The soundtrack in my head: 9 Nobodies - Marilyn Manson

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Nobody seems to be returning my calls so I’m guessing the TV adaption has died on its arse which is a pain but one of the conversations I had with the TV people at one stage was about music and I’ve been thinking about the ideal soundtrack ever since.

Tiny and Gyppo nodded a greeting as I rolled into the car park at ten to ten.

To my relief they didn’t look at all surprised to see me, almost as if they had been expecting me.

I almost hadn’t come. I had lain in bed the night before agonising. I hadn’t actually been asked if I wanted to join them. I didn’t know if they would want me along or not. But then I decided, what did I have to lose by trying?

Dismounted, I joined them for a smoke. Gyppo seemed to have taken some kind of responsibility for me and introduced me to the others as they arrived over the next half hour or so.

It was a sunny morning. The mood was peaceful. Blokes stood around in knots, talking, or checking out their bikes, waiting for the signal. Eventually at about quarter to eleven, Tiny and the others around him decided that it was time to go, and the squadron dispersed.

Cigarettes were stubbed out. Helmets were pulled on. Last words before the off were exchanged. Keys turned. Kickstands clattered up. The whirr of electric starters being cut off by the roar of motors catching. Owners of the older Brits jumped down hard on their kick-starts. Engines snarled as throttles were blipped to ensure the bikes had properly caught.

The group bunched at the entrance to the car park. Tiny at the front on a Zed one. I pulled up to the rear of the pack on my much smaller two-fifty, although I noticed that Gyppo was hanging back to take up the Tail End Charlie slot.

We were ready to go.

And then at a gap in the traffic we were off, pulling out onto the road, a cacophony of exhaust blast echoing between the shop fronts as we headed up the main drag through town and the Saturday shopping crowds on either pavement.

As we rode slowly along the road behind the traffic it was my first experience of riding with a group this big.

There was a sense of the power waiting to be unleashed, the over-revving of the engines just to get more noise bouncing between the walls on either side, the ratcheting up of our own adrenaline. I could feel a wild exuberant excitement welling up within me, a feeling of invincibility.

There was a sense of power. When you see a group of bikes, you know they are together. You know they are a pack of guys who know each other. You know that they are heading somewhere together deliberately, as a group. You wonder where, you wonder why, you wonder who they are and what will happen on the way. And now I was part of that.

Heads turned to see us go past. You didn’t look, just like you didn’t look at your reflections in the plate glass windows of the shops. But out of the corner of your eye you could see the heads turn. The small children point.

We crested the top of the rise and headed towards the crossroads and the drag up the hill out of town that allowed us to pull past the cars in front.

If you’ve ridden bikes then I don’t have to tell you what it’s like.

If you haven’t then it’s difficult to describe.

You drive a car. You turn a wheel, you press a pedal and it goes. A car is an object that you control.

You ride a bike. You dance with it, it goes where your body tells it. Your bike is your partner, it sways and shimmies with you as you move your hips and twist your body to shift your weight.

In a car you are inside, insulated from the world, surrounded by a cocooning wall of steel.

On a bike you are outside, exposed to the world, feeling the wind, the rain, the warmth, the cold, and with only your skill, your luck, and a leather jacket between you and the ripping tarmac tearing past you below.

As we headed into the open countryside, the line of bikes began to string out. The gang were all on bigger bikes. Seven-fifties and upwards, mostly a mix of UJMs[1] and some older Brit twins; back in the car park there had been the usual good natured joshing about Brit shit and Jap crap.

On the more open roads we came swarming up from nowhere in seconds behind cars that we caught, and barrelling past them, rocketing by in a wail of powerful noise without even slowing down.

But then in more twisty bits we might get caught up without the clear overtake, bunching up behind a car, all bright lights, chrome, noise and thunder just behind the driver’s back bumper, feeling the tension, the eyes in the rear view mirror, the kids in the back seat turning round to look open-mouthed, before the road straightened out again as we crunched down a gear and with a bawling scream of pure exhaust noise we launched ourselves past the outside of the car, tearing up the road again to the next bend.

Riding in a pack was completely different from riding on your own. As a rider on your own machine, you are still singularly alone, testing yourself, totally responsible for your own actions and how far you are able to push yourself. You against the road.

Yet at the same time there was both that feeling of invulnerability, of being part of something bigger, us against them, and that feeling of competitiveness with the other guys, As a pack you are always egging each other on.

At the back on my two-fifty with Gyppo on my tail, I was having to scratch hard to keep up with the charging pack. And failing. So the times when we got caught behind something, bunching up into a jostling knot of bikes and power and noise, just waiting to be fired past the car’s windows at the first hint of a gap were great for me as they gave me a chance to catch up before the more powerful machines howled away again into the distance, stringing out into a line of glinting swerving disappearing spots as the road opened out. Finally on the last stretch, Gyppo pulled out and twisting the throttle, zoomed past me at probably ninety or so into the final bends leading up to the summit.

As I pulled into the Edgeside car park I must have had a grin a mile wide.

Most of the gang had dismounted and were already filing into the café. Gyppo and Tiny were standing by the row of bikes as I kicked down my side stand at the end of the line.

‘Not bad considering it’s a two-fifty.’

‘You’re going to need to get yourself a bigger bike, kid.’

I got the feeling that I had just passed another test.

[1] Disparaging term for Usual Jap Multi – a reference to the ubiquitous layout at the time of larger Japanese bikes of an in-line four cylinder mounted across the frame – on the grounds they were therefore all the same.

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