I Done All The Dumb Things

Road Tales by Kelly Ashton

IF YOU’RE prepared to give something a go, the odds are you’ve done some cool things in your life. I know I have. But if, like me, you grudgingly accept that you belong in the vast majority of people who are painfully average, those stunning wins are always outnumbered by the huge amount of heroic failures we endure. It’s a damned good thing we’re not easily embarrassed or we would’ve shriveled up and hidden under a rock years ago, given the dumb things we’ve done.

Think back on all the dumb things you’ve done; try to recall how mortally embarrassing those incidents were at the time; now tell me those yarns haven’t become funny stories over the years. Being a writer, I’ve already documented a slew of the funnier embarrassing moments of my life; the more I look back in time, the more embarrassing moments I can dredge up.

Like the time in the mid-1970s when I was at Millers Manly Vale Pub. It was a Saturday night, on The Mighty AJS; my Best Girl at the time, Jill, was riding pillion. Now, maybe you haven’t heard of Millers Manly Vale, but if you were a Northern Beaches kid, it was the place to be on Friday or Saturday nights. From the early 1970s right up to the late 1980s, Millers (later Bryant’s) Manly Vale was one of the top pubs in Sydney that rocked the soul of the city with the best music from the very best Aussie pub rock bands.

Let’s see, which bands did I go and watch at the Manly Vale? Hmmm, where do I begin? Try Cold Chisel, AC/DC, INXS, Jimmy and the Boys, Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, Kush, Kiwiland’s Mother Goose, the Divinyls, Moving Pictures, Dynamic Hepnotics, Flowers (later Ice House), the 69ers, Midnight Oil, Radiators, and too many more to mention.

It was always a rip-roaring time to be had at Millers but the fun wasn’t confined to the huge auditorium, where the best bands bashed out the best music Sydney pubs ever had. From memory, the big room was called the International Room and although it was licensed for 1200 patrons, sometimes it was more like 1500 squeezed in with a whole lot of overflow taken up by the front bar, the top of the stairs and the stairs themselves; seriously, it was really that popular when the big bands rocked.

The stairs were shallow and very wide, and although I wasn’t there the night my mate Walter drove his hotty Holden Panel Van half way up the stairs, I was inspired enough to do the same on my AJS 500 Single just a few weeks later. I got to the top no worries, but jeez, some of those bouncers could move fast, and a quick U-turn around the top of the railing, then the descent, and eventual escape was a close run thing. 

Let me tell you one thing about riding motorcycles on pub stairways (in case you ever have to do it one night) — you go slower on the downhill run than the uphill. Or it seems like it, especially when you have a couple of bow-tied thugs charging after you.

Another night, another time, same bike, I was luckily prevented from doing something really stupid. A flash of commonsense assailed my senses in the shape of a few firm words from my best girl at the time, Jill. We were leaving Millers Manly Vale one night after seeing some fantastic band and we were already aboard The Mighty AJS, Jill perched on the pillion seat and looking just fine. 

The local larrikins were gathered there at the bottom of the steps on their motorbikes and showing off big time. You know — popping monos up the carpark and doing donuts in the sea of loose gravel at the base of the stairs. All these blokes were from nearby Allambie Heights, and all were my younger brother’s mates, so few of them were of drinking age, but all were ‘showing-off’ age. One of them, on one of those Honda XL250 Motorsports, was doing a great donut, about his third or fourth time around when Jill yelled over my shoulder, “I hope you don’t think you’re lining up to do that…”

“Naw, Baby, wouldn’t dream of it,” I replied, lying through my teeth.

The truth was, I was not only going to do a donut, I was going to make it my first-ever attempt at two-up donuts, with an unwilling passenger as well! At the instant before my go, the young whippersnapper made a total arse of himself by decking his Honda Traillie in a very unceremonious lump in the middle of the gravel trap. The cruel laughter and catcalls made me glad I’d listened to Jill and acted so wisely in refraining from hooliganism.

Now, in all the years of watching (and performing in) the ring events at the Bathurst Bike Races, and watching countless hours of idiots doing good and stupid stuff on motorbikes on YouTube, I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a successful two-up donut. Sure, two-up wheelstands, two-up stoppies, two-up just about everything on motorbikes except donuts. It’s a simple matter of physics and non-coordinating idiots on the pillion seat.

I did actually attempt the feat once, and it was spectacularly and publicly unsuccessful. It was a few years after my non-attempt and at a rip-roaring party at the top of Oxford Falls Road near Frenchs Forest.

The party was steaming along at full speed and me and my mate Skraps had rocked up and joined in. There was a whole posse of younger blokes from my old school, the Forest High, which was just up the road. For some reason, Skraps didn’t have his motorbike that night, and was an unwilling and lanky pillion on The Mighty AJS.

The young blokes from my school were all on new Japanese bikes (probably bought on hire purchase) and a fair bit of niggle was generating; they just had no respect for champion old British bikes, cruelly mocking revered brands like Matchless, Norton, Triumph, BSA, and of course, AJS. The atmosphere was getting quite hostile, although I didn’t notice it as much as Skraps did, as I knew most of the enemy.

Skraps had gone to Beacon Hill High just down the road so hardly knew anyone and was not comfortable with the prevailing mood. He suggested we left and found another party with more girls and less dickheads. I couldn’t agree more.

We didn’t really storm out, but walking down the ramp to the one British bike amid the parked Jappers, there was a fair bit of ‘GARNGEFFARD-YAKKUNZ’ and other fond farewells offered on my part.

I’d already prayed to Saint Bastardus, the Patron Saint of Old Pommy Bikes, and The Mighty AJS fired up first kick. Skraps jumped on, but we were still facing downhill, with a treacherous, two-up U-turn to get us up the dirt driveway and onto Oxford Falls Road and the next party.

That’s when I decided, ‘No, stuff it! This calls for a two-up donut!’

And that’s when I did my first-ever, unpracticed and monumentally unsuccessful two-up donut. In front of the crowd at the top of the ramp, we went down like two buckets of shit. We made ’em laugh, that crowd; a jeering, uncharitable crowd, a crowd younger than me and therefore should have been showing some respect. I mean it wasn’t a complete failure; I did get the clutch in and kept the motor running.

With Skraps and me picking ourselves and the Ajay up, I ignored the first-time failure and went ahead with Attempt Number Two. Plop! Just as bad.

I’m not thick, just a slow learner, but I’d gleaned enough knowledge from my first two attempts to realise a third attempt would be just plain stupid. With tails a’tween legs, we motored sedately out of that bad party in search of a better one, which we never found. And I’ve never since and never will attempt a Two-Up Donut.

Another thing I’ve done and am unlikely to do again — riding a motorcycle with eyes deliberately closed. Yep, I done it! And never again; it’s really stupid, I know. Yep, same bike again, The Mighty AJS. By this time, 1979 to be exact, that means it was at least six years since I started doing dumb stuff on the Ajay and you’d think I’d learn. Nope.

I was just at the heady start of a new romance with The Goog, my Best Girl at the time. The Mighty Norton had a flat tyre and The Mighty AJS had just been parked after a race meeting so was without all its niceties like lights, silencer, sidestand, kick-starter, or rear view mirror. It was still road registered but without number a plate if you didn’t include the yellow and black race plates from its recent road-race outing.

Now, I lived in Allambie Heights and The Goog lived a few miles down the hill at North Manly. It was very late on a Saturday night/Sunday morning, and I’d decided to pay a visit to my new Best Girl. The Ajay was bump started before a sneaky run down through the back streets to North Manly which included two ‘dead motor’ pushes across busy main roads, and I was tapping on The Goog’s bedroom window and demanding to be let in.

After a brief, whispered conversation, which included the phrases, “Go away, you’re drunk and stupid,” and “Oh, alright, just for a few minutes, then…” a good time was had by all and it was time to saddle up again and ride home on a motorcycle with no lights or silencer.

I hadn’t made that many good choices that night, but I was about to make a really bad one. Having decided that the best way to make it home unmolested was to take a detour across a massive sporting oval that plays host to zillions of athletes of all different kinds during the daytime, but in the wee small hours of this Sunday morning, it was just a massive expanse of nothingness. It was cricket season, so there were no nasty goalposts to trap young players, and that was when I made the really dumb decision to ride a motorcycle with my eyes closed.

Yep, you read it right, ride with my eyes closed. Sheeee-it! How stupid.

See, I figured there must have been nearly half a kilometre of park before I ran into the back fence of the North Manly Bowls Club, so what could possibly go wrong? There was nobody to show off to, just a personal experiment to see what it felt like to ride a motorcycle with eyes closed. I figured with the room I had, there was no way it would take less than 30 seconds, so off I choofed, eyes closed and counting towards 20 seconds; better to be safe than sorry, eh?

If you’ve never done it, it is the freakiest feeling and each second feels like an hour. So, after riding for what seemed like three hours, but was only three seconds, I discovered the deep drainage ditch that bisected the park. Completely forgot about that massive park divider.

For a split second, the Ajay got a bit of air as it dropped into the culvert. This mongrel culvert was a steep drop down, as deep as the Ajay was high, but was only about twice the Ajay’s length before a steep climb out. The suspension bottomed out with a loud clang, and my gob bottomed out on the top fork yoke, making that horrible teeth-clopping sounds dogs make when catching flies on a summer’s day. Talk about a rude shock to the system! I didn’t chip any teeth, but if felt like I’d just taken a Mike Tyson uppercut.

And I have never, ever again ridden a motorcycle with eyes closed again.

Back again to a few years before that dumb incident, in the early 1970s, and just a mile or so up the road towards Manly, another, equally dumb scenario was played out after another bad decision on my part.

On Pittwater Road near the Queenscliff Lagoon, stood Hayman & Ellis, one of the largest timber yard/hardware stores on the Northern Beaches at the time. I was at the age when I was ‘tooling up’, spending most of my measly pay on spanners and the stuff needed to keep an aging British bike on the road. It was a Saturday morning and I’d just bought myself a composition mallet. The thing was flash and orange and had two screw-in soft blocks on the mallet proper and another spare screwed into the end of the nicely shaped, non-slip handle. A soft mallet is the first special tool a young bloke buys once he realises the damage that can be caused by beating motorcycle parts with claw hammers.

My new soft-faced composition mallet was wrapped in old-school brown paper with strategic sticky tape; it still looked like a mallet, though, and I kicked The Mighty AJS in the guts. The new mallet was safely secured using hope and good luck; carefully balanced between my crutch and the petrol tank. 

I made my way onto the road and lined up to turn right onto Pittwater Road, a four-lane roadway. What you, Dear Reader, must understand, is this was about 1973, and the major road rules were still being made up. They had something back then called ‘the Give Way to the Right’ rule, where, no matter the circumstance, any two vehicles appearing at an intersection, the vehicle to the driver’s right always had right of way. That’s correct, imagine this; a fully-laden semi-trailer, travelling downhill on a six-lane highway, had to give way to a moped entering from a cul-de-sac on the truckie’s right — Stop sign or not! There were no Give Way signs, just Stop signs or nothin’, and even if you had pulled up at a Stop sign, you had right of way over vehicles to your left!

At Pittwater Road, Me and The Mighty AJS had right of way, and we were going to take it. The silly old prick in the EH Holden had other ideas, and while he was supposed to give way to me, he just stared straight ahead and steamed onwards at ramming speed. I made a violent swerve to stay in the oncoming lane, with thankfully no oncoming traffic.

As the EH slid past me, I was in a quandary. Should I alert the dozy driver to his error by kicking in the driver’s door? Naw, with the metal in an EH Holden, you’d probably break a toe. 

AHA! I have it — grabbing my mallet-shaped brown paper parcel from the tank, I launched into an almighty haymaker swing directed at the top of his rear quarter panel. This was going to do some damage, maybe rouse the silly old prick from his snooze.

Nope, the old coot chose that instant to react and made a violent swerve into the left lane.

I completely missed the car with the mallet but the follow-through went all the way down, and I managed to hit the chain and rear tyre of The Mighty AJS, with me nearly falling from the bike at the same time. How I didn’t bin the bike and myself, I’ll never know, but I know this one thing — all those movies like Mad Max and similar, when bikies on motorbikes start swinging objects at cars, it doesn’t always work out how it was planned. Just ask Cundalini from Mad Max I. 

Funnily enough, I still have that orange composition mallet. It’s had many replacement inserts through the ages and all the associated scars through years of use, but the biggest scar is the slice in the shaft put there by a motorbike chain before it ever struck a blow.

I thought by now, my ‘doing dumb stuff’ days were over, but sadly, that’s not the case. Earlier today, I arrived home on the FXD Super Glide and the two giant wheelie bins were empty outside the gate. I’d been in the saddle for a few hours, and you know how it is when you put the bike away, you just want to find somewhere to hozz out for a while, not walk back up the long driveway and carry no stinkin’ bins back down.

A plan had formulated, and with the clutch held in, first gear engaged and the throttle left to idle, I grabbed one of those stupidly huge wheelie bins with my gnarled right fist and proceeded to coast down a hundred or so meters of gravel driveway.

With the bin somehow, miraculously, deposited safely down the side of the house, I made my way across the soggy backyard, then back up to the roadway. Feeling pretty damned clever, I grabbed the other bin and repeated the wrist-strengthening operation. Another risky and dumb action of the bin-dragging/motorcycling kind was successful. 

Twice I’d attempted and completed a stupid, lazy thing and got away with it, so I was feeling pretty cool and competent. Revelling in the sheer joy of a motorcycling life, I launched the Harley across the wet grass of the back yard with great gusto, and was even allowing the brisk launch to become a cheeky fishtail; right swerve, left swerve, I’m so cool… right swerve again… Holy shit! Who put that massive pine tree there? Doesn’t it shit ya’ when you know you’re in trouble so you button off and the situation just gets worse? Now, I didn’t fall, or come anywhere near the trunk of the needled monster, but Jeez, I crashed through some decent branches. No damage to the bike, no damage to me (well, maybe just a little scratch on the schnozz) but I made a mental note to myself to stop doing all those dumb things.

Road Tales by Kelly Ashton

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