From Cyril's memoirs dated 19 December 2005
I’m sure many of you enjoyed this year’s Motorcycle Show at the NEC in Birmingham, that thrilling coming together of the greatest bikes and equipment in a carnival atmosphere fuelled by fine food, refreshing ales and lovely girls. At least that’s what the marketing men would have us believe. I’m afraid my own experiences of the show were always rather mixed. To say I’m mentally scarred might be an exaggeration, but the flashbacks persist to this day. Luckily, my lovely young wife Francesca now knows how to handle me on finding me bolt upright in bed in the small hours, screaming ‘get the Bandit off the baby!’. Recurring nightmares are the worst.
However, my most vivid memory of the show didn’t happen at the show itself. 1982 was the show’s second year at the NEC, I was Suzuki’s UK and European Sales Manager and we had a beautiful GSX1100 Katana on the stand. After setting up ready for the show’s opening the next morning, several of us decamped for a beer or two at the Bartons Arms in Birmingham’s Aston district. This locally-famous Victorian-era pub was a lively place back then, full of local ‘characters’ and certainly not the place to start an argument.
One of my sales team, Andy Craven (30-something, single, balding, Star Trek enthusiast with fungal problems – I’m sure you get the picture) was wearing a now much sought-after Katana paddock jacket made from what can only be described as purest nylon. How it glistened under the pub lights. The evening was going well, with several pints of Brew XI lubricating the conversation as we stood at the bar, when an enormous chap, who might best be described as a skinhead, tapped Andy on the shoulder. As Andy turned around and gazed up, our laughter came to an abrupt halt. I have to admit that in Andy’s more irritating moments (that is, any time he was in your company) I’d often harboured vivid daydreams of him being beaten ferociously by broad-shouldered, heavily-muscled men with fists like steam hammers, yet with my dream seemingly about to come true I wasn’t sure I had the stomach for it. But, it must said, Andy had one of those very punchable faces.
‘It’s a sword, ay it,’ boomed the large youth in a distinctive Brummie twang.
‘What is? What are you talking about?’ Among Andy’s many failings was an inability to accurately judge potentially explosive social situations.
‘That, on yer back, mate. Katana. It’s a bloody big sword, ay it.’
‘It’s a bloody big bike actually ‘mate’,’ said Andy with a derisive smirk. He turned back to us with a sarcastic chuckle. I suspected his Essex accent wasn’t cutting a lot of ice at this point and my toes curled inside my shoes in grim anticipation.
‘Yowma rude little git, ay ya?’ said the skinhead, who then, extraordinarily I thought, walked away to the bar. As the rest continued with subdued chatting I watched as this chap ordered two pints of snakebite – the infamously punchy mix of cider and lager later banned in many pubs – downing them one after the other before leaving. I felt very relieved to see the back of him and got in another round.
I think it was the screaming women, and some men, who alerted me to the return of our close-cropped friend. He marched across the large pub creating a bow wave of back-stepping punters. In his hand he did indeed have a bloody big sword.
Andy, now a little worse for wear, was oblivious and still had his back to the approaching maniac. However, his attention was caught when the skinhead took up a splayed-legged, baseball batsman’s stance and whacked Andy’s backside with the flat of the sword.
‘THIS,’ he boomed, ‘is a fucking katana! The greatest killing weapon of all time and capable of slicing through a human torso in one stroke.’
Andy leapt the air and spun round, and was now facing the lunatic while gripping his freshly-thwacked buttocks. He had the expression of a cornered guinea pig. As the whole pub looked on, the skinhead lifted the sword in two hands high above his head then brought it down very slowly onto Andy’s scalp. He then slid the tip down his forehead, nose, mouth and chin (is it just me, or was all this rather homoerotic?). The sword came to rest on Andy’s thin brown belt and with a very deft flick of the wrists the belt and trouser waistband were cut clean through. I clearly recall that as everyone in the pub stood in rapt silence, ‘Happy Talk’ by Captain Sensible was belting out on the jukebox. I don’t think Andy appreciated the irony.
Well, I’m not sure if it was Andy’s custom to go without underpants, but if not he certainly picked an unlucky evening to do so. (Which reminds me of the time I was discovered lying in a lay-by, next to my neatly-parked Yamaha FZR1000 Genesis, my bottom half utterly naked and covered in butter. But more on that another time.) With Andy’s snipped slacks gathered in a heap around his ankles, a pair of pants would have helped in at least two ways. They'd have saved him from the humiliation of presenting the assembled throng with something not unlike a pink bar-end weight peeping from a ginger nest. And they would have baffled the high-pressure exit of that rather unfortunate by-product of extreme fright. I’ve seen such jet-like eruptions from cows in a milking shed, but never from a human. Everyone has their talents, it seems.
Those of you who know the Bartons Arms will understand how the Victorians’ extensive use of ceramic tiling on floors and, thank goodness, walls, came in rather handy during the subsequent clean-up process. And, you know, it’s true what they say about sweetcorn. Quite extraordinary.
From Cyril's memoirs dated 27 August 2005
Ah, innovation! Motorcycles have often led the way in the search for more power, less weight and greater efficiency and the man in the street is lucky enough to be presented with the polished result of many years' research (there are some dishonourable exceptions, of course, such as Morbidelli's hilarious V8 and poor old Bimota's ill-judged V-Due). But over the years I've seen great men brought to their knees by the immense strain of research and development, and I’ve witnessed projects which, frankly, can only have been the fruit of troubled minds.
You may remember me telling you of Peter Cartwright, he of shaven dog and V5 lawnmower infamy. Well, on release from psychiatric hospital Peter was, for many years, shunned by the motorcycle industry and he hit rock bottom, his considerable engineering skills pitifully wasted in the sewage industry. However, in 1986 Peter won a Guild of Mechanical Engineers competition to develop an alternatively-fuelled power unit, the winning engine to be fitted in a new Honda-designed road bike. This was an exciting project for Peter, but I’m sorry to say that the results were predictably disastrous.
Things seemed to start well enough, but when no one had heard from him for a month, and following complaints from neighbours about the smell, police broke down the door to Peter's semi-detached house in Crawley. They were driven back by the stench and flies. Years in the sewage industry had influenced Peter’s thinking in a shockingly direct manner and, convinced he could create an engine to run on gases produced by composting human faeces, he’d got himself into
rather a mess.
Never the tidiest of workers, much of Peter’s carpets and walls were smeared in his ‘wonder fuel’. His own body’s production being insufficient for his experiments, health inspectors found what can only be described as an innovative but ultimately rather disturbing ‘turd catcher’ installed in the manhole in his garden so as to harvest his neighbours' motions. Dear oh dear. Peter still writes to me from his secure accommodation, but I've always handled the letters carefully since he will insist on using a distinctive brown ink.
And Yamaha's Deltabox chassis, now deservedly an icon, had a painful development. Though the history books show the preliminary Alphabox and Gammabox frames, we never hear of the mysterious Betabox. And with good reason. The Betabox shunned early work on a perimeter frame in aluminium and instead looked to do away with metals altogether, favouring modern plastics (though we're talking modern by early 1980s standards). Barry Sheene, a skilled mechanic and development rider, was involved in the first serious tests of the Betabox chassis at a secret session at Pau in France. When the engine reached full working temperature the plastic frame, while not exactly melting, certainly became worryingly pliable, bending alarmingly. By the time the bike returned to the pits it resembled a pregnant sow, its midriff sagging until the belly pan was almost on the floor. Sheene dismounted and summed up the future of the Betabox in his beautifully direct style, saying, "The Betabox? It’s not even stiff enough to f*** the designer up the arse with it." Barry had a great way with words.
Then there was the time a certain German manufacturer experimented with a new type of seat foam for extra comfort over long distances. However, it turned out that this foam, a by product of the sap of the South American quilombo tree, gave the 20-strong team of test riders such a fearful rash and inflammation 'down below' that it was branded the sitzenscrotenscratchenbloten (how do those Germans keep it so succinct?). Once the testers were released from the clinic they made a ceremonial bonfire out of all the known saddles and topped it off with an effigy of the seat’s chief designer. However, the intended celebratory atmosphere was rather tempered by the fact that everyone was still rather sore and those not hobbling about with an exaggerated John Wayne gait were sat on medical rings filled with cooling gel. Add to that a blaring soundtrack of the finest German heavy metal and I have to say it’s not the best barbecue I’ve ever been to.
Finally, I must mention the ill-fated Ariel Aqua-Skoot. Oh yes, wet bikes and jet skis are now commonplace, but when Edward Jones took to Coniston Water on a June morning in 1955 he was breaking new ground. Unfortunately, he also broke his neck in an effort to control the 500lb monster as, taking on water at a disastrous rate and the 600cc four-stroke twin revving to the heavens, it careered towards a family picnicking on the shore. His shrieks warned them in time, but the impact of his face with the family-sized pork pie was such that he had to be formerly identified by a tattoo of Norman Wisdom on his right buttock. Mind you, a by-product of the research into the Aqua-Skoot can be found today in the weather-proof seal used under the starter button on Suzuki’s GSX-R1000. So old Eddy’s death wasn’t completely in vain.