One morning I was driving to work on my motorbike. It was a lovely morning and it was early so traffic was very light. I was at near top speed going down a long straight hill when there was a loud bang and horrible grinding noise from the engine. The bike stopped suddenly. I didn’t.
I climbed out of the ditch and brushed myself off. I was used to ending up in ditches so I wasn’t bothered. I did get bothered though when I tried to start the engine again. A quick check, and I found the problem – a broken crankshaft. Bugger!
The bike was off the road for some time as apparently they had to import the right crankshaft or something. I had to rely on buses. But the only bus that would get me into work at the right time started in a village some miles away (coincidentally just past where my bike had failed). So each morning my father would drive me to the bus terminus and I would catch the bus.
One morning (for the record – 22nd April 1971) there was a different driver. A few of my fellow passengers were women from my factory (who were man-mad) and they soon discovered this was the first time the driver had been out with fare paying passengers. I headed upstairs to my favourite seat behind the stairwell where I had legroom and could enjoy a cigarette.
We reached Stepaside but instead of turning off onto the back roads which was the correct route, we went straight on along the main road. It was an easy mistake to make. Anyway, there was a howl of shouts downstairs as the women all shouted that we were going the wrong way. We had to head on though as doing a three point turn in a double decker bus needs a bit of space. The driver eventually got us back onto the correct route but by this time, of course we were running late. The driver put the boot down.
Kilgobbin road in Stepaside is quite narrow and twisting. There was one particularly bad bend and as the bus hurtled towards that bend the women started yelling for him to slow down. He slammed on the brakes. The bus went into a skid. We were heading straight for a stone wall.
At that moment, as luck would have it, another double decker came around the bend in the opposite direction. So instead of hitting the wall we smacked straight into the other bus head-on.
There was glass and metal all over the place inside the bus. My glasses had been thrown off downstairs by the impact so I carefully made my way down through the debris. I found my glasses and thankfully they were intact. There was bedlam of course. People were shouting and screaming but my only thought was to find somewhere to phone home to scrounge a lift on into work. An ambulance had arrived at this stage and one of the crew ran after me. He asked if I was all right. I replied I was fine. He took one look at my mouth and dragged me back to the ambulance. Apparently all my front teeth had been smashed as I hit the handrail in front of me (they told me they found teeth marks in the steel where I hit).
I had to spend a while in hospital. The poor driver was pretty badly injured and the two of us were the only hospitalised injuries which was a miracle. The driver of the other bus had jumped out of his seat when he saw the inevitable.
Some months later after I had had the remains of the damaged teeth removed and a new plate inserted there came the question of compensation. The company could hardly deny liability considering they owned both vehicles, so all my (very expensive) medical bill were covered. My solicitor accepted a lump sum in compensation which I considered very low but nevertheless I accepted.
I now had a few quid in the bank and decided to buy myself a car.
My motorcycling days were over.