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by David Stevenson

I have read the occasional debates in Buzzing on the vexed subject of number-plate dealers.  I agree, however, with our esteemed editor's view that our greatest asset as a club is our mutual tolerance and have felt remote from the strong antagonism felt by some members to these gentlemen.  But, dear reader, read on.

My story concerns Mr X, Mr Y and one motor cycle Z, part of the famous Stevenson 'motorcycle-in-a-box' collection.  Mr X rang one night while I was out leaving a message that he was interested in Z, and Mr Y rang on the next day also expressing an interest.  On the following day, I rang them both scrupulously in the order in which I had received their calls.  Mr X, it transpired was an enthusiast whose heavy bike days were over and was interested in both restoring bike Z and eventually riding it.  He was almost prepared to part with money unseen, but not unreasonably required a photocopy of old and new logbooks and a photograph of the remains.  Not having the technology to accomplish this over the weekend, I told him that I would keep in mind his requirements and ring Mr Y.

Mr Y was enthusiastic and exasperated.  He was desperate to buy a bike to participate in events.  Living in the sticks he never received the magazine on time with the slower rural post.  Z was just what he was looking for.  He had the sister model Z2F in barn weathered condition.  They would make a wonderful pair.  All he needed was a bike to get him on the road but he never got there first because of (see above) etc, etc, etc.  His domicile it turned out was on the route of one of our better known runs and I asked him why he hadn't popped over to meet us.  All he needed, he reiterated, was a bike but he... etc, etc, etc.  But Z, I said, is in a box.  There's two years work there.  Wouldn't you rather buy something working.  No, because nobody would ever sell him a bike.  It wasn't fair he never got there, etc, because of the etc, etc.  If I would sell it immediately to him he would transfer the money.  I pleaded precedence.

By this time I was thoroughly suspicious.  Z is not a lovely motor cycle, nor a valuable motor cycle, but it is a very genuine motor cycle.  I know where it was for each of its 48 years.  I have its dealer plate from Epsom, its brown logbook showing that it was on the road for 16 years, from the year before I was born until the end of the year before I got my first provisional licence, and its original Swansea-registered transferable number.  It had only two rider owners, the second for 14 years and then it sat forlornly at the back of a motor cycle shop until it was rescued by the man from whom I bought it.  Like all such finds it is 'almost  complete', '95% there' (which is more than one can say for most members of the NACC).  When I bought it "I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong" and although I started to restore it, it never quite fitted in with motorising my family and friends.  Its place in my affections was usurped by an older, cuddlier, curvier model (pretty unusual that amongst middle-aged men, eh?) but I still felt that affection one retains for an old flame and wanted to see Z go to someone who would cherish it and restore it to the road.

I rang X and told him the story.  I would rather sell the bike to him.  Was he willing to give me the full price?  Could we use a friend's computer to clinch the deal?  X was keen.  Agreement to communicate via e-mail the next morning was reached.  Y rang again.  First come, first served says I.  It's not fair, etc, etc, says he.  Through the wonders of modern technology X and I reached a deal the following day.  Reluctantly, but wishing to be fair, I rang Y as agreed and told him X was forwarding a cheque.  Tell him it's off says Y and I'll be there before this evening with twice the money.  Can't do that, says I.  I mentioned another venerable but logbookless member of the Stevenson 'motorcycle-in-a-box' collection, also for sale.  The lack of interest was palpable.  With a heartfelt sigh, I wished good-bye to the importunate Mr Y.

Now number plate dealing isn't a war crime.  It is not child-murder nor even simple theft.  I take rather a dim view of the effort to get me to break my agreement with Mr X, given that all this is taking place within the confines of the membership of a relatively small club but no laws have been broken or club rules defiled.  Mr Y is free to offer me more than I asked for bike-in-a-box Z, and I am free to turn him down.  It reveals that even in middle age I remain a rather sad, sentimental example of unreconstructed pre-Thatcher homo semi-erectus but I knew that already.  So why do I feel so aggrieved?

The answer lies, I think in the fact that Mr Y in exercising his free will has tried by deception to deny me the right to exercise mine.  Had he said when I first telephoned him, "I will offer you twice what Mr X is willing to pay for Z but I will not be doing with Z what you would like", the most ardent number-plate-dealer-phobic axe murderer could only have mumbled a polite "No thanks".  As it was he tried to take advantage of my sense of fair play and my generalised goodwill towards my fellow club members to do me down in the cause of lining his own pocket.  It leaves a very unpleasant taste in the mouth.

I still think there's nothing the club can do about it because a witch hunt to find out who these people are will have more unpleasant effects than leaving things as they are.  I was very well brought up to have 'telephone manners' and, although I am now a naturalised Yorkshireman, I am a Southerner, to boot.  Those of you with a more direct mode of speech might like to tell Mr Y what a rat you think he is if he starts bothering you.  Not, I think, that it will matter to him.

First published - October 2000

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