Early recollections by Geoff Harris

photo of cyril morgan shop

The photograph is of Cyril Morgan’s motorcycle dealer shop in Caerphilly, with the title “Easter Delivery 1932”. The photographer was F. W. Gatehouse, the long time town chemist. The store still exists but is now a carpet retailer. It was to us, as young motorcycle enthusiasts in the early 1960`s, the absolute Mecca.
I started as an apprentice electrician in 1961 in the Cardiff steelworks commonly known as the “Dowlas Works” as it was moved from Dowlas near Merthyr Tydfil to Cardiff in the latter part of the previous century.

My first introduction to motorcycles was looking with envious eyes at the older apprentices riding into work on their BSA Bantams as I sweated in with my home assembled pedal cycle. Those Bantams looked so large and powerful; I was determined to have one. This was a major problem, because as a first year apprentice my wages were £2. 17s 00d from which my mother, quite correctly, required my contribution to the family living costs. This left me with £1.10s, still a fortune for a 16 year old.

A chap in our street had just realised his life time ambition and bought a 600cc Matchless and side-car. His very used and battered 1952 D1 Bantam was for sale at £7. 10s, just within reach. I saved like mad. When I had just enough for the purchase but not tax or insurance I approached my “Mam” and told her I wanted to buy a motorbike. The exact words of her reply are lost from my memory, this is an example of the bodies self defence mechanism, in removing the most dangerous and unpleasant memories, limiting the long term psychological damage such trauma can have on one so young. Suffice to say the reply was most certainly in the negative.

What then followed leaves me, to this day, filled with wonder at my own foolishness and courage, for the next day I went out and bought the bike. Never have I carried out a more dangerous or courageous act, and to my utter astonishment my mother let me continue breathing.

Within the month I had the bike taxed and insured and was mobile. The wonder of it all was soon brought to reality when it became clear that the Bantam was not much faster than my push bike. But I proceeded to improve its speed by cleaning and polishing it and by applying lots of chrome tape.

I passed my test as soon as possible and looked around for a bigger bike. My sister’s boy friend, trying to keep in my good books, told me of a chap in Penarth who had a Norton for sale. (Have you noticed how useful your sister’s boy friends were? In order to stay sweet with her, they were forced to be nice to you) the bike turned out to be a 1956 Domi 99. The asking price £38. As I was now a second year apprentice earning £4. 5s. 00d a week with the opportunity for some overtime, the bike was as good as mine after some months saving. Please note; all this saving did me no harm; it taught me that abstinence and celibacy have their own reward, some thing I have never ever repeated.

The bike was in a pretty poor state with very rusty exhaust pipes and silencers and a badly scratched petrol tank. I later found out that the previous owner was a display rider when he was in the RAF and with a little encouragement would ride up and down Penarth Road standing on the tank. That explained the scratches.

Yet more saving saw me with enough money to buy a set of new exhaust pipes. In those days we had to work a 48 hour week. This included a Saturday morning 8.00 to 12.00. So at 12.00 still dirty from the rolling mills and in my apprentice green overalls I set off at speed for Cyril Morgan's to buy my exhaust pipes. Remember, that most shops then, closed on Saturday afternoons, so I needed to be smart off the mark and not hang about.

When the new shiny pipes were laid on the counter I touched them with my finger tips as you would a holy relic. How to get them home was no problem. Tied around my waist with a bit of old string and a pipe slung back across each shoulder, I was away.

Eager to fit them and anticipating that with these shiny new pipes, I would be the envy of my friends and how they would further enhance my sex appeal to all the girls, I simply flew along on a cloud of dream like enthusiasm, long hair blowing in the wind. Travelling down North Road in Cardiff, I came across a line of slow moving cars. Down a gear, I smartly overtook the lot in one graceful Hailwood like movement, only to discover a policeman on his Triumph in the middle.  I did what all would do. I reduced my speed, pulled into line, looked straight ahead, pretended to be innocent and prayed.

Within seconds the policeman was alongside signalling me to stop. With pounding heart I pulled in, stopped, cut the engine and hung my head. The policeman stopped his Triumph and put it on the stand. Slowly he walked up to me.

Picture if you can, this pathetic figure. Still grubby from the steel works, in dirty green overalls with the word “Apprentice” i.e. “Idiot” written in large yellow letters across the breast pocket, with two exhaust pipes sticking above my bowed and repentant head. He walked around me and the bike tutting all the time, but managing not to laugh. He then proceed to give me the “Mother and Father” of a rollicking, to which I nodded with acquiescent agreement to each and every point he made. Finally after promising to mend my ways and never do it again, he sent me on my way. I left, thanking heavens and all my ancestors for their kindness in giving me a policeman with a heart and a sense of humour.

I have never forgotten him and although I must admit that I did not always comply with his instructions to keep the speed down. It’s only now many decades later with the wisdom of age and fear of speed cameras, that I obey the speed limits, well most of the time and, I still have the Norton.