Imagine my surprise when I woke up one morning last week. In itself a remarkable enough tale, but after squinting out of the small window that decorates the modest apartment I occupy, (an apartment perched precariously above a fully-operational bordello) I witnessed something very special - an act of nature, beautiful in all its anachronistic glory.
It must have been 7 o'clock in the morning and the floor had already begun shaking to the unmistakable pounding of loose headboards and the determined squeaking of dirty bedsprings from down below. This, as always, was accompanied by the fleshy, rhythmic slapping of battered pink orbs as the houseband struck up another early morning favourite.
However, there was an orb of a far different and more benign nature blazing down on the streets of West Soho. It wasn't until I saw this old fella waddling past below that I realised this was the real deal.
As his lobster-hued builder's arse writhed and squirmed, trying to fight its way out of his V-necked trousers, I saw he was sweating - hard. Like a paedophile on a bouncy castle hard. Summer is here!
My first attempt to get out and enjoy nature's spoils involved riding to a trendy boozer across town, deep in Robbie Williams country. I locked my door, got all the way down seven flights of stairs, locked the outside door and then realised that I didn't have a helmet. Shit. Never mind I thought - it's summer, the sun is shining, I feel happy - even the police are smiling. Plus, with my consanguine origin and the deliberate use of ethnic-looking headgear I can always claim special dispensation on religious grounds. Naturally I was stopped by the police barely 50 metres from my front door and, of course, I greeted the officers at large with a heart-felt "Shalom!"
This lead me to think about how pathetic the whole crash helmet situation really is, though. Why do we need helmet laws? Well, all law is devised to account for the lowest common denominator, not for intelligent, free-thinking adults. Flipmode: would anyone out there like to be forced to wear leathers?
Perhaps you wear full racing leathers to go to the shops anyway. If not, why not? After all it has been statistically proven that most accidents happen within five minutes' ride of your home. So logic would suggest this as the sensible course of action. However, most of us would rather calculate the risk and then come to our own decision. Norick Abe probably daren't get out of the bath without his Shoei on.
The helmet law is seen as a civil rights issue because it prevents free-thinking individuals from making an informed, deliberate choice. We are all aware that your head is better protected with a lid - that's never been in question - it's just a fact. But because I'm a Sikh does that make it right for me to flout the law on religious grounds, thereby effectively having more free choice than everyone else? On the other hand, could it suggest that the law actually regards me as less important and doesn't care about my fate?
The main argument against riding al fresco - that it's dangerous because you may crash - is an easy diversion. When I started riding I crashed a bit. Well, quite a bit actually. Oh, fuck it - I have probably crashed more bikes than any one person will ever own in a lifetime, but it taught me something. It showed me how crashes happen (that's wisdom, eh?) and made me realise that accidents aren't necessarily unavoidable. If you don't feel confident that you can't go out without T-boning a Hyundai Coupe then it's probably best to stay at home.
I have (I cannot deny it) destroyed FireBlades, Triumphs and Ducatis all the way from St Tropez to Newcastle and many points in between, often without gloves, sometimes without a hat and occasionally without shoes and socks. I must admit that I decided to draw the line at no shoes because, after being stopped by the local Gendarmes for pulling a third gear wheelie away from Club Cinquant-Cinq in St. Tropez in only my underpants and a T-shirt, I had to dismount and approach the police. Because the tarmac was so damn hot I also had to scream loudly and jump back on the bike and receive my bollocking nursing a burnt toe. Now that's stupid.
You see, in the South of France you can (sort of) ride without a helmet. The police trust that, so long as you actually have some form of head protection with you, the intention to wear it is there. Of course, how and when you wear it is up to you. If you want to speed down the motorway and peel your cap when you bin it at 140mph that's up to you - it's called choice. Our boys in blue don't actually give a shit whether you die or not, they just don't want to scrape your scrambled bonce innards off the ground themselves. Which in itself is a fair call, I suppose.
In Naples you're supposed to wear a lid but nobody does. They have special plain clothes crack squads who will track you down, book you, fine you on the spot and then ride off - annoyingly - without helmets. And in Columbia it's actually illegal to wear a crash helmet unless you're on the motorway. To be fair though, the reasoning is slightly more complex. The problem is that Pablo Escobar's henchmen started a trend of performing 'hits' riding motorcycles. They'd screech into busy areas and shoot up motherfuckers whilst wearing full-face crash helmets so as to disguise their true identities. Thus, these days in a country who's GDP is almost entirely reliant on cocaine, you are likely to get the ass torn out of ya just for wearing a BS-stamped lid. That's irony for you.
Anyway, helmet or not, you all know as well as I do that by the time you even attempt to turn your eyelids inside out at 120mph the summer will be long gone. So, as the saying goes, make haste while the sun shines...