Section History - Part Eight

Coventry Section Part VIII - North of the Border.

At the start of 1986 Ian Alexander was well into his stride as Section Organiser, having been elected at the 1984 AGM. It had been a bit of a cabinet re-shuffle to fill the gap left by Paul’s retirement, Tony Roberts took back his old job as Treasurer from Ian, I stayed put and Mike Colin joined Dave Davies and Mick Pegg on the committee to bring us back up to strength. As a Section we have always attracted members from a wide area and Mike was our latest recruit from the Black Country. He was from Sedgeley, another of our members from that neck of the woods at that time was Chris Williams, from Penn Common who had given up trying to make a Panther outfit go fast and was getting better results with a Vincent. He is of course better known now for his red, tyre smoking, flame spitting Napier Bentley aero engined monster. In those days his extrovert nature was a real asset to the section. He was an excellent m/c and Father Christmas at our parties and auctioneer at our fund raising events.

For many their first event of the year was the VMCC Coventry Brighton Run. At our AGM our thanks were duly recorded to the Alexanders for their efforts in ensuring that it had returned to its rightful home, Coventry. In those days the AGM was held in mid summer. This requires a certain mental agility when reading the Organiser’s report to work out which calendar year he’s talking about. As the Lands End to John O’Groats run had only just happened there was no doubt about when that event was. It did in fact start on the longest day, Saturday 21st of June 1986 at 9.00 a.m sharp from John and Judith Lycett’s at 10 Lodge Crescent. It was just a case of down to Evesham to pick up the M5 at Tewkesbury, lunch at Exeter Services, then straight down the A30 to Lands End and then back a couple of miles to Sennen Cove and the hotel for the night, an estimated distance of 293 Miles.

All smiles at the Journey’s End. l to r. Barry Bassett, Len Granger, John Attwood, John Lycett, Ian Alexander, Tony Roberts, Judith Lycett, Jacqui Bassett, Chris Fagg, Mike Colin, Barbara Fagg, Don Alexander and Marion Alexander at the front.

There were six Twins, two Comets and a Scott on the run. On the twins riding the whole way were Chris and Barbara Fagg, John Lycett, Mike Colin, Ian Alexander, Len Granger and Tony Roberts. The Comets to be ridden by Don Alexander and John Attwood, and the Scott for Barry and Jacqui Basset would be trailed down to Lands End behind the Alexander Golf and the Lycett Citroen, with which Marion and Judith would be providing backup, coffee and jammy dodgers for the trip. The aim was to average about 180 miles a day to a route carefully prepared by John and Judith staying at hotels with secure accommodation for the bikes. The story of the trip is given in full in MPH 457 and it makes interesting reading.

It tells of how they ran into really heavy rain from Bodmin onwards on the way down and how on arrival at Lands End the leading two riders were given shelter in the tents at a VOC Rally being held that weekend. Of how they gave up waiting and eventually went back to the hotel only to find the others warn and snug and giving Lands End a miss for the day. They did all go to Lands End the next day where they were filmed for John Craven’s Newsround as they set off for Scotland and peeved to find that Barry’s Scott was the featured bike. Their destination that day was Cheddar Gorge which they reached with only a couple of minor problems like water in Chris’ mag and the loss of the last baffle out of Don’s silencer threatening to dislodge the rocks in the Gorge. Their trip up through England seems to have gone fairly smoothly, if you exclude the Citroen having to have a front wheel bearing replaced in a mere 3 hours by a local garage in Warrington. There was more publicity when Jim Reynolds met them by appointment in Church Stretton to do a write up for MCN. Their last stop in England was at Whitchurch.

By Tuesday evening they were in Annan where they had a decidedly mixed reception including provision for the bikes being up a flight of steps, a problem being resolved by using the ballroom instead, with cardboard to catch the drips. There follows the usual tales of getting lost in Glasgow, easy to do in those days, but then they were over the Erskine bridge and on their way to the Highlands with obligatory stop beside Loch Lomond. Their stopping point that night was Tyndrum where the ladies went shopping in the small shop next door. It is another shop which we all associate with Tyndrum these days, the Green Welly Shop which has passed into the Section folklore from many future trips.

On Thursday their route to Brora took them on some of the best roads in Scotland, through Glencoe to Ballachulish and on up to Fort William then to Spean Bridge, past the Commando Memorial to Fort Augustus and along Loch Ness before cutting off across the wild country from Drumnadrochit to Beauly to pick up the A9 as it winds along Cromarty Firth then back inland round Dornoch Firth ( no bridge in those days) and up the East Coast. On Friday morning it was nearly-there time, only eighty miles to go, not enough to make it a thousand mile trip so the ladies consulted the map and plotted a deviation which from its description sounds as if it took them on the minor road via Forsinnard station, which now also has an RSPB nature reserve, for a detour to Thurso and thus round the top to John O’Groats. All the bikes made it although one would end up with the 500’s on trailer during the home trip with a burnt valve.

It had been a good trip. Everyone wanted to repeat it and it set the tone for all the subsequent Section holidays. There were all the travellers tales of course, like Ian’s new blue boots which he had made a special detour to buy in Leamington on the way to the start which he only wore once because he didn’t want to get them dirty, Len’s big toe which got bigger and bigger and even bigger after he’d forgotten it and kicked a ball, the discovery that mulligatawny soup is highly spiced, was much prized by retired Indian army officers and avoided by savvy diners in lesser establishments who know why the chef uses so much curry powder; also the discovery that in Scotland you don’t go for evening walks when the midges are about but that the Malt is a good antidote. Good food, good roads and good company what else is there? It had been decided to make it a charity trip and over a thousand pounds was raised for MENCAP.

Back at the Rugby Club LeJoggers give the MENCAP man and his lady the cheque for £1026

Hardly had they had time to unpack than it was the next club night and the 1986 AGM. There was a slight reshuffling of the committee. Jacqui Bassett who had been doing a sterling job going round with the box every week had volunteered for the Treasurer’s job. Mick Pegg had indicated that he would like to stand down so at a suggestion from the floor Tony stayed on the committee in Mick’s place and we had a new Treasurer. The meat of the meeting was the discussion of the future programme. We were going back to the Saxon Mill for the Godiva banquet, we agreed to have another Christmas party, last year’s winners had agreed to organise the Navigation Trial which would be in September but before all that there was a breakfast run coming up in a couple of weeks starting “from the usual place” at 5.30 a.m and finishing at Richard Bailey’s house at Napton. The usual place in those days was at the so called Les’ lay-by which was at Haseley Knob just before Five Ways and just down the road from Les Ravenhill’s bungalow. We were still looking for a venue for a sprint on behalf of the club, there was a camping weekend planned for next year and already plans were being hatched for a coastal tour of Scotland in 1988 on the same lines as the End to End for 1988. Meanwhile there was an Annual Rally coming up in August. Last minute suggestions for features were discussed and volunteers were called for to make it all happen. To round off the evening it was announce that a new trophy was to be awarded, the Clubman’s Shield.

The original citation said that it was to be awarded annually to the Section Member who in the opinion of the committee most merited an award for Vincenteering. The first recipient was Mike Wilson who not only was very good at getting things done for the section but was also known to a wider audience as Worried of Rugby. Under that name he wrote a monthly column in MPH. It mainly consisted of his thoughts as he cast jaundiced eye on the Vincent world whilst sat on an infant’s chair cleaning his Vincent. Although it was generally a popular column not everyone was on his wavelength. An example occurred as a result of his comments on that year’s Godiva Banquet. Its attendance had been boosted by the fact that the Great and the Good of the club were holding an Executive Committee at Warwick University that week end and most of them decided to join us. Rather have them all on an extended top table they were scattered around a bit. Unfortunately we omitted to put one on Worried’s table so when he sat musing on his infant’s chair afterwards he had a moan about having to sit with the riff raff. To say the riff raff were not amused at the public accusation they were the reason for Worried not enjoying the evening is putting it mildly.

1986 Annual Rally Arbury Hall Chris Fagg’s (foreground) and John Lycett’s Vincents share the limelight.

It would be a rare year for everything to follow the programme; in a good year there are enough Section Surveys to do some forensic research and find out what really happened. It is advisable to do the work because it is also not unknown to find that what happened is neither what was supposed to have happened nor what you remembered as happening. For example having said that we were going back to Saxon Mill for the Godiva it was in fact held at the Woodhouse at Princethorpe. The Saxon Mill was most likely still boarded up. We never got a bill for the last banquet. Ian smelt a rat when he tried to pay on the night and the manager sent a message that he was too busy to see him to give him a receipt. The manager did a runner that same night and was never traced and the place just closed. As nobody wanted their money back the section funds were looking quite healthy. It couldn’t have happened at a better time. We were thinking about setting up a Section Tool scheme when we heard that Doug Hollis had a number of tools and special Vincent fixtures which he wanted to sell. Doug was a Vincent spares stockist who’d just retired and sold his stock to a Herts. and Beds. member who then moved to Wales and set up his own business. His name was Ron Kemp. As we had the funds we were soon up and running with our own tool scheme.

1986 Navigation Trial Chris Chant checks for the next clue.

The riding season opened (for some it never closed with the section being represented at all the usual winter runs) with the Coventry Brighton Run when it was Barry Basset’s turn to win the award for the best Vincent. Chris Fagg went one better by being the outright winner on the Tour of Birmingham. There was no doubt about it there were getting to be fewer and fewer well patinated Vincents about. Sometime later I fell victim to the disease. Whilst Val Blower was fitting a new oil pump to the Meteor engine for me I decided have the tank redone while it was one the bench. The main reason was because it was a ‘C’ tank and I thought it would look better with the correct for period ‘B’ lining and badge. For the uninitiated the later tanks have a bigger cut out for the carburettor which is why I‘d swapped it. In the end I did the rest of the bike and it fooled Don first time out when I caught him looking at it and saying “I know the number but I can’t think whose bike it is”. Another early event was a weekend trip to the Isle of Wight organised by John Lycett which is recorded as raising £200 for the in-shore lifeboat despite the inclement weather. John was a frequent visitor to the island and knew it well. As he had one of those inflatable boats with an outboard motor which he kept down there and which seemed to go incredibly fast possibly collecting for his friends at the Freshwater Bay lifeboat station was a thinly disguised insurance policy.

The first VOC Cadwell meeting for 1987 was on May 16th. Reading Roy Bourne’s report there is no mention of Ian Alexander which is most likely explained by the fact that Dave Davies was writing the Section Surveys for him, Ian was having a bit of a saga with the wrist he’d broken in a tumble at Mallory the previous season. Dave also records in a survey that he had also been co-opted as Chief Marshal for the event. This will come as no surprise, the newly appointed Sports Secretary was Marion Alexander, Don was still racing Section Organiser and Ian was racing the wheels off the family bikes. He even rode the Flash in the MGP that year so Dave was pretty well surrounded by co-opters. Getting a chief marshal was perhaps one of the easier tasks for Marion; she’d taken over at a difficult time and had to rebuild a few fences with the ACU.

Once again we had our AGM in the middle of summer. Once again there were changes. I seem to have had writer’s cramp after doing the secretary’s job for ten years and I was swapping seats with Dave Davies who took on the scribbling bit. As Tony Roberts was retiring this left a vacancy and Trevor Boult stepped forward to fill the vacant place. As has previously been recorded it was Trevor’s initiative which got us to Berkswell, it happened that he joined just as we were already getting itchy feet. As he explained to me many moons ago to call someone a local artist has a particular and rather restrictive artistic meaning so I will just say that Trevor is a talented artist who lives in Balsall Common. He was holding art classes at the Reading Rooms, had recently held a successful one man show and was on the verge of giving up his day job as an art teacher at the local school. The success of the exhibition gave him the chance to replace his Triumph with the Vincent he’d always wanted. Some of us thought his ton up riding style more suited to Triumphs than Vincents but Wendy sat happily on the back in complete oblivion.

The Stan Powell Trophy had recently resurfaced. It had been in the hands of the section ever since the last running of the Stan Powell Memorial Trial back in the late fifties and is pint pewter tankard presented by Sam Marsh on behalf of the Bristol Section for the Team Award. It had been confirmed by the club that Coventry could keep it and it was decided that it should be a secondary award for our Navigation Trial so it was first awarded at the 1987 event in the autumn. What exactly it should be awarded for has been the subject of some debate over the years. Unfortunately as there is no space on it for winners names so there is no record who was the first to win it or why. These days the tankard has been relegated back to the archives and has been replaced by the Stan Powell shield but at least we are keeping his name alive. It was a very busy year, the camping weekend pencilled in for the autumn was cancelled because we couldn’t fit it in and we made do with a visit to the Motor Museum at Bourton on the Water and a barbecue on the way back. Already our thoughts were turning to next year and the section Scottish Holiday.

It was planned for June/July, the date being agreed at a planning meeting held at the Faggs in September. In the event fourteen of us rendezvoused at the Little Chef at East Bridgford on Saturday 25th June 1988 with a fleet consisting of 9 Vincents and Judith Lycett and Marion Alexander in charge of the Citroen baggage car and trailer. This time Barry and Jacqui Bassett were on their Vincent with son Nigel tagging along on his Comet. New recruit Geoff Parr and I were solo on our Vincents, as teachers are only allowed to take the same holidays as the kids so we’d left Jan and Jo behind. On a bright sunny morning we duly set off with the others up the A6097 through Sherwood Forest to eventually join up with the A1 and head for the north. Our first stop was at a Little Chef near Boroughbridge where I found the back of my bike well lubricated and the oil level well up in the primary chaincase. There was nothing I could do but to drain the surplus off and check again at every opportunity. Once we were north of Scotch Corner John had plotted a scenic route for us, we had lunch at Corbridge, where Marion took the history class to find a Roman bridge and then through a bit more of Upper Teesdale scenery to our first night’s stop near Bardon Mill.

Scottish Tour 1988 Just checking a couple of things on Dave Hutchin’s Comet at Weem.

The actual B&B we stayed at was pretty close to Hadrian’s Wall, certainly close enough for me to get a geography lesson. I was soon corrected when I said that it was the second time I’d been to Scotland because I’d been the other side of the wall once before. That pleasure was yet to come after we’d rejoined the A68 and had our obligatory ice cream at Carter Bar. It is to my mind the best way to enter Scotland. Just up the road a wee step from the lay by and the piper an’ all, round the bend and then laid out before you is the panaorama of Scotland and an inviting road. Whether I’d got Kathy on the pillion by then or not I’m not sure. She’d set out on the Comet with Nigel but his single cylinder was struggling a bit so dad was called to the rescue. She was certainly there on the long descent down through Aberfeldy to our hotel in Weem because she asked me why we’d come all the way down in bottom gear. The answer was the back brake wasn’t working and the front one wasn’t much more use after fading on the first steep bit.

My problems were slight compared with Dave Hutchins. A good wash out with petrol and a touch of emery cloth cured mine and I made sure I kept an eye on primary chaincase for the rest of the trip. Dave was a Brummie truck driver, what you might call a rough diamond with aspirations. Good hearted enough but a little out of his depth and his touring Comet was not really in fit state for the journey so while I was busy degreasing my rear brake the rest of us set to and whipped the head off to try and find a bit of compression for him. At least they did enough to get him up to John O Groats, and down the other side, but I think it was on its last gasp by the time he got to Keele Services on the way back. An interesting thought, it was well over thirty years since they were made but of the nine Vincents on the run his was the only one in need of care and attention and showing its age. The rest were to continue to give good service for the next twenty five years. Vincents were now valued machines. That’s value with a capital V, not a £ sign. Credit for their condition must of course go to their owners or in the case of Chris and Barbara Fagg’s machine to the secret miracle dirt repellent spray we alleged he used to keep his shiny despite the worst grot that wet Scottish roads could throw at us.

The ten old hands on the trip were keen to get to the next night’s destination, the hotel they’d stayed at on their previous trip at Brora just up from Dornoch Firth. It was everything they said it was and the ride there up through the Cairngorms was pretty good too, but I did learn another lesson. When riding up a mountain even in summer you need more than jeans on your legs. I was beginning to get to like Scotland an appreciation which was increased when with the help of John and Don and the assistance of the hotel barman. I began to learn how many different Malt Whiskies there were and how well they all tasted. Next morning, after a quick dip in the pool for the swimmers we were on our way to John O’ Groats. The East Coast can be a bit can be a bit cold and damp even in mid summer, I remember Wick in particular but the sun was shining again when we got there for the obligatory photo before carrying on to Tongue. It was amazing, a few miles along the road and down the western side of some hills and it was different climate so that when we got to Tongue we spent the rest of the afternoon happily tinkering with the bikes.

Ready for the off from Loch Broom.

There followed two splendid days as we made our way down the west coast. About 350 miles over some of the best roads in the British Isles We met some interesting people on the way, even had a bit of Mozart at one point when we shared a lay-by with a retired couple in a camper van. The first night we stayed at a hotel on the banks of Loch Broom, the second at a magnificent baronial hall on the banks of Loch Torridon. The fine weather continued on the next day as we caught the Skye ferry at the Kyle of Lochalsh. It stayed fine just long enough for us to have a picnic. By the time we got to Armadale for the ferry over to Mallaig it was decidedly wet and the ten miles to Lochailort seemed to take forever. That evening every available drying spot at the Lochailort Hotel was covered with motorcycle gear. The bar had been used on location for Local Hero, the film featuring Burt Lancaster as an American oilman sent over to buy a Scottish village for an oil refinery. It is disconcerting in the film to see him step out of the door straight on to the quayside at Mallaig. It was still wet when we left in the morning but despite Ian’s singing the praises of Glencoe during the week it was not the day to enjoy it. In fact our only respite came at the Green Welly Shop, where the hand driers in the loos were used to dry our gloves. A day to forget, but the rest had been worth it. It did stop raining when we got a bit south of Glasgow, East Kilbride in fact when we stopped in lay-by for coffee and jammy dodgers, for me to tip half a pint of water out of each boot and for John to take the Citroen to a garage to investigate a noise which turned out to be a shot CV joint. Luckily we were nearly at our last stop, Mennock so it was just the AA relay for the car and crew in the morning and for the rest of us with no chuck wagon to call on we happily made our way down A6/M6 in our own little groups to complete and enjoyable 1200 mile round trip.

For those of us who went it was undoubtedly the event of the year. Those who didn’t must have got fed up with us blathering on about it, however there still was plenty happening so nobody was missing out and we’ll catch up on the rest of the year in the next chapter.

Postscript. Are AA relay trucks allowed to travel at that speed in the outside lane of the M6 as Kathy and I make our law-abiding way home?

George Spence, February 2013.