Leaders of the pack
Generations of youths have spent half their time hanging around with friends, united by a shared love of motorbikes. But what happens to them when they grow up? Chris Morvan went to find out
Generations of youths have spent half their time hanging around with friends, united by a shared love of motorbikes. But what happens to them when they grow up? Chris Morvan went to find out WHEN Terry Isabelle was a motorcyclist in his youth, it was possible to ride all the way from Town to Pembroke without stopping. Nowadays you can't. Far from it, in fact. According to Terry's calculations, there are 15 potential stops now.
'When you come off the Albert Pier you have to turn left when you want to go right, for a start,' he pointed out when I met him and two old friends to talk about it.
And it's a good point.
As Guernsey, along with the rest of the British Isles, clawed its way back to solvency in the 1950s after the ravages of the war, a new word appeared: teenagers. Before that time there was a huge gulf between children and adults, but when rock'n'roll came along, suddenly youth had a name.
Teenagers also had their own music, with the likes of Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly rewriting the rules.
They had their own clothes too, from the jeans and leather jackets of the rockers to the strangely natty garb of the Teddy boys.
What Guernsey teenagers lacked at first was transport. But then came the era of the motorbike.
In 1960 Terry, Geoff Goddard and Ricky Haines were all 15 years old. They spent much of their time hanging around with their motorbikes on the Albert Pier, part of a group of perhaps 25 who were referred to as the Connaught Gang.
Terry and Ricky had known each other at school. They met Geoff, along with all the others, on the 'Albert' and that is where they did a lot of their growing up.
Although they weren't motorbike nuts, they all have fond memories of their first machines. Geoff had an Excelsior 98cc, which he later replaced with a Norman 197.
Terry had a James before moving up to a Honda 125 ('Very flash ' it had an electric starter,' the others point out). Of the James, Terry said: 'With your chin on the headlamp you could do about 45. And it had brakes to match. But I once left the ground coming over St Clair Hill.'
Ricky had the bike that people envied ' a Motoguzzi, ' and later a Royal Enfield Crusade.
Like their contemporaries who gathered on the Crown Pier and elsewhere ' and as thousands of young people have done since ' they would regularly ride around the island.
It was a different world then in terms of the perception of danger. Crash helmets were optional and there was a certain naivete about lovers of speed.
The record charts contained songs about riders being killed in crashes: The Shangri-Las eulogised The Leader of the Pack, while in the UK, Twinkle did the same for her mythical boyfriend ' 'Please wait at the gates of heaven for me, Terry'.
For their safety and that of all other road-users, police motorcyclists had to get on the case ' and they did so enthusiastically.
Prominent among them were PCs Rabey, Falla and Bichard. But the legend was PC Noel Trotter: such was his influence that the youngsters used to refer to the mirrors on their bikes as Trotter spotters.
A former military policeman, Trotter, as he was known with a measure of grudging admiration that today borders on affection, knew how to deal with the Connaught Gang and the rest of the high-spirited kids.
Terry tells of a particular ride when he went from the Manor Stores down Le Val des Terres only for PC Trotter to stop him at the bottom.
'He would park about 30 yards away just to make you sweat and he'd be slowly taking off his gloves as he came towards you. He said: 'Right. I want you to go all the way back to Manor Stores, then ride back into Town. I will be waiting somewhere along the route, so you'd better be doing the correct speed.''
On another occasion, as Geoff recalls, the two-wheeled lawman said: 'I'm coming out with you today,' and accompanied them all the way from the Albert Pier to Pleinmont. Then he shot off, again on the understanding that he would be lurking somewhere on the way, so that they had better watch their step. On this occasion, though, someone spotted him hiding in a field and alerted the boys, who all stayed out of trouble.
'He would ride in among us, saying: 'I'm trying to stop you killing yourselves.',' Terry said.
Peter Falla was among the police motorcyclists at the time. Long retired, he is now a friend of the Connaught boys.
Peter recalled the vastly superior bikes that gave the police the edge over the youngsters.
'We had Triumph 650 Thunderbirds. I did 34,000 miles on mine in four years.'
Today our three friends are all respected businessmen. Terry runs a painting and decorating business, Ricky is a builder and Geoff is in retail, selling mainly clothing and textiles.
They talk fondly of their early days on bikes, although only one, Ricky, still has one. 'I've got a Kawasaki 440 ' but I last rode it in 1998,' he admitted.
'We had bikes until we were old enough to have cars,' Geoff pointed out.
They all agree that the machines of today are a vast improvement on what they had.
'Bikes today are far superior,' he said. 'Much safer, better brakes.'
Terry agreed. 'The roads now are safer, even if they're more crowded,' he said. 'I don't think kids today will have as much fun on them as we did.'
Ricky added a key (if only half-serious) point: 'We could go flat out because the bikes were so slow.'
But the machines and the roads are not the only things that are different now, Terry noted. 'In those days you conformed more. You got married younger, got a mortgage and had children. Nowadays it's more disjointed.'
Geoff remembered the late Bill Green, a motorbike enthusiast who ran a dealership. 'When Bill heard I had crashed my Norman he contacted me, offering to repair it, and I paid him back at so much a week. I don't think you'd find many people doing that now.'
But that is not to say that these three see the past as inherently better than the present.
'Take music,' said Geoff. 'I loved all the 60s stuff like the Beatles, the Stones and the Hollies. But there's some good stuff around now.'
Terry summed it up. 'Youngsters always get criticised and so did we. But we haven't ended up that bad.'
This year Terry, Ricky and Geoff will all be 60. They have had reunions before and now seems like a good time to have another.
'It was prompted by one of our old friends, Barry Helyar, passing away,' said Ricky. 'He's the only one we've lost. When we heard he was ill, we thought we should organise something.'
While previous occasions have cast a wider net ' and featured some of the police motorcyclists who have become friends too ' this one will be for the Connaught Gang only.
Graham Baudains, another of the old crowd, remembered that what is now Crabby Jack's was called the Perry Nook Caf'. And the restaurant on the Albert Pier was the Connaught.
Even while the game of cat-and-mouse went on in the early 1960s, Graham was working for Bill Green, servicing police motorbikes.
When we met up on the Albert Pier on a Sunday morning for a photograph, the place was buzzing with motorbikes.
Today they are much more powerful than the machines that the Connaught boys rode.
And there was a distinct lack of 15-year-olds, too. With the current trend for men of a certain age to buy a bike ' often a Harley-Davidson ' and do what they did years ago but without the speed, the atmosphere was very different.
But the pattern of the day wasn't. They all still end up on the west coast ' albeit having their run interrupted by roundabouts, filters and traffic lights.
Reliving their youth?
That may be an oversimplification. It seems to be more to do with enjoying the freedom of two wheels along with the liberty that comes with having raised the family, paid for the house and regained some spare time and cash.
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