From Cyril's memoirs dated 19 August 2007
I recently read an article about haggis stalking in the Scottish Highlands, and it took me right back to the late 1990s, a tuned Yamaha V-Max and Morag McCuddie, fearsome Queen of the Lathe.
Morag is an engineering legend within the industry yet all but unknown outside it. This could be down to her outright strangeness, but I'd say that makes her interesting. She’s certainly always interested me – but not in the way you might think. She stands six feet four and even now, in her 70s, has the physique of a Clydeside riveter, complete with ham-sized, hirsute forearms. She always wears a kilt, exposing mighty legs, and I certainly wouldn’t like to see those broad, calloused hands tossing anything less substantial than a caber.
We first met in 1958 when I was working for Ariel and we immediately got along well. I’d been sent to her workshops in Oban on Scotland's rugged west coast to convince her to try to iron out problems with the new Ariel Leader that had flummoxed the chaps at the factory. Morag was either idiosyncratic, an imaginative liar or plainly mad, depending on your view. During that first meeting she told me that she’d built the great Bob McIntyre entirely from spares and insisted that he only managed to pull off the previous year’s first ever 100mph TT lap thanks to last-minute tweaks she’d made to his pelvic oil galleries.
It was a lovely day in that summer of ’58 and she invited me to join her for a jaunt into the hills on scramblers. We rode for a couple of hours then stopped on a hilltop to admire the view, our bikes pinging in the background as they cooled. Morag turned to me with a wink and I watched as she reached down and opened the flaps of her knapsack. She reached in and pulled out a couple of mighty smoked salmon sandwiches and, more importantly, a large bottle of Glenfelch single malt whisky (label motto, “Ye'll sup more wi' a straw!”).
Well, my hazy memories of the rest of that afternoon come to me only in brief and seemingly unconnected episodes, like clicking aimlessly through YouTube. I know we wrestled, and I know that at least part of that wrestling took place naked. I know that we also rode the bikes in the buff and that for some of the time I wore a slice of smoked salmon both as a wig and a loincloth. The next morning, I could hardly move for midge bites, my skin a Square Four workshop manual in Braille. And to this day I have a scar on my right buttock in the shape of the exhaust heatshield on Morag’s B33. It has become a ritual that every time I see her I have to show this brand (I’m convinced she did it on purpose when I was comatose), at which point she roars with gravelly laughter and slaps me on the back with the force of a dockside crane.
So, jump forward to 1998 and my arrival in Oban to bring details of work Morag was to take on for Yamaha (my then employers). As usual, she mulled over the proposal for no more than ten minutes before suggesting a drink. She went to the courtyard at the back of the house and appeared from one of the outbuildings on her tuned V-Max. At Morag’s insistence I foolishly left my R1 at the house and climbed on the back.
By the time we reached the Beaver and Merkin I was in need of a drink and the first few pints of Grainger’s Disgraced Ghillie slipped down with unseemly haste. Before I knew it, we were deep in our cups and Morag was demanding I bear my buttock to show the heatshield scar. Despite the crowded tap room I did just that. But even after all those years I wasn’t prepared for the hearty slap on the back and, leather jeans like shackles around my ankles, I stumbled forwards, hit my head on the bar and was knocked out cold.
Apparently, Morag McCuddie collected me up like a rag doll, and without even bothering to pull up my trousers threw me over the back of the V-max, cowboy style, and rode home through the town. What happened between then and the next morning I have no idea, but I can tell you that the long ride back down south on the R1 involved a rather ridiculous number of comfort breaks.