Sunday, 13 March 2011

I Remember It Well.

Are there certain dates that will forever stick in your mind? Are there certain events you will never forget? And are there certain dates and events that have changed your life forever?

How many of you can say with certainty what you were doing on a given day ten years ago? Twenty years? Thirty or forty years, or even fifty?
On Tuesday the 10th March, 1959 the Tibetan people rose up against the Chinese invasion of their country in what was to become known as the Lhasa Uprising. On this same day I had an altercation with a builder's lorry whilst hurrying to work on my 197cc Francis Barnett motorbike. The lorry won comfortably.
The young lady on the back of my bike was mercifully thrown clear. Myself and the bike finished up underneath the lorry. After the impact, as the steam settled I vividly remember looking up at the lorry underside, too close to the hot exhaust for comfort. Actually comfort is completely the wrong word. I was pinned under the bike and I distinctly remember holding my breath in the mistaken belief that if I breathed it would be my last. I had passed so far under the lorry (from sideways on) that the wheels passed over the edge of my helmet. Was it luck, providence that I survived, you tell me. A posse of men were summoned, they lifted the lorry (who needs Superman, the British public are wonderful when they need to be) and I was pulled clear.
My passenger received a serious laceration but fortunately nothing more. There seemed no lack of volunteers to examine her legs. I had a badly broken leg and ankle and less serious, as far as I knew, head injuries. (Who knows for certain whether they were accountable for some of my 'actions' over the past fifty years.) I remember some fool of a woman's audible comment 'Ooh, look at his face.' Consequently I refused to remove my arm from covering my face until I arrived at a hospital. Silly woman! The main feeling I remember is of acute embarrassment at the whole affair. I would have left the scene had I been remotely able. All in all not a day easily forgotten. The ride to hospital was uncomfortable in the extreme, a trip in the back of the lorry would have been less bumpy. But my surgery and treatment in three hospitals, brilliant. Hurray for the NHS.

TNU 137
Some people believe in superstitions. In the village where I was brought up, many country folk were seriously superstitious. Take salt for instance. To spill it was bad luck. So if you did spill it, you threw some over your left shoulder where the Devil was waiting. Put it on the step of a new house and no evil could enter. (And did you know that salty soup is a sign the cook is in love.) No may blossom was allowed in the house; knives and forks were not to be crossed when set out on the table; no job was to be started on a Friday. Don't open umbrellas in the house; don't place a hat on a bed; don't place your shoes on the table and of any case don't place shoes upside down. Don't, don't, don't! Notice how it always leans towards fostering goodness and defeating evil.
Not surprising in view of the dictionary definition.
Superstition - any belief, practice or rite unreasonably upheld by belief in magic, chance or dogma.
An unfounded belief that some action or circumstance completely unrelated to a course of events can influence its outcome.
It is interesting that whilst the most cynical of individuals will profess a disbelief in superstitions, they are often the ones who touch wood for luck, cross their fingers, also for luck (behind their backs, out of sight of course) and will invariably avoid walking under ladders. We all know its a load of old rubbish of course, but we still hedge our bets. We may be clever, but matey, we ain't that clever.
My bike always was a strange old machine, a real bucking broncho at speeds over fifty. Yet I loved my 'Franny' Barnett. Though after the accident I was not quite as in love with motorbikes as I had previously been. Besides the fact that my beloved steed, number TNU 137 was somewhat mangled.

Jinx - evil eye, hex, spell.

I didn't need much persuading to give it to a family friend, a Mr Vince, who was a top class engineer. Over a period of time he rebuilt TNU 137 so that it was in fact in better condition than when I purchased it second hand for the princely sum of fifty two pounds. (I knew nothing of its previous history except that the headlight had been dented at some stage, presumably a non too serious event compared to my 'happening'.)
Jinx - dictionary definition. Something or someone believed to bring bad luck or misfortune.
Only Mr Vince never rode TNU 137. He took ill unexpectedly shortly after completing the restoration and sadly died not long afterwards. The bike languished, forlorn and unloved in Mr Vince's garage for many a while.
Jinx - in popular superstition and folklore 'an object that brings bad luck.'

My cousin Dennis, whose influence was instrumental in me buying the bike in the first place, negotiated with Mr Vince's widow and bought the machine, no doubt at a bargain price. Some bargain. Dennis was an experienced motorcyclist, unlike myself and was happiest tinkering with motorcycles for hours on end. One cold winter evening he tinkered just once too often and it almost signalled his end. TNU 137 was always an awkward customer where starting was concerned. (many two stroke motorcycles of that era were so.) It often necessitated several and occasionally numerous kick starts, a nuisance, somewhat tiring and creating exhaust fumes of considerable magnitude. No matter, no danger. Unless you were in a garage with the door closed. The garage complete with a paraffin heater, lit to warm cold December evenings spent in an otherwise unheated garage. Inevitably an explosion occurred , the heater igniting the fumes. In a closed garage the heat and flames were spectacular. Dennis was lucky to survive and had to endure months of repairs to his hands and face. TNU 137 survived almost intact.
Jinx - a spell or period of bad luck.
The bike was in fact repaired, again and Dennis did in fact use it, though whether his heart was truly with that machine I never did know. I doubt he needed much persuasion to sell it, particularly as Wraggy, a family friend showed interest in buying. All that was needed was a test drive and the deal would be done. So Wraggy vanished up the road out of sight on TNU 137, face beaming at the possibility of owning such an astute purchase. And we waited and we waited and we waited. We wondered why such a short test drive should be taking so long. That is, until a crestfallen Wraggy reappeared pushing his would be purchase. Evidently he had barely left the street when he was accosted by two observant policemen in a squad car, Wraggy's driving style no doubt would have attracted the attention of even the dimmest of traffic policemen. Wraggy had of course no licence and was also therefore not insured to ride any motorcycle, never mind TNU 137. No one was amused by this debacle, least of all Wraggy. But he need not have worried. Or perhaps he did just that. Poor old Wraggy, not so old Wraggy dropped dead one afternoon before his case ever went to court.
Jinxed - to bring bad luck or misfortune. (Perhaps from Jynx, genus name of the Wryneck, a bird used in magic.)
I know the bike was afterwards used by the son of Dennis, David, who is my godson. Not on the public highway as David was still a schoolboy. And I know it was in a head on collision on a local allotment with an elderly lady in a car who had lost her way. I kid you not, though to finish up driving a car on an allotment is seriously strange. Especially where TNU 137 lurked. Fortunately the only human injuries was the boy's pride.
I often wondered what happened to TNU 137. It may be still out there. But in the unlikely event that you are offered a small, green, vintage, battered motorcycle, do yourself a favour. Check the number plate. And if it happens to be TNU 137 do yourself a favour and run away; fast

(These two pieces taken from posts two years ago. Apologies but the date set me off; so again, have you anniversaries, good or otherwise you never forget?)


Our Life In A Caravan said...

Will be keeping an eye out for that bike at all the vintage rally's we will be doing this year! Jools and "M" at

Pearson Report said...

Nothing like a trip down memory lane - most afforable and can be taken anytime!

Very interesting post.

I find lucky pennies everywhere - since I was a wee tyke - I save them for a short time (put a little extra good luck into them) and toss them back out into the Universe.
Sometime I pass them right on - it all depends on the "vibes" I get from the penny!

Nope - not supersitious one little bit...she says sheepishly!


Ruth said...

Well, I do have my bear fetish in my medicine bag and never go anywhere without it? And Ken, I love your stories! Makes me homesick (sometimes!)

Touched By Grace said...

Wonderful writing and story telling. I have been following a bit off and on but this maybe my first comment.

I always wanted a motorbike when I was young(er), but I never got the chance.

Now you made me think perhaps moms and dads and boyfriends had their reasons.

Or is it just the TNU137?

John Teal said...

You have missed an opportunity with this episode of your life ! Steven King wrote about a 58 Plymouth Fury called "Christine" and probably made a fortune !!! Perhaps a Hollywood movie deal is not to late ????


Moannie said...

Good story Ken. I hope that bike is buried six feet under somewhere, where it will no doubt be unearthed in the year three thousand and exhibited as the rarest of rare finds.

As to knowing where I was on a given date...that is about all I remember these days.

Not really superstitious; most superstitions seem to be based on common sense...I mean for instance...don't walk under ladders. Duh!!!

the fly in the web said...

No, I can never remember where I was on a certain date so just have to hope that I'm never called as a witness to anything.
That bike sounds as if the devil on on the assembly line when it was made...

Andy said...

Of course Ken, a Bee in the house means a stranger is coming and it is bad luck to pass on the stairs. My mum, bless her, taught me these and more.

In following her doctrine, mums know best, I have never experienced any problems, touch wood!

I do enjoy your use of the English language by the way.

Pat - Arkansas said...

TNU137 had quite a history! I wonder, after reading your well-told tale, if anything strange occurred during its manufacture; the machine seemed to carry some sort of misfortune in its very makeup.

As to my own superstitions: the few I will admit to are more carry-over habits of my childhood years - spilled salt, knocking on wood, and that ilk. At this stage of my life, when I might say "I'm going to do such and such," I have learned to add "...God willing" lest I appear to be in command of my future. A superstition?

Bernard said...

When you have a spare minute or twenty - you could browse through these 40,700 pictures!

Lovely bikes. I had a 'James' at about that time.

tw said...

Great story: it brought back memories of my own motorcycle nemesis - a 1969 Honda 125 cc twin. The first time I rode it, the throttle jammed at just over 50mph, a corner approaching, no engine switch and I had forgotten that the ignition switch was under the petrol tank. It liked throwing me over the handle bars. The engine, mercifully, blew up, several times, and it was eventually sold to a dodgy dealer, with half the engine in a cardboard box. Bargain! Don't go near that one either.

Valerie said...

Brilliant story, Ken. If all your tales were in a book I'd definitely buy it. I'm not superstitious, but my Mom was - ridiculously so. I never cross fingers, even behind my back, but I do walk under ladders. It's usually safer than walkng in the road and getting run over by a car.

Tequila Sepulveda said...

Normally a reading lurker, but today, I had to post to tell you how much I love your views on life, the universe and everything.

Bish Bosh Bash said...

So, anyway Ken, who actually won then? Tibet or China? I was just gagging to know until you went and lunged off your bike under that lorry. The stunts you blokes tried to pull, just to impress a lady ‘back in the day’. Hmmm.

Seriously though – that’s a pretty sad and scary tale. I’m not the least bit superstitious but I certainly believe in jinxes and curses, I vex thee not.

Great track from an epic record album by the way. The third record I ever bought too. Great post again Ken.