It’s a beautiful day, and I’ve been riding the mountain bike up over hills and escarpments, along tracks and minor roads, climbing and falling, climbing and falling. By mid-afternoon I’m in a small seaside town, resting on a covered bench where I can bask in the sunshine but am sheltered from the cold west wind.
A woman walks by with her elderly mother. “You sit here, mum. You’ll be all right here,” she says, half-shouting and speaking s-l-ow-l-y and c-l-e-a-r-l-y in the way people do when speaking to the very old. She sits her mother down on the bench next to me. “I’ll go and get us some ice-creams. You’d like an ice-cream, wouldn’t you?”
As she turns away and crosses the road, I hear a quiet but steely “Yes, dear,” and turn to see the mother’s lined face and bright, twinkling eyes. This isn’t a woman to talk down to. I lean over and say I think we’ve got the best seat in the house: sunshine, a windbreak, a view of the beach road where we can watch the world go by. She agrees, tells me her daughter was going to take her to Southampton for the day, but the traffic… Then they tried Weymouth, but the traffic…. So they ended up here. But she likes it here. She and her husband used to come here all the time. It’s a lovely place, I say. She nods. “Of course,” she adds, “back then we’d be on the motorbike.” She smiles. “I loved going places on the motorbike.”
Somehow this doesn’t come as a surprise.
I say that a motorbike is the best way possible to get around. She beams in agreement, and we chat about the bikes they used to ride. The Ariel, the BSA, the Enfield. She tells me she doesn’t remember them all. “I loved it, though,” she says again. “The accidents never put me off.” And she tells me a story all bikers will know, of the car driver pulling out on them at a junction, how she went flying through the air – doing a double somersault according to those who saw – and landed on her back.
“I was carrying a picture,” she tells me, “and wearing a sheepskin coat, which was just as well, because the coat got scraped right through. The picture was ruined. I was fine.”
It occurs to me that back then bikers didn’t have to wear helmets.
“If I’d been wearing a helmet, they said I’d have broken my neck,” she says. “Of course, he hit a tree, fractured his vertebrae, but we got back on a bike as soon as we could.”
On the other side of the road, her daughter is still queueing for ice-cream. We sit in the sunshine, enjoying the warmth, watching the world go by, while the mother shares her memories.
“Later,” she tells me, “later, we had a car. A Spitfire. Open-top, racing green. He loved that car, my husband. He was always tinkering with it.” I say the Spitfire was a great car. She smiles again. “Oh yes. He drove it and tinkered with it right up till he was eighty. Then his eyesight started to fail, and…well…”
I see her daughter crossing the road towards us, holding two tubs of ice-cream. I’ve a long climb back toward the campsite, so I get ready to leave.
“You enjoy that mountain bike,” the mother tells me. “I will,” I say. “And you get back on a motorbike soon.”
She laughs, and her laugh is rich and full of life and merriment, and as I pedal off I see her daughter standing with the ice-creams, wondering what this laughter means.