Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The 1970s - great for motorcycling, if not for food

Good friend and Benzina contributor Richard Skelton has just self-published a number of eBooks reminiscing on motorcycling in the 1970s: as ever with Richard, these are minutely researched and thoroughly readable even if you’re not hopelessly nostalgic about an era that was a defining moment in so many areas of life. Of my top 100 production motorcycles only a few would be post 1970s: the Ducati 916 and Monster, for sure. And I'd have to allow the Honda RC30, perhaps alongside the oval pistoned NR. Err… perhaps I'd also want the first GSX-R1100 and Katana 1000 as well. Oh, and a Guzzi MGS-01. But that’s it for the last 35 years, peanuts compared to what’s been launched since 1980. I can think of more mopeds from the 70s scorched into my memory banks than modern bikes, and chances are you’re the same: Honda sold 10 million of the original sohc CB750 in 10 years, but have only just sold the 100,000th Fireblade, 20 years after its launch. To put that in perspective, over the same period little old Ducati have sold 250,000 Monsters.

The fabulous summer we’re having in (most of) England is another reason to reminisce about the 1970s. I wonder if this might be current teenagers 1976 memories in years to come, although our generation spent rather more time outdoors than the Facebook and Xbox crowd do. But were the seventies really so much better? In many ways I think so, despite the dire state of our economy back then, often forgotten by the trendy Radio 4, Thatcher hating, pseudo intellectuals none of whom seemed able to grasp Higgs Boson let alone the cruel truth.  

But there was one area of British life that was really dire back then – the food. If you loved Angel Delight and raisins and desiccated coconut with your curry, it was… OK. If not, lumpy mashed potatoes with fatty grey lamb passed muster as a typical school dinner, and through 1976’s heatwave my grandmother thought cold baked beans and lettuce was a reasonable tea time staple. No wonder I soon learnt to cook, even if (along with arriving everywhere on a motorcycle) it was seen as a very strange pastime for a chap back then. A girlfriend once boasted to her dad that I could cook, to which he responded, “What, fairy cakes?” – and in those days “fairy” was a standard homophobic slur that shows how far we’ve come.

First thing I cooked – aged 15 - was spaghetti Bolognese, back in that long hot summer. My best mate at the time (Andy Lee, where art thee? Still in Australia?) had very middle class, Francophile parents. They had duvets, cafettierres and fondue parties. They were the 1970s, with white furniture and fluffy rugs that were a million miles from the museum pieces in my antique dealing parent’s house. Anyroadup (as Mark Williams used to say in 1970s Bike magazine) leaving Andy and me for the day, his mum said “oh, I’ve left lunch in the kitchen” before disappearing to shop in Bath. "Lunch" turned out to be a purple paper packet of super long spaghetti, some mince, an onion and a tin of tomatoes. Of course, there was Elizabeth David’s Italian food on the bookshelf. It would be decades before I realised how great the 1970s were, always chasing on to the future as the young tend to. But it was the summer of 1976 when my love of Italy was stirred by making a passable spaghetti Bolognese and obsessing over another good friend’s Garelli Rekord. Within a few years I knew that Ducati made the finest motorcycles on earth and that ragu Bolognese is never served with spaghetti in Italian homes – and that along with the ingredients we’d been left for lunch there should have been chicken livers, bacon, carrot and celery. And a lot more time – ragu needs a couple of hours to meld on a low heat, ready for another couple of hours spent at lunch itself, along with –as Elizabeth David put it – some “good, rough red wine.” She might have been writing in the 1950s but really it took 20 years for her ideas to pass into my tiny corner of rural Wiltshire, and become a part of a very special decade. So that was the 1970s, that was; mostly great, especially if you loved motorcycles.

You can buy Richard’s book here – his synopsis follows

'Motorcycling in the 1970s. The story of motorcycling's biggest, brightest and best ever decade' Volumes One to Five by Richard Skelton, author of Funky Mopeds.

'Motorcycling in the 1970s' is a series of five books about motorcycling. The books are designed to be read together, but can also be enjoyed separately.

The first volume, 'A Brief History of Motorcycling from 1887 to 1969', is a general history, swiftly told, of motorcycling in Britain from its beginnings at the end of the 19th century up until the dawn of the 1970s (interwoven to an extent with two-wheeled goings on in the USA and elsewhere).

It charts motorcycling’s pioneering years, skips through two world wars, tells of social acceptability in the 1920s, hard times in the 1930s and growing ostracisation and decline in the 1950s and 1960s.

This book attempts to make sense of the two-wheeled world order, and of motorcycling’s place in society and everyday life, and sets the scene for the larger, more detailed volumes which follow.

Volumes two to four are entitled Funky Motorcycling Parts One to Three and together they form a comprehensive, in-depth history of the bikes and motorcycling trends and events in the 1970s.

These three books tell the story of the arrival of the Superbike, the continuing and inexorable rise of the Japanese motorcycle industry and, partly from an insider’s point of view, the wasteful, lingering death of its British equivalent.

They tell of the thrilling and extraordinary sporting machines from Italy and of the bulletproof BMW twins designed in Bavaria. They tell of motorcycling culture and of two-wheeled life and lives.

In the 1970s, motorcycling became a leisure activity in a new and exciting way, there were more motorcyclists than ever before, or since, and dozens of new and ever more fabulous and technologically advanced motorcycles crammed the showrooms every year.

It was the time of Jarno Saarinen and Giacomo Agostini and of Kenny Roberts and Barry Sheene. The time of British magazines Motorcycle Sport and Bike, and of Cycle in the USA, the time of Mark Williams, Dave Minton and LJK Setright in his pomp.

These books set out the argument that although the protagonists were largely unaware of it at the time, the 1970s as a whole can now be seen to have been a golden era in the history of the movement, a pivotal decade which represent a high point in the history of motorcycling that is never likely to be matched.

The final book in the series is entitled ‘The Magic of Motorcycling'. It takes a sideways look at the 1970s classic motorcycle scene in the second decade of the 21st century, and explores what it is that makes motorcycling so special to so many people yet an anathema to a great many more.

This is followed by a comprehensive set of appendices listing nostalgic, amusing and sometimes poignant reminders of the life and culture of the 1970s, reminding us of the global goings-on and domestic backdrop underlying the motorcycling scene and, of course, all lesser matters!

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