For some time I had been sneaking out to the garage on a regular basis and fiddling with a small forgotten heap in a corner while piling up pressure on my parents to let me have the small heap done up - with their money, of course. Eventually, just after my seventeenth birthday, Barnaby was wheeled out into the sunshine and I began removing the engine. Manual in hand, I removed bolts, nuts, bits and bobs, drained tanks, disconnected electrics - then the man came and took Barnaby away to be done up.
A week later back came Barnaby. A small battered, sand coloured Honda C70. You may laugh, but it meant freedom to me. I drove Barnaby for about two years, during which time I learned to allow half an hour for starting it and the peculiarities of bump starting with and without helpful slopes.
We had one accident, Barnaby and I, down in Radlett. As we rounded a bend we saw a red car sitting at a side turning."stay there," I muttered, hoping it wouldn't try to pull out before I passed it, and stayed. Until I passed the in mouth of the road, then it pulled out. Barnaby and I cannoned into its offside wing and parted company. As I lay in the road wondering what happened now, the car driver wrenched my visor off and said "your llp is bleeding." Good job I hadn't broken anything - he could well have done great damage. As the ambulance carted me off to St. Albans General all I could say was "Where's my bike? Is my bike OK?"
You can put your hankies away now, I wasn't badly injured and Barnaby only had to have an indicator and mud flap replaced plus a little straightening out. You simply can't go fast enough on small bikes to do much damage to yourself — unless you're unlucky enough to collide with a car coming the other way.
The summer of 1986 saw the arrival of Rodney. A smart new Honda C90 (tut, tut Ed.) Power!!! I passed my faithful old Barnaby to my sister and took to the open roads. In fact I drove that C90 from Norwich to London and back several times; we navigated Inner London, Inner Norwich and countless small country lanes: then came our finest hour.
My husband, after many bikerless years was finally driven mad by the withdrawal symptoms (you know the ones, reading endless bike mags, crawling around every bike left in public parking places, raving about the comparative virtues of twins and goodness knows what else...) and bought himself a Honda CB250RS - I christened it Roland. At last an incentive to higher things.
I joined a Keyrider training course - 8 weeks of Sunday mornings in October and November starting at 9.30am. The instructors were all hard-bitten, long term bikers with large Japanese machines (Goldwings seemed popular) and, guess what? Yes, all men! The language was colourful, but I'm no prude and passed their proficiency test, even managing to master some of the basics of maintenance. The following week came Part 1.
That devious ministry test designed to daunt even the bravest - especially if your machine has no clutch and in order to drive slowly enough to navigate bollards (yes I said BOLLARDS) you have to rev very hard and brake simultaneously.
I passed. Or rather, Rodney and I passed. We sang all the way home - we could never have done it without the Keyrider course, full marks to them.
Part 2 loomed large. I decided to get it over with. Two more sessions on the road with the Keyrider men (it's alarming being followed at 25mph by a Honda 500-4 when you're only little) and I reported at a heavy goods vehicle centre for my test on Decembér 23rd. It was raining and the examiner had cultivated his executioner's look to perfection. Trying to get out of the test centre onto a very busy ring road was a nightmare.
Ten minutes later the examiner threatened to terminate my test if I didn't make a move."That's it! We've failed," I told Rodney and when the examiner's back was turned pulled out in front of two artics! The test proper began.
The examiner made us drive up and down, in and out, round and round, emergency stops whenever he jumped out in front of us (yes, I was tempted not to stop) and eventually I was ordered back to the test centre. He grilled me under bright lights on maintenance and highway code and told me off for not knowing the principal cause of skidding was incorrect cornering, then told me I'd passed.
To say I was astonished would be poetic licence. I nearly hugged the horrible little man. However, he neatly sidestepped and wrote out the certificate.
So, what comes next? Well, I shall have to learn to drive Roland (the RS250). It still seems ludicrous that I have passed on little more than a moped and am now qualified to ride a 1300. There's no stopping me now...
You may have noticed my attitude to my bikes has been somewhat different to your average motorcyclist - I prefer to see my bikes as friends.