum and then Nick showed me up the stairs.
‘Now look,’ he said. ‘You don’t have to go to sleep right away, you can leave the light on and read for a while if you like?’ he said.
When we got upstairs he turned the light on and showed me the bed. Then he left the room while I sat down. It was an attic room and it felt quite warm. I liked it. He came back in with a handful of old magazines and plonked them on the floor next to me.
‘Look’ he said.’ Loads of old bike magazines’.
I looked down at the magazines and saw pictures of bikes and girls with tattoos and all kinds of jazz. ‘Cool’ I said.
“I’ll get your mum to come up and tuck you in.’ he said. “Good Night’.
Then he left and walked back down the stairs to the living room. I sat on the edge of the bed and looked down at the magazines. I didnt really like the look of them. At least, they didnt really interest me. I was used to my birdbooks and the books my grandparents had given me for christmas. Mum had left some stuff out for me to wear in bed so I put it on and got under the covers. The bed side light was still on but I didn’t reach over to turn it off. I must have been asleep by the time she came in.