Chapter 1: The Gang


- Tony

The winter of '59 was hard. It snowed then froze then snowed again and froze once more. On my early morning paper round progress was slow. Each footfall cracked through the eggshell surface of the snow onto the sheet of solid ice beneath. The weighty bag of papers unbalanced me as I stumbled up drives and with frozen hands poked daily news through letter boxes. The problem was compounded on Sundays. Sunday papers had started to give glossy coloured magazines free with the broadsheets and the different marques vied against each other to give more for the money. On Sundays I had to take two bags to accommodate the extra weight. As I stumbled through the dark mornings I sometimes resented the customers lying in their beds while I got grazed shins supplying their morning read. There was one paper I enjoyed delivering. The householders had a snappy little dog that had tried to bite me on a number of occasions, but I had a way with dogs. I risked the flaying teeth, and would grip the dog by the muzzle or the scruff of the neck and punched it several times in the face. This may draw a little of my blood but it gave me 'dog street cred'. At this particular household I had already 'sorted their brace of Jack Russells who were now kept in especially during the inclement weather. When I approached the front door at 6.30am the dogs kicked up a terrific din and savaged the papers as I slowly poked them through the letterbox. I walked away smiling as I watched through the frosted glass the dogs reducing the papers to confetti.

I was saving hard for an air rifle, one of the new BSA airsporters. My paper round paid me 17/6d per week of which half a crown went to my parents towards house keeping.

My father had been a victim of tuberculosis. In those days if you could not go to work you were sacked and times were hard. We took in lodgers to try to make ends meet but eventually had to sell our house and share my sister's small house. Dad and I put out a bed settee every night and folded it away every morning. My father was eventually admitted to Harefield hospital and made a complete recovery. He was visited by members of the Christian Science church and it was their influence that he credited with his unusual recovery. He discharged himself from hospital and took a job as manager with 'Wymans' a newsagents and tobacconists group. With this new lease of family fortune we eventually moved to a maisonette in the heart of the Hertfordshire countryside.

As a boy of 16 I missed the town life and my mates a lot.

I was not a letter writer nor were any of my friends. Private telephones were still a luxury that people in our income bracket did not run to.

There was a phone in the shop that we could use as long as we logged our call in a little exercise book noting the number, duration and putting 4d in a moneybox.

I felt isolated. Our last rat hunt along the canal in Ruislip was for me the end of a chapter in my life.

As I crunched my way up yet another drive folding the paper and as I did so my thoughts were with the gang in my old hometown. My mother sensed my isolation and suggested that I take a bus and train back to meet my friends for the day. I knew that would not work. It was too formal, too contrived, we just didn't meet like that. It was always while out catapulting in the fields or riding a bike in the old school playground. First you were alone then Alan would turn up with his dog or a slug would whiz past your head into the bushes and Bill would emerge grinning as he reloaded his pellet gun.

That winter not only changed my way of life but was also a turning point for the gang back at home. We had all reached the age of sixteen. At this age society gave us privileges, in the order of importance to us we could get a job, buy bangers for bonfire night, officially carry our air rifles and have sexual intercourse. Most of these we were doing already. One I have not yet mentioned was to fill our thoughts for the rest of our youth; we could ride motorbikes.

Spring came late the following year in mid April. Although the roads were dry, there were monoliths of hard grey snow in every corner.

I sat in the bedroom of our flat looking at an airgun catalogue when I heard the motorbikes in the road below. I went to the window. It was just like old times. One minute you are alone and the next they are there. Bill Price sat grinning up at me astride a Triumph Tiger 100, Roy was on a Triumph Trophy and Alan was just humping his red Norton Dominator onto its centre stand.

From then on I was one of the gang once more. At weekends I sat pillion and we went thrashing round the lanes and through town centres with all the panache of a conquering army.

My thoughts of buying an air rifle were swept aside and I was now saving hard for a motorbike. My friends were all at work and easily able to keep up the payments on their steeds on the never never. I on the other hand was still at art school and relied on weekend and holiday jobs to finance my life.

In the paper shop I was promoted to marker up. This meant getting up at 5.30am every morning to mark the papers for the paperboys to deliver. If a boy didn't turn up I would often do a round as well. The wage was 35/- per week but with a few extra rounds I often made more than £3. Of course a percentage went to the family house keeping but it still left enough to save and my motorbike fund grew steadily.

Nearly a year's hard saving got me to the stage of looking at prices. Motorcycle and Motorcycling were the magazines I regularly read from cover to cover. Particular attention was paid to the long lists of bikes for sale at Pride & Clarkes and Comerfords.

I knew the racing scene with Bob MacIntyre and the up and coming new boy Mike Hailwood. I read about desmodromic valve gear. I knew handy tips like how to grind down new piston rings. I ogled at the sleek black leather outfits from Lewis Leathers and disapproved of the new, fashionable dustbin fairings. I was in nearly every respect a complete motorcyclist except that I didn't have a motor bike!

- Tony Sheppard