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Death of Moray’s gravity-defying ‘Stick Man’ Norman Birse, 80

Norman Birse captured on the job by photographer John Overton.
Norman Birse captured on the job by photographer John Overton.

Known as the ‘Stick Man’ to families all over Moray, and famed for riding a gravity-defying motorbike and sidecar piled high with firewood, Norman Birse has died aged 80.

Born April 20 1941 in Ivy Cottage, Cairnie, Huntly, Norman was destined for a life of hard work.

When he was seven the family moved to Springbank where they had a house and sawmill.

His father Eric Birse ran his own wood cutting business and wife Jeannie looked after their five sons and three daughters.

Norman attended the Green School before moving on to Keith Grammar.

However, he left school at 15 to join his father in the sawmill.

Fuel on wheels

Eric passed away in 1962 and Norman took over the business.

A fan of motorcycles he was known throughout Dufftown, Newmill and Keith as ‘the stick man’ as he customised the sidecar on his Norton motorbike to carry massive piles of chopped firework all round the area.

Norman Birse. Image courtesy of The Classic Motorcycle. Photo by John Overton.

He was even the cover star of The Classic Motorcycle in a feature called ‘workhorses’ about people who put their bikes to hard work.

Chopping and delivering wood would then be his life for 44 years.

Love and life

At Keith Show Norman met love of his life Jean Maver.

The pair tied the knot in Keith registry office on April 20 1985 when Jean was 38 and Norman 45.

Norman and Jean Birse.

Jean helped Norman with the business when she wasn’t with their girls Michelle and Gemma.

Norman retired when he was 60 after working for more than four decades to provide firewood for families in Moray and Banffshire.

When Norman wasn’t pottering with his tractor and vintage motorbikes, they enjoyed travelling in their retirement.

A young Michelle and Gemma Birse.

“We went four holidays to Toronto and Niagra, Germany, Ireland and Calgary.

“That last trip was a holiday of a lifetime. We got the Rocky Mountain train from Banff and it was wonderful,” said Jean.

Granda Norman

Norman’s daughter Michelle married her husband Morgan on August 17 2018 with her dad by her side.

Norman and Michelle on her wedding day.

She has three children, Sophie, Logan and Connor who made Norman a proud grandfather.

Norman and Jean spent their retirement at home with Gemma, their cats and chickens.

Proud granda Norman with his two grandsons and granddaughter.

Motorbikes and tractors kept Norman’s attention – despite not having a driving license for a car – until he died aged 80.

Final farewell

Norman passed away after 13 days in Dr Gray’s Hospital, Elgin. For the previous five years he had been contending with leukaemia.

His funeral takes place at Keith North Church on Wednesday April 6 at 1.30pm.

He’ll make one final journey from Springbank – from the home he lived in for 73 years.

Michelle said: “I have lovely memories of my dad. We went a lot of walks together more recently but as a wee girl I was also on the bike with him and the firewood going out on deliveries.

Gravity-defying bike masterfully driven by Norman Birse.

“I always ended up with a lot of pennies for the bakery in Dufftown from the wifies he delivered to.

“He’ll be really missed by so many people. Everybody knew my dad.”

You can read the family’s announcement here.

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