Motorcycle Racer vs. The Fire Truck

Bogarde 1

Champion of the Speedway

Memories . . . past glories, past regrets, and things that could have been. I could have been a famous motorcycle racer, for one glorious moment, but I was only two and half years old and there’s many obstacles that can prevent a toddler from winning on the Speedway.

As a memoir, one should perhaps start with one’s earliest memory, and for me it is the Merry-Go-Round at Drake’s Circus Shopping Centre in Plymouth, England. My parents and I had not long moved to Plymouth from my birthplace of Weymouth, which is about a two hour drive from Plymouth. This larger city was something new for my parents to explore, and to me the WHOLE WORLD was still somewhat of a novelty having only been breathing air for approximately 30 months.

motorbikes 1

Fox takes the lead!

Downtown (or the city centre as Brit’s say) Plymouth was pretty much flattened in World War II due to the Navel base prime target located there, so very few historical buildings remain, which was doubly sad when they were replaced at a time when concrete structures were considered the “look of the future,” and much of the architecture of the 50’s and 60’s was inspired by shoe boxes; Drake’s Circus was good example of this soulless design, but it’s redeeming feature was a brightly colored Merry-Go-Round that hosted a collection of even brighter colored cars, trucks, and motorbikes!


merry go round

Born to ride!

I recall being instantly enamored by these two wheeled symbols of . . . of . . . of whatever a two and half year thinks of a motorcycle! I had to ride one. I don’t recall the conversation, but somehow I communicated this desire to my parents, and my father paid the man; my moment of glory drew closer. The ride came to a halt, kids got off and kids got on in a frenzy of unregulated chaos that was normal for a time of no seat belts, concrete playgrounds, and kids that just bounced back from all sorts of life threatening things. I raced toward a motorbike, MY motorbike, but just before I could mount my ride and race “through the mansions of glory in suicide machines,” some “big kid” dressed in bell bottomed jeans and a polyester plaid shirt leapt on to what was rightfully mine. I quickly turned to see the other bikes, and saw that each already had a rider; I was confused, heartbroken, and lost. I just stood there, unable to comprehend what to do next.

fire engine

Fire engines don’t do well at the Speedway.

At this point my father intervened and guided me toward the vacant fire engine that sat dejectedly adjacent to us. I climbed into the seat of the bright red truck, but it did nothing to lift my spirits. The ride started, the vehicles began their circle around the diesel motor hidden behind its colorful facade, and I looked out of the fire engine’s window straight at the motorcycle that was supposed to be mine. I was a detached observer, not part of the experience, until I then decided to try and make an effort to enjoy my big red truck. It had a bell, that was pretty good; I rang it a few times, and I played with the steering wheel, but none of it could compensate for the loss of my bike . . . so I determined to do something about it.

The truck just wasn’t doing it for me, the ride was still going around, but I climbed out of my fire engine and I leapt off of the Merry-Go-Round . . . without falling over mind you! But my father picked me up and placed me back on the ride, back into the fire truck. Clearly he did not understand that I did not what to ride in this poor substitute for my motorcycle, so once more I got out and made the daring leap from the spinning ride. This time, however, he did not put me back; instead he was angry, and later I learned that he demanded his money back from the chap running the ride. With a firm hand I was led away from the Merry-Go-Round, and then the remorse set in . . . despite not getting my motorbike, now I had neither . . . perhaps the fire engine might not have been so bad if I’d given it a chance, but it was too late; frustrated parents dragged me away, and the shopping trip’s break came to an end.

There might be some deep philosophical message in this tale, some lesson about appreciating what you have rather than what you desire, but I was just a two and half year old, so the message was most likely been lost on me, and it has taken me decades to still not fully get it . . . ah well. That Merry-Go-Round stayed in Drake’s Circus for many years afterwards, gradually losing its color and luster, but it was there all the way through to my teenage years, and even university years, and every time I saw it I could always remember my earliest memory.


Drake’s Circus today.

Sometime in the late 90’s or early 2000’s, the concrete jungle of Drake’s Circus was torn down for a more modern design to replace it, another vision of the future, far more sterile and climate controlled, unlike the grey pigeon crap covered monument to retail that was a part of my childhood. It was actually very unnerving upon my last visit to Plymouth to see this part of the city centre completely transformed, it was shocking to my egocentric view that for some reason the city and the people had . . . just got on without me. One day, however, this motorcycle shaped void in me will be remedied when some mid-life crisis inspires me to purchase a real motorbike . . . vroom!

Flourish 3

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