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Mr Smith: a sharp mind in a blunt body | Other | Tested

I was having one of my usual stress-filled days at Gassit HQ a few weeks ago, when an email from Bill McKinnon, former editor of Two Wheels magazine, lobbed into my inbox.

 Attached was a brilliant photograph of the late, great Two Wheels columnist Peter Smith sitting in front of a typewriter perched on a small wooden table. He’s got a bottle in one hand, what looks like a harmonica sitting on his lap (Smith was a skilled Blues musician), and a Star Hotel T-shirt underneath his overalls. A snapshot of a real journalist at work. The image brought a smile to my face, and I instantly felt the stress lift.

I wasn’t fortunate enough to ever enjoy Pete’s company, but the fact that his friends are made up of fellow industry legends including Guy Allen, Grant Roff, Wendy Spooner, Geoff Seddon and John Rooth suggest his company would have been highly entertaining and educational.

Bill has put together a softcover book containing an anthology of Peter Smith’s Two Wheels columns: Mr Smith: A Sharp Mind in a Blunt Body, it covers his early work from January 1985 until December 1988.

I immediately ordered my copy, happy that the profits from the sale of the 1000 copies printed will go to the Black Dog Institute. Now, whenever I need a break, I pick it up and read whatever page it opens to. It allows me to block out the world for five minutes and have a good laugh.

I won’t review a book made up of the work from a legend of the industry – instead, I’ll just share one of his shorter columns:

One thing I’ve always worried about, and believe me there’s not much my shrink reckons I wouldn’t worry about, is the humble Ocky (short for Octopus) strap. I mean, where did the Elasticised Eye Removers originally hail from?

Well, the ol’ Smith investigative brain went to work and here’s what I found after bribing a few members of the newsouthwales pleece farce.(Not that I needed to do that to get the info, it’s just that it’s so easy to do and I enjoy it so much.)

The Original Octopus Strap was a swag of aircraft quality rubber retaining straps covered with a woven canvas outer (to forestall deterioration) used for tying down Stuff On Ships. Big ones. Like aircraft carriers. It was invented by Fred C. Bungee, an aircraft maintenance man with the US Marines.

You see, when aircraft land upon aircraft carriers, their forward velocity is rapidly reduced to non-existence by a device called an Arresting Wire. This wire is not a wire at all but a thick bit of rubber with a canvas outer cover. Ol’ Fred C Bungee saw the potential for use of the leftover bits of broken Arresting Wire and made some cargo net-type devices out of ’em. These doohickies were the first Ocky straps.

Fred C Bungee’s creative intellect did not vegetate and he later figured out that there was an application for thinner devices in the civilian commercial sphere. Somewhat later he deduced that a single length of cord with a hook at each end would have wide and varying uses, especially on motorcycles.

This was where our hero killed the goose that could have produced the Gilt Bumnut. Having left the services and set himself up in business as a manufacturer, using all his service pay as capital, Fred C. Bungee produced five dozen of the now familiar Ocky Straps and kept them for himself as an evaluation exercise. (Fred C. was a keen rider.)

Now, dear readers, as we all know it is impossible to possess an Ocky strap for more than six months. They very seldom break. One tends to lose ’em. This is precisely the situation which occurred with Fred C. Bungee. Over a period of 15 years he lost all his Ockies, and when he went to produce ’em for the motorcycling public he found everyone who needed some, already had plenty.

The little buggers have a wanderlust, and inevitably escape and breed in the dark corners of garages, at the bottom of panniers and saddlebags and behind the doors of laundries. Every few months they get sick of the same bike and group of fellow-Ockies and attach themselves to trees at rallies or crawl into strange tents. They then entangle themselves with the other Ockies and breed a bit more.

I’m afraid that Fred C. Bungee had created a monster. Nobody needed to buy his Ocky Straps (and I’ve certainly never bought one) since all anyone had to do was wait for one to take a shine to ’em. Fred C. died a broken, embittered and penniless man. And if you believe all that, you’d bloody believe in the hereafter too!

– Two Wheels, December 1985.

RRP: $24.95

Vivid Publishing

(08) 9467 4143

As published in AMCN Vol 67 No 15