Christopher Fletcher

Literary motorcycling

No seat belts. No airbags. Just air, and coming at you as fast as you like. Motorcycling shouldn’t be allowed, really, but thank God it is. Hanging on to an engine braced between two wheels as you travel through the countryside is worth any dose of mindfulness. The NHS should prescribe it. Even with the cost of broken bones and, alas, the occasional overheads of the mortuary, it would save money on mental health treatments.

Your senses are stimulated in a way that is impossible in a car, with the force of movement intensifying an ordinary experience. Smells and temperature become suddenly distinct as you dip or rise, fly through conifer or broad leaf, past farmyards and bonfires. Other traffic on a good sweeping road becomes an irrelevance. You just fire past it as your arms stretch and eyes weep in the welt of acceleration.

I have taken to riding regularly with an old friend of my wife about whom I never worried much until I discovered he was a regular petrolhead. Our trips have, through accident, become small literary pilgrimages. First we ended up in Stratford. A short leather-creaking distance from the centre, we paid tribute to Shakespeare in Holy Trinity Church. Apparently he and four of his family lie only three feet below the surface, unencased and in shrouds.

On our next trip, heading back from the Ace Café, 1950s hangout of the Ton-up Boys, we dropped into Stoke Poges to see Gray’s country churchyard. This, my friend told me, was where his father-in-law had for many years been the vicar. By providence or coincidence, his wife, mother-in-law and two grown-up kids turned up to tend the grave as we were leaving. A few weeks later, we went to Chichester to pay homage to the knight, his lady and the little dogs at their feet so ambiguously given another afterlife in Philip Larkin’s ‘An Arundel Tomb’.

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