Café Racer Culture : Up The Junction
a document from the days of the true Café Racer...
We were browsing in the old dusty stacks the other day and found this copy of Up The Junction, Nell Dunn’s classic and controversial 1966 collection of stories of working class culture.
Buried deep amongst the gritty tales of clip joints, factory floors and rancid old boozers – publication of which caused such a stir back in the day – there nestled this gem of an illustration and a story of the true café racer.
The illustration is by someone called Susan Benson. We’re having trouble finding out much about the artist’s other work. There’s a real sensitivity to her observational stuff in the book.
“Out with the boys” is a fleeting tale of disaster out on the A-roads of London – the sorts of routes mythologised of late in the café racer cult that’s gobbled up the aesthetic of so much of bike culture. The story is replete with references to borstals, greasy caffs, national service, Ford’s of Dagenham – and of course Nortons, Triumphs and BSA Gold Stars.
The heroine of the stories, a young, rebellious girl who loves bad boys, rides pillion on a lump of English iron and races with her boyfriend on the North Circular’s treacherous tarmac.
“‘Fancy a burn up, Dave?’ They warmed up the bikes in the drive-in. ‘Put yer arms around me tight and then relax. Okay?’ The wide road, lit by arc lamps, stretched ahead. Over his shoulder I watched the speedometer quiver to ninety, then drop steeply as we approached a bend. He leant toward to the kerb until my knee skimmed the road. The lights stopped, we pitched into darkness…Now the roar of the Norton screamed alongside us…”.
It’s emotive stuff – a dispatch from a time when this sort of rebellious teen behaviour was vilified rather than picked out and appropriated, only to be sold back to us all as a totem of cool.
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