Lost in Trans­la­tion

The tri­als and tribu­la­tions of an itin­er­ant mo­tor­cy­cle de­signer and con­sul­tant


Dur­ing my many years with the mo­tor­cy­cle in­dus­try, I have been re­quired to be, whether for a few days or sev­eral years, in a lot of very dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions. Get­ting there has some­times been chal­leng­ing, and get­ting back oc­ca­sion­ally more so. And as I’ve usu­ally been im­mersed alone into an en­vi­ron­ment where nei­ther the lan­guage nor the cul­ture was fa­mil­iar, the in­ter­ven­ing times have also pro­vided some in­ter­est­ing mo­ments.

It was said that an English­man abroad re­quires just two phrases: “Do you speak English?”, and if that fails, “Then fetch me some­one who can”. In th­ese post-colo­nial times, the re­al­ity now in­volves a lot of fa­cial an­i­ma­tion and ges­tic­u­la­tion, but usu­ally I’ve man­aged to make my­self un­der­stood, if some­times at the cost of my dig­nity.

The fact that I started work with BMW on April Fool’s Day, 1982, should have been omi­nous in it­self. My ar­rival co­in­cided with the Mu­nich fashion show, and all the ho­tels were fully booked, so my first night in that city was spent on a wooden bench in­side the air­port. A po­lice­man prod­ded me with a gun around 2.00 am, say­ing that they were about to close for the night, but with nowhere to go, he even­tu­ally let me stay put, and locked the air­port around me. With modern se­cu­rity pro­ce­dures, it’s un­likely I would even be that for­tu­nate to­day, but such was my ar­rival in Ger­many.

BMW’s Per­son­nel Depart­ment helped lo­cate a ho­tel for the fol­low­ing night, and un­til I could se­cure more per­ma­nent ac­com­mo­da­tion. That took three months. My tiny room had a sink, but no bath­room, so ba­sic hy­giene was a mat­ter of cre­ativ­ity and a cer­tain amount of ac­ro­bat­ics. A lack of laun­dry fa­cil­i­ties was re­solved by five dif­fer­ent coloured shirts, which were al­ter­nated daily, along with co­pi­ous ap­pli­ca­tions of de­odor­ant. If any of my col­leagues spot­ted the ruse, they were ei­ther too po­lite or too em­bar­rassed to com­ment.

As a con­sul­tant with Yamaha, I got to visit Tokyo and ride the bul­let train to Ha­ma­matsu, all un­der the su­per­vi­sion of an experienced cor­po­rate min­der. On the sec­ond trip, they de­cided I was now a sea­soned trav­eller who should be ca­pa­ble of find­ing his own way to the de­sign of­fice. The Metro signs weren’t even in my own al­pha­bet, never mind in English, but, for­tu­nately, a help­ful fel­low trav­eller was able to push me out at the right stop, and a busi­ness card in Ja­panese helped a taxi driver get me to the

fi­nal des­ti­na­tion. Weary, jet-lagged and ap­pre­hen­sive, I stum­bled into the of­fice, drag­ging a suit­case be­hind me. “Hi, Glynn, per­fect tim­ing. The meet­ing is just about to start. Take a seat.” Wel­come to the world of in­ter­na­tional con­sul­tancy.

This was just a warm-up for the Ital­ian ex­pe­ri­ence. The pro­to­type for the first TDR125, due to be pro­duced by Yamaha’s Bel­garda di­vi­sion, was con­structed by a com­pany out­side ru­ral Parma (ham, dairy prod­ucts...). The air­port was no­to­ri­ous for fog, which would roll in just be­fore night­fall. Af­ter the fi­nal visit to sign off on the model, I boarded the plane home with per­fect vis­i­bil­ity. Then the cap­tain’s voice came over the PA sys­tem, ex­plain­ing that our de­par­ture would be de­layed for tech­ni­cal rea­sons. As the de­lay in­creased, fog started to build, to the in­evitable point where we could no longer take off. Ev­ery­one would have to dis­em­bark, col­lect their lug­gage, re­turn any items of duty-free to the store, and wait for ac­com­mo­da­tion to be al­lo­cated in the town. My suit­case didn’t reap­pear on the carousel with ev­ery­one else’s, so I missed the bus to the ho­tel while fill­ing in a miss­ing lug­gage claim. When I fi­nally ar­rived at the ho­tel, there was chaos, with a scrum of sev­eral hun­dred peo­ple ahead of me, all try­ing to claw their way to the re­cep­tion desk. I fi­nally got to my room at 4.00 am, only to be wo­ken two hours later by the re­cep­tion desk say­ing a bus was wait­ing to take ev­ery­one to the air­port. Of course, we didn’t take off un­til noon. Ugh.

One hap­pier Yamaha mem­ory was be­ing flown to Am­s­ter­dam (busi­ness class, dressed in bug-splat­tered leathers) to pick up an FZR1000, and ride it over to the Isle of Man TT race. This was one of the works pro­to­types which were hand-built and put out far more than the stan­dard power. I cov­ered four coun­tries in less than four hours, and that in­cluded tak­ing the hov­er­craft from France to Eng­land. Ah, those hal­cyon days be­fore speed cam­eras!

On my first trip to In­dia for Ba­jaj, I ar­rived in Mum­bai to be greeted by a lo­cal com­pany rep­re­sen­ta­tive who put me in a taxi for the four to five hour road trip to Pune. I was de­lighted to find the car was a Hin­dus­tan Am­bas­sador, a direct con­tin­u­a­tion of the 1956 Mor­ris Ox­ford, and quintessen­tially In­dian. Shortly af­ter be­ing waved off by my host, the driver sud­denly screeched to a halt at a chicken mar­ket, and dis­ap­peared into the crowd. All around, peo­ple were ar­riv­ing in taxis and stuff­ing as many live chick­ens into the boot as they could fit, with the as­so­ci­ated fran­tic cluck­ing and ex­plo­sions of feath­ers. Seated in the back, closely clutch­ing my wal­let, th­ese vivid sights, sounds and smells,

Spot the odd man out. No, not The Last Sup­per, but shar­ing Tep­pa­nyaki with Yamaha de­sign­ers from GK Dy­nam­ics in Tokyo

An alarm­ingly youth­ful-look­ing au­thor flanked by At­sushi Ichijo (left), de­signer of the orig­i­nal V-Max, and At­sushi Ishiyama, then pres­i­dent of GK Dy­nam­ics, in Tokyo. Well, it was nearly half my life­time ago

Not a bad view to draw mo­tor­cy­cles by — my home for two months on Lake Geneva while be­ing lec­turer at the Art Cen­tre Europe

No, dad, I don’t want to swap it for your Austin Mae­stro. Quick fam­ily stopover in Wales on the way to the IoM TT with Yamaha’s pro­to­type FZR1000

The bul­let train is a great way to travel, pro­vided you know which one to get on and when to get off

The Tokyo sub­way won awards for its user-friendly clar­ity — pro­vided you can read Ja­panese

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