That year, England enjoyed one of the best summers it had experienced for a long time. At 16 years of age, I spent it riding my little BSA Bantam motorcycle around the lanes and byways of my native Devon, thinking I was real cool.
One day, while roaring down a country lane, I came across a very large grass snake, slithering down the middle of the road. With the stupidity of youth, which I have to admit I had more than my fair share of back then, I decided it would be good fun to take a second run along the lane, but this time riding over the snake from tail to head, flattening it to the road. I turned the bike and rode back past the unconcerned snake, then turned again.
I revved the bike and flew down the lane towards the helpless snake. However, the moment before my front wheel touched the snake’s tail, it reared up in a way I would have thought impossible. As I carried on forward, the snake came up, hit me in the chest then slithered up around my neck. At this point I have to admit I lost my cool, and yelling insanely I let go of the handlebars in an attempt to claw the snake off me.
Without my hands on the handlebars, the motorbike was free to go wherever it chose, and it chose to leave the road and explore the nearby countryside. In doing so, the bike jumped a ditch, went through the middle of a blackberry bush and on into a bluebell wood.
I actually parted company with the bike just after the blackberry bush, when I received a good smack in the gob from a low branch. For a while I lay amongst the scratchy brambles, feeling decidedly uncool and wondering if I was in fact dead. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something moving. It was that darn grass snake making a hasty retreat, seemingly none the worse for its ordeal (unlike me, who was now beginning to hurt all over).
When I’d gathered enough strength to recover my bike, I found a broken headlight, foot rests sticking at funny uncool angles, and quite a few dents and scratches, but the engine was still in one piece. I started to ride gingerly back along the lane towards home and the first thing I saw was the snake, now slithering along the middle of the road in the opposite direction, as if nothing had happened.
This time as I came level with him I drove past on the opposite side of the road, nice and quietly and slowly. And as I passed him I’m willing to swear that that snake had a smile on its face.