How easy as advancing years dull the vision, to close the eyes and think back to those halcyon days of Black Shirts, beating up Reds and the unique clattering jabber of a Hurley-Pugh - the delicate reek of the oil laid in elegant arabesques of rainbow light on the surface sheen of the characteristic "racing slicks" to be found behind any Excalibur...
This was the last expedition of the H-PEC Chelsea Lodge, July 1939, before the tragic outbreak of an unwanted war with a reluctant enemy, engineered by Hebrews and profiteers. In all, five riders took part - I as always on my Manxman Excalibur SS Brooklands, resplendent in the "Celtic Cross" livery of the "Oswald Mosley Special Edition", the Reverend "Bingo" Clutterbuck on his 1938 Wildebeeste Grand Tour Gentleman's Weatherman, "Oofy" Postlethwaite (on short leave from the Coldstream) on the mighty Wildebeeste Outrigger Combination (both sidecars fitted with the oil tanks as a nod to our intention to travel to Cardiff), Cameron Carson on his rare Excalibur Red Hand Volunteer and dear old "Haw-Haw" on his German-spec Nürbürgring ÜberManx. A gay group of pals since we first met as fags at Dotheboys, we had been up to varsity together before forever preserving that comradeship with the good fellowship common to all enthusiasts of the Graet Marque.
We fettled the machines thoroughly before the off and eased out onto the Great West Road by 0700 hours. The plan was to reach Sonning by 0900 hours, in time for the scheduled 40-mile service and oil top-off. But we had barely sighted Beaconsfield when "Bingo" (who, as the rearguard, had elected to occupy the right-hand side of the road, in order to minimise the exposure of his sturdy Bakelite tyres to the oil seepage from the leading machines' Total Loss Lubrication System), collided with an charabanc full of Boy Scouts from Deprived Areas returning from a Treat. Despite the casualties, his steed was undamaged, but he elected to return to London, in order to have the woggles mounted without delay.
At the "French Maid" at Sonning, we re-fettled and enjoyed a generous six-course breakfast, washed down with a quart or so of porter per man, before continuing through the sunlit Berkshire uplands to Newbury. Our magnificent machines cruised at an effortless twenty-two miles an hour or so on a bare whiff of throttle, until we reached the "Idle Peasant" at 1300 hours, just in time for luncheon and cylinder-head replacements. We took a light repast (a dozen Whitstable oysters, a suckling pig, trifle and three bottles of Krug each, with a brace of large Remys for the digestion's sake) and were soon back on the road, with Bristol firmly in our sights.
It was just outside Marlborough at 1600 hours, after our afternoon snack of roast oxen and a case of '23 Montrachet, that "Oofy" suffered our first real breakdown; the poor-quality lubricant we had procured at Hungerford (his sidecar oil tanks being exhausted) was manifestly not "up to the job" and a partial seizure resulted in an errant thrunging sprocket decapitating a passing priest and two choirboys from the Papish Church of the Blessed Conception. How fortunate that the engine let go when it did, else a Protestant cleric might have been so inconvenienced!
(TO BE CONTINUED)
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