Sunday, 23 May 2010

The Golden Ford

Right. Hop on, we're going to get back on the road and ride away from the pool, down the hill toward Guildford.

This little tour on my T110 falls into the category of a lucid dream, and like all such dreams, I can pick and choose. This, after all, is the way Hagrid delivered the baby on his T110, so I don't see why I cannot let a little of the magic of the young, wild, Marlon Brando's favourite motorcycle rub off on me.

We swing round the vast roundabout with the A.A. headquarters behind us, trying to avoid getting knocked off by the incoming A3 traffic, then head into the town centre. Not much has changed here for a few years, and it is unnerving to be on two wheels as we gingerly traverse the steep High Street in 2nd gear. This must be one of the few remaining cobbled high streets in Britain which is still open to modern traffic, and the two hundred years of it has put a fine polish on the surface, which is lethal in wet weather. I don't know how they got the iron clad horse carts down it in the last century, but today is fine and dry, so we need only worry about oil slicks.

Past - and almost under - the famous overhanging clock and a few doors down from the Angel Hotel, there is the ghost of the gunsmith's shop, Adsett, who made my 12 bore, box-lock ejector about 100 years ago. They carried right on into the 1960's, but ceased trading after an unfortunate 'accident' whereby the youngest son blew his head off whilst cleaning a gun in the workshop. I've never heard of a professional gunsmith cleaning a loaded gun before.

You glimpse a huge, stone ruin through a wide arch to the left, and I tell you this is all that remains of Guildford Castle keep, now set in a neat little park laid out with municipal daffodils.

To the bottom of the treacherous hill, and a left turn brings us into Castle Street. This stretch of road is haunted by a young woman pushing a large, old-fashioned pram. On dark nights, she sometimes pushes the perambulator and it's contents into the oncoming path of a real, living motorist. I don't know if this is a little psychic joke, or the echo of a long forgotten incident, but the motorists do not find it very funny.

Right there, on the left and in the shadow of one of the remaining castle walls, is the house where Lewis Caroll lived, and where he wrote Alice Through the Looking-Glass. I really don't know what to think about Caroll, but I tend to go along with the majority opinion that he was just a talented innocent and a pioneer of early photography, albeit with a somewhat dodgy choice of subject matter. Alice Liddel's mother - quite understandably erred on the safe side, and eventually forbade her daughter all contact with Caroll, but still allowed him to keep the negatives. He wouldn't get away with it these days, that's for sure. The original Alice is the centre-piece to the triptych above, and she is flanked by some sinister and portentous images of views to come.

But - talking of views to come - we must get back on the bike and head up the hill out of town to the Hogs Back, where - I promise - we will hit 100 miles an hour, whilst you scream at me to slow down. Before then, we will call into my old friend, B.M.M.'s workshop at the bottom of town.

I know B.M.M.'s secret, but this - being a magical tour - will be forgotten during the meeting, and I will let you speak to him for the first time, like I did all those years ago.

We open the door of a shabby, back-street workshop, and I have already primed you to ask for some part for our vintage, Triumph motorcycle - a replacement cylinder head, for example. The door lets off a loud ring in the back room, and B.M.M. appears in the door, and stands aggressively behind the oil-stained counter, asking what you want. As you say the part of the motor-bike, he stares straight into your eyes and curtly tells you to come through to the back room. He is a bit scarey.

He leads the way into a pitch-dark, windowless room, and you trip over a box of metal parts, causing a cacophonous racket. He apologises, and flicks on a light switch. It is then that you realise that he is totally blind.

B.M.M. can feel the diameter of worn cylinder heads to within a thousandth of a degree, and as he runs his hands over the T110 outside in the daylight, he tells you that you have the wrong exhaust fitted to it for that year's model. He lost his eyesight in a motorcycle accident, when he was thrown from his bike as a young man, hitting his head against a tree-stump, but he never lost his love for vintage, British bikes - or American cars. He has one parked nearby, and drives it around the car park in tight circles before neatly parking it back into the cramped garage where it will live as long as he does.

I just wanted you to meet him - we don't need a cylinder head - yet. Next stop, the Hog's Back.


  1. I'm sure that B.M.M is the guy that I once visited with someone who was looking for some very small but obscure part for an ancient English bike. He bent down and dug out something from the part-littered pressed earth floor, and said " that'll be three and sixpence please".

  2. I never knew him as anything other than BMM, but if your guy was blind and belligerent, that'll be him.