Mopedland Stories

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White Christmas

Mark Daniels

"It's been nice and mild lately, so let's go out for a ride up to Steve Cobb's on Christmas Eve!"  Yet another of those wonderful Evans spur-of-the-moment ideas, and once again, how is it I always seem to get drawn into these things?  With David favouring his faithful old 2-speed Quickly, despite its occasionally slipping clutch, it seemed appropriate to give the 2-gear Ambassador an airing since I hadn't been on it for a while, and it was certainly due for a good run.  The plan was to set off to Steve's in the morning, all go out for a lunchtime ride (probably with more emphasis on the 'lunchtime'), then return in the afternoon.  About 30 miles each way as the crow flies, the winding roads were obviously going to add a little more, but there shouldn't be any problem arriving for midday.  David's rambling country route soon proved more imaginative than expected...  Boulge?  Monewden?  Maypole Green?  Puncture?  Puncture!  Oh, that's handy, a flat back tyre in the middle of nowhere!  Fortunately, with David's family motto being "ever prepared", the repair kit appeared as if by magic from the back of the NSU's panniers.  As I set to the task of stripping my deflated steed, David got on his mobile to tell Steve we'd probably be a little delayed.  The message was conveyed OK, but frantic bleeping from the phone quickly curtailed the conversation.  This modern technology is a wonderful thing, as long as you remember to charge the batteries up!

The tube service took a bit over an hour, not aided by the Ambassador only being fitted with a side stand, then it was back on our way... but don't you hate that moment when you're having to put dirty hands back into your gloves?

As we'd been toiling over the job, the skies had darkened and a cold wave rolled over the day; setting off again, it wasn't much longer before the first flakes of snow began falling.  Pretty much as soon as the NSU engine warmed to working temperature, our curse struck again.  The slightly slipping clutch deteriorated with a vengeance, and within a few miles David was resorting to pedal assistance in top gear.  Slacking off the cable proved to no avail, so once again it came down to the need for kerbside engineering.  After deeper examination, it was found that the friction faces on the clutch plates were practically gone, and there was nothing left but to re-assemble the mechanism and press on to Steve's where a set of his spare plates could be fitted.  While this latest drama had been unfolding a light wind had sprung up, and began driving the flakes of snow that were now falling heavier and heavier. 

The clutch initially seemed improved for shuffling the plates, but this only lasted a few miles, after which it returned to constant slip mode.  There was only one thing for it; out came the tow rope!  Obviously progress was much slowed and the Ambassador began to struggle as the rear tyre started slipping on the settling white carpet.  The situation was not helped as the wind-blown snow became plastered to the few small signposts there were.  When stopping to rub it off, they revealed no more than obscure, unknown villages.  Let's face it, we were lost in the wintry wilds of deepest rural Anglia!  We resolved to press on until we came to a recognisable main road; as the skies continued to darken and the snow fell ever thicker...

On looking around to see how David was getting on, I was most surprised to see an autocycle riding beside him, and the two of them nonchalantly chatting with little care in the world!  The rider waved and pulled up beside me, the machine proving to be an attractive pearl grey Excelsior G2 Autobyk.  He called across to follow him, and that he knew someone who could fix the problem with the NSU.  Down winding country lanes bordered both sides by tall evergreen hedges, we trailed the tiny red light through swirling clouds of white, until a church loomed out of the gloom.  Past a few houses, and beyond these to the right, our rider stopped before an old cycle shop and went inside as we pulled up on the forecourt.  Another man came out and directed us down the side of the premises to a large wooden barn, and opened the door.  Wheeling in our machines we saw the workshop was stuffed with ancient bicycles, cyclemotors and early mopeds, where our charge asked us to leave our steeds and come back in the morning, when the NSU would be fixed.  The wind had dropped and the snow was gently falling as we walked with the Excelsior rider down the road and into the main street of the village, occasionally lit each side by dimly glowing streetlamps.  To the left, our destination was a tavern "The Philosopher's Stone", outside which stood three more autocycles: James, Norman, Francis-Bamett, a Raleigh RM1, and Trojan Mini-Motor.  The log fire in the bar was a warming sight, then after a short drink and chat with the other cyclemotorists, who were obviously on a mission with the seasonal spirits, we checked-in to our host's rooms.

It would be unusual to find lodgings so furnished: basic, though in period decor, enamelled cast iron bath, brass bedstead, no TV but a valve wireless, Lalique lampshades, and a dresser with porcelain washbowl and pitcher!  Returning downstairs for supper and further refreshment, we found the cyclemotorists in the now crowded bar had been joined by a large number of their colleagues, and the traditional Christmas Eve party was getting into full swing.  David managed to call his good lady on the bar phone; a cumbersome old-fashioned instrument made of black Bakelite with a disc dialler.  Explaining we were alright but couldn't get back till tomorrow, it seemed they had no snow at all back in Ipswich!

The ale was flowing and so many of the locals seemed to want to talk about their bikes, and particularly the Ambassador.  Word seemed to have got round there was a new machine in town that nobody had seen before, and everyone was interested!  Quite late in the evening and being unaccustomed to strong country beers, things started becoming a little hazy.  I recall hearing the steady tickover beat of an autocycle outside the bar window, and a tall gentleman covered in snow, wearing traditional greatcoat, leather flying helmet and goggles, entered to a great cheer.  He seemed strangely familiar from somewhere, but the ale proved better than my memory. 

At the end of the evening many merry souls tumbled out into the snow, and I shall never forget the sight of five machines being pushed up the snowy main street by wobbly legs going one way and wheels slipping the other.  The flurry of snowballs from their pedestrian colleagues, and a tall figure on an immaculate New Hudson in green and gold livery, riding away up the centre of the street with his right arm raised, "Merry Christmas everybody".  Quite a night, as our heads reminded us in the morning.  Following a slap-up breakfast at the tavern, we ambled back to the cycle shop, to find it all closed up with our machines stood outside and a note tied to the NSU handlebars, "All fixed, no charge - good luck!"  Christmas morning and no one about to thank, not a soul to be seen, so we set back on our way past the church and along the snowy evergreen lane.  Several miles on and the snow just melted away, so it seemed to have been fairly localised.  Then picking up a familiar signpost toward Framlingham, the rest of the return trip was damp and overcast though, thankfully, trouble free. 

Telling David's Loma the tale, we only then realised we never did know the name of the little village or where it actually was, but several weeks later upon emptying one of the NSU panniers, David found a neat little package hiding in a corner of the bag.  Unfolding the paper revealed it was his worn out NSU clutch plate set, wrapped in faded, letterheaded paper from the old cycle shop.  "A. R. King & Son Cycles, Tel: Mopedland 232"...

First published: December 2002

Mopedland > Stories > White Christmas