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Motorcycle Repair Workshop

Secrets of the bike shop

Ever wonder what it’s like behind the scenes at a repair shop? Wonder no more… (but for God’s sake don’t drink the tea.)

Somebody upstairs is singing ‘I never promised you a rose garden’ whilst farting exhuberently. There is the crackle of welding and the occasional clang of spanner dropped on chequer-plate. This is the world of my father’s business. Belfast in the 70s – so it must be time for a cup of tea and a sugary bun.

I became the part-time specialist in dogsbody work – several rungs below the Toe-Tectors of the newest apprentice. That meant a long time learning the intricacies of swarf sweeping, toxic paint stripping and scraping underseal. When I wasn’t applying my entire bodyweight to clockwise rotation of left handed bolts, I became the karate kid of the jobs that nobody else wanted. Facilities for waiting customers were limited. There was basically a toilet and a designated teacup. Soon I learned that I could use the intake manifold walnut blaster as a tool to make this slightly less revolting. (I’d have used it on the toilet, but the hose wouldn’t stretch).

Our esteemed clients were brewing a case study or two of mental non-conformity. One guy wanted a set of long stalk switches fitted. When asked what these were to control, he simply said they were for ‘appearances.’ The same patron always travelled 40 miles to one particular station to refuel.

My French teacher, an elegant young woman, turned up to collect her Vespa. I hid in the Snap-On vault to avoid both irregular verbs and Gitanes breath. Mademoiselle Chanel was simply outrée that she was being charged £7 for a full rewiring of her slice of Dolce Vita. She complained about the odd taste of her tea and sped off. In a blue cloud of hauteuse. I still think I should have got more than 38% in French.

A local window cleaner had brought his sidecar in – half full of concrete. He was unhappy that it mysteriously wouldn’t turn right. I was instructed to excavate it and found two cassette tapes that still played ‘Mantovani’s Golden Greats’ and ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ by somebody whose face was obscured by cement.

One afternoon, a trailer rolled in with a Laverda Mirage bungeed aboard. The owner demanded to supervise and critique every aspect of the search for an air leak. Eventually my father, not known for his patience or diplomacy (or pacifism) asked him to ‘pass thon thing on the bench’. It was a charged condenser. Laverda Jolta.

On a good day, I’d be sent out-in-the-van-w’andy. The aforementioned Andy was a well-meaning old guy who insisted on giving me unsolicited and, sadly, redundant contraception advice. ‘Cheapest Batteries in Ireland’ was painted on the vehicle. When you couldn’t read that for road grime, I’d be reminded that van washing was also now on my list.

Mranda managed the stock. She didn’t need that state-of-the-art microfiche because she could remember exactly which front wheel bearing code anybody’s Norton needed. You knew better than to try to walk off with even a fuse for your YZ250 though. Rumour had it she’d been a flamethrower instructor in a Soviet motorised division. She certainly smelt like she had.

We had a visit from a man selling ‘insurance.’ Retracting a tarp in the back of this van he revealed several crates of FN rifles. Mranda had to be called to repel him with a pincer movement.

The staff sometimes benefitted from career development and personal wellness sessions. The biscuit tin, 1/2” deep in old fuel we used for cleaning parts, was placed outside and a lit match applied. A twelve foot plume of flame was a useful reminder of the health risks of smoking. The Boss would then mock everyone else’s feeble attempts to saw through a railway sleeper with a junior hacksaw. Nobody ever knew what that compulsory exercise was about… but I’m sure it made men of us.

As a grammar school swot, I left the workshop and ended up with a PhD in a technology now only slightly more up to date than fire. Thanks to West Lothian College, however, I now have a City and Guilds qualification in bike maintenance, which is actually useful (although if anyone is good at extracting broken taps, please get in touch. I’ll make you some tea).

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