I was speeding home along the A41 after a cracking day at the Ace Café rockers day. I hadn’t been a participant but I loved the atmosphere and some of those old bikes were just awesome. It was a warm May evening and my latest aquisition, a 1997 TDM 850 was running a treat. I’d recently bought it from a dodgy lookin’ dude in Essex. He claimed it had only 14K on the clock which I knew couldn’t be right for a twenty year old hack but I have to say it appeared clean as a whistle in the Gumtree Ad and in fact, after a good look over it I found was even better in the flesh than it was in the pics. A quick blip down the road confirmed that this might just be the genuine article and for £1,300, cash of course, I couldn’t really argue. Riding it sixty or so miles home I could tell the engine was a goodun. It was tight, responsive, full of beans and didn’t miss a beat. When I arrived back safe and sound I was pretty sure I’d copped a bargain.
I was only a few months shy of my 60th birthday but on this balmy pre summer evening as I thundered along on this ol’ bike I felt like a teenager again. Flicking it round the roundabouts and blasting off down the straits I had a grin so wide you could have slipped a double decker bus through it.
The weather had been glorious all day but unfortunately as is often the case in the UK, in the distance, dark clouds, which only a few minutes earlier looked like they were skimming the horizon now seemed to be heading my way at an alarming rate. Then again, I only had another ten miles or so to go so didn’t pay them too much notice.
As expected, there was a fair bit of traffic to contend with but the conditions were perfect for a jaunt on this ever obliging big twin – at least they were at the moment. I figured that if I gave it some welly I could probably make it back home before I got a proper soaking. Before setting off I’d phoned my missus who’d said there’d be a hot dish of her famous Shepherds pie waiting for me in the oven when I got back. I was getting peckish having not eaten anything since midday so I dropped down into fourth gear and opened her up. This old bike wasn’t the fastest kid on the block but there was plenty of torque on hand, it handled well with the new set of Pirelli Angels I’d had fitted and with that dramatic roar from the Delcevic end can I had to admit this really was a lotta bike for the money.
Up ahead more flashes of lightning followed by even louder claps of thunder in an ever darkening sky forewarned me that if I got caught out in this I’d be in real trouble and it was just my luck that I was heading straight for it flat out. It was a game of chicken now - me against Thor’s Hammer and I had no intention of being the nail, so clicking up into fifth and with a sense of renewed urgency I snapped the throttle back and gave it all she’d got. The bike shimmied a bit, the speedo needle yawed to the right and as it hovered just over 100mph the road ahead began to blur.
Spatters of rain began appearing on my visor, not enough to wipe away but an omen of the impending deluge to come. There was a car up ahead, a Beemer by the looks of it and as I prepared to overtake it another flash of lightning, this time a lot closer and much more intense erupted from the sky. I was momentarily blinded. At that very same moment I felt a cold shiver surge through my body. Unable to see properly and shocked by the sudden temperature shift I instinctively shut off the throttle. As my eyes began to focus again I looked down at the speedo which was now dipping just below sixty. That Beemer which had been no more than fifty metres ahead of me had disappeared, but where? He couldn’t have accelerated off that fast could he? I checked my mirrors then looked behind to see if I’d passed him but he was nowhere to be seen. It was as if he’d vanished into thin air.
I was shivering from head to toe. My first thought was I’d been hit by the lightning and somehow survived! The bike was still running fine though and I was definitely not singed or hurt in any way but the road looked different, and unless I was dreaming it was much narrower. I slowed down to 30mph in an attempt to gather my senses. Something very odd was going on here. Not only did the road appear to have altered but the storm had gone too. In fact the rain had stopped altogether and there were no clouds in the sky at all.
With nowhere safe to pull over and stop I carried on at a steady 50 or so taking note that the road was now completely devoid of traffic. Not a single vehicle anywhere in sight. That was a first, I thought. The A41 was never this clear. But to be honest this didn’t even look like the A41 anymore. Had I taken a wrong turn somewhere without realising it? I just couldn’t figure it out. Also, I felt different, lighter somehow and more alert than I’d felt in a long time. Wow! This was nuts. It was as if I’d just skipped the light fandango.
The Elstree roundabout was coming up. I changed down a couple of gears, flicked the bike round it and carried on. Then I had a thought. Where actually was the M1? Before you got to this roundabout you went over it but I swear I never went over any bridge. I was about to pull over and check the sat-nav on my phone when I saw headlights in my wing mirror. A couple of bikes were coming up behind me. Jeez, at last – something normal! Moments later they’d caught up and were now cruising alongside me, one behind the other. The lead bike was a classic 5TA in pristine condition. The other was a Bitza by the looks of it, café racer style. Probably on their way back from the Ace café I guessed. I waved but the riders didn’t return the gesture, they just maintained their speed and kept staring at my bike through their goggles. Then they accelerated off and for me, that was it - I dropped a gear and headed after them in hot pursuit. The next section of road was a long straight and I passed them doing ninety, changing up to fifth as I did so and leaving them in the dust.
Satisfied with my ton up prowess I eased off on the throttle and checked my mirrors, noticing that the two classics were way back in the distance then something really weird caught my eye. The Hilton Hotel that had been there since before I could remember simply wasn’t there anymore. Instead, there was a transport café with a lot of bikes outside and people milling around them. I checked the mirrors, grabbed a handful of brake and slowed the bike down to get a better look. Something definitely wasn’t right here. The sign outside the café said BUSY BEE CAFE, but that didn’t make any sense. That place had shut down years ago and a hotel had gone up on the site, yet if my eyes weren’t deceiving me there it was as plain as day.
I had to check this out, so I indicated right and zipped across the road. The two classic bikes I’d passed had caught up with me now and followed me in. I could now see there were dozens of old bikes parked up outside the front of the café and as I pulled up on my TDM the gaggle of bikers hanging around all turned to stare at me. They weren’t friendly stares either. I felt like I’d entered a forbidden zone or something. No sooner had I stopped and turned off the ignition I was encircled by them. They were all dressed in black leather jackets, rocker style. For a moment I thought I was in serious trouble. These guys looked spooked and all eyes were on me.
The bikes I’d just left for dead up the road pulled up either side of me. Both of the riders also appeared more than a bit agitated.
“What the hell is that?” the bloke on the 5TA barked as he removed his helmet and goggles. He was a tall, gangly and unkempt figure with a menacing scowl.
I looked at him askance and shrugged. “It’s a TDM,” I replied.
“A Tee dee what?” he queried, as he began inspecting my bike in an ultra inquisitive manner.
Now of course, as far as I was concerned my old TDM was lovely looking bike but to be honest that was only because it was mine. It was a bit dated now, but I still found it an interesting, cheap and cheerful bulletproof machine and it ticked all the boxes as far as I was concerned. But this character and his posse were more than just interested. They appeared to be genuinely taken aback by it and more than a little confused.
I overheard the guy on the Bitza excitedly relaying what had just happened earlier to one of the bystanders – “came past like a rocket it did,” he was saying.
“Wot’s a Yamaha when it’s at ‘ome?” another asked, peering inquisitively at the letters on the side of the fuel tank.
Something definitely wasn’t right here and I could feel a lump forming in the pit of my stomach. Anyone who rode a bike knew what a Yamaha was. Who were these idiots I thought. But there was more to this than met the eye. All these young guys looked like they’d just come off the set of a James Dean movie and they appeared to not have a clue what a Yamaha or for that matter a TDM was, which was a first in my book. Then there was this café, the Busy Bee, it shouldn’t be here! None of it made any sense.
“What is this place?” I asked.
“The Busy Bee o’ course, and you’re a long way from ‘ome by the sounds of it, mate” said Mr Gangly. “Where ya from?” he asked.
“Watford, I live in Garston, Watford,” I replied.
“That’s five miles down the road from ‘ere mate. You sure you ain’t been drinkin’?” said another short stubby guy with a baby face.
The rest of the gang all laughed.
“Never seen him ‘ere before. Never seen nuffink like that bike either,” said a teenage girl, the only female among them. “Woss your name? she asked.
“Tod,” I replied.
By now the whole café had emptied out and I found myself surrounded by at least thirty leather clad teenagers all wanting to know what all the commotion was about and all vying for a glimpse of my bike.
“Bloody weird helmet you got there mate,” said another young guy, peering inquisitively at my full face flip up HJC helmet.
“How fast’s it go then”? the tall gangly guy asked, leaning over to look at the speedo.
“Tops out at about 140,” I replied.
As if on cue the entire entourage burst out into uncontrollable laughter. I don’t know why but I started to feel a bit queasy. I needed a drink, or something. Jumping off the bike, I made my way through the gawping bunch of Marlon Brando wannabe’s and into the café. A few of them cautiously followed me in but the majority stayed glued to the TDM, talking excitedly amongst themselves. As I stepped inside a jukebox was playing the Everly Brothers. I noticed a Telegraph newspaper on one of the tables. Something about it made me stop and pick it up. It felt crisp and new but it was the content that caught my attention. The headlines read “Bannister breaks four-minute mile. Roger Bannister, a 25-year-old British medical student, has become the first man to run a mile in less than four minutes. His time was 3mins 59.4 seconds, achieved at the Iffley Road track in Oxford and watched by about 3,000 spectators” I looked at the top of the page. The date on it was May 7th1954!
I put the paper back down on the table and noticed my hands were shaking. I looked around me. The place was virtually empty. Everyone was outside save an old boy washing some cups behind the counter. The walls were clad with green and cream tiles and there was a mosaic of a bee on one of the walls. What was it that was missing in this picture? Then I realized. It was the lack of technology. No TV, no mobile phones or laptops. Reactively, I reached inside my jacket and pulled out my iPhone. No signal, not even a server. The young girl who’d asked me my name had followed me in and was peering inquisitively at it over my shoulder.
“Wossat then Toddy boy?” she asked, seemingly mesmerized by the screensaver.
I ignored her comment and quickly pocketed the phone. I was now starting to feel quite sick. “Where’s your toilet mate?” I asked the old boy behind the counter.
“It’s outside in the yard young fella,” he said, pointing to the back door.
Stumbling out to the toilet, I went to the washbasin, looked in the cracked mirror and then I really got a shock! Staring back at me was a young guy with a full set of hair. It was me, but it wasn’t me. I looked no more than about eighteen years old. My knees began to buckle under me. I had to grab onto the washbasin to steady myself. What the hell was happening here? I checked my phone again – nothing! Then I puked up. When I finally stumbled outside again that girl was waiting there for me.
“You alright Toddy boy? You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” she said.
I just stood there looking at her. It took me a few moments to recover my senses then I realized what she was saying. A ghost – Yes, I had seen one. It was me. I was dead. I was sure of it. I’d been hit by lightning during that storm and died on the spot. There was no other explanation for it. The thing was though, I could feel, smell and see everything around me. I pinched my arm hard. It hurt just like it should. Then cautiously, I reached out and touched the young girl’s face. It was soft and smooth and warm – and very real.
“What’s your name? I asked.
“Ooh cheeky!” she replied with a churlish grin. “I’m Tina. Better be careful though, my boyfriends that tall fella you were talking to out front and he gets real jealous if uvver blokes get fresh wiv me,” she warned.
“What year is it?” I asked.
“You ‘avin me on Toddyboy?,” she replied.
“Just tell me what year it is?” I repeated. The urgency in my voice made her wince a bit.
“Well, it’s 1954 o-course. Woss the matter wiv ya. Lost yer marbles or something?” she scoffed.
I wasn't in a fit state to banter at that moment though. I was in an intense state of shock. Whatever had happened up the road back there was no small thing, and if I wasn't dead - If this was the real deal - then I'd just been transported back to a time four years before I was even born!
To be continued .......................................................................................