Master baiting for experts

 

 

I used to have this friend. Named Tony. His surname was Bates, so we called him Master. Naturally, he didnít much like his risquť sobriquet, and naturally that simply prompted us to keep the wound bleeding. Having said that, he gave as good as he got. Or almost.

 

He wasnít all that bright.

 

Somewhere along the road we parted company. Amicably as I remember. The road we were on simply forked, and he forked off one way, and I forked off the other.

 

Anyway, Master Bates and yours truly used to hang around together in the usual way. Visiting the local motorcycle shops. Cruising in my Cortina. Scoping for girls. Looking for laughs. Sitting around on street corners mindlessly bored and swapping dirty jokes.

 

We were still on the right side of twenty, incidentally, and (in his dipso family tradition) heíd fairly recently discovered boozing and was in the habit of crawling the pubs and supping the suds. East End of London pubs, that is. Not the toughest in the country, despite the popular misconception. But the odd gertcha punch-up and murder wasnít exactly unknownĖsuch as when, in 1966, Ronnie Kray shot dead George Cornell in The Blind Beggar on Whitechapel Road. Cornell was one of the equally infamous Richardson Gang and, within the context of hoodlum territorial warfare and villainous feuding, he had it comingóand he got it above the right eye courtesy of a 9mm bullet.

 

But Master Bates had eyes like a sniper and would fix his own sights on whoever had merely glanced his way and strafe them with paranoiac hostility. That in turn stimulated the primitive self defence circuits of anyone with testicles (and a few people without), any of whom might have been related to the Krays or the Richardsons.

 

Plenty of folk, I might add, saw Ronnie pull the trigger. But no one would crook their own trigger finger in court. Eventually, however, Psycho Ron also got what was coming to him, and you know the rest.

 

Anyway, I wasnít much of a boozer then, and I ainít much now. But I occasionally accompanied Master Bates into most of the parochial watering holes such as The Grave Maurice (another Kray Twins hangout), the Salmon & Ball (where my old man used to drink back in the sixties), the Marquis of Cornwallis (yet another Kray Twins dive), and any number of other gin joints within our orbit.

 

However, our joint pub crawling lifestyle (such as it was for me) was short-lived, and thatís simply because it got too bleediní dangerous. Master Bates, I soon discovered, kept getting into rucks with the other drinkersóand part of the reason for that was because he was also well aware of the reputation rightly (and often wrongly) associated with whatever hostelry whose threshold he happened to cross.

 

Heíd push open the door, hesitate, catch of whiff of the alcohol fumes, look back at me and (in a ponderous tone of voice) say something like: "Bloke got glassed in here last month," or "This place is full of troublemakers." And the moment he was on the carpet he would start scanning for whoever might be looking for a scrap. In pretty much every instance, it seemed to me that everyone was minding his or her own business and talking with their friends or canoodling or checking the football pools or just staring vacantly at the flock wallpaper.

 

But Master Bates had eyes like a sniper and would fix his own sights on whoever had merely glanced his way and strafe them with paranoiac hostility. That in turn stimulated the primitive self defence circuits of anyone with testicles (and a few people without), any of whom might have been related to the Krays or the Richardsons.

 

More than once Iíd (firmly) grabbed Tonyís arm and urgently navigated him to a quiet corner of the pub and faced him against a flyblown boxing poster or a framed and faded snapshot of a Bethnal Green tram. And more than once I had to manoeuvre him out of the pub completely and remove him to the relatively safety of the aforementioned Cortina.

 

One time I bumped into him ambling along Hackney Road and saw that he had a bottom lip like a water melon and a prize-winning shiner.

 

 "Royal Oak, Saturday night," was all he said. And of course, heíd got exactly what heíd programmed himself to receive. The shrinks call it the behavioural confirmation effect.

Now fast forward to, say, last week when Iím perusing the online news pages of the motorcycle and motoring world and stumble across the headlines reading: THE 10 MOST DANGEROUS ROADS IN THE COUNTRY, and BRITAINS MOST DANGEROUS ROADS, and REVEALED: THE UKíS RISKIEST STREETS. Etc.

 

Itís not the first time Iíve read this stuff. Itís seasonal. And yes, theyíre all at it these days; editors, journos and webmasters busting a gut to get some meaningful news on the online or print pages. And naturally, frightening the crap out of your readers/visitors is where itís at. When your sales are flagging and your audience is (rightly) suffering from attention deficit, crank up the old scaremongering machine. A few choice lines of ignorant verbiage speculating upon risk, disaster and sundry forms of jeopardy should tide you over until you can contrive a link between CANCER AND MOTORCYCLING or the 15 WAYS YOU COULD GET KILLED IN THE GARAGE.

 

Now, I had a poke at Motorcycle News recently (with justification, I might add), and Iím loathe to take another crack. But like George Cornell, MCN deserves a 9mm round for the related story they posted in December 2017 headed: DONíT GO FOR A RIDE ON TUESDAY JANUARY 2ND.

 

The text reads: "If you go for a ride on Tuesday, January 2 2018, thereís a 5% higher chance that youíll crash your bike and be killed than if you ride tomorrow [Thursday 14th December 2017]. The same goes for January 31, March 2, March 31, April 30 and every 29.5 days after that. Why? Because research in the British Medical Journal has shown that you have a 5.49% higher chance of a fatal crash on a full moon. Itís even worse on a super moon."

Jesus. And if that ainít just begging the Godís of Fate to swipe down and splatter you all over the highway, I donít know what is.

 

But aside from the fact that stuffing peopleís heads with this self-fulfilling prophecy nonsense only risks putting more bodies on the slab, it also undermines the biking business as a whole.

 

Right now, at least two of the more prominent UK biking publications (come on, put your hands up you bastards) are carrying stories suggesting that NINE OF THE TEN MOST DANGEROUS ROADS IN THE UK ARE IN LONDON, which is probably every bit as true as itís false.

By the same misplaced statistical logic, you might as well advise people to avoid drinking in The Blind Beggar because they might get shot.

 

In other words, playing these kinds of actuarial games only tells us what happened at a given place under a given set of circumstances to a given demographic, and circumstances are constantly changing. Fact is, some folk are far more likely than others to get creamed on the road because theyíre stupid/careless/unlucky, and so on. Other folk are way different and will cruise on and on past the mayhem and murder. Looked at another way, the average ignores the specific. And yes, Iíve mentioned this before in this column; that stats are for statisticians, not the ignorati.

 

But aside from the fact that stuffing peopleís heads with this self-fulfilling prophecy nonsense only risks putting more bodies on the slab, it also undermines the biking business as a whole. One again, it needs reiterating that the underlying responsibility of the biking press is to further the general interests of biking and help drive sales, and it canít serve that end by constantly telling us how dangerous everything is when youíre on two or four wheels and thereby reinforce our morbid expectations.

 

If editors and journos really must keep repeating the same old same old, year in year out, they might try delicately reminding us that the vast majority of riders WONíT DIE ON THE TEN MOST DANGEROUS STRIPS OF TARMAC and that EVERY INCH OF ROAD IS AS DANGEROUS AS THE NEXT.

 

In short, cut the master baiting, please. There are enough w@nker$ís in the world as it is.

 

 

ó Danny DeFazio

 

Note: This column originally appeared in British Dealer News, 2019

 

 

















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