Rockers Reunited – a ghost story

Posted: December 27, 2019 in Uncategorized

rockers

I came to social media late. I kept hearing people say ‘are you on facebook?’ and didn’t have a clue what they were on about. Finally, I decided to take the plunge, and got myself an account. I did it in the library and admit I had to get someone to help me. I’ve just about got the hang of it now.

Like a lot of people, it irritates me. Remember the time when you groaned if someone brought out their old wedding photos or holiday snaps? Well now it seems everybody does it and nobody groans anymore.

It’s great though to be back in touch with old mates I haven’t seen for decades in some cases. The old gang. We used to ride to the coast on our motorbikes and meet at the Seafront Café in Scarborough. We got a bit of bother from those posers on hairdryers – Mods – but that was mostly at bank holidays.

We were rockers. Leather and bikes and rock n roll. That was our thing.

I had a Triumph 750. A beast growling between my legs. If I could have taken that bike to bed with me, I would have. I loved to ride. We all did. In those days- thinking around ’64 here – nobody wore a helmet either. Having the wind in your hair. Man, what a feeling that was.

The Seafront café had a great jukebox in it. Sixpence got you two plays. My choice was always Gene Vincent, and I liked Eddie Cochran too. ‘Race with the devil ’ and ‘Something Else’’.

The café isn’t there anymore sadly. It got closed down in the 1980s and now it’s a tacky Bingo place, totally rebuilt and unrecognisable.

Looking back now, it was all so innocent although we had a good try to be bad lads and lasses. The permissive society? It was hard to get a girl to ‘go’ in those days. A lot were still taking their mother’s advice of ‘keeping it’ till marriage.

The word ‘respect’ was still in use back then and most people knew what it meant. We didn’t even swear in front of women back then. That’s how old fashioned we were. Bad boy Rockers? Not really, we were all pretty well behaved in reality. We just looked mean and moody. The Brando thing. We all wanted that.

Greg. He’s one of my oldest and best friends. We used to laugh a lot together. Always playing pranks like once we put axle grease on the seat of Thommo’s Norton 650. He didn’t find it funny but we did.

I remember once we did something really bad. We broke into a cigarette machine. I don’t know why I went along with that one, but I did.

Greg’s just uploaded some old photos to facebook. I don’t even remember anyone having a camera back then, but Greg did. (Now, coming to think about it, I do remember, just one of those details that left my memory)

There we are. The young dream team in the Seafront Café. Drinking nothing stronger than Coca Cola or Hubbly Bubbly through straws. I was 20 and had just got my first proper bike. The photo has on the message below it ‘Autumn 1964 or was it ’65?;

It was 1964. I remember because it was my Mam and Dad’s silver wedding anniversary that weekend. We did drink beer by the way and we did go to pubs. But pubs back then were places old men went to. Usually, we’d buy some bottles from the off-license and drink them outside. Cider was my thing back then.

We didn’t go to discotheques because they didn’t play the music we liked. Our music was on jukeboxes. Rock n roll was thought to be not with it in the 60s, until later in that decade and almost every group wanted to get back to basic rock n roll. I used to have on the back of my leather jacket ‘Rock n roll is here to stay’ spelt out in studs.

Two more photos are uploaded. On the beach front, bag of chips in hand (that’s me) and all the gang standing proudly around our bikes. It’s the second one that gets me.

Sharp intake of breath.

It’s Julie. My ex-girlfriend I was planning to get engaged to. Smiling, not a care in the world. Poor Julie. Only 19.

I still feel the pain today. They say time heals but I’m not sure it does. It just makes you put it further to the back of your mind, like an old box in an attic with things you haven’t opened for years. Julie died and it was my fault. An accident yes, but an accident that happened because of my stupidity.

Greg is now organising a reunion. In a private message, I tell Greg that I’ve got mixed feelings about it and maybe won’t be coming. It will make me think of Julie. Bring it all back.

“Vic my old mate, it’s life” Greg types.

“It’s not all wine and roses. People die and things happen…

The accident was just that. Stop beating yourself up over Julie…

Come along. It’ll be great to see you. Please mate. Do it for the lads. They’re all going to be there. Even old misery guts Ken’.

I’m still not sure. The photo with Julie in was like a punch in the gut. My memory of the accident is vague to be honest. I was hospitalised for two months, unconscious for a week. They thought I was a gonner. I was told about Julie when I came around. I hated myself for it and worse still, I couldn’t remember. I kept thinking someone was going to say ‘it’s ok. We made a mistake’…but they never did.

I got hate mail from Julie’s brother. He never forgave me. I remember the Xmas after Julie was killed, opening a card that said ‘why are you still alive?’ It was obvious it was from him. I had to move in the end. I couldn’t tell the police. I had no right to do that I felt. Greg always had a talent for persuasion. He could charm the knickers off a nun as one of my salty uncles used to say.

I decide to go to the reunion after all. I’ve got a few of my own ghosts to lay to rest. I’ll stay over in Scarborough so I can have a drink and drive back to Middlesbrough the next day. I then realise it will be 40 years coming up since Julie was killed. Did Greg know this or is it a coincidence?

We meet in the Hole in the wall pub on Vernon Street, a place we used to go back in the 60s from time to time. I’m early and Thommo is the first to show. He moved to Scarborough from Middlesbrough back in the 70s and it’s his local.

He hasn’t changed a bit. Still has that boyish twinkle in his eye and still up to mischief. He tells me he’s got a Harley Davison now. It was always his life dream to have one. Lucky sod managed to retire early with a good pay off.

It’s great to see the lads after all this time. There were also another few women from those days. Wendy and Marj. But they live abroad now. Julie. No, try not to think about her I tell myself.

“Rockers reunited!” shouts Mark, another of my old biker mates as we’re three pints of bitter into the evening. We all cheer, like an old football or rugby team.

The stories of our rocker days fills most of the evening.

Like the time we all went to see Geno Washington and the Ram Jam band and loads of Mods turned up. We ended up running along the pier, chasing them with chains. Being a young man was sometimes violent. You couldn’t run away or not wade in or you’d be thought a nancy.

It wasn’t all like that of course. Plenty of things to laugh about too. We always seemed to end up at somebody’s place at the weekend. Life was like one long party back then. The 60s were a great time to be young.

The night went in a flash. It’s suggested that we have a yearly reunion from now on and despite earlier reservations, I’m up for it. I say goodbye to the lads and head back for the guesthouse I’m staying in.

Good job I chose to do this; I’m pretty pissed. I haven’t had a good drink like that for ages. I look on my phone and end up staring at the photo of Julie on facebook.

I must do something. It’s been 40 years. I decide to go to take some flowers to the place of the accident. I’ll do it tomorrow on the way back.

I’m also going around Thommo’s place tomorrow to see his Harley. I’m in no hurry to get back. It’ll be nice to see his wife who I knew from back then. His kids are all grown up now and long since left home.

My head hits the pillow and I’m out for the count.

The next day I see Thommo and his magnificent Harley. He asks me if I want to have a spin on it but I tell him I haven’t ridden a bike for donkey’s years.

“No you daft get. I meant I ride, you be on pillion”

Thommo takes me around the block a few times. It feels great to be back on a bike. I might even have a late mid-life crisis and get one myself.

I tell him what I’m going to do. Leave my little tribute to Julie.

“That’s a nice thing to do mate” he says.

“Do you want me to come? In case, you know, it gets a bit much? I know how you had a bad time for years after she was killed”

“No thanks. I want to go on my own. You know…just have a little think while I’m there. I haven’t been back since the accident. I’ve never been back to Scarborough either. I nearly didn’t come yesterday” I say.

“So glad you did mate. It’s ok. I understand about Julie”

“Did you hear her brother died about three years ago?” says Thommo.

“Yes I did. I never made my peace with him though”

“That ball was in his court. Don’t think about it” says Thommo, putting his hand on my shoulder.

I then stand with Thommo and his Harley and his wife Jane takes a photo of us on my phone. Thommo and Jane wave me off as I leave.

I then park my car in the town and go to a local florist. No garage flowers for Julie. I want something nice for her. I’m not an expert on flowers but I like the look of a bouquet on display.

“Can you make me up one of those?’ I ask the young girl in the shop. She asks me who or what it’s for.

I lie to her. “My wife” I say.

“Oh how nice. Is it her birthday or some special occasion?”

“No. Not really”

I know she’s making friendly small talk but I want her to shut up as I’m feeling edgy now.

I hand pick an arrangement of flowers and decide to write up a message when I get back to the car.

“That’s 15 pounds please”

I pay and make my way to the car park. I look at my watch. It’s already late afternoon. Best get a move on.

Can I do this? Can I go back to where Julie was killed?

I run it over in my head a few times.

I’ve got the sodding flowers now I tell myself. I must go. I have to go.

The accident happened on a stretch of the A171 on the road back home. I just follow my nose and hope something comes back to me when I get there.

Just around the bend and I start to recognise the location. There’s a huge oak tree on the left that was there back then. And the farm just across the field. That was there too. High Grange Farm. Yes, I recall the name too.

Just to the side of the road is a country lane with a stream and an old stone bridge. I pull over the car and park it off the road in the lane. I get out of the car and walk back to the road, looking down it both ways. I’ve got the flowers in hand that I intend to leave in memory of Julie.

I’ve written a little message too.

‘Julie. 40 years gone. You’re in my heart and memory still. I’m sorry. Rest in peace. Until we meet again.

Love, Vic.

Yes, it’s coming back to me now. This is where it happened. Somewhere close to here.

I wish I could recall the detail but can’t. All I remember is that I was tying to do a ton up with Julie on pillion. I was showing off and it was a stupid thing to do but when you’re so young you don’t think anything can happen to you. I could hear Julie screaming with excitement as we picked up speed. She held me really tightly around the waist. I recall her long blonde hair in the rush of the wind ; the blur of the trees and the white lines on the road coming up faster and faster until they looked like a continuous line. The wind was roaring in my ears.

Then I must have lost control of the bike and…blackness. A blank. Nothing.

I decide to sit down on the grass verge. Cars and lorries rush by. It’s so busy on the road compared to what it was all those years ago. There’s no way you could open up a bike to top speed on these roads now.

I sit there thinking and then realise I’ve been sitting for about half an hour in a kind of nostalgic trance. I can see Julie’s face in my mind. I can even remember the sound of her voice, the way she used to flip her long hair back out of the way of her beautiful eyes. Yes, she was beautiful and so young. I ended her life. I totally understand her brother’s hatred of me and her family, who never spoke to me again or even asked me how I was after the accident.

This is not me torturing myself. I’m being matter of fact. Coming to terms with the reality that she isn’t here and hasn’t been here for the last forty years because of me.

I lay down the flowers and message by the roadside because to be honest, I don’t know exactly where the accident happened. It frustrates me. I wish I knew the exact place.

I go back to my car and sit there for a while. I put on an Elvis Presley best of CD. It’s got Julie’s favourite Elvis song on: ‘It’s now or never’.

I let it play all the way through.

The autumn sun is sinking lower on the horizon now and the sky is a beautiful bruised purple. I fill up and start to cry. After all this time, I finally cry. I let it all go. I let the past wash over me and pass through me.

I decide to leave before it gets too dark. I turn the car onto the road and set off back home.

I only get about maybe half a mile and notice there’s been an accident. I can’t quite see at first, but notice there’s a truck and its front is all bashed in. It’s up on the embankment, obviously careered off the road.

Something weird happens. Goose bumps appear all over my arms and I can feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

The road is blocked with debris from the crash and I’m forced to pull over. I get out my mobile and phone the emergency services. This crash must have just happened and nobody has reported it yet.

I get out of the car because I can see the driver of the truck looking shaken, standing by his vehicle which he only just clambered out of.

“Are you okay?” I ask as I approach him.

He nods but is clearly dazed. Looks like his head hit the windscreen because he’s got a bump coming up already. His nose is bleeding.

“Hold on. You’ll be fine. I’ve phoned for an ambulance” I tell him.

“The bike just appeared in front of me. On the wrong side of the road” he sounds frantic with stress, holding his head in his hands.

I ask if there is anything I can do and he just waves me by almost dismissively.

I walk in front of the truck and see a motorbike about twenty yards up the road, sprawled on its side, right across the middle of the highway. The road side lights have just come on and cast a sickly orange glow over the crash scene.

The front handlebars are warped, the bike is a mesh of twisted steel. I can see a puddle of petrol from the tank, I can smell it, then become nervous in case it explodes. I keep my distance and brace myself, knowing this is going to look very nasty. A fluttering feeling of nausea makes my stomach churn. I almost go back to my car thinking there’s nothing I can do. My morbid curiosity gets the better of me.

I look but don’t see a body. Must have been thrown off the bike. God knows where the body is. In accidents like this, a rider can get thrown somewhere further than you might think is possible.

Then I glimpse a figure standing on the rise of the embankment.

As I crane my neck to get a closer look, I can the just about see the figure in the dimming of the daylight, a silhouette against the darkening sky. The figure then stumbles and falls over, out of my line of vision.

I run up the grassy bank to help. What can I do? Maybe give mouth to mouth? I’m now running on gut instinct. Where is the ambulance? Hurry up.

I get to where the figure was. Where the hell did it go?

Crawled off somewhere? I look around, confused. Just a minute ago, it was there.

I gasp under my breath: “What the hell?”…

Then, I feel a presence; a strong feeling of somebody behind me. A sickly feeling of dread comes over me. I want to leave. I want to stay. I don’t know what I feel now. Once again, goosebumps and shivers come all over me.

A sudden wind blows, the grass ripples and the bushes rustle. I turn around in what feels like slow motion. God, no.

A woman is there in motorbike leathers, about ten yards away. She is staring directly at me. Her long blonde hair blows across her face, obscuring it momentarily, but I recognise the face immediately.

I freeze.

“Julie…is that you?”

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