IT WAS a different time back in the 1970s when only big banks and scientists had computers. Instead of mobile phones, we used public phones and finding a public phone that worked was a true miracle of modern science.
Drink driving laws were a lot laxer too. Now we’re all grown up and brimming with smarts, we know how stupid it is to drink and ride, but back then, if a mate was too drunk to ride home, a real true mate would hold the bike steady for him until he could get it rolling and mobile.
And then there was the helmet law which NSW introduced in 1971. A few days after that, people were going to a doctor to get a medical certificate to show to the Department of Motor Transport who would then give you a helmet exemption. Seems most people who rode British or American bikes suffered from headaches and/or neck pain, about a quarter of NSW riders rode helmetless until they cracked down in the early ’90s.
Even though I had my exemption, whenever I’d be riding to a pub or a party, I always wore my old ‘pudding basin’ style Cromwell helmet. It was bloody illegal and unapproved anyway, but at least made it look like a helmet was being used; riding naked-headed was just one more reason the cops had to pull you over and put you on the bag. And if you were bagged on a Friday or Saturday night, you were going to be over, no worries. You’d go for a row of shithouses for sure.
One Saturday night, a bloke named Hemp was having a party at his parent’s palatial home at Beacon Hill and I’d ridden there on the old AJS. Allegedly, Hemp’s do was a pool party, and was ripping along nicely although it was the middle of a particularly freezing winter.
Parking the AJS was no problem, but there was always the hassle of what to do with the helmet. It wasn’t that people would steal it for personal gain, shit no! Not many people would ever want a pudding basin bash hat, but you know what dickheads at parties are like — if it’s not nailed down it’ll get stolen, smashed or used as a comedic prop for some lame display of humour. Leave any helmet around a party and it’s a fair bet it’ll end up half full of cheese, Jatz Crackers or someone’s chunder. Oh, and of course, leaving it strapped upside down on the side of your bike seemed to be an open invite for some filthy mongrel to piss in it.
I became very creative at hiding Cromwell helmets at parties — find the manhole cover and slip it in the ceiling was one hidey-hole, another was to leave it inside the tub of the washing machine — no-one ever went near a domestic appliance whenever beer was flowing. And that’s where the Cromwell spent most of Hemp’s party. Hidden away, so I thought.
The party was rockin’ and my mate Skraps was having a whale of a time, so much so that he’d crashed out right next to the pool. Another mate Roy and I discussed whether rolling him into the pool would wake him up or just drown him. We both decided that would be an even lower act than pissing in his helmet, and as Skraps was a good mate, we should look after him. Ominously, a number of other ‘good’ mates were circling around with salmon dip, Jatz crackers and other humorous accessories to any number of crass and nasty party tricks liable to befall a careless snoozer.
Skraps wasn’t waking up so Roy suggested we should get him home as he only lived a few streets away. Roy fired up Skraps’ bike and we sort of carried, sort of dragged a drunken lump of Skraps to his own bike. There was no thought of him riding it himself, but a few feeble attempts to sit him on the pillion seat and ockie-strap him to Roy were largely unsuccessful. We settled on draping Skraps face-down across the pillion much like a Wild West bounty hunter would bring in a dead hombre. It was only about a kilometre to Skraps’ place so I followed the shabby ensemble on my Ajay so I could bring Roy back to the party. We didn’t need helmets.
Now, Roy was a fantastic motorcycle rider; by far the best from our mob. He even scored a wild-card entry into the first Australian 250 GP at Phillip Island. Poor Roy, even though he was on the slowest bike out there, he’d held provisional pole until the factory riders found their way around the unfamiliar track. Roy was riding a borrowed, bog stock, ‘customer’ Yamaha TZ250 ‘U’ Model, which must’ve been so frustrating; he’d get smoked down the long straight by all the factory riders, whereupon he’d ride inside, outside or right through the middle of those Euro nancy-boys on the their fancy, factory machines — until the start of the main straight again!
But on the night of Hemp’s pool party, Roy’s riding went to shit, but it had a lot to do with six-foot one-inch of floppy drunk teetering crossways on the back of the bike. Roy was all over the road, and trying to keep it upright through the turns. On right-handers, Skraps’ boots would drag on the tarmac, while left-handers would see his hands dangling perilously close to touching tar.
Turning into Skraps’ street, I breathed a sigh of relief as we’d made it with no drama. I pulled up behind Skraps’ bike just as Roy leaned it over on the sidestand.
Skraps tumbled head-first onto the roadway with an almighty “OOF! Oh, I’m home, am I?”
We half dragged, half-rolled Skraps to his bedroom door and that’s where we left him, before I doubled Roy back to the pool party.
It was probably about 3 or 4 am when we pulled up stumps. My helmet wasn’t in the washing machine. Some lowlife cretin had nicked it. I was furious and buttonholed every bastard there, but no-one had even heard of a Cromwell helmet, let alone seen one. Livid, I rode home, my ears freezing, despite the steam whistling out of them. I tried and tried, but there was no way I could get to sleep.
Even angrier, I dragged the Ajay back out of the shed, kicked it in the guts and returned to the party hoping to spy the bash-hat somewhere in the bushes with the aid of the rapidly approaching daylight.
It was well and truly light, but still not quite sunrise, when I arrived to find four young blokes still partying beside the pool. I asked the same question, but this time, got a different answer. One of them was the main mouth, and he said, “Oh, a crappy old helmet that looks like an upside-down pudding basin?”
I nodded, not really feeling too much like joining in the frivolity.
“And it’s got silver-rimmed goggles like a World War Two flying ace?” he added, making me nod my head once more.
The dopey prick laughed and pointed to the deep end of the almost ice-bound pool. There on the bottom, fighting for floor space with empty beer bottles and cans, plus the odd barbeque utensil, was my beloved Cromwell bash hat.
I must admit, I didn’t like the levity this young prick was displaying, and quite frankly, exploded like Hiroshima. I was certain this insolent prat had something to do with my helmet’s newly-found aquatic capacity, and whatever it was I did, seemed to well convey my feelings of disdain for Laughing Boy.
Without going in to too much detail, Laughing Boy stripped down to his Reg Grundies and dived into the icy pool, kicking downwards to the bottom end and bursting forth with the sodden prize held aloft.
I’m sure I would’ve seen the funny side of things if I weren’t so ropeable. I still wasn’t out of the woods yet, as the ride home happened without the luxury of an ear-warming helmet — the sodden mongrel was strapped around my elbow, out in the breeze and the ears were still frozen.
The Cromwell came good again, but took all of Sunday to dry out, and was still damp by the time I was sitting around a barbeque on Sunday night with Roy and Skraps.
“I don’t know what happened last night,” Skraps said slowly and painfully. “But I think I must’ve got into a fight. I’ve got this big conk on my forehead and grazes on my knuckles.” Roy and I just looked at each other.
“Yeah, must’ve,” we said in unison.