I will always reply to comments and always re-reply to re-replies.

Saturday, December 24, 2011


About this time, on the first Christmas night angels were supposed to have sung "Hallelujah" to flock-watching shepherds.

Lately we have been discussing hymn-singing and Leonard Cohen (but not at the same time) at the
TONE DEAF blog of Lorenzo da Ponte.

Thus my reason for my Christmas present to you


Wednesday, October 26, 2011


I have just been re-reading (for the nth time) this book by “Richard Hillyer”. The biography, to the age of about 17, of a boy born into a farm labouring family in 1901. Totally self educated, he managed to reach university and ended his long life (died 1980) as a Canon of Durham Cathedral having written a number of books. His real name was Charles James Stranks and the village he calls “Byfield” in the book is Hardwick in Buckinghamshire, UK.

Without sentiment or pastiche he brings out the grinding poverty of the farm labourer’s existence at the beginning of the last century – yet manages to convey the pride, courage and dignity which went with it. Elements of John Clare’s work come to mind.

It is available for a song on Amazon and worth every moment spent reading it. I thoroughly recommend it.

I was born in 1938 in a country village which had changed little from the years he describes. The Second World War was in progress as I became sentient to my surroundings. The young men had left the village to go to war. The dignified and respected elders, many with bishop-like mien, were left to labour on the farms. Tractors and fuel went to the war effort. The horse and cart ruled once more.

My maternal grandparents were farm workers, living in a tied cottage. With my own father away at the war I spent much of my time with my grandfather who was Horseman on that farm; a farm dedicated to fruit orchards, nut platts and some beef cattle; a horse and cart was ideal to thread its way through the orchards and along the narrow winding lanes between. The warm, sweet smell of hay in the horse stable comes to mind, as I write this.

Grandfather with "Duke" c. 1938

My first memory of release from my enclosed world was as a small boy of about 4, sitting on a folded sack on the edge of a cart, beside my grandfather as he took the horse about 3 miles to a village blacksmith for re-shoeing. It seemed to take for ever as we clopped along what is now a fast main road which I have since traversed, under power, in less than ten minutes.

Not all was good though. My grandfather caught a bad chill through being out in the rain and the farmer hounded him back to work too soon. This brought on pneumonia and he died in 1944, aged 54 (but will always be “ancient” to me). My grandmother had to leave the tied farm cottage within a month. Always a fighter, she had all the house contents taken to the village hall and auctioned them off. Then she entered service as a housekeeper, only retiring at 75 to come and live with my mother.

Like “Richard Hillyer” I came from such a background and attended the village school. Like him, my “prospects” would have been to enter a similar life had my mother not instilled a love of reading into me. Because of this I passed the exam to attend the local grammar school (the “11+”). There are those that denigrate grammar schools and this entry exam, but because of it I, a fairly poor country boy, was able to make my way in the world. I shall be forever grateful to her and that chance.

Friday, June 17, 2011


I have owned, ridden and restored motorcycles now for over 50 years. It is an activity I love and enjoy. Thus, in spite of increasing arthritis I do not intend to give it up.

I found this video clip a poignant and inspiring commentary, not merely about motorcycling, but on the general battle against life’s little difficulties as we approach old age.

Best watched with your sound on. You may click on the "4 arrows" symbol, bottom right of link, to increase view to full screen size.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Amongst my many motorcycles, I owned a succession of three Royal Enfield “Bullets” back in the ‘60s. An underrated motorcycle, they were never as popular as BSA, Velocette and Norton amongst single cylinder machine riders. Here is my 1956 version, suitably posed, in 1963.

Some history is now needed. The first Royal Enfield motorcycle was made in 1901 and over the years the company was responsible for many innovations in the motorcycle world – the first to use swinging arm rear springing, for instance. During the 1950’s they received a big order from the Indian Army for their 350cc Bullet model. This led the company to help India set up its own Royal Enfield factory in Madras (now Chennai). Morris cars did similarly and now versions of their old 1956 “Oxford” model form the bulk of Indian taxis.

The British motorcycle industry withered and finally died in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, Royal Enfield included. But its “child” matured, prospered and continued to flourish in India. There will always be those amongst us that enjoy traditional, simple, solid motorcycles and, with almost poetic assonance, the Indian child began exporting its machines back to Britain in the ‘80s. They still do so and we are their best export market. Thus Royal Enfield can claim to have the longest continuous production run of any motorcycle in the world.

Which brings me to the reason for this posting. I remember with affection those Royal Enfields I owned over 50 years ago. I have often hankered to own another. I could have bought an original to recondition, but age and a prostate operation have led to a drawback – no electric starters in those days and kick-starting a 500cc single cylinder is only for the young and active! But, praise be, India has now equipped their time-warp machines with electric starters. A chance trawl in eBay brought up a 2005 model so equipped. I succumbed and won the auction for it.

My 48th motorcycle, it now shares the garage with the BMW and the Honda scooter. By no means a motorway rocket, it is happiest thumping along between 50 and 60 miles per hour, but returns an incredible 85 miles to each gallon of petrol. In this manner one enters an earlier motoring world - delightful, serene and relaxed. Almost without exception, whenever I park it I am engaged in conversation; “I had one of those when young”, “Is it original?” etc.

There is something about the exhaust beat of a “big single”. Akin to the chug – chug – chug of a traditional canal barge, it is deeply relaxing and pleasurable. Some have said that this is the result of spending 9 months nestling in the womb under a mother’s steady heartbeat.

Here is a picture of the beast  (It has been re-registered with a 1963 number plate - the year I first owned a Royal Enfield) There is not a lot of superficial difference between it and the1956 version above, but it has an ELECTRIC STARTER!

(click either photo to enlarge)

Wednesday, April 06, 2011


Spring, with the cuckoo-sob deep in his throat,
O’er all the land his thrilling whispers float,
Old earth believes his ancient lies once more,
And runs to meet him in a golden coat.

(origin of verse, anyone?)

Monday, January 03, 2011


Late December snows have looked very pretty and seasonal (viewed from a warm room, glass in hand). However it has meant that venturing abroad on two wheels was very inadvisable. But a day came when the roads were at last clear and ice free. Even the sun shone in a cloudless blue sky. Having become slightly "stir-crazy" I jumped at the chance to release the Dawes bicycle from its stable and toddled off for a morning's run over Romney Marsh and to get a sight of the sea. Within two miles a heavy fog rolled in with visibility down to about 50 metres!

Having started I intended to finish, so continued on to my destination, via a couple of miles along the sea wall, to the little town of Dymchurch where I knew a cafe would be open. Some chance of a sea view - the tide was well out over the sand flats and was lost in the fog.

However the cafe was warm and welcoming. There followed a large cup of tea and two slices of toast upon which rested two fried eggs. The "engine" thus refuelled for the return 12 miles, I pushed for home.

The Marsh has its own particular beauty under clear skies

But even I could not describe it as other than austere in the fog.

The damp clung to me and necessitated periodic stops to wipe my specs to enhance the available visibilty. A very misty and moist morning but, disappointingly, no sign of "an old man clothed all in leather"