I got on the bus going home from town to Tuffley. As I reached the top of the stairs, I saw a beautiful girl, sitting close to the front of the bus. She had long dark hair and was wearing a lime green coat and a black wide brimmed straw hat. The seat behind her was vacant, so I took it. I started talking to her, she already knew who I was. We talked until it was time for her to get off the bus at St Barnabas Church. It wasn't too far from home, so I decided to get off the bus and walk with her. She lived in Cherrywood Gardens, off Firwood Drive, so it was on my way. Before long I had managed to make a date with her. Her name was Angela and we arranged to meet at the end of her road at a prearranged time. I took her out, to the downstairs bar in the Duke of Wellington. We sat and talked and it came out that her surname was Talbot. I was stunned for a moment, because as soon as she said the name, I knew, that she was Norman Talbot, my old games teacher's daughter. After the initial shock, I found it quite amusing. We started going steady, but it was very difficult at first, because she wouldn't let me come to the house, in case her dad saw me. Eventually, I insisted that it couldn't go on, her dad would have to find out some time. So she agreed that I could call for her. Right from the start Norman wasn't amused and wouldn't let me past the front door. We went out with each other seriously for a long time, but Norman never once made me welcome.
I had bought another BSA during this time and took my driving test. The test was a nerve-wracking experience, though when I look back on it, I have to laugh. The examiner and I came out of the test centre in Denmark Road and walked towards the bike. He looked at it, then pointed at a car about 25 yards away and asked me to read the numberplate.
I said, 'don't you think that's a bit far away.'
He said, 'all right, go a bit closer then.'
I edged forward until I was close enough to read the numbers and the examiner seemed satisfied. He told me to ride down Cheltenham Road, turn right at the roundabout, right again into Kenilworth Avenue and back up to London Road. I was to go around and around this same route until he indicated for me to stop. As I rode along, I could see the examiner hiding behind the trees in Kenilworth Avenue, taking notes. Next time around he was hiding in a different place. Eventually, by stepping into the road and waving his arms, he signalled for me to stop. The next test was to ride alongside him at walking pace. Then he told to continue riding the same route until required to perform an emergency stop. Again I could see him hiding behind a tree. After a couple of circuits, he jumped out in front of me, giving me plenty of time to stop without risk of running him over. It was obvious that he didn't want to become an accident statistic. The final test was to answer questions on the Highway Code. He described a couple of road signs, which I had to identify and that was that. I had passed.
Angela hadn't been very happy about the bike, as all of our friends were getting scooters. Now that I had passed the driving test, I could take a passenger but Angie wouldn't go on it after the first few times. She just didn't like it.
I loved it, this was a real bike, even though it only had a 250cc engine. It was a BSA C15 SS80 sports star. I bought it from my cousin Hugh, who had moved on from motorcycles and had got a car. This blue and chrome machine was a leap forward in my biking life. It went like the wind compared to the old side valve C12.
There was always some conflict between the two rival groups of teenagers at this time. The Mods and the Rockers were separate entities that were never supposed to meet except in battle. I thought it was a ridiculous situation, one that I could never reconcile. I loved the clothes and the whole Mod scene, but I also loved the leather jacket and the speed and thrills a motorbike could give me. I didn't see why I had to abandon the Rocker culture in order to embrace the newer Mod culture. I wanted the best of both worlds and I think I managed to achieve it. I made many friends in both camps and never got into any of the mindless violence that occasionally broke out between them. They were all my friends.
I was riding my C15 to work one day when I was passed at terrific speed by Paul Hayes, riding a 650cc Triumph Thunderbird. It was done up in racing style with Clip On handlebars and Rear Set gearchange and brake levers, so it was ass up, head down and ride like the devil. I was blown away by the speed at which he came past me. When I got to work, he was standing by his bike, so I said, 'give us a go Paul.'
To my surprise he said, 'go on then.'
I got astride it, immediately feeling the sheer size of it compared to my BSA. I straightened up the T'bird and blipped the throttle, Paul told me to give it plenty of revs and drop the clutch, so I did just that. I took off with such unexpected force that my feet flew backwards, off the footrests and I slid back on the seat, just managing to keep a hold on the handlebars. I was flying up the road hanging on to the handlebars for dear life. I was accelerating so fast that as I was being forced off the back of the bike, I was rolling the throttle open even more as I was trying to drag myself back towards the front of the bike to get to the brakes. I eventually got it back under control, turned it round and had a more controlled run back. It was a white knuckle ride that I wouldn't have missed for the world.
I rode my C15 into town one evening and parked in the Bike Park on the corner of King Street. When I returned to the bike to go home, I turned the petrol tap on and saw petrol pouring out from the carburettor. I had a special end cap, on my Amal Carb. It had a Perspex window in it so that the float could be seen working. Someone had taken a fancy to it and had unscrewed the three screws and stolen it. I was stuck. I decided to walk to the Northend Vaults, where my friend Paul Hayes' father was landlord. Luckily, Paul was at home. I told him what had happened and he took me to his shed, where he riffled through his spares and found a standard end cover that would fit my bike. We walked up to Kings Square and fitted the new cover. I was back on the road again. Thank God for friends.
I was even more determined to get a big bike after my experience on Paul's Thunderbird. I went to Lundegaards motorcycles, on the corner of Southgate Street and Parliament Street. As soon as I saw it, I knew this was the bike for me. A 1965 Gold BSA Lightning Clubman 650cc, one of the fastest bikes on the road. It was big and bold and it was love at first sight.
The salesman said, 'it's a very hairy machine.'
He took me out for a ride on the back of it, he wouldn't let me ride it myself. It didn't matter, I had to have it. I had to raise the money some how. It cost just over £300, it was a year old with 3000 miles on the clock. I could trade in my C15 as a deposit, but I had to get finance on the rest. I was classed as a minor so I had to get my dad to stand as guarantor, for the hire purchase agreement. He refused at first, but I nagged him until he gave in, grumbling that I would probably kill myself and leave him with the dept. I went to the shop to collect the bike. I was more excited than I had ever been in my life. They wheeled it out of the workshop, into Parliament Street, I got on it and kicked it into life. The sound sent a thrill right through me. I put it into gear and moved gently off, towards Brunswick Road. The greatest impression I have of that first ride, is of looking at the twin clocks, (speedo and rev counter) above the chrome headlamp, thinking how big it all was.
I rode up Brunswick Road towards Eastgate Street, then headed for the open road so I could give some welly. Once out of town, I had to see what it would do. I screwed every ounce out of it and did the 125 miles per hour on the clock. WOW! What a bike. When I got home later that day, dad came out to have a look at it.
To my surprise, he said, 'let's have a go on it then.'
He got on it and kicked it over and asked where the gears were. I told him they were, one down, three up. He snicked it into gear and roared off up the road like a demon. He was only wearing an old white collarless shirt and the ubiquitous GPO trousers and shoes. He came back a few minutes later, his shirt tail flapping in the wind and his hair swept back all over the place. He screeched to a halt outside the gate and had the biggest grin on his face that I can ever remember him having.
He said, 'yep, that's a beauty', then walked back into the house. That was the last time he ever rode a motorbike. Dad had learnt to ride, when he was in the army. Before the war, some of the 9th Lancers had been motorcycle despatch riders, which is what dad did before he trained to drive a tank and subsequently went to North Africa to fight against the German army commanded by Rommel.
This bike was a real thug. It accelerated at an incredible rate. It did 50mph in first gear, although at revs that high, the vibration shook my eyeballs around. Everywhere I went I rode like a madman. Out on the open road, I couldn't stand to see anyone in front of me. If I saw a vehicle ahead I saw it as a challenge, to catch then pass whatever it was.
Angie didn't like this at all, but I couldn't help it. I was a biker and she wasn't. I loved to ride at speed, Angie hated it. Never the less we had something strong between us and we got engaged. Angie's parents were not too keen on the idea and given the hostility we had between us, the prospects were never good. It was a shame really because in a way I quite liked them. I certainly had a good deal of respect for them, although true to my form, I'm sure I never showed it.
I rode my new bike to work and everyone came out to admire it. John Haines said I should come to his house to meet his brother Roger, who was a BSA fanatic. On the weekend I went round to their house in Highworth Road and met Roger, we talked about bikes and biker things and struck up the beginnings of what would turn out to be a lifelong friendship. We rode together, fixed the bikes together, drank together and chased girls together, for years.
The previous year when I had been going to London regularly, one of my friends from work, Miles MacPherson had introduced me to his brother Hughie. Hughie was a lorry driver for FMC Meat Company, he went to London regularly and agreed to give me a lift. He lived with his wife Diana and two small children Gillian and Carol, in a small flat in Ladybellegate Street. I was riding my bike along Fourth Avenue when I saw Hughie fixing a fence at the front of number 90.
I stopped and said, 'hello Hughie, what are you doing here.'
'We've just moved in', he replied.
His new house was only about a hundred yards from mine. From that time, we became the best of friends, a friendship with the whole family that would last for the rest of our lives. I took all my girlfriends to their house, we would sit and talk, drink coffee, or just watch TV. We were always willing babysitters whenever Hughie and Diana wanted to go out. Even if I was unable to bring a girlfriend, I enjoyed babysitting Gill and Carol anytime. We had some great times together. They were such happy little girls.
One night, Diana, Hughie, Angie and I, went out for a drink at a country pub. We met Mick Johns there and it turned into a bit of a session. Hughie worked part time for Mick's father, Bill Johns, at his butcher stall in Eastgate market and had borrowed the old butchers van. It was foggy when we came out of the pub, Mick got into his car and sped off. We piled into the van, Angie and me sitting on the floor, in the back. Hughie and Diana in the front. Hughie raced up the lane after Mick. All of a sudden we came to a
T-junction, Hughie saw it too late because of the fog, he slammed on the brakes, but we started skidding across the road. I saw it coming and managed to grab the back doors of the van. There was a tremendous bang as we hit the very high kerb on the opposite side of the road. The van came to an instant stop, buckling in the middle, ending up shaped like a tent. The seats had tipped forward, Hughie hit his nose on the interior mirror, starting a nosebleed. As Diana was thrown forward in her seat, Angie slipped into the space left by the seat, which then fell back on top of her, with Diana still sitting in it. I got out of the back of the van and went to the passenger door. Diana was unable to open it from the inside, but it opened all right from the outside. Diana and Angie got out okay and Hughie scrambled out on his side. No one was seriously injured, just a bit battered and bruised, I didn't have a scratch. Mick Johns came back to see where we had got to, saw the van and said, 'oh my god, dad's van.' They arranged to get a breakdown lorry from Westgate Motorhouse, to take the van away. Mick gave us all a lift home. The van was a total write off. The insurance assessor said he had seen less blood in cars where people had been killed.
Hughie worked on Saturdays for W T Johns the butchers in Eastgate Market. That Market was a wonderful old building which should never have been demolished. We could take a break at Mr Fitch's coffee bar where Gaggia coffee machine spluttered away and the sandwiches were just as thin as I remembered them from when my dad brought me here a few years before. Peacocks had the biggest stalls in the market, Rigby's fish stall always put on a fine display of their wares all set out on an iced slab of white marble. You could buy humbugs from Emblings sweet stall, fruit and vegetables from Ford's, or flowers from Alfred Hurran's. It seemed like you could get anything in that market. For a short time, I too worked on Saturdays for W T Johns, preparing chickens, in a small 'cold room' in the corner next to Hurran's flower stall. There was a pretty girl working for Hurran's and we sometimes managed to snatch a bit of privacy round the back of the stall. It was worth going to work on a Saturday just to see her.
That summer I met Pattie Hughes, a pretty American girl with long blond hair and the sweetest nature of anyone I have ever known. I started seeing her every minute I could. I think we were very good for each other and she loved riding on the back of the bike. Pattie was here on an extended holiday, staying with Wendy Pyart and her family at Churchdown. The Hughes family lived in Rochester, New York and were friends of Wendy's family. My brother Gordon was going out with Wendy and I met Pattie through them. Pattie and I walked around hand in hand totally besotted with each other. We spent a wonderful few months together, before she went home. We wrote to each other for a long time but eventually stopped. Pattie would have liked me to visit her in America, but I didn't have that kind of money in those days. I also secretly feared that she was from a different class and I might be a disappointment to her if we tried to continue what we had.
Things had gone downhill between Angie and me. I had been spending more time with Pattie than I had with Angie. We were still supposed to be engaged but things were not so good. Angie had heard that I had been seen with another girl and it caused some rows, but I had been unable to stop myself seeing Pattie. Now she was gone and Angie was giving me more and more grief. Angie went off for a two week holiday with a girl friend, leaving me and Roger Haines to run around. Roger has always been a ladies man and we had a lot of fun together. Angie was gone for the two weeks and didn't even send me a postcard. I knew we were close to the end. Roger had a lovely British racing green, Mark 2 Jaguar. We went to the railway station to pick up Angie and her friend, to give them a lift home. I didn't intend us to have a row, but that's what happened. I went completely overboard about the fact that she hadn't thought about me while we were apart. I suppose Pattie had been so sweet and so attentive, I had been spoiled by it and expected Angie to be the same. Anyway, that was that, our affair was over.
The summer of 67, the so-called 'summer of love' was a constant round of parties and musical events. It was a wonderful time to be young, free and single. I heard of a party to be held at Valerie's house in Tetbury Road. It turned out to be one of the memorable ones. Val's parents had gone away for the weekend, so the party had been quickly organised. It was soon packed to the seams with people, the music was loud and the atmosphere was electric. There was plenty to drink and things soon got very lively. Clothes started to come off and people were running around the house in various states of undress. All of a sudden there was a woman banging at the door and shouting that her son, Philippe was in there and she wanted him out. They were a French family who were here on holiday. Philippe's mother had found out that he had come to this party and she didn't like the sound of it. We wouldn't let her in, but I said I would try to find him. I went upstairs into a bedroom where I had last seen him , he was on the bed with a naked girl.
I said 'Philippe, your mum is outside creating a fuss.'
He jumped off the bed, grabbed his clothes and ran out of the room. I stood at the foot of the bed and looked at the girl, lying naked on her back with her arms outstretched in the shape of a cross and her legs open wide.
I said to her, 'Philippe won't be back. What are the chances'?
She said, 'come on then, let's do it.'
I stripped off and dived on the bed, we had a great time for a while and then it was back to the party. She had only just met Philippe anyway and only fancied him because he was someone new and different. That's often how it was then. The phrase 'free love' had some meaning. There was a lot of sex happening at that time and I wanted as much as I could get. If I missed a chance I looked on it as an experience lost. The party carried on into the night, some went home and the numbers went down to a more manageable level. Somebody said we had run out of cigarettes, so I said I would go to the machine at the shops in Seventh Avenue. I borrowed Val's Vespa scooter, I was wearing only a pair of trousers, no shirt, shoes or socks, when I got on the scooter and started it up. As I was about to pull away, a girl ran out of the house and jumped on the back.
She shouted, 'take me for a ride Cliff.'
She was wearing a tiny baby doll night-dress that you could see right through, she sat on the back seat and put her arms around me, holding me tight. Off we went into the night, we rode around the estate, ending up at the cigarette machine. Once we had the cigarettes, we headed off down Seventh Avenue, to the end where it turned into Evenlode Road. There were some old garages at the end of the road, as I went past them I saw a police Panda car, parked not quite out of sight with two policemen sitting it. I could see the startled look on their faces as we swept past, the girls 'baby doll' blowing in the wind. I turned into Tetbury Road and rode the scooter straight up the side entrance to Val's house. We looked out and saw the Panda car come past looking for the scooter, but they missed us. As the night wore on we also ran out of beer so I said I would go home to get a crate that I had there. My cousin Hugh was working for Talbot's Beer Bottlers and got me some cheap beer. I wasn't spending much time at home at this time, when I got there I was surprised to find dad there with a girlfriend. They had been out for the evening and come home late, somewhat the worse for drink. Then they had started drinking mine. I told him it was hard luck but he wasn't having any more. I took what was left and returned to the party, which carried on into the early hours of the morning. More and more people left, leaving a few of us to sit and smoke grass and get mellow. We talked, smoked and drank coffee until we decided to go to bed. There wasn't enough beds for everyone, so I ended up in a double bed with three girls. It was a bit of a squeeze with four of us in it and they played me up a bit, but it was a lovely experience. But we were wrecked after a good night and soon fell asleep. In the morning the pleasure was extended by my being able to lie in bed and watch the girls get up and do all the things girls do. I think this is one of the great pleasures in life and this morning I had it in triplicate.
Things weren't all fun, sometimes I felt depressed and had to keep myself to myself. Sometimes I stayed in bed for days and nothing could make me get up and get out. Christmas came and I was feeling particularly low. Gordon and dad were each going somewhere for Christmas day and I told them that I was going somewhere too. I left the house on Christmas morning and went into town. It was totally deserted, I sat around in the freezing cold for hours and saw no one. There were places I could have gone and people who would have been pleased to see me, but I couldn't face anyone. I sat on the wall in Kings Square with tears rolling down my cheeks. I was truly alone. Why I was crying I don't know, I had chosen to be alone and it was nothing new for me.
A few days later I went to a party in Bristol Road, where I had my first and last hallucinogenic experience, with acid (LSD). I can't remember whose party it was or very much else except that I felt like I was flying and that someone else must have been having a bad trip because she cried for what seemed like hours. But who could tell. I didn't like the loss of control so I knew that acid wasn't for me.
The 60's were rolling on. Sex and drugs and rock and roll.
Copyright © 1999 Cliff Ballinger. All rights reserved.