A Real Imp

[East London accent] “’Ere Roy, look what we’ve found! Can we keep it here and get it working?”

Mr Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters and most welcome guests, those words, or something like them, were spoken over thirty years ago, and as a result I’m shivering in the freezing rain in a field in North Yorkshire; my ears blasted by a constant barrage of gunfire and the barking of hundreds of dogs.

[Yorkshire accent] “Well, the weather’s a bit brisk, but we’re having a grand time. There’s North East ferret rescue over by ’Ratcatchers’ stand. And if you fancy showing your lurcher, there’s competitions at top of field. Over in far corner, there’s Derek Pritchard, our local cheesemonger. He usually runs out halfway through the day…”

I might be right behind him. What's a city girl like me doing at Selby Game Fair? I’m here to see my 12-year old son, Callum, performing for the first time as a member of the internationally famous IMPS motorcycle display team.

The IMPS grew out of a youth project in Hackney in the late 60s/early 70s. One day, some of the boys dragged in a derelict motorbike they "found" and begged Roy, the project director to let them keep it. He promised that if they managed to get it up and running, he’d teach them how to ride it properly. So they did. Roy's lessons proved hugely popular and it wasn’t long before Roy found himself acquiring more bikes—legitimately this time!—and the IMPS motorcycle display team was born.

Today the IMPS is a forty-strong team of riders aged between 5 and 16, riding bikes ranging from tiny 50cc machines to massive 250cc monsters that dwarf most of their riders.

What kind of parent would allow their child to do a stunt like this? Fire Jump

I'm not that bad a parent. This is partly illusion. These riders do not perform stunts. Stunts involve a hazardous degree of risk no sane parent would allow. The IMPS performances are a clever weave of skill and courage, respect and discipline, trust and teamwork.

Pyramid In the five bike pyramid, for example, 18 riders stand atop five 250cc bikes. As the pyramid turns, the bikes on the inside have to move more slowly, while those on the outside must accelerate. Everyone has to keep their balance. The whole manoeuvre is directed by the rider on the centre bike. His bike is also carrying the whole or partial weight of eight other riders on his bike.
Who do you trust this much? Callum

So, back in Yorkshire,  I’m standing under these dark clouds shivering with cold and apprehension. This grass is far too long, soaking wet and the whole area is peppered with molehills. They've spent the winter season practicing on hard ground. How are they going to ride on this surface? Well, now we're going to find out, because here they come!

First the three mascots on their tiny, shiny new 50cc Yamahas, drawing a huge “aaaah” from the assembled throng as they make their first circuit of the arena. And here come the junior team on their 90s, riveting the crowd with a stunning crossover. Can it be as dangerous as it looks? Next, the 250s. 21 riders aged between 11 and 16 roar down the field, their back wheels slipping and sliding in the slimy grass. As they move into a turn—oh no—Callum stalls his bike. The rider behind him wavers and slips. Both boys drop their bikes and crouch down beside them as the other riders continue with the manoeuvre. Are they hurt? Where's the St John's?

Brian, the Imps’ commentator, explains to the crowd that this is a standard procedure. In this position, they are indicating that they are unhurt, while creating the smallest possible target to the other riders. At a signal, the boys are up, kick-starting their machines and speeding off to rejoin the team.

For twenty minutes, the IMPS hold the crowd spellbound. The riders faces are masks of concentration as they execute one enthralling manoeuvre after another. All too soon,  they are lining up to give their audience the Imps' traditional salute—opening the throttles and revving their machines—before proudly leaving the stadium, their grinning faces flushed with success. The crowd applauds wildly. But not as wildly as me, because I’m a Toastmaster and that’s what we do. But most of all because one of those riders is my son.

I won Best Speaker for this. Yahoo! I didn't use notes at all for this speech—and am I proud of myself! I managed this by not using written notes at all when I was practicing the speech. All day, I was sick with worry that it would all go wrong, but as soon as I started speaking, I was fine. It just flowed beautifully—even the Yorkshire accent! I'm sure my voice projection was much better than usual, too. I thoroughly enjoyed delivering this speech and got hideously drunk afterwards! Michele (an Aussie) evaluated me and said she didn't understand the first line because of the strong accent. Highly amusing, since we hold our meetings in East London!


"Very energetic and good use of pictures."

"Enthralling speech. You held my attention the whole time and told a great story. I loved your vocal variety, your expressive voice had so much potential and your use of the stage and props—exceptional!"

"Very energetic and it was great the way you shared a personal experience with us. Very warm and entertaining."

"Loved the enthusiasm."

"Nice speech Tessa. Very good delivery and incredibly fluent. I think you're very good. One recommendation, I am getting to know your style and I think perhaps a challenge would be to step out from your comfort zone. But don't think you're not brilliant."

"Excellent speech. After the opening impact, letting us know what the speech would cover would help. Excellent voices and gestures."

"Very entertaining. Good use of props and accents."

"Great. Personal subject and passion. thanks. Brilliant flow without notes—impressive."

"Well presented. Perhaps in increase and decrease in pitch would improve delivery. Comical. Great to see a speech with no notes."

"Very enthusiastic performance. Good content. Held interest."

"So powerful. I was a bit lost how the end tied with the beginning—but that's probably just me."

"Superb stuff! I liked use of present tense—made it more immediate. Occasionally you commented on self and venue, which distracted, but that's being really picky! This was amazingly good!!"

"You did an outstanding job, and without notes too!! You definitely didn't need them because you were so well prepared and delivered your speech flawlessly. It had everything! Emotion, drama, humour and reality and you wove all this in brilliantly. You tone and audibility was great and you made excellent use of hand gestures to emphasis points and to add impact. I really enjoyed your speech and I loved the way it was so personal. the use of pictures was great too. Well done, I really look forward to your next speech."