Caravanning and RVing in Australia

Living with Murphy

Murphy in the Gravel Pit
Chapter 2 

We used to race the old Triumph around an old disused gravel pit on Saturday afternoons. If Dad had thought it would be a dangerous bike for me to manage, I'm glad he never saw us racing in that gravel pit - without helmets and missing trees by the skin of our teeth we learnt more about handling bikes than could have ever been taught by any driving school.

We had another old bike there - a New Imperial I think it was - and when the engines got too hot and seized up we would let them cool down until we could spit on the motor without the spit flying straight off with a 'splat' and then it would be on again. George and John, owners of the old bikes, went on to become serious grass-track racers using special JAP racing bikes but I never had the finance for that. Murphy must have been going through a 'be-kind-to-Lionel' phase because we never came to any harm despite the horrendous risks we used to take.

I've always hated the cold and working in the core-making section of the foundry was great in winter because we had our benches next to a huge gas oven where the cores - the sand mouldings that were used to form the inside of castings - were baked.

One of our work mates was a young fellow with a propensity for itching. He was susceptible to any suggestion of an itch whether verbal or mimed. Cruel beasts that we were - most days when things got a bit boring someone would start a conversation about sand-fleas or similar biting creatures or else one or more of us would start scratching some imaginary itch. Within minutes our friend was furiously scratching too and calling us all the names under the sun.

As soon as I reached my seventeenth birthday I wanted a car and having very little money settled on a 1929 fabric-bodied Morris Minor that was on show outside a local wreckers yard. It should have stayed there because this was the chance Murphy had been waiting for to show his stuff.

It arrived on a truck - an omen in itself. That evening Dad and I went for our first drive and were getting along very nicely when something overtook us as I slowed for an intersection. The something turned out to be one of our back wheels which trundled on for some time before bouncing to a stop in a ditch. The car continued for a little while on an even keel but subsided on to the back corner amid a shower of sparks as we lost speed!. This was the first of many adventures with that car with Murph honing his skills during every outing we took with it.

One memorable Sunday we were heading for Mum's sister's home at Aldermaston, a journey of about a hundred miles each way and by far the longest trip we had undertaken. Just past Salisbury the engine petered out and a look under the bonnet showed a bolt had come out of the S.U. carburettor and let all the petrol out. Fortunately a roadside search recovered the offending bolt and we were able to proceed to our next stop which was made to change a punctured tyre.

Our visiting time with Aunt Flo was taken up with finding a garage open on Sunday afternoon and willing to mend a puncture and we started out for home with our confidence a little shaken. Rightly so as we had forgotten we had lost a lot of fuel when the bolt came adrift and so ran out of petrol just after dark near Basingstoke. Dad had to walk for miles to find a petrol station open to fill a can with petrol. Not a lot was said for the rest of the journey home until we had another puncture at Salisbury.

We were lucky really I suppose because I went out in the car next day and had yet another puncture but this time had no spare wheel as I hadn't got around to having it fixed. With ingenuity born of desperation, I resorted to filling the tyre with grass and limping the few miles back home.

That car had dreadful play in the steering joints, severe vibration from the worn canvas universal couplings and terrible tappet clatter that I thought was impossible to cure until many years later when I discovered the engine was a forerunner of many Wolseleys and MGs with similar eccentric bush tappet clearance adjustment.

I replaced the universals one day when the vibration had become too bad to live with any longer and went out on the main Bournemouth road to test it out. On a straight stretch I got the needle hovering around sixty miles an hour! I think it was 60 mph but I couldn't watch the speedometer very closely because I was too busy keeping the car going in a roughly straight line with the steering wheel having about a foot of free play and needing very gentle corrections from one side to the other.