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Coventry Section Part XII – The Continuing Story.

It was now approaching fifty years since the Section was formed so we felt we had something to celebrate.  The actual date was the Tenth of December 1953 and we would certainly do something as near as possible to that date.  However as the section had been meeting in everything but name during the year in question we felt justified in treating the year as our birthday and putting on a number of birthday events during it.  Because we had so many good memories of the eight years that the Annual Rallies were held at Stanford Hall we thought that a picnic there seemed like a good idea.  A date in September was fixed (the 21st), they let us a good spot by the river and weather was excellent.  We’d advertised the event in MPH, a goodly number of visitors turned up, a mix of ex rallyists, ex section members and ex- pat section members.  There were 37 Vincents there; at least five of the ones from the section had been there at the original Rallies.  They had been very much family affairs.  A feature of them was Dickie Cox and latterly Glyn Baxter leading a troupe of junior hunter gatherers scavenging wood for the evening bonfire.  It was nice to see at least seven of them there, some with children of their own.

50th Anniversary picnic at Stanford Hall.

For most of us the year would have started in the usual way by seeing the old year out at the Vintage Club’s Boxing Day meet and the New Year in at the East Midlands’ Cobweb Run before going off to Brighton in the spring.  The Social Secretary, Ian Lang, had decided to hold as many events as possible on islands so by the end of May we dutifully made our way over the sea to Skye for the Annual Rally.  I can count eight Vincents in Coventry section’s line up.  Perhaps we ought to draw a veil over Bob and Valerie Smart getting the Chairman’s Award at the end of the year for actually riding all the way there and back on a Vincent. 
Early July saw us enjoying Chris and Anne Chant’s hospitality once again for a summer afternoon tea and chatter and then later in the month we started of a new tradition, the Taverners Section having let us have a pitch at Founder’s Day.  It was at this occasion that we unveiled our new gazebo and flew the Section banner for the first time. 
The design and procurement of the banner was a product of the digital age by courtesy of Chris Chant.

Ian Kathy and James arrived in style with their new sidecar at Chris and Anne’s tea party.

To celebrate our half centenary before a wider audience we had a stand at the Town and Country Festival at Stoneleigh and in December itself to mark the exact date we had a fish and chip supper at the Reading Rooms, starting a tradition which has continued to this day albeit with one or two additions to turn it into a full social evening.  One year it was billed as a curry and chips night but I note in the report that what we actually sat down to eat was fish.  Other than the meal it was a normal Friday meeting as the climax of the celebrations were actually the Fiftieth Anniversary Godiva Banquet which was held at the Manor Hotel Meriden on Sunday 1st February 2004.  To give plenty of time for reminiscing it started with a lunch and then tea and biscuits were served at the end of the afternoon.  As many past members as possible had been contacted, ninety seven sat down to the meal including six Section Organisers, Allan Nash 57-65, Bernard Booth 68, Chris Reeve 68-72, Chris Worland 73-76,  Don Alexander 76, and Ian Alexander, who had been elected back in 84.  Paul Ennis, 77-84 was away riding his Vincent somewhere.
By recent standards 2004 seems to have been a quiet year.  We just had a Wrinklies run the middle of every month from April to October; replaced in the winter months by pub lunches to which some people also went on their Vincent’s.  Martin Fox continued to report our doings regularly in MPH every month and tell us what we were going to be doing next.  Occasionally he would protest that we ought to find someone else for the job.  We went to Founders Day again but this was our second visit to Stanford this year.  The first had been to a new venture by an outfit calling themselves Oily Rag.   They promoted a Classic Bike Show and both we and the East Midlands Section had taken pitches.  They turned out to excellent affairs where the emphasis was strongly on the clubs and not on the punters; in fact for the first one we even got a share of the gate money.  The organisation changed hands but the ethos remained, sadly they did not survive a double dose of global wetting but were excellent while they lasted.

Only another 2 miles.  2005 Winter Walk.

All the usual events were well attended, at Keith Lucas’ invitation we attended the Eastham village fete stopping off at Bernard Robinson’s for coffee en route and finishing off with a barbecue at Keith’s.  There was even a good turn out at the AGM where the agenda was pretty routine.  The only item of note being that Geoff Parr, who had moved to rural Gloucestershire a couple of years ago,  was standing down after seventeen years on the committee, including a fair stint as Secretary but had agreed to continue to organise next year’s French trip.  We seemed to have developed a bad habit of failing to find replacements on the night, we already had Chris Chant co-opted to fill the last vacancy and now it would take almost a year to get Bob Smart on to the committee.  We were better organised with the Reading Rooms committee, Don Alexander had already replaced Geoff on that body.
We would have to wait until the following September to make that trip to France.  It was quite a breakthrough for the Section.  Although as a body we had been across the water before, across the Solent to the Isle of Wight, the Irish Sea to the IoM and even the Kyle of Lochalsh to Skye we’d never been anywhere as a group where you’d had to show a passport.  It was an excellent break in southern Brittany, we sailed overnight from Portsmouth to St Malo where Francois Grossett was waiting on his Vincent to guide us to his home for breakfast and we envied him his home workshop.  We then made our way to  St Quichy where we had a couple of holiday lets out in the sticks a few kilometres apart.  In one was Dave Davies, Tony Roberts and Chris and Anne Chant on their Vincetns and Eddy and Gloria Grew on a Ducati, in the other Jan and I (Shadow) shared with Jo and Geoff Parr ( BSA Empire Star).

Chris Chant about to try riding on the wrong side of the road with the sidecar on the wrong side of the bike; after a French Sunday lunch.

On the Sunday, inspired by Francoise and Catherine Grossett, the French Section treated us to a four hour lunch at a marvellous ferme auberge.  Later in the week some of us went to Quimper where we met Dominique de Bris in the Vincent themed bar ‘The Stevenage’.  It really was a great week just marred for me by learning two more don’ts.  Don’t have motorway fish and chips before sailing or, if you do, learn the French for Imodium.  Don’t leave it till Sunday to buy petrol because you can’t.
Meanwhile seven members of the Section would finish off the year in their traditional style by going up to the winter Pennine and the VMCC would round off their year by their section giving Ian and Kathy Alexander  their Chairman’s Award for running the Brighton Run and turning it into the event it then was.  Was it that year that seventeen Vincents took part? Our year had started with something which was on its way to becoming a hardy annual, the Great Egg Race.  They’d started on BBC tv in the early eighties with Prof Heinz Wollf as presenter and competed for between university teams who were set the challenge of transporting an egg from a to b in shorted possible time using a rubber band a la model aircraft.  An Egg Race became a generic term for all sorts of simple mechanical challenges.  I’d got involved with a slightly dumbed down version which the Institution of Mechanical Engineers were using as a means of introducing science and engineering to pre “O” level students.  Dumbed down only in the respect that it all had to be completed on the day with no time for research and the successful teams were judged on a number of headings as part of a final appraisal.   We thought that an even more dumbed down version might work for us.  It obviously does.  The universities had weeks to prepare, the schools a whole day, followed by a talk, we had an evening.  At the end of the year amongst the highlights reported on was our custodianship of the Club “A” for the year which had included the Coventry Brighton run on it, the fact that our prize entertainer Colin Wood and Brenda Goddard  were getting married and moving to Wales and on the organising side Chris Chant was leaving the Committee with our thanks for the work he had done.

Photo not found yet. Ed.
Leaving The Hand after the 2006 Welsh Weekend.  It soon stopped raining.

Two Thousand and Six was going to be another busy year, one or two events stick in the mind.  Early on in the year we had a magic lantern show by Robert Thomas.  It was the show which he and his father, Ken, had promised to come back and give us back at the start of the century when they battled with the scaffolding, the elements and the tarpaulin wall to give us their first talk.  It was well worth the wait.  Robert is of course better known in VMCC circles as the owner of that magnificent 1904 Humber forecar.  One event I have not mentioned before is the Vintage Club’s Coventry parade which was becoming increasingly supported by us.  The Coventry Parade had its beginnings back in the fifties when all these veteran rather than vintage bikes would assemble on Hearsall Common for a VMCC run to the Stonebridge Hotel.  The Stonebridge Hotel was diagonally opposite the Malt Shovel at junction between the A45 and the A452/446.A convenient haunt of both Coventry and Birmingham test riders in the vintage era.  It was demolished to make room for a flyover.  The Parade is now a gentle Sunday run starting and finishing at Coombe Abbey.  I see from my own notes that it rained heavily this particular year so much so that when the route took us past the Little Chef at Dunchurch where Jan and I stopped for a coffee, just to clean the vizor you understand, before making straight for the lunch stop.
We seemed to be getting more and more involved with old vehicles.  It was the first time that we’d had a section run to the VSCC meeting at Prescott.  Very enjoyable and the bikes created a lot of interest parked amongst the spectator’s vintage and classis vehicles in the reserved area.  Something else we got involved in was our own Annual Rally. The venue chosen by Ian Lang’s successor as Social Secretary was Ragley Hall.  Naturally we expected to be asked to help but when no call had come by the start of the holiday season we started to ask questions.  Had we not persisted it might have been a disaster.  The new man was a lovely chap, the ideal personality for a Social Secretary but with no experience of the work involved.  Luckily as we’d helped with two and run another three we were able to pull his irons out of the fire by getting stuck in and providing all the facilities and detail planning required.  One example will suffice.  Had we not interfered beforehand the gates would have been locked at six o’clock and late arrivals would have spent the night camped on the grass verge.  Alan Brittain will have other memories, it was the first event graced by the presence of his newly rebuilt Rapide.
There were no such problems at the 2007 Annual Rally, it was held during Manx practice week on the Island and it was overseen by Andy Everett who had done it all before.  He it was who’d organised the International Rally in 1999.  Obviously a fair sized contingent went from Coventry again.  The date and venue and the fact that there was going to be another closed roads lap was announced after we, that is Ian, Kathy and the boys and Jan and I had already booked our holiday for the same week.  It took Ian and I two milliseconds to resolve the problem.  We’d borrow Don’s trailer and take the bikes.  You see as part of six year old James’ education we’d decided to have a family holiday over there on a quieter part of the island.  This would still give us time to take him to see some real road racing.  We were going this particular time because we thought they might have stopped it before he was much older.  With the advent of the Classic TT in 2013 pointing the way it’s the future might go I think that might turn out to have been a wise decision.  Both Ian and I had unfinished business.  In ’99 Ian had taken the “A” and blown it up the day before the lap.  I’d withdrawn the HRD with gearbox problems.  This time it was mission accomplished for both of us.

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The author taking the racing line at Ballacraine 2007 Annual Rally.

I was highly delighted not to be the last one back and although I elected to start at the rear in the slowest group I’d got round before the roads open car.  The front runners had no such problems.  In theory we were going to be led by travelling marshals.  When they didn’t turn up the police instructed that we be let loose on our own and there were some very quick people up at the front.  I wouldn’t have missed my lap for anything but wish I could have seen the fun.
This wasn’t my only parade on the HRD, earlier in the year I’d had a go round Mallory. This was the second time that the Vintage Club had held their resuscitated 1000 Bikes event at Mallory; the first time the Section had just had the gazebo in the avenue of the clubs. This time provided we got an entry of 30 Vincents we could have a Vincent only track session. We made a big effort and got the numbers required by circulating the club. A feature of the session was that we were able persuade the Club to run the all new Black Shadow, the build of which they had sponsored from parts supplied by the Spares Company. Unfortunately the commentator referred to it as an all new Australian Vincent. Because of our pioneering effort the Club has now taken over organising the VOC presence at the 1000 Bikes and we no longer have any involvement in it.
One show which we considered to be well worth while was the Classic Car Show at the NEC.  In the November of the previous year Jan and I’d been given discount tickets and found to our surprise two or the three bike clubs in amongst the car clubs.  The Triumph lads said it was a good show from their point of view so we decided to give it a go.  We decided afterwards that it was well worth the effort and quite a rewarding way of spreading the word amongst car people so we decided to continue to have a stand.  Eventually they hived a separate Bike Show off from it.  Each year the stand got bigger and we tried to show as many aspects of Vincenteering as we could, sidecars always seemed popular and so did the odd bit of bling (Chuck’s Egli) or history (John Kinley’s Black Lightning, the first one made).  2013 will be the first year we’ve missed.   Various reasons, not least being that it was September before we heard anything about it from the organisers.

Earls Court comes to Birmingham at the 2008 NEC Show.

Within our own world we were having changes too.  Martin Fox had done an entertaining  job for years as section scribe despite his repeated offers to stand aside and let someone else have a go.  We are not quite sure which straw it was that broke his back or who laid it on him but he finally tapped his last digit in May 2007 and could not be persuaded to change his mind.  The lack of surveys has made my task a little more difficult.  At the same time the first glimmer of hope for the future recording of our history occurred when Eddy Grew volunteered to start a website for the Section.  (I hope someone somewhere is making a hard copy of the relevant bits.)
It would be easy to dismiss 2008 as the mixture as before except that the human content was changing a bit.  It was true that we saw rather less of some of the regulars but it was around this period some new faces appeared who have now become regulars at such traditional events as the Welsh Weekend and without whose help we could not have run the NEC shows.  The 2008 one looked really good; it was loosely based around the 1948 Motor Cycle Show which saw a number of important additions and innovations to the Vincent range including the launch of the Comet and the Meteor and the new “C” range.  To drive the point home Tony Roberts painted a large backdrop showing a simplified version of the art deco frontage of Earls Court.  It was so good that we had problems convincing one visitor that it wasn’t a photograph and we couldn’t tell him where he could get a copy.  Mind you I do feel that he might have benefited from a visit to Specsavers.

Photo not found yet. Ed.
Chris and Pam Worland, Martin Fox and John Timms wait while David Styles sorts out who’s won the 2010 Navigation Trial.

Two of those new recruits who had already been with us for a couple of years and already known to us through other connections were Eddy Grew and Alan Brittain.   To ensure continuity the Organiser and Secretary are each elected in alternate years for a two year term.  In 2008 it was John Benson’s turn to be re-elected, Ian realised that when 2009 came round he would have served for 25 years and let it be known that he would not be standing again.  Eddy Grew who at that same AGM was presented with the Tony Summers Award for the fine job he’d made of rebuilding his ex Argentinean twin was rewarded with quick promotion and in 2009 was duly elected Section Organiser.  Alan Brittain had to wait another couple of years before I decided that we needed a new Treasurer and keeper of the Tool Scheme.  On the night Ian was presented with a card signed by all present and two free tickets for the Dinner to make sure that he and Kathy could not make the excuse of lack of baby sitters.  The baby sitters had already been briefed.  At the dinner he was presented with a watch, which with suitable wifely subterfuge he had already chosen, a fitting tribute to everything that he had put in to running the Section so well for so long.
We are getting towards the end of the story now.  A lot has changed over the last sixty years but as the French say, the more things change, the more they stay the same.  In December no doubt we will have another fish and chip supper the same as we have done for the last ten years since we celebrated our fiftieth birthday.  In 2008 the Clubman’s award went to John and Judith Lycett for the years spent organising the Welsh weekends.  They still happen but are now organised by David Style, who manages to find equally challenging routes.   The announcement at the 2009 AGM that the award was going to Don Alexander for his consistent support of the Section and Section members was warmly welcomed; he is someone whose support and friendship is sadly missed after his passing in 2012.

Photo not found yet. Ed.
Geoff Newberry with his ex Roy Bourne Rapide being admired by Bob Smart at the finish of the 2012 Roy Bourne Run at John and Judith Lycett’s.

We continue to have interesting runs.  One which sticks in the mind was to the Morgan factory.  It was nice to see craftsmen at work but to those of us with experience of the modern motor industry it was more like occupational therapy than real work.  A pity that the run was confined to the Wrinklies.  That is one thing which has changed.  Other than the Roy Bourne Run, the Welsh Weekend and the Navigation Trial the calendar looks a bit short of runs at weekends.  One reason might be explained by the fact that this year when we moved the Navigation to another weekend to clear the way for a visit to the Shackerstone Family Weekend finding another slot was difficult.  And we mustn’t forget that we now have a breakfast run as a starter for one weekend.
New traditions are being started.  We have a permanent Friday night booking of the Reading Rooms, merely telling them at the start of the year which nights we don’t want.  The exception is August Bank Holiday when Trevor Boult has the hall, by mutual consent, for an Art Exhibition.  It’s only fair as he got us in there in the first place.  This year to fill the gap we had a successful skittles match at the Queens Head in Bretford.  It could be the start of another habit.  Hopefully in 2028 when we celebrate the 75th Anniversary those who are left will look back and say ah yes, 2014, that’s when we started ….… It’s an ongoing story.

The story is not over yet.  Having started what I thought was a mere two pager, Eddy persuaded me to publish the reams I’'d already written.  I agreed hoping to have my errors and omissions brought to light.  It then took on a life of its own.  Now that I am considering what to do with all this material I would welcome your observations to make sure I’ve got it right.

George Spence.  September 2013,