He was a big guy, six foot eight and built like a silver-back gorilla. His motorbike was as large as a bull and he rode it as though it was one. His dirty blond hair straggled down to his shoulders but was covered by a helmet which always hung loosely on his head and sported two horns that stuck out at either side. His black leather jacket bore the legend “Viking” and this was the name by which he was universally known by friends, foes and police alike, his real name was, keep a straight face, Nigel!
He could be as mean as a jack boot to those who irritated him, but to me he was as friendly as an over grown pup, although even I had to watch what I said, he could snap at the least perceived slight. I remember when he once half killed a man for whistling a tune he didn’t care for. Nevertheless he was my friend and I felt gutted when he died.
He didn’t drink or take drugs except for the large cigars that he chain-smoked, and he always said that he wanted to be buried with one stuck out of his mouth, which is exactly what we did after we lowered him into the coffin. Some clown decided to light it at one stage in the proceedings and he looked strangely life like as the smoke billowed around him. Someone apparently put the thing out, or so we thought at the time.
The way he died was kind of odd though entirely apposite. There were a few of us riding our bikes up on the moors when Viking lost control of his machine for no apparent reason and careered towards a tree. Although he only caught it a glancing blow, a branch dislodged his helmet so that he was sightless. He then hit another tree head on, shot off the bike into mid-air, twisted in a horrible sort of way and he came to the ground at a tremendous speed and was impaled on the very horns of his helmet. The coroner couldn’t be sure that it was the horns that had killed him but we were. It was the way he would have wanted to go.
The funeral cortege moved off, a hearse followed by a huge number of bikers on clean and gleaming machines. It was several miles to the crematorium and at the rate we were moving it would take some time. As we all customarily wore black, we didn’t really have to dress any different from normal for the occasion, although a several people had made the effort and sported black bow ties and a couple had top hats on top of their helmets – which was nice.
I thought I noticed some thing amiss early on, but my view of the hearse was slightly obscured by a passing top hat. However, half an hour into the journey there was no mistaking the flames and smoke that were billowing from the back of it. At first we all sat back in horror and did nothing to warn the driver and he drove on in blissful ignorance. But within moments it became a roaring conflagration and he couldn’t help but notice. He put his foot down and the hearse shot forward. The adrenalin was pumping through us all and I’m sorry to say there were a few whoops and yells from the congregation.
I hadn’t realised where we where and I wondered what the driver was thinking of as he drove forward like a madman. I had the wild impression that he was trying to get away from the back of the vehicle and I tried to shout out to him that this was impossible.
As it turned out I couldn’t have been more wrong. We were actually close to a reservoir and he made a beeline for it. He left the road and bounced across the open ground that separated tarmac from water, and at the very last moment hurled himself out of the car rolling surprisingly gracefully across the grass, immediately before the vehicle ploughed into the water. As the car hit the lake the driver’s door slammed closed and so, water tight, the car sailed into the middle of the lake with the fire raging out of control.
Until the explosion the scene was strangely bewitching, a truly Viking kind of Funeral.