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UK MOTORCYCLE ADVENTURES

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Twelve months after my New Zealand motorcycle adventures I had saved enough to fly to London and then purchase a motorcycle and continue riding around the UK and Europe. I had met a friend in New Zealand whose family lived in Blackheath with a bedsit I could rent. First job was in Deptford in an organisation similar to our Centrelink. The job lasted about six months till it drove me crazy as the “refugees” from West Indies were always able to access funds to purchase cars, etc. and then come back for more money that was supposed to be for housing and obtaining employment while  the elderly English residents (Anglo Saxons)  applications for meals on wheels or other support requests were pushed around the system and often never actioned.

My next job was at Federal House in Fleet St in the heart of London. I had purchased a Honda CB400 at a good price and often rode it into work. There was a large motorcycle carpark right next to Federal House which was very convenient until one afternoon I jumped on my bike to head home and went to change gears only to find the entire gear lever had been removed. Evidently someone was looking for a particular brand of lever and thought mine would be perfect.

Pushing the bike home to Blackheath wasn’t an option so I bribed the security guard in Federal House to let me park my bike in the foyer overnight. In the meantime, I located a motorcycle mechanic that had a spare gear lever that would suit my bike perfectly. The next day I took a lunch break and headed to the garage.

While I was waiting to be served, I started reading a local motorcycle newspaper and there was an “All-female motorcycle stunt team looking for a mechanic.” This one line in the article drew my attention; “Before you gorgeous males start packing your bags and telling your boss to shove it, the motorcycle mechanic must be a female!”  Well…….. I was always having to fix my motorcycles and often friends’ bikes, so I thought, why not apply?

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I wrote a quick resume and soon had a reply. The stunt team were doing a show in Stevenage would I like to come, meet the girls and have a chat. Stevenage was around an hour and a half from Blackheath so I headed up there early Saturday. I spoke to the boss Joe and looked on while the show was in progress. Joe was in the show on a small Garelli tiger mki 49cc bike as he was the clown in the show. During the show it broke down so Joe quickly ran the bike over to me and said, “Can you fix it?” and rushed off to continue with the show. Yippes, this was a magneto flywheel bike, I had never fixed one of these but I pulled the cover off, the spring flew out and I was looking to see how quickly I could make a fast exit without anyone seeing me but no chance so I put the wire back in and sealed her up again and what do you know it started up with one kick, I raced the bike out to the middle of the arena for Joe and, you know, that bike didn’t break down again for over 12 months. Someone upstairs must have decided that I needed this job really badly.

Got the job, packed up, give in my notice, said goodbye to my friends and headed to Leicester where the headquarters of Joe’s “Multi-hire Entertainment business was located. The female motorcycle stunt team was called the “Motobirds” and there were several other stunt teams that were all part of the two-hour show, The Precision driving team, The Destruction stunt team, Mud wrestling team and a Human Cannon show.

Stunt shows were held through the summer months at local shows and Bank Holiday Steam shows and anywhere else where they wanted us to entertain them.  During the rest of the year Joe had a hire service that worked in conjunction with a company called Brown Brothers. Brown Brothers hired out very large marquee’s for weddings, engagements, birthday parties or whatever. They would put up the marquees and we would add silk linings inside, standard lamps all around the edges, Chandeliers, decorated chairs and dining tables, dance floors and space heaters etc.

As I wasn’t always fixing the motorcycles I was employed to assist with bumping in and bumping out all this equipment. Just the job for an Aussie that wants to explore England, Wales and Scotland and get paid to do it. Most of the time I was driving a Bedford van but on weekends when there were no shows I was exploring on my motorcycle.

After a couple of weeks working with the shows Joe decided that as I was the most experienced rider in the group that I would be the clown for the Motobirds and would also part of the destruction squad. Most of the girls in the stunt team were hired for their good looks and not for their riding skills. So long as they could start the bikes and ride in a circle or straight line without falling over and be able to stop easily then they became part of the team. I did a lot of coaching with the girls to provide quite a few more necessary motorcycle riding skills that they felt they needed, and we were always improving the stunts and trick riding in the ring. As a clown I was the one that would have to jump through a hoop, lose the bike, and come out the other side unscathed, or ride through a plate glass window, a fire wall, hold up a ramp while the rider went over me and other crazy stuff.

Performing in the Destruction Squad was a lot of fun as well. We would drive cars through furniture vans and other similar vehicles either as one car going up a ramp through the back of the truck and smashing out over the top, at the front of the truck or then putting two ramps up to both sides of the truck and two cars aiming to hit the truck at the same time, destroying the truck and avoiding a head-on with the other car.

Yes! I was fired out of the cannon for a couple of shows. It looks worse than it really is, as in most stunts. We were jumping over the River Avon. The public were hoping I would make it over to the other side, but we really knew that the distance was too far for our cannon and that I would land in the water. Prior to the shows we had already cleared out all the dumped cars etc. from the river and checked the depth, so the landing wasn’t a problem. My first jump bought all the local newspapers out and the pictures and stories went around the world. A couple of days later I got a phone call from my parents. Now they didn’t often call due to the expense and I hadn’t really got up the nerve to tell them exactly what I was doing in England, but now they knew! Ooops. I had some explaining to do.

I sustained minor injuries along the way. A reasonable cut on my arm when going through one of the plate glass windows and burns on my ankles when I was on the hood of a car that sped through a burning wall of fire. In fire related stunts we would have helmets, fire suits, fire socks and boots. The first time we tried this Wall of Fire stunt the bales of hay were damp making the stunt UN-spectacular. The second time we got really dry bales of hay. I had to quickly change from my clown costume into the fire suit etc. and because the first attempt was really feeble, no heat and very few flames, I didn’t really worry that I had forgotten to put my socks on. Well the fire the second time was ferocious and the strips of skin from the end of my suit to my boots was bare, hence good blistering burns. Rushing back to change into the clown costume and more riding stunts I didn’t really notice the burns till we finished. Luckily it was our last show for that weekend.

The girls had a bit of a 40 year reunion a couple of years back so if you want to check out the YouTube video, here is a couple links. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-leicestershire-35934501 and https://youtu.be/FlJt8KKFpzU 

The money for each 2 hour show was worth 20 pounds, my weekly wage was 20 pounds so on some weekends we would do up to 4 shows. A massive wage at the time. This allowed me to upgrade my bike to a Norton Commando, a very bright yellow one.

If the weather was good and I had a long weekend free I would ride down to Dover early Friday afternoon and get on the ferry to Calais and ride around France. Rode with some friends to the Isle of Mann to watch the TT races. You got to ride the race route and then pick a spot to watch the race, Awesome!  In the winter months there were no stunt shows and not a lot of work available I would head down to Spain and the Mediterranean coast and ride. Accommodation at Youth Hostels was very cheap. I would pack lightly, drying my undies on the handle bars and sleeping on my jeans overnight if they needed a wash. Other times I would head for Italy, Austria, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Switzerland. After a couple of years with Joe and the stunt team My friend Lynette from New Zealand eventually joined me and we travelled through the UK and Europe on our bikes, working along the way.

It was nearly six years later when I decided to head back to Australia, I had a little sister. 21 years younger than me that I had never met, and my Mum needed to have an operation that would make it difficult for her to look after my little sister. I put my bike up for sale. I should have put a few more pounds on the asking price as everyone that rang wanted me to drop my price. I listed it at 200 pounds because that was how much a flight to Singapore and a bunk on a Russian merchant ship to Perth was going to cost. Eventually I found a buyer who sympathised with my need to get to Australia and paid me the 200 pounds.

In Perth I waitressed for 4 days and nights to get enough money to ride the train from Perth to Melbourne. All I wanted to do on the train was sleep but I had a conductor on our carriage that must have had a peep hole to my cabin, and he was always knocking on my door to tell me to put the bunk up during the day. I was not into looking at the scenery all the way home, after all it was only the Nullabour.

Surprised my family when I finally arrived as they were not expecting me to come home. It wasn’t long before I bought another motorcycle. This time it was a second hand BMW and so heaps more riding in Australia. Eventually met my husband to be. Tried to take him out on my motorcycle but he would always panic that his knees would be ripped off when I lane filtered through the Melbourne traffic. He is very special as he doesn’t get upset when I take off on some weekends to check out the highways and byways. 41 years later and he still smiles and waves goodbye when I feel the need to ride!

Jay Mair

Ulysses Member

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