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Motorbike Days


"How'd you like a motorbike?  I just got my call-up papers for the Army.  I've taken it all apart, every bit of it including the engine and the carburetor.  I've taken all the paint off the frame. I was just about to start a complete rebuild when I got my enlistment papers. If you want it I'll bring it all to you. I know you can put it together." What 16 year old could refuse such an offer?  And so I became the proud owner of a 350 cc Velocette; two wheels and a great number of cardboard boxes full of bits and pieces.


I came to the conclusion that what I had was just a big jig-saw puzzle.  Only one bit could fit with one other bit.  Gaskets, between parts that had to be sealed, I made from brown butcher paper. Finally after several months I had the last bit of the engine assembled.  Next came the painting of the frame. Finally came the day that I tightened the last bolt. I did a very good paint job on the frame and the tank and I was really proud of my accomplishment. I'd been very careful as to the timing of the valves and the magneto and the running clearances and adjustments of the tappets. Now comes the moment of truth. Will it run?


I got astride and slowly cranked it over to prime the cylinder. I switched on, gave a soft, push over center, kick and right off first time it ran. Not only did it run it ran perfectly and idled as smoothly as could be. I was one proud and happy boy.


From time to time a circus complete with elephants, lions and tigers and with all sorts of fun/game side shows came to visit Earlsferry. The allocated place for them to set up all their tents and equipment was on the wide piece of grass on the  golf course, the area between  the rough of the 4th and the 17th fairways, where the Cadjers Road crosses.  One of the side shows that fascinated me was Speedy Brum and his Wall of Death, a large completely enclosed heavy steel wire mesh cage with a mesh domed top. Speedy and another on motor bikes started out circling from the bottom. As the speed of the bikes increased the bikes defied gravity as centrifugal force held rider and machine against the mesh sidewalls as they raced around and around and at each circle getting higher and higher.  Further bursts of speed and the two of them went circling  upside down right under and across the top. It was amazing that they didn't collide, crash to the floor of the cage and kill each other. 


One year a small stage was set up for the children of the area to participate in a talent contest and there were a number of entries. When I was a boy I had a fair singing voice and I plucked up my courage and went on stage. Recently we had a death in the family. Our cat had expired from an unknown ailment and me being in mourning my sniveling rendition was my jingle for which I made up the words, "Oor cat cutch the mizzles and it's dade, pair thing," that I sang to the tune of “Doctor MacGregor and his wee black bag.” Needless to say I ended up at the bottom of the totem pole but I was rewarded with a tanner (a sixpence) for my effort. After me an Elie girl who was my same age and who had a live cat but wanted a dog got up on to the stage and gave her version of "Daddy wouldn't buy me a bow, wow" and completely stole the show.


Jems, my bosom buddy, also had a motorbike and in no time the pair of us were joy riding all over the place.  We raced each other. We went off-road hill climbing and in general we had a great time with our bikes.


I will tell of one episode with Jems. This was in World War II during the days of the blackout. One moonlight evening Jems showed up.  "Let's get our bikes out."  Off we went in the dark chasing each other up the Ferry Road. We'd gone about four miles and were at a bend in the road at Muircambus when the chain of Jems' bike came off.  We pulled over to the right side of the road to prop Jems' bike against the banking at the side of the road.  I focused my headlight so that Jems could see to get his chain back on.  While so doing a car from ahead came around a curve in the road. We were on the wrong side of the road. As the car approached it slowed down to a crawl then stopped opposite us. Was it a police car?  What a predicament.  Neither of us had an operator license. Our bikes were neither registered, licensed nor insured. The petrol in my tank was dyed military green, courtesy of an army tank!!!  We debated fleeing the scene but thought better of it.  The car door opened and out stepped the chief of police of the County of Fife.  Holy mackerel we'd hit the jack pot.  Also in the car were three other high ranking police officers.


The chief politely asked, "Are you having a problem?"   Doing my level best to put on an innocent front I explained what we were doing. The officer then reprimanded us for being on the wrong side of the road  because being on the wrong side could have caused an accident. He went on, "We can't help you as we're already late for a meeting of police being held at Anstruther.  Please get on to your proper side of the road and be more careful."  With that he got in the car and was gone.   Phew!


If God in his Heaven ever smiled on Jems and me He certainly beamed on us that night.   


After the Velocette, I acquired a BSA then a Triumph Tiger 90 that was followed by a Tiger 100.  In 1950 I had gone by train to visit my brother Noel who was in the town of Stafford in England.  There in the motor cycle shop window of a man by the name of Ernie Bunn was a brand new, bright blue, 650cc, side by side, vertical twin, Triumph Thunderbird.  It was love at first sight.   It's price was a little over 200 pounds. In I went and came out the proud owner.  In all the time I owned the Thunderbird it performed to my utmost satisfaction.  It had power and perfect balance.  I got so good at riding that bike that I learned to set the throttle speed then carefully work my way up to letting go of the handlebars and for a few brief seconds ride it standing on the seat.  Over the years I've had several other bikes but never was there one that came anywhere close to the perfect  power, weight and balance of the Thunderbird.