Though I learned to drive in it, I have no nostalgic fondness for the farm Land Rover – it was noisy, uncomfortable and not very reliable. I was much more taken with a relative’s Ford V8 Pilot; a big cruiser with an American V8 and the torque to go with it. An old fashioned car then, by the standards of today it was decidedly primitive; inadequate 6 volt electrics and vacuum wipers (driven from the manifold). This one had no heater but on Winter Sundays my uncle filled a 10 gallon milk churn with hot water, put it in the back, and the car was heated for the trip to church, a little bit of luxury.
Fast forward a bit till I was 16, working on a farm and cycling 7 miles to work and 7 miles back in the evening. I soon bought a BSA 250cc C11G. Ball of fire it was not, but old fashioned, dripping oil and with brakes that couldn’t even match its performance it certainly was. The bike’s only advantage was that it was easy to take apart, just as well since it needed plenty of attention, I think I could still take the carb apart blindfolded. But, hey, it gave me transport and opened up a night life of cinemas, the jazz club (by then entirely devoted to rock and roll but not yet renamed) and meeting up with my peers, some with motorbikes, none with cars.
I was of course, riding on an L plate, and not allowed to carry a pillion passenger unless he (it was always a man) had a motorcycle licence. I had driving experience of course, but very little of it (and that illegal) on the road. My first experience of the BSA actually on the road was with my father on the back to “teach” me. We set off on the A20 main road in a series of swerving wobbles; my father was the pillion rider from hell, nervous as a kitten, and he peered round me first one side then the other, moving his weight and unbalancing the bike as he did so. Luckily, in those days, the A20 was quiet in the evening and we survived but, to the great relief of both of us, he never rode on the back again.
I was keen to get my full licence and booked a test in Canterbury. It was a November day, dull and drear, a misty rain oozed from the sky from time to time, and I wiped my goggles free of road dirt every minute or two. In those days, the test consisted of some questions and an observation by a tester who largely stood in one place apart from leaping forward for the emergency stop. This was fortunate. He asked me to ride round the block in the back streets of Canterbury; the road was slippery, and I was nervous. Inevitably my less than brilliant tyres lost grip on one of the turns and I fell off. I never picked up and mounted a bike so quickly again, shooting off to where the tester stood. He looked at his watch but said nothing; did he guess what had happened? The questions were easy except for one; double white lines to control overtaking had only recently been introduced that year (1959) and people were still not clear about how they worked. He asked whether one could overtake where there were double lines; I said yes, as long as you didn’t cross them, which is correct and quite relevant for a motorcyclist.
Did I pass? Yes.
Would I today? You all know the answer.