Longmore Way Down

From Cyril's memoirs dated 4 November 2007

‘Cuppa tea mate?’ Those words, in an unmistakable Black Country twang, were uttered to me a few years back by Lee Longmore, swiftly followed by, ‘Wait there mate and arl getcha a bacon sarnie. Brown sauce or red?’ All of which would have been extremely welcome if at the time I hadn’t been trapped beneath a Yamaha R6, having been skittled off in a South London street by, I kid you not, a transvestite dwarf on a minimoto. Lee Longmore was not that dwarf. He was far stranger than that.

I first met Lee in a San Francisco coffee shop. Well, I say I met him, but in fact he sat across from me on a low sofa, dressed in running kit, including very short shorts, his legs sprawled wide in a rather forced show of masculinity. It was difficult to know whether or not his genital display was accidental or for my benefit (maybe my leathers had caught his eye?), in any case, the boys were certainly out of the barracks and remained so until the arrival of a young couple he knew, the woman looking rather unnerved having, on her approach, also been treated to Lee’s ‘last turkey in the shop’ impression. I rode away from the coffee shop and didn’t expect to see Lee again, so when I came round in that Clapham street and found him standing over me I was relieved that his full leathers covered all eventualities.

Since that day, I’ve got to know Lee pretty well – linked, as we are, by a love of motorcycles. He was one of the first to buy a Triumph Daytona 675, putting in his order after reading the pre-launch article in Bike (foolhardy given his renown gullibility. He once spent an evening drinking Tennant’s LA, assuming it was a trendy beer named after the Californian city, and was confused as to why he remained sober). Shortly after buying the Triumph, he rode to Italy to visit me and Francesca and I found him a slightly freakish guest. At one point I could have sworn he was wearing bike boots as he clomped around upstairs, but it was his normal, bare-footed Frankensteinian stomp.

He also brought along several Airfix kits, over which I’d catch him hunched in the small hours, like an obsessive elf. He brought a rope ladder, which he attached to the balcony of his attic room and kept rolled but ready for action, ‘merely as a precaution, Cyril’. And he insisted on ‘tweaking’ my computer, claiming to be a professional who wrote Triumph’s ignition and fuelling maps (a blatant lie). It cost me a packet to have the labyrinthine chaos unravelled by a real professional, who handed it back with a pained expression, saying that unravelling the mess had been like ‘peering into the mind of a psychopath’. Perhaps Lee really should write fuelling maps.

But you couldn’t wish to meet a nicer psychopath and that week, while Lee stayed with us at our modest house in Montemona, we went on some great blasts together in the Testa di Cazzo hills, he being a brisk and smooth rider, though far too keen to advertise his Advanced Motorcycling certificate (‘Cyril, you might think, What’s that child’s bike doing there? I think, Where’s the child!’).

It was rather sad what happened to Lee Longmore on his return to London. His behaviour became increasingly erratic, he put on weight and would be seen cruising the streets on his Daytona wearing overly-tight designer clothes better suited to a man half his age, and, in warm weather, a large and unsightly sweat patch swamping his back. He rigged up a PA system to the bike and would ‘talk’ his route for the benefit of the general public, spreading the Advanced Motorcycling gospel.

Then one day, this normally mild-mannered man simply flipped. Approached at traffic lights in Cricklewood by a tramp asking for spare change, Lee stepped off the bike, letting it crash to the ground, threw his helmet to the floor and challenged the shocked tramp to a fight. When the tramp backed away, Lee took out his frustration on the bike, laying into it with fists and boots. When the police arrived the bike was in flames and he was in tears, squatting in the gutter stripped to his underpants, trendy clothes burning along with his beloved Daytona, sobbing ‘I shoulda bought a f***** Mini’. If only I’d been there to offer the poor chap a nice cuppa tea.



From Cyril's memoirs dated 22 September 2007

I took the Multistrada to Florence the other day, sent on an errand by Francesca. The sun was beating down, the skies were blue and the Duke was running sweetly. What could possibly go wrong? Ha!

I headed across country and by the time I reached the town of Radda in Chianti both the bike and I were warm and into our stride. I've lived in Italy for almost seven years and have come to accept that the majority of Italian riders and drivers have as much a concept of risk as they do of a chip butty. They seem to know no fear. I’m amazed that Italian men can walk without pushing before them a small wheeled trolley, given the apparent size of their balls. But then, fear doesn't come into it, because fear requires you to believe that some day your luck will run out.

I was humming along at a decent pace when I noticed headlights in my mirror. There was a series of bends coming up, in the middle of which, I knew, was a humpback bridge set at 45 degrees to the road. With the first right-hander approaching, I drifted left to the centreline and was about to pitch in at about 80mph when a horn blared and an Aprilia Tuono carved past on a mission. Well, my adrenal gland may be rather withered, but there's still a bit of juice in it yet and I took up the challenge, hoping that the increasingly tight turns and uneven surface would, for a while at least, help me to stay in touch with the thundering Aprilia.

But the other chap was really on it, using all of the road even when you'd have needed to be clairvoyant to know it was safe. By the bridge, I knew my capacity for lunacy was lacking and backed off. A good decision. The Tuono pitched into the left-hander very early, using the other side of the road, just as an Alfa saloon coming the other way appeared from behind the bridge's stone parapet. The rider picked up the bike and manfully tried to wrestle it down again in time to make the bend, but clipped the bridge wall and was pitched into the air, landing quite gracefully flat on his back in the long grass at the side of the road. The Alfa driver wouldn't have seen any of this and carried on. I pulled over and dashed to where the rider lay.

He hadn't moved and when I flipped up his black visor he didn't seem to be breathing. I felt for a pulse and found nothing, so unzipped his leathers ready to give heart massage. Well, that's when things all went a bit wonky.

As I pulled down the zip I suddenly felt as if I was in a Seventies aftershave advert, because not only was there no other clothing beneath the leathers, but an ample pair of breasts lost no time in escaping their confinement. He was clearly a she. Perhaps out of a deep-seated sense of guilt, owed mainly, I suspect, to that incident with Auntie Margaret when I was 12, my first reaction was to zip up the leathers. I was in the process of herding the escapees back into their leathery pen when the woman sat bolt upright and pulled off her helmet to reveal a tumble of raven hair and fierce green eyes. Ah...

Back home, Francesca eased a packet of frozen peas into my underpants in an attempt to halt the swelling and bruising (the old family jewels were rapidly resembling a couple of small mangos and a saveloy). She asked me to repeat exactly what I'd said to the woman. I admit that my Italian isn't what it might be, despite my years here, and with the awkwardness of the situation I became a little tongue tied. When Francesca had stopped giggling she explained that the English equivalent of what I'd blurted out would be, 'I'm very sorry, but I thought you were dead and I was chasing your lively breasts.' That's the last time I play the good Samaritan. I felt a right tit. Left one, too.