Go to the Archive index
There is a tradition in our family that the children of my generation are either one thirty-second or one sixty-fourth French. My great-grandfather's name was Ault and he used to say that he could remember his own grandfather looking "just like a little Frenchmen". Presumably, he meant that, like les frères du Solexene in the NACC, he used to wander round in a beret and stripy jumper. As an adolescent I held that my growing taste for real coffee and red wine demonstrated the truth of this principle. It must have been the other thirty-one thirty-seconds of pure Anglo-Saxon obduracy into which my schoolmaster was unsuccessfully trying to drub some rudiments of the French language.
I introduce this genealogical survey merely to prepare you for the inevitable recommencement of my affair with the diminutive Motobécane X1. As Spring put on her high heeled sneakers and lacy green dress, and young (and not so young) men's thoughts turned to nature, the Albino Slug and I began to be seen out together again. On the first date of our new affair she behaved herself impeccably and there was none of the tantrums of the year before. I realise now that it was just the number of machines and riders at the tenth anniversary bash at Nottingham that cowed her, but at the time I took it for a change of heart. Our second tryst was at the VMCC Cyclemotor AGM at Marsh Gibbon. It was a lovely day and, as a recently born-again cyclist, I decided to wear my new cycling shorts, T-shirt and white trainers. With the amount of pedalling I subsequently had to do, this turned out to be the ideal costume. However, when la petite blanche finally chose to expire it was on a newly tarmacadamed road and, during the heated exchanges which followed, the by-way melted tarrily all over my light coloured clothes.
What is the correct attire for cyclemotoring? One of the great things about motor cycling is the opportunity it presents to pose about in leather jacket, jeans and clumping great boots, but people laugh unkindly if one dresses like that on a folding moped. Period dress? In all the pictures I have seen of 1950s cyclemotorists they are wearing: black lace-up shoes, trousers with eighteen inch bottoms (surmounted by turn-ups and cycle-clips), a gaberdine mac, a trilby and black rimmed National Health spectacles. It's not sexy is it?
At the other extreme there's all that wonderful skin-tight, day-glow, slimy stuff that cyclists wear, but it doesn't look right perched on a sit-up-and-beg Hercules with rod brakes and a wheezing Mini-Motor on the back (and it doesn't look right on my figure - full-stop). So when is "Buzzing" going to appoint a fashion editor?
I digress. I could tell that the problem with Mademoiselle was petrol starvation (just like last year) but couldn't understand how muck could be blocking the jet. The petroil is really well filtered on these little Mobylettes. I took the carburettor off to clean it and solved the problem. When the carb is empty and standing, small flowers of aluminium corrosion form. They lift off the surface when the petroil next fills the float chamber and swim off to block the jet. Eureka! I cleaned out the float chamber. Screwed everything back together and - burr - burr - pop. Would she go? Would she French knickers. My hands, knees, new cycling shorts and temper were all getting blacker. I knew what "The Sun" feels about the French. Off came the panel, the throttle cable and the carburettor again. The carburettor on the X1 is needleless, so I made myself a needle from the thinnest grass I could find and poked it up the jet. Screwed it all back together again - et tout marchait bien.
We did the British Two-Stroke Club's Chiltern 100 together and won an award! We went to the York Run and never faltered. I painted a rosy future along which we whizzed, a bright white blur singing duets in Franglais. Mais Encore Tristess - It was my own fault: I wanted a moped with a dual seat, Sheila wanted a bike with no gears. So we bought from Scotland a Mobylette Luxamatic. How can I have been so blind? Every time I went into the garage he'd sidled a little closed to her. How could she look at him? He hasn't run for years. He's beat up, rusty and half his panels are missing. He has a ripped seat, broken rear lamp and his closest friends for the past decade have been a family of woodbugs. What's worse, he's painted bronze. It's disgusting to see them together. How can she prefer him to me?
It's the old story, of course. Middle-aged man runs after something half his age. She's flattered; her confidence is boosted and two years later she runs off with something younger and more to her taste. Middle-aged man is left, quite simply, middle-aged ("and serve him right" says middle-aged woman).
So, bronzed Mr McCupid and the Albino Slug, I ask you.
First published - August 1992
Go to the Archive index