“You’re never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.”
Every year, at the beginning of January, the Nelson Classic Motorcycle Club in New Zealand puts on a two-day show in the Stoke Community Hall. This is always an interesting presentation of club-members’ bikes. I’ve been to a few over the years and never has the content been the same as the previous year. The organising committee makes an effort to maintain that variety.
With the display being limited to about 75 bikes, it also it means there is plenty of room to view the bikes from all angles.
This year’s show was an ideal opportunity for me to offer my book (No One Said It Would Be Easy) for sale. For what would seem to be an inconsequential event, it is always interesting to note the exotic and mundane mixed up and presented equally, with little to distinguish between them.
This year was no exception and four bikes from the ‘six-figure’ range mixed with the ‘grey porridge’. It could be seen as an ‘equal opportunity’ show.
For me it is a great opportunity to meet old friends and make new ones … and one of those new ones, I have to tell you about … because of the serendipitous nature of our relationship.
Murray McLean (The owner of the Matchless Golden Eagle) and I both live two hours away in Golden Bay, so sleep in the hall on the Friday and Saturday nights ... providing security! On each night we were gifted a local member to share our beers and lies with. Friday night’s was Paul, an ex-army Brit. Now my book of course features Penelope, our reasonably rare Panther M120 from the obscure manufacturer Phelon and Moore, of the small Yorkshire town of Cleckheaton. So, when we’d locked-up, I stood admiring the sole Panther in the show. Paul was nearby and says “I grew up in Cleckheaton … we used to break into the old factory … dropping in through a skylight!” He went on to describe how all sorts of things still littered the place and on the shelves were even complete engines (his description put them as the Villiers twin-cylinder engines of the last 350s). Paul and his teenage oppos didn’t have the nouse to nick anything of value, or probably the ability to get it out through the skylight. They did however make off with a quantity of badges. Years later, at a ‘Festival of 1,000 bikes’ Paul saw a Panther Owners’ stand and handed over badges to them. Probably saved them from the wrecking ball.
I am not going to tell you to much about the show, other than to say it was a success for both the club and myself. I sold all the books (and the few Last Hurrah DVDs) that I had taken. My stall featured a world map as well as lots of photos etc. The marked-up map brought forth many tales from attendees. One gent even had a photo with himself in 1959, in the bloom of youth, about to head away from England on his 197cc Francis Barnet to ride to New Zealand. On Sunday another older guy told me of his AJS ride in 1960, wife behind, again out to NZ. He was proud to still have both treasures, and was looking for advice about getting a sidecar fitted. “Doesn’t need seating mind, as the wife still wants to ride behind!” he told me. I loved these interactions with strangers who clearly loved recalling those halcyon days. But my biggest surprise and jaw-dropping moment of the weekend came when I leant forward and offered my hand to Peter Hutton, the Taranaki Brough Superior owner who had been sitting nearby chatting with Grant our local AJS vee-twin owner (similar engine). “Hi, I’m Des, I don’t think we’ve met.”
“Well, we have … many years ago. You used to do my laundry on the Blue Whale. One day I saw you in a POC tee shirt, and I said to you ‘You must have a Panther.’ … and you replied ‘If you know that, you must have motorbikes’.” That was 1978! Amazingly, his wife Linda said she recalled him coming home and telling her about it. So, what a show! And vanity insists I share one last anecdote. A man bought a book on Sunday afternoon, then said he had something to share with me. At a job interview, he had been asked to name a book that had inspired him … and he’d told them … “The Last Hurrah by Des Molloy”