Saturday, October 18, 2014

I am a Mod

Things they do look awful c-c-cold (Talkin' 'bout my generation)

I hope I die before I get old (Talkin' 'bout my generation)

The Who  

A hush fell on my fellow secret addicts and you could have heard a pin drop in the room as I made my ritualistic confession: "I am a Mod!"

I'd said it. There was no going back.

For many years I have harboured a desire to ride a Vespa scooter and wear a Parka jacket.

Early this year I finally succumbed and bought a Vespa PX125, a Mod scooter model that Italian manufacturer Piaggio has been making since 1977.

Since then, metaphorically, it has not been an easy ride.

My father, bless him, has always been an anxious chap, even in his prime.

When my brothers and I were growing up, he relentlessly drummed into us the extreme dangers of motorcycling.

It left a mental block, I guess.

And so it was that at the age of 52 that I first took to two wheels, at first having to negotiate myself through a hellish ordeal known as the CBT - not Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, on this occasion, but Compulsory Basic Training.

I can honestly say that my CBT was the most terrifying day of my life. I will not describe the horror of that experience in detail - I will leave that for another occasion.

Suffice to say, it was a miracle - or at least an extreme combination of diplomacy and spin - that the motorcycling instructor in Eastbourne reluctantly awarded me (and the other candidate that day) our certificates so we could ride.

As we left his workshops, he turned to us and said doubtfully: "You are going to be all right, aren't you?"

Unfortunately, I could only get through my CBT on an automatic machine. I just could not master the gears. I must have stalled a hundred times. (The other guy was better but had no road experience whatsoever.)

And, yet, my PX125 has manual gears.

For the first few months I found it so hard that I never left the conclave of my 'hood: a little circuit of Brunswick Street East, Lower Market Street and Waterloo, almost bereft of traffic.

The regulars at the Bottom's Rest public house were amused and then grew tired of me passing every five minutes at speeds between five and 11 miles per hour.

I never got out of first gear!

My Mod career would have been doomed if it were not for the intervention of Mr Cheeky (who else?)

Mr Cheeky had befriended Django, the local black cat, and it was because of this I met Nick, Django's owner, who was also embarking on life as a biker, albeit on a 125cc motorcycle rather than a scooter.

Nic, an urbane, young VATman and musician from Isle of Man, offered to take me out on a motorcyling trips to build up my confidence. He has been brilliant.

A few months on, I am still a little nervous on the bike, but I get around and was confident enough to join the thousands of other bikers at the Brightona rally last weekend.

I hoped to hook up with brother Mods but, on this occasion, they were in fairly short supply. The August Bank Holiday rally is their big day.

However, I take the view that all motorcyclists are my brethren and confidently nod to Hell's Angels and generally talk to anyone on two wheels.

Everyone is very friendly.

Nick and I met some very pleasant Harley Davidson riders including one gentleman who was almost seven foot tall and showed me his massive bike.

A lot of these guys ride 1,700cc machines - bikes with much larger engines than many motor cars.

Despite my Parka, one biker even let me sit on his new Harley. It was incredibly comfortable and heavy. Like a mobile sofa.

I liked the way that the stages at Brightona alternated between rock music and ska - to please both the rockers and the Mods.

In reality, there is no war between them any more.

They get on like a house on fire when they meet.

There were so many amazing, beautiful machines at Brightona.

Bikers are incredibly creative and hardworking at customising and preening.

You could spend the whole day just admiring other people's motorbikes.

I rode back in the rain, which I hate. It is uncomfortable and you have to keep a constant eye out for manhold covers that can unmount you in an instant.

I loved the day, though. I need to get more experience on the Vespa.

My mentor Nick has driven more than 1,000 miles on his bike in the time I have clocked up 100 on mine.

Scootering is also economical. Much less expensive on fuel that driving a car - very useful at this time of personal austerity.

I also love the sound of the two-stroke engine and the clunk of the gears that the 1970s design still makes - authentic signs of having achieved Mod-dom!

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