RoadsideTales.com - biker fiction - read to live, live to read - handcrafted and custom built motorcycle fictionFor much of much adult life (although there’s not much of my life that could be considered remotely adult!), I was vaguely troubled.

I worked (and I believe that I worked hard and was successful), and prospered – it’s just that not of it really seemed to matter.

I used to buy sailing magazines and dream of sailing a small boat around Europe; I was too stupid to seize my dream and do anything about it. At least that was the case until 2001 when I jacked in my job (as a reasonably successful IT manager in the city), to start a new life as an abattoir worker in France.

I was in Redon today and saw a small motor sailor tied up on the quay – a young couple were hanging out some clothes on the stern rail.

It all came back to me. What a way to live; moving from town to town under my own steam, working when I needed to, living quietly, living decently – living life the way it is meant to be lived. I was jealous of that couple on that small motor sailor.

Different Roads

The twisty lane threaded it’s way through the woods and then straightened up as it ran alongside the river. The marshy fields that bordered the river seemed to glow slightly in the shadow of the dying sun. Every now and again I’d pass something that I recognised; a cottage, a farm gate, a road sign that I’d seen before. I was back in Cornwall, there were memories here.

The last time that I’d been down this road was many years before. Then, it had been summer and Christine had been on the back. The bike had been my old Honda, I think.

Now, I was travelling alone and the bike was a Suzuki. It was the time of the year when Autumn turns to Winter and it was raining. I hadn’t stopped since St. Austell and the pain in my backside indicated that it was about time for a rest.

I had just about had enough when I saw the pub. I hadn’t known that it would be there. I hadn’t even remembered that it was on this road but, as I pulled into the car park, it was as if I had never left.

I looked around the car park as the bike stared to cool. There was an old Landrover parked next to the door and next to it, a gleaming black Sportster.

On the other side of the car park, a brand new Volvo testified to recent affluence in the area.

When this pub had been a regular haunt of mine, perhaps seven years ago, there would have been perhaps twenty bikes of all descriptions lined up outside. Now, the car park seemed strangely bare; obviously, things had changed.

I walked into the pub. It was almost how I remembered it, although somehow smaller and more genteel.

A fire was burning in the grate and a restaurant that I didn’t remember was feeding a table of five.

On the bar there was a black open face helmet and, next to it, an empty bar stool. I claimed it.

I ordered a pint and looked around. The tired old jukebox that I remembered from years ago was no longer to be seen and a soft muzak filled the air. The pool table had also disappeared.

At the corner table, where I had spent so many beer fuelled nights, there are two couples about the same age as me. Somehow, one of the men looked familiar but I couldn’t place his face.

He got up and came to the bar.

“Two more lagers,” he said to the barman.

Then I remembered. “Tony?” I asked. “Honda four hundred four?”

Tony looked at me. He’d certainly piled on the pounds since the last time I saw him. And the suit that he was wearing would have looked out of place on the old Tony, the Tony I knew.

“Stringer?” He asked. “God, it’s you.”

He stepped back to take a good look at me.

“You look just the same. You haven’t changed at all.”

I couldn’t say the same about Tony so I just asked, “That your Sportster out there?”

“God no, I gave all that up years ago. Wife, kiddies, job – you know.”

I didn’t but I nodded anyway.

Tony picked up his beers. “Well, nice to see you again, Stringer. Will you be around for a while?”

I smiled and shook my head. I watched as he made his way back to the corner table. Obviously he had chosen a different road from me. Who’s to say which one was best?

“Actually, it’s mine.” A voice beside me said. “The Sportster, that is.”

I turned round to look at the owner of the voice. The man sitting on the stool next to me was young with a rugged face and wore a leather jacket. Only the dog collar around his neck gave his profession away.

“Clive Samsard,” he said. He held out a hand. I shook it.

“John Stringer. Pleased to meet you. Nice bike.”

“Yes she is, isn’t she? And useful too.” The vicar admitted.

“The old dears think I’m rakish, their husbands spend hours telling me about the BSAs and Enfields they owned when they were young and even the youngsters think I’m cool. All vicars should have one – the churches would be overflowing every Sunday.”

I laughed at this.

“You could be onto something there.” I agreed.

Vicar Clive took a swig of his beer. “And what brings you to our little village? I’ve not seen you around.”

“Just chasing old memories.” I replied. “I used to live near here, years ago.”

Clive looked at me. He seemed to be considering his words very carefully.

“It’s nice to return to places from our youth,” he said. “But it’s never possible to go back to them, you know.”

“A subtle distinction.” I replied. “But an apt one, all the same. Don’t worry, I’m just checking out some old memories, not searching for ghosts.”

The vicar picked up his pint and finished it off. He picked up his helmet and held out his hand again.

As I shook his hand he said, “Well, I must be off. Souls to save, heathens to convert and all that. John Stringer… perhaps some of my flock might remember you?”

“The old ones, maybe.” I replied with a smile.

The vicar left and a minute later I heard the throaty roar of a Harley starting up. He blipped the throttle a couple of times – for my benefit, I thought.

I ordered another beer and thoght about where I would stay the night. There used to be a bed and breakfast just down the road, it might still be open, I hoped.

It must have started raining because the door opened and a drenched man rushed in, hastily closing the door behind him. He came over and nodded to the bar stool the vicar had just vacated.

“Feel free.” I said. It must be my night for talking to strangers, I thought.

The man took off his jacket and dropped it on the floor. He sat down next to me and ordered a pint.

He introduced himself. “Name’s Jerome, most people call me Jez. That your bike outside?”

“Skinner,” I replied. “John Skinner. And yes, she’s my bike.”

“Nice,” my new friend Jez replied. “I had to sell mine when I got my boat.”

This was a new one to me. He didn’t look like a sailor. Or, at least, he didn’t look like my idea of a sailor – too much money, posh label casual clothes, a BMW in the car park and a job in advertising in London. In fact, he looked a bit like me; unshaven, long hair and wearing jeans and a jumper that had clearly seen better days.

“You sail?” I asked.

“Well, that’s the theory anyway. Most of the time I seem to spend holed up in quiet creeks doing running repairs.”

“But,” he continued. “With a bit of luck I’ll have her shipshape by June and then I’ll be off to Cork for a month. I’ve got friends there. Then across the Bay of Biscay to the Canaries to wait for the trade winds and then, when they arrive, across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. And then, who knows?”

“Sounds nice.” I said.

“It is.” He agreed. “The freedom to travel and I get to take my home with me wherever I go.”

I thought about this. It seemed to make a lot of sense to me.

“Of course,” he continued “it’s not what my parents wanted for me. But I think that they understand now that, for me, it’s not about a nine to five job, a mortgage and an expensive car. I tried all that but I couldn’t make it work.”

I thought about my own parents. About how they couldn’t understand the life I led. Working when I had to and traveling when I could.

Jez and I talked for two hours and, the more we talked, the more we found we had in common.

We’d both been in St. Malo during the summer of 2003. Me on my bike, living out of a tent in the local municipal camp site and Jez on his boat, doing odd jobs to pay for a new self-steering gear.
When time was called we’d made vague plans to meet up in Cork in June. It had been a few years since I’d been to Ireland and I was suddenly keen to go back again.

Jez gave me the address of the friends he’d be staying with in Cork and I gave him the phone number of my cousin in Falmouth. He had a boat as well but he was more interested in fishing than voyaging. Come to think of it, I don’t think he’d ever been out of Cornwall. I wondered if I envied him for that – perhaps, in a way, I do.

We said goodbye and I headed towards Truro. The bed and breakfast was still there and I booked in for the night.

As I got into bed I thought more about Jez. He and I weren’t so different after all. Always travelling, always trying to find new places to see and new people to meet. he on his small boat and me on my bike. We were headed in the same direction. We were just travelling on different roads.

Just before I went to sleep I decided to head on to Camborne in the morning and put some flowers on Caroline’s grave. I’d also lay a bunch of flowers by the side of the road where she’d died.

I’d told the Sportster riding vicar that I was just checking out some old memories and not searching for ghosts. And that’s all it was. You can never go back but that doesn’t mean you have to forget.

Besides, Caroline had always liked flowers.