Kevin, camping and carnage

From Cyril's memoirs dated 14 May 2006

Ah spring. A time of fast motorcycles, beer gardens, buxom lovelies and… camping. A roll of material strapped to the saddle offers the magical freedom of rapid travel with shelter at hand. But a tent isn’t the most secure accommodation.

A very good friend of mine, Bob Scammel, has a son, Neil, who rode his just-launched and exotic FireBlade to the 1992 Cambridge Folk Festival. The lad had more interest in poke than folk and having heard that the festival is awash with single females (a cruel fallacy in my experience) he decided to try his luck.

Having endured finger-in-the-ear caterwauling and interminable fiddling, Neil decided to seek some fiddling of his own, homing in on the prettiest drunk he could find. All went well and the girl advised Neil, also rather worse for wear, that her friend had gone off elsewhere so she’d be alone in her tent and to join her there in ten minutes. In the meantime, Neil returned to his own tent and, displaying youthful high spirits and imagination, took blue and red felt pens to his erect manhood to create a mini Pepsi-era Kevin Schwantz, presumably as a form of sexual ice breaker.

Lord knows how long this penile doodling took, but long enough for the girl to come looking for her Romeo. Unfortunately, she lurched drunkenly into the FireBlade, toppling it onto Neil’s tent as he lay there admiring his handiwork. I’m afraid Kevin Schwantz took the brunt of the impact. Apparently the ambulance men dropped Neil off the stretcher twice while leaving the field, so wracked were they with barely suppressed giggles. It was, by all accounts, an excellent likeness, if a little crooked.

A second incident features yours truly. It was summer 1986, I was working for Suzuki and had borrowed one of the all-new GSX-R1100s. Good grief, that blew the cobwebs away as my then wife Anoushka and I blasted down to Bordeaux for a week’s sunshine. Ah, I can still hear her excited screams as we tore through northern France.

We arrived late afternoon, pitched the tent on a busy site then nipped into town to sample the local vin de pays. Afternoon turned to evening and the wine flowed on. At about 9pm, in walked a couple wearing lurid Cordura bike jackets and speaking English. We got chatting, they were very friendly, and the rest of the evening flew by with plenty more plonk consumed. Fine, you say. And it was, but not for long.

Staggering back to the site we got chatting about the Bol d’Or 24-Hour and it turned out that this chap – the name of whom escapes me, despite having read it so many times in solicitors’ letters – had never been. I became very animated about the mêlée of anarchic celebration that used to be the campsite when the race was still at Paul Ricard in the far wilder south, near Bandol. I raved about the lunatics who would remove the header pipes from their bikes then rev the motor at full throttle. It doesn't take a genius to see what’s coming next.

Ever equipped with a decent tool kit, I set about the GSX-R. Working by torchlight with double vision slowed my progress somewhat and the rest understandably got bored and went to bed. It must have been 4am when I carefully wheeled the bike into position, the exposed exhaust ports as close as possible to the doors of the sleeping couple’s tent. I’d strapped the throttle full open with a bungee so I could watch the effect from a distance. I could hardly bear the excitement. I pressed the starter and ran.

If you’ve never heard the unfettered racket from a pipeless large capacity engine at full tilt, it’s hard to describe, but it’s fair to say that it’s highly disturbing on a deep, gut-churning level, perhaps like some infernal machine Satan might use to instil naked fear. And that’s rather apt given that I hadn’t anticipated the pulsing 12-inch flames that instantly set fire to the tent. I think I was in shock for a second or two, long enough to see the poor couple (in pyjamas!) fight their way out of the flames with ashen faces, thinking themselves engulfed by Gallic Armageddon. I rushed to the bike but couldn’t release the bungee (in my drunken panic I completely forgot about the kill switch).

My last memory of the whole sorry mess, other than Mrs Thingy and the Suzuki screaming in chilling discord, was of a rapidly advancing Anoushka who summoned all her might as a former Soviet discus champion to knock me out with a clean blow to the jaw. I must say, I’ve had better holidays.