Horses have always figured large in my life. I always wanted to own one, but never quite got round to it. Money, I suppose. Money is the root of all problems on this planet. Horses are very expensive they take a lot of upkeep. Motorbikes, on the other hand, don’t. Motorbikes are mechanical horses, motorbikes go in the garage, don’t eat food, don’t need mucking out. You can leave them for six months and they don’t mind. A horse is a seven-day a week job. You have really to be born to it, you have to live it and you can’t take a holiday. You have to find somebody to look after them. It's a bit of a job. Mucking them out, very time consuming. But, one essential difference between horses and motorbikes is that horses have a soul, horses are real beings with character. Riding a horse you form a bond, you and the horse are one.
When you are riding the horse understands what you want to do and you understand what the horse wants to do and what it is capable of and you don’t ask any more of the horse than need be. You always look after your horse. If you are a cavalryman in the Confederate army and you lose your horse you have to walk, which means you join the damned infantry. No one will catch me in the damned infantry! So you look after your horse, make sure it stays all right.
So, looking back on my early life, horses and motorbikes have had a big influence. I joined a re-enactment society and the 43rd Virginia Cavalry, when I was 11 and went to camp with them when I was 13. Then I became interested in girls when I was 15 and had to earn my own money, working in Boots the Chemist in Ramsgate, I used to go to discos and the discos always used to turn into fights. I always used to get picked on by the skinheads, who were the local nasty guys and seemed to take delight in trying to beat people up. As for me, I was only interested naturally in girls, not getting beaten up!
In 1970, I went to a barn dance. I went dressed as a Confederate Cavalry Officer. Barn dances were in vogue during the early 70's way before the modern trend for line dancing. Everyone was dressed up in fancy dress and it was very pleasant and we did the Virginia Reel and some other square dances. It was a memorable experience, yet I seemed to be out of place, in a world of my own. The other people at the dance were a little spooked at the accuracy of my uniform. But as for meeting girls, well Barn dances are not conducive, especially at that age, no street credibility at all. It was an interesting experience, evocative and strangely familiar, but one has to search around to find another direction and a successful game plan.
My sister, quite by chance, used to go horse riding and one Sunday she said, when I was 15, “Why don’t you come up to the riding stables with me?” I thought, that sounds a jolly good idea, somewhere to spend my money, for I was only 15 and not interested in public houses or discotheques yet. So I walked up to the stables with her and they said to me, “Have you ever ridden a horse before?”
“Yes, sure, no problem,” I replied nonchalantly being somewhat circumspect. Looking as though I knew what I was doing, there was no way that I was going to go around in circles in a paddock for weeks on end! I mounted the horse. To my utter astonishment, I found with in a minute or two that I could ride the horse! I knew exactly what to do. I found this so amazing that I was so comfortable on the horse. I did actually felt quite a strange shiver of familiarity at the time. How on earth did I know how to do all this? How could I just get on the horse and ride it? I even wrote a small paper on genetic memory in an effort to explain this amazing discovery. We went off riding from Brompton Stables, Broadstairs, along to Margate. I enjoyed it immensely, it was fantastic, exhilarating; I loved being on the horse. And the real bonus was that there were lots of nice, young rather well to do ladies as well, mucking out the stables.
Well, I really thought that I had it made there.
So I continued to ride on Sundays. I had a great time. But times changed and I progressed to my mother’s moped to get around as I was now 16 and I could have a driver‟s licence. I still went up to ride horses on Sundays and met the nice young ladies, but they were not very interested in me.
At other times in the week I would ride my mother’s moped, yet again the street credibility rating on this machine was minimal if not negative! Due to its low power I used to drive it at full speed, a bit like a speedway rider, putting my boot out to go round corners. One fateful day at the bottom of our road I managed to go round the corner a bit too fast, hit a dust trap in a hole and came off it. My first accident. One of many, no helmet, no protective clothing, I scratched up my jeans, picked myself up, but I had a dent in my mother’s moped. Rushing home, I hammered the dent out of the mudguard, rushed down on my push bike to the bike shop, and bought a can of mushroom paint for my mother’s moped was a rather horrid beige colour and quickly re-sprayed it. By the time my mother came home from work she never knew the difference.
I soon realised that mopeds were a bit of a liability, because they had no power. One day whilst pulling across the road, I looked both ways and it was all clear. Half way across the road a car came hurtling towards me travelling at, it must be, 100 miles an hour down by the viaduct in Ramsgate, top of Whitehall Road. I just about made it into the gutter before falling off again. I then realised that my Dad’s adage that you need a bike that is powerful enough to get you out of trouble, was a good piece of advice.
So, having talked to my Dad, we went out and purchased a Triumph Tiger Cub. We rebuilt the engine with a friend of my Dad’s; £30 it cost altogether, £15 for the bike and £15 to rebuild it. New big-ends, new small-ends, re-conditioned the engine, re-sprayed the tank a nice maroon two-tone colour, maroon on top and metallic light blue on the bottom half, with the proud Triumph logo shone up, it looked terrific.
I had arrived. I had finally made street credibility big time. I had joined the cavalry, no more foot slogging for me! At school I was no longer a wimp, walking round in flared trousers and zip-up boots, getting beaten up by the skinheads, most of whom resided in the year below me. I was a prefect and I had my motorbike. I also had my leather-flying jacket. I paid £1.00 for it second-hand, a real bargain.
The bonus came when we watched Easy Rider, which was the in film of 1970, with Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda riding across America on their Harley Davidson's. The immortalised chopper bike with the American flag on the tank. Absolutely brilliant, it struck an instant chord with me, somewhere in the depths of my soul! Dennis Hopper was the sidekick going all the way across America from California to New Orleans having many adventures. They were rebels with iron horses.
I decided right away that I would repaint my tank with a Confederate flag motif in imitation. My friends and I decided that this was our life. We were young, just 16 at the time. So, investing in a cool pair of tinted spectacles I mounted my machine, wearing my leather jacket with the sheepskin collar, my tight jeans and leather cavalry boots. Off we went and rode into history, legends in our own minds, my friends and I.
Claudia my Lady
Sassie is my Lassie
Charlie is m’ Darling!