The Eyes Are The Window To The Soul

It was about 1994 and I’d just taken a job in England’s Lake District working in the shipping department of an engineering company. I’d been given a small pay rise over the pretty meagre salary I was bringing in at my last job so had upped sticks from my home in Lancashire and moved into a spare room at my parents’ home just west of Kendal.  The job wasn’t particularly challenging; the bonus was that the systems they had in house were pretty antiquated and I knew that I’d be able to reduce the time the job needed pretty quickly, making life there a bit of a breeze. Easy money: no stress and for someone with below average A Level results and no University degree, a reasonable paycheck. Cushty, Rodders.

Kendal is a lovely place to live, just so long as you like what it has to offer, which wasn’t much in the mid 90s. We has the voice of a few fairly old-fashioned pubs and a very seedy nightlub (anyone remember The Park? I feel the need to scrub myself with Dettol and a wire brush just thinking about it….) The surrounding countryside is what draws people in. Mountains, hills, lakes rivers, all within a short drive. If you like putting on your waterproofs and lacing up your hiking boots with a rucksack full of butties for a good day out on the fells, Kendal’s the place for you.

Except I don’t, not any more. I was brought up spending every summer weekend (and a significant number of winter ones) at a static caravan park near Windermere with my parents. They met through their interest in fellwalking and as a consequence my brother and I spent a serious amount of time out in the wilds. After arriving in Kendal in my twenties I realised that a childhood full of hoofing it up and down hills had led to me losing any interest in outdoorsy stuff and I needed something else to fill my time or I’d lose my marbles completely.

The Tory government of the time had a scheme which provided funding to train people for free or a very low fee, giving them new skills with which to enter the job market and get out of unemployment. It also catered for those already in employment, charging slightly higher fees for the same (re)training. Some enterprising soul had figured out that they could open a dive school and take advantage of this source of cash, and brought in students from all over the north to train them to become professional diving instructors (PADI Divemasters, Assistant Instructors and Instructors, for the dive geeks amongst you). This school was just round the corner from where I was working and I signed up for the course. Five months, several dives a week, a load of classroom sessions and examinations and I ‘graduated’ as a Divemaster. I’d specialised in cold water diving, drift diving and some other skills that enable you to navigate blind in the vile silt at the bottom of Coniston Water, among the eels and salmon in the fast-flowing, 9m deep section of the River Lune at Devil’s Bridge and various other Lakes locations in February. The water temperature frequently went down to 5C in what we affectionately called “muddy puddles”.

Professional diver qualifications require a certain understanding of the anxieties new divers face. We can all relate to the idea that donning about 30 or 40kg of kit: a drysuit, neoprene balaclava, gloves, mask, all the breathing apparatus and 10+kg of weights can be a little unnerving for a beginner. Add that to the strange sensations of being a few metres underwater and unable to speak, it can make newbies a bit edgy. When someone really loses it underwater it’s pretty important to be able to calm someone down and evaluate the situation. That’s where the eyes come in. Once people have stopped flapping their arms and legs around, the eyes tell you everything you need to know; you know if someone is really not having a good time, or, conversely, if they are just having a bit of a flap and will be OK. It seems a little contrived but at 30m underwater all you have is a small window of someone’s mask to investigate and make a judgement.  The eyes are the window to the soul.

We all know that feeling of looking into someone’s eyes and seeing them smile. Try it: find a photo of someone, doesn’t matter who, and cover their face from their cheekbones down. Do the eyes look happy? Sad? Anxious?

I love it when the eyes smile. Some people have more expressive faces that others, but the eyes rarely lie. I was frequently reminded of this during my recent interviewing or British motorcyclists active in the 1960s. At some point during each conversation there would be a moment when each participant would get lost in a moment, either reminiscing or just imagining the experience of riding at a specific moment in time. I’ve felt it a number of times: when I first passed my driving test, when I passed my bike test, and always with each first ride of a bike. It’s exhilaration: the physical sensation of riding the bike combining with the independence of riding; the “Oh wow, this is just lovely” that goes through all riders minds once in a while. It provokes rich feelings and  forges powerful memories. As I’m writing this I can remember in detail every first ride on every bike, from the test rides of new bikes to specific journeys on my own two bikes.

I saw smiling eyes again a few nights ago. We were out with some of my wife’s friends and colleagues, and over dinner she mentioned to one of them that I ride bikes and study motorcycling. I was soon discussing late 1970s Hondas with a nice guy who had over twenty years of riding under his belt. Like many motorcyclists he’d moved on from bikes when his family came along, but it was clear that the memories and feelings of riding were seared into his brain. He could have been head to toe in Arctic-spec SCUBA gear and I’d have known exactly what was on his mind. The eyes said it all.

I’ve wondered why that wistful moment has been repeated so often through my interviews and I’m reaching the conclusion that motorcyclists are frequently given the opportunity to reflect on what they’re doing when they ride. Those that ride often spend a lot of time without the distractions of a car radio; riding requires a motorcyclist to be focused and clear headed  (I can think of two occasions when I’ve got on the bike, ridden a few hundred metres and turned round and headed home, just because I wasn’t in the right frame of mind). Put that focused mind in a helmet, especially a full-face lid, and you’ve the perfect circumstances for a lot of reflective thought. The ride can vary from intense focus on a fast ride to a mental Tetris game of putting the blocks in the right order on a slower, less challenging one. The pleasure of the ride intensifies as the mind focuses, the memories created more powerful and enduring. I’ve ridden to all but one interview and I’ve spent the journeys home processing the discussion and reflecting on the time I spent with each person. It’s turning out to be a key part of the research process and helps me put the discussion into perspective within the wider study and to make connections between interview participants.

People walk away from bikes for many reasons. They lose the motivation, riding conditions change as roads get busier, and often financial or family circumstances dictate a move from a bike-for-one to a car-for-many as kids come along. The unlucky ones have accidents or near-misses. But when I see the eyes light up I want them to pick up where they left off, even if it’s just for a day.

Get back on the bike.

“I wish my life was more like that”

It’s a great idea: take a group of people who do interesting, mad, terrifying journeys to far flung places and get them together in the grounds of a rather nice (and, if we’re being honest, quite posh) girl’s school in Dorset. Show the films they make along the way and you have a great way to spend three days vicariously indulging in tales of adventure and derring-do! With nice showers and hot meals. Important, that bit… It’s run by Austin Vince and Lois Pryce, both respected adventure motorcycle travellers in their own right and now a married couple that live on a Dutch barge in London. 

The promo vid for the festival tells the story:

The venerable Mrs A and I volunteered to help out at the Adventure Travel Film Festival after it was recommended by Sheonagh, part of the Dusty Old Bags. Persuading my wonderful wife to do this was a challenge – she’s not known for her fondness of camping and I doubted she’d go for it. That said, she agreed it would be fun and I think she was focusing more on the films than the nights to be spent under canvas (actually nylon, but you get the point).  We arrived the day before the festival started, put the tent up and were allocated some tasks, the first being to iron bunting. I didn’t know bunting needed ironing but Mrs A set to with gusto, knocking enough of the stuff out to cover a big chunk of the festival in half an hour. 

The next day we met the rest of the crew and had a guided tour of the festival site, the sports fields of the school. We’d been allocated roles guiding punters around the site, either for dining or camping at different times and luckily we’d only ended up with about three hours on each day.

We saw some fantastic films and Mrs A didn’t mind the wind and rain. Ben Fogle spoke to the 500 or so attendees on the Friday night and came across really well. I didn’t know much about him but came away with a lot of respect for him. The highlight for us was the screening of Jon Muir’s film about walking solo and unsupported across Australia with his Jack Russell. I can’t recommend it highly enough – a moving and inspiring self-filmed story of a journey that took Muir five attempts to complete, three of which were with his dog.  

We’ll hopefully be attending next year and if you’ve ever fancied doing your own thing on a daft trip somewhere far away, so should you. Best bit of advice I was given for camping? “Park near the dirty bikes”. Damn right.

 

Reflections on a busy summer

NB: I should point out that there’s not much about motorcycles in the first bit of this blog – look for the intro to bike stuff further down this page!

It’s been a busy time over the last 3 months. Since the academic year drew to a close I’ve been involved in presenting various aspects of my work at three conferences, one at an internal college event for all first year PhD students and two proper grown up academic conferences in London and Turku, Finland.

First, the internal event at UAL, the university of which my college is a part. The UAL network has three internal, mandatory week long events in the first year that must be attended in their entirety by all students, part timers and full timers alike. The first is an induction to the PhD and this is valuable  – though I’m not including the session “mood modelling” with Lego, that was just weird. The 2nd mandatory week in February is where the 2nd year students present their work. This is extremely diverse and a bit intense, so by Monday afternoon about two thirds of the 1st years in the audience audience were hammering their laptops, ipads and phones rather than listening to the lectures. Bear in mind that by this point I’m guessing that less than half of the first years have submitted their own research proposal and even fewer have had it accepted, so they’re really only in the opening stages of the PhD.

The third event is a mandatory week long series of presentations for everyone at a University of the Arts London college –  not just my place, the London College of Fashion – as part of RNUAL, the Research Network of UAL. A delightful acronym that strikes fear into the hearts of many a PhD student! There are about 50 of us across  the various establishments: Camberwell, St Martins, Chelsea, LCC and Wimbledon (if you’re interested you can find the info on each one from this link). Each college has different specialties and the nature of PhDs is such that people carry out highly specific research projects, some of which are practice based, others theory based. Those terms don’t accurately describe the entirety of a PhD in our fields, more the emphasis on a particular project’s methodology – practice implies making or creating, theory implies researching and writing, although all PhDs are different and all incorporate some element of theory to contextualise the research. My PhD is broadly theory based, but it could be argued that the idea of “practice” could be extended to the embedded research I carry out as a member of a motorcycle club and the importance of being a regular rider of motorcycles to my interviewing – and the credibility this potentially conveys to interviewees. So imagine the scene: 50 odd 1st year PhD students, all from different colleges, some resident overseas (e.g. USA, UAE and Taiwan) and all doing work of immense variety that is at very different stages of progress. I’ve got an MA in my field and my Masters dissertation formed the framework of my PhD proposal, hence I was fairly set on the direction of my research within a few weeks of starting.  Others have been researching their own area of study for almost a year and some have yet to decide on the final direction of their research project. Neither one is better than the other; both are valid ways to go about one’s work, but it does mean that a compulsory event leads to a lot of sitting around listening to people give presentations about work which isn’t finalised in areas a lot of people don’t necessarily understand. It doesn’t work. These events should be split into college sessions, one on each day. Students’ attendance at their college’s day should be mandatory and all other sessions optional, with individual students able to decide for themselves what sessions or presentations might be interesting or valuable. This structure is a comfortable middle ground that ensures each person presenting from a particular college has an audience in the room. In previous years the RNUAL events were organised in such a way that attendance wasn’t mandatory and people were presenting to tiny groups in the audience. Whilst this is not ideal, one has to remember that such an audience will include the head of research in the University, a student’s supervisors and the other supervisors of anyone else presenting in the session, so by no means an easy crowd to please. I don’t expect my contemporaries at UAL to understand or be interested in my work – flattering though it would be if they were the latter – but my supervisors and their contemporaries will know the theoretical context of my work backwards, and I expect them to pull me up on stuff that’s wrong. This certainly isn’t the easy option…. But still UAL insist on these weeks being mandatory, and the ipads, laptops and phones all get logged onto facebook at the beginning of the sessions and the eyes go down for the day. I hope they find an alternative, especially one that doesn’t mean me leaving Kent at 7:00am each morning and riding up to town each day, then trying to catch up on a day’s work when I get home, working late into the night and leaving me increasingly tired as each day passes. At this point I was still a part time student and yet to convert to full time study; it’s a real struggle to maintain work and college obligations and frustrating to have to sit through presentations that, whilst perfectly competent have no impact or relevance to my own study. Time is precious, and mandatory is a word I detest with a passion usually reserved for car drivers using mobiles, those vile little letters from Camden Council saying you rode down the wrong flavour of bus lane or TV shows that encourage the ritual humiliation of people deluded enough to think that Simon Cowell will make them superstars.

BIKERS CAN DROP BACK IN NOW!

The second event was the IJMS Conference at Chelsea College of Art & Design.  The International Journal of Motorcycle Studies was a real find when I started researching motorcycle history. Realising that there is a connected group of academics around the world focusing on motorcycle culture, history and practice was a real encouragement to me during my MA and I found the freely accessible journal articles very interesting. As you’d expect, most people involved with IJMS ride motorcycles and the conference also attracted a wide variety of other specialists including motorcycle journalists, writers, historians, designers, artists and academics with a peripheral interest in broader aspects of cultural studies.  It also makes it a terrifying event for a 1st year, part time PhD student to present at, given the audience is a bunch of people pretty much at the top of their field. I presented a paper on the influence of motorcycle sport in motorcycle clothing. I’ll try to find a way to upload it to here as I found some great images from racing and also military history that all interrelate. I discussed the influence of sport on regular motorcyclists and will post something about this soon. They had a great party on the opening night with a load of classic bikes on display in the parade ground at Chelsea College, next to the Tate. Notable attendees included Dave Gurman who publishes The Riders Digest (if you haven’t read it and you ride bikes, do so, it’s very very good) and also wrote this book, which I also enjoyed very much. Paul Blezard was there too, a motorcycle journalist with a fascinating knowledge of Feet Forward motorcycles and the growing field of electric motorcycles. Also present were Sheonagh Ravensdale and Pat Thomson, helping run the event that was coordinated by Caryn Simonson of Chelsea College. I was sure I’d seen Sheonagh and Pat before somewhere, and as they were dishing out the conference packs of the first day I had to ask where from. “Horizons?” came the reply, and immediately things fell into place. I’d bought this DVD for my wife a year ago and they’re in it, along with conference keynote speaker Lois Pryce.  Sheonagh, Pat and Lois are the perfect inspiration for anyone that dreams of hitting the road on two wheels and having an adventure.  I was to bump into a few of these great people at the Adventure Travel Film Festival in Sherborne, Dorset a few weeks later and I’ll try to post some info on that soon.

Third up was the EU Popular Culture conference at Turku University in Finland. My Director of Studies at LCF is President of the European Popular Culture Association and she was part of the organising committee for this event. I presented again on sport and motorcycle clothing.  My wife Anna also presented a paper on her PhD research titled Reappraising the Male Gaze, in which she discussed men’s understandings of female beauty and power as portrayed in this Beyonce video:

FInland was a lovely place and was a great place to hang out for three days, despite being ridiculously expensive. Fortunately Anna and I were both awarded some funding by our Universities that helped with the cost, for which we were very grateful. We had bright sunshine, temperatures in the mid 20s and saw some great presentations. If presenting to a group of motorcycle academics was daunting, presenting to an audience that included my wife was equally terrifying, but she was quite nice about my work afterwards. She’d picked up bits of my research over the last 3 years but my conference presentation put it in context for her.

After presenting at three conferences in rapid succession it was really nice to find a cheap, last minute deal for a week’s holiday in Madeira to relax and as soon as I got back I got stuck into the interviewing phase of my research. More on that soon.

Today I joined the club!

I managed to tick something important off my list today, something I’ve been meaning to do for a while now: I joined the 59 Club.

Formed in, you guessed it, 1959, the 59 club was essentially a church youth club that formed a motorcycle branch in 1962. The club started in Hackney Wick, moved to Paddington, then back to Hackney and nineteen years ago it found its current home in Plaistow. A few dedicated volunteers open the doors twice a week to members and newcomers like me. A nice summary of the history can be found here. Membership grew at an astonishing rate; the club’s magazine for members, Link, records the membership rising from 8,000 to 10,000 in the space of a few months in the mid 1960s. Some good scans of the mags are on the Spirit of the 59 website.

The club has interested me for a while: its humble surroundings belie its contribution to motorcycle history, one that leads motorcycle clubs all over the world to form their own regional branches and wear the 59 roundel badge on their jackets. All these branches’ memberships are administrated from club’s east London location in a church hall. One of the most recent additions is the Colombian chapter. An impressive phenomenon about which I hope to learn more.

Several original members from the 1960s still attend the club, making them ideal for my study of motorcycle clothing. I was invited by Dick Bennett, a member since the late 1960s, and introduced to some of the other members. It was generously suggested that I could carry out interviews at the club for the oral history component of my research and I was also shown the club’s photography “archive” (a large cardboard box!) which, despite the humble, functional container, comprises some wonderful photos from throughout the club’s history. One highlight was being taken into a broom cupboard where I was shown a small, grey filing cabinet. In it was every membership card for every member since 1962 – I’m told that’s around 30,000 in total. And once a member joins, they’re always a member, although not all pay their membership subs (see below). We checked to see if any Arrowsmiths had ever joined and it turns out I’m the first. It was probably the first and last time I’ll ever say that seeing a filing system was the highlight of my evening. Perhaps I ought to get out more…

There are some dedicated and loyal members running the show on a shoestring; genuinely nice people who clearly enjoy keeping the club alive for the 900 paid-up members and, if my experience tonight is anything to go by, it’s a very easy-going and relaxed environment. That said, they’re custodians of a powerful brand that has a global appeal and a certain mystique: the resurgence of interest in British motorcycle culture in the Rocker and Ton Up revival subcultures and the US TV show Cafe Racer have created cultural icons of the Ace Cafe and the 59 Club, and the former seems to embrace this a little more readily than the latter. There are young men riding old Triumphs and Nortons in the US and Japan, wearing original 1960s leather jackets with the 59 roundel patch on the arms. Lewis Leathers had a concession in the club in the early years and vintage jackets that carry original patches and badges are highly prized. Searches for ‘Lewis Leathers’ on ebay bring up vintage garments that sell for hundreds of pounds; Lewis Leathers recently posted a link on their Facebook page to a hardly worn, recently made jacket, pointing out that it was attracting bids far above the price they’d charge to make a new one, again a fascinating phenomenon. Lewis Leathers prides itself on its heritage, capitalising on its design history and the unparalleled passion of its owner Derek Harris for vintage leather jackets to market beautifully made recreations of classic designs to customers who aren’t necessarily likely to ride bikes.  In stark contrast, the 59 remains a motorcycle club for motorcyclists. They sell a few t-shirts, stickers and the odd badge and are protective of their brand identity. The club exists for its members who are ordinary people who happen to ride bikes. Tonight I learnt that they’d been visited by revivalist motorcyclists from overseas who were disappointed not to see dozens of classic British bikes parked outside. The reality is quite different: members are more likely to be riding the latest sports bike or Japanese commuter hack than a Dominator, Bonneville or the fabled Triton (OK, I’ll admit to being a little trite, there was a modern Bonnie and a lovely classic Royal Enfield present on this warm, summer evening, but you get the point, no one is going to ride a classic bike daily through winter unless they like walking more than riding. They also disbanded a classic bike section because it was all getting a bit strict with stipulations about dress that sounded more like subcultural uniform regulations than functional motorcycle clothing: leather jackets, retro pudding-bowl helmets, scarves and suchlike.

In direct contradiction to the popular perception of motorcyclist identity in the 1960s, a few riders, most recently some at the 59 tonight, have now told me that leather jackets were expensive and therefore beyond the reach of most riders, and largely useless in bad weather. Belstaff or Barbour wax jackets keep being mentioned as the garments of choice for the serious 1960s motorcyclist. They weren’t cheap but at least they provided a greater degree of protection from British weather.

Perhaps it’s time for me to rethink that PhD research project title: “Building a biography of Black Leather”…. Back to the drawing board.

The Elderly Joey Dunlop, 1952-2000

It seems timely to be talking about Joey Dunlop on a day when the North West 200 is taking place in Northern Ireland – with the Supersport race ended after two laps due to heavy rain. Joey won there on 13 occasions, half the number of victories he achieved at the Isle of Man TT. Three of those TT wins were at the age of 48 at his last TT in 2000, shortly before his death at a race in Estonia. He took first in the TT Formula One, the Lightweight 250 and the Ultra Lightweight 125. Not bad for an old codger.

Motorcycle racing is really a young person’s game. Few riders make it past 35; Mike Hailwood’s legendary comeback took place at the age of 39 in 1979. That said, there’s something about this photo that always makes me smile: a 48 year old bloke, with an OBE for charity work, hammering round the Island at insane speeds, taking three firsts out of the nine races. And making us all think a bit more carefully about what that sign says….

 

Joey Dunlop

The TT is looming – and we’ll be watching

The TT is nearly upon us. Already some of my interview prospects are talking about it, saying that they can’t meet me until after it’s finished.

A recent film did an excellent job of capturing the mystique that the TT holds for racers and fans. I watch little sport but the TT is something that has really interested me of late. The combination of the speeds (200mph), the fact that the race is held on public roads and the down to earth personalities of the riders all combine to make it unmissable.

Modern camera technology allows MotoGP bikes and many TT bikes to carry tiny cameras that shoot amazing footage, often accompanied by commentary from the rider themselves. Whilst this is now commonplace, it’s important to remember that video equipment has shrunk dramatically (anyone remember the HUGE video cameras from the 1980s?) making this footage of Joey Dunlop all the more interesting:

So imagine how difficult it must have been in 1964. Here’s a great combination of on-board film and interview audio with Mike Hailwood at Spa in 1964. It’s interesting how he talks about cars being potentially more dangerous than motorcycles, particularly since he died in a car accident in 1981. I like this clip for a couple of reasons: I’m fascinated about the various shots they get from the bike and can’t help wondering what complicated rigs they must have used to locate the camera and get the shots like the one over his right shoulder and of the right foot gearchange. I also like the way they show Hailwood’s preparation, including his arrival at the circuit, him suiting up and putting his boots on. All part of the ritual of preparation; the coat stays on until the last moment, removed just before the race starts to reveal a one piece leather suit with a small MVAgusta logo on the chest.

The evolution of racing styles – and how clothing changed to suit them.

This is a great little video from BBC Sport, presented by commentator and former racer Steve Parrish (or Stavros as he’s known).

In the opening shots you can hear Murray Walker talking about racers having football boot studs on the knee part of the leathers for when they lean over – the studs were a home-made measure that seemingly offered some abrasion resistance. Parrish goes on to explain how the different riding styles led first to tape being placed on the knees and eventually to the velcro kneesliders that all racers and many road riders use now. I’ve got a pair on my leathers but I’ve got more chance of meeting Elvis than I have of ever putting a knee down when I’m riding my Tiger… I use them on the recommendation of a friend; he had a nasty crash and the sliders on his leathers gave a lot of protection for his knees. It’s a shame he didn’t have them on the ribs he broke and the two fingers he snapped.

Leathers and their various embellishments aren’t just used to help riders go faster and win races, they are of course the best protection if a rider comes off, which happens a lot, often at nearly 200 miles per hour:

Race leathers now come in a variety of exotic materials: kangaroo is popular for its strength and light weight, and stingray is incredibly tough (a good explanation of the qualities of different leathers can be found here). The more expensive suits often have carbon/titanium inserts in areas like the knees, hips, elbows and shoulders – when a rider separates from the bike and slides along tarmac, sparks are generated as the riders use these strengthened areas to lift their bodies away from the abrasive surface. Gloves are strengthened with carbon rider inserts and devices like the Italian Dainese D-Air and its road-riding equivalent, the Japanese Hit-Air are airbag systems that activate when rider and bike separate. A promo video from Dainese demonstrates why this technology works:

I’d like to see more road riders using this kind of equipment. The video demonstrates what an immense difference it makes and hopefully more of these features will trickle down from race leathers to road riding garments. Ride safe.

Mike Hailwood : motorcycling as a blood sport

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I come across lots of interesting photos of racers in my research. Motorcycle racing has always been very popular and features prominently in period magazines and sport yearbooks. One such magazine in my collection from 1958 has a great article about a promising young newcomer to racing, a teenager called Mike Hailwood. “Mike The Bike” went on to have a phenomenally successful career including an impressive comeback IOM TT win in 1978 after leaving the sport for eleven years.

I like this photo because it shows how far he could lean a bike over in the corners – so far that his leather boots would scrape on the track or road surface and wear away. Often Hailwood would end a race with the boots worn completely through and his feet bleeding. It takes a particular dedication to winning to be prepared to wear away first tough leather and then skin to be fastest through the corners. Similarly it must have taken a lot of skill to know just how far to go to ensure toes weren’t removed in the bends. No wonder modern race boots have removable sliders on the outer part of the toe section of the boot…

One aspect of the interviews I’m doing with riders active in the 1960s will be finding out how young motorcyclists were influenced by successful British racers like Geoff Duke and Hailwood. They raced at a time when riders wore only black leather, sometimes with just a motorcycle manufacturer logo on their helmets. Contrast that with the suits of today’s racers – whilst their talent is undeniable, they also exist as vessels to transport sponsors’ logos round a circuit, witnessed by attendees and television viewers all over the world. I’ll post something related to this about the death of MotoGP rider Marco Simoncelli and the images used when it was reported by the BBC.

Father Graham Hullett Tribute Run – Sat 4th May 2013

Last Saturday was spent attending the first part of the Tribute Run for Father Graham Hullett of the 59 Club. He passed away in December 2012 and along with Father Bill Shergold was seen as a key figure in the history of the 59 Club and was highly respected by its members. The run was organised by Len Paterson and I asked him if I could drop by to meet people and spread the word about my research.

I rode up with my friend Carl, a fellow SERV volunteer who rides a full-livery Husqvarna supermoto / blood bike, which always attracts a lot of attention when it isn’t working hard in the middle of the night delivering blood to hospitals in Kent. Upon our arrival we were greeted by a side street full of choppers, cafe racers and various classic bikes amongst some modern bikes.

It is testament to the work of people like Graham Hullett that club members turned out in such great numbers to pay their respects. One fact that is rarely publicised about Father Hullett is that he ran the 59’s sub aqua group; the Historical Diving Society posted a tribute on their page after he passed away. The video is worth watching just for the photos.

I also bumped into Derek Harris of Lewis Leathers, who was a great help during my MA on motorcycle clothing history at LCF, and Karen Porter of Matchless Films who is making a film about the Ton Up and Rockers scenes. Karen and I had only communicated by email before this event so I was pleased we could chat in person. We both recognise that very little work has been done to document this subculture and she expressed her sadness that some of the people she had interviewed at the beginning of her project had already passed away. All the more reason to press on. I made some great contacts at the tribute event and got an invite to attend the 59 Club in a few days time. I’ll report back after the visit.

Some great photos of the event can be found on these pages of the 59 Club site.

Looking at the photos, the best thing about the event was the bit I missed, a ride through London passing some of the old haunts of the members of the club. I had another commitment that day – to attend the classic VW show at Stanford Hall in Leicestershire, as I had a car for sale there – so I had to ride back to Kent and swap the bike for a 1965 VW Beetle. I can’t complain, the car sold and I got to meet up with some old friends. Many people in the classic car scene rode bikes when they were younger so once in a while I pick up a good contact for my research.  I’ll be bearing this in mind when I fill in the forms to get me out of a mandatory college event in June that clashes with a car & bike show in Belgium.