I passed my driving test a long long time ago and in all the years since, I have stuck rigidly to four wheels on road and track, but things have changed.  I have a history of compulsive, serial ‘investment’ in fast cars but I have belatedly realised the possibilities of acquiring even quicker exotic machinery at a fraction of the cost; the road to complete ruin can be delayed by taking to two wheels.  After a one hour introductory motorcycle session I returned to complete the full eight hour Compulsory Basic Training and now I can be let loose on the Queen’s Highway – Toad like, I have my sights set on the far horizon and the freedom of the Open Road.  I blame my maternal grandfather Fred, it is in the blood.

This is an almost unique picture from our family history because it shows Fred and May posing together.  There is a ring on Fred’s third finger left hand, so I guess this was taken after their wedding but before my mother was born, which places them roughly in the year 1922. It is conceivable that my mother, born in 1923, has already started her journey into life; it is certain that I am directly connected to this picture by a string of entirely random and unpredictable events.

Perhaps a Sunday morning, they have all thought about the day and dressed for the occasion.  Fred is standing on the far right looking unusually dapper with tie and evidently fashionable, too short trousers.  A cigarette in hand but not May’s hand in his, she is inclining towards her slightly mad brother Charlie.  May’s mother, the lovely Emily, stands next to Charlie and her father, William, sits nervously upright in the side car.  Flat capped and woollen gloved against the bare trees and cold winter light, another of May’s brothers sits astride the motorcycle, either Albert or Frederick.  It is reasonable to assume that the absent brother is taking the picture, the slightly low angle being a symptom of the view camera where the image is inspected for focus on a ground glass screen from above.  It could be the same camera that Fred was holding in the picture at the Sphinx (see earlier post – July 23rd 2012), considerately brought along for the day; he is still trying to impress the in-laws. There they stand, forever trapped in time, carrying memories and experiences up to this Sunday morning, blissfully unaware of personal and world events which will shape their future and their ends.

There is no family story about how Fred and May met so allow me to make some wild assumptions.  Fred had a passion for any motorised vehicle and was known to compete in motorcycle trials, so is the bike the connection?  Did Fred know the brothers before he met May, was he ultimately entrapped by a faulty carburettor or a dodgy clutch – can you pop over at the weekend and have a look Fred?  Was this how May got her man and eventually conceived her only child, my mother.  She did well; eligible men were in short supply in the bleak years following the Great War.  Did she stop with that one child, mission accomplished.  I can almost hear her words: “We will have no more of that nonsense Fred“.

Perhaps that is it, I owe my existence to a motorcycle and my motorised obsessions to Fred, who with the Territorial Army, then the Royal Flying Corps, travelled the world with a passion for machines.  He drove cars, lorries, buses, ambulances, fire engines, no doubt took to the air in the RFC even as a mechanic and of course he rode motorcycles.

Brian Fagan writing in Beyond the Blue Horizon finds his best explanation for compulsive voyages of discovery in the old Viking term aefintyrrestless curiosity.  A simple short word it seems to explain everything about Fred and my own erratic journey through life, including my latest diversion, climbing on a motorcycle.

I would welcome any suggestions regarding the make and model of the motorbike and sidecar in the picture.


  1. veramoy · September 4, 2012

    First let me say congrats are in order for obtaining your training, there is nothing quite like being on the open road atop a motorbike! Secondly thank you for sharing your family’s picture, just looking at it my mind was rabid thinking of all the stories behind the people pictured, so thank you for sharing your own ideas as well.

  2. Colin Wraith (@colinwraith) · September 5, 2012

    No help here with the make of bike or sidecar, but interesting to se an AA badge on the handlebars – suppose it was almost essential in those days. Nice picture, and doesn’t Emily look loads younger than her husband? Perhaps it’s the severe male moustaches adding years to their looks.

    • northumbrianlight · September 5, 2012

      Thanks Colin – to be honest I have my doubts about Emily, I only have my Mum’s latterly unreliable word for it but I agree she looks just too young. In another picture taken about 14 years later (coming up soon) she has aged dramatically; that or it is an entirely different person 🙂

  3. nature789 · September 7, 2012

    For your relatives to have the motorbike in the family photo it must have been quite special. Was it uncommon to own one? From reading your articles it is my impression that you have a great admiration for your Grandfather, Fred. What a blessing to have these unique old photos and in such good condition. Congrats on your motorcycle training, have you picked your bike choice yet? Enjoyed your post!

    • northumbrianlight · September 7, 2012

      Thanks for the comments Tj – I guess it was quite special and the bike was probably considered the star attraction in the photo. I was very fond of Granddad Fred, as a very young boy he was always a soft place to fall – I think I have mentioned before, I can bring him back to life on the very rare occasion that Three Nuns pipe tobacco drifts on the air. When he left school, according to his obituary, “he became one of the pioneers of motor engineering trade in the town (Andover), being apprenticed by Mr Collis…….At that time there were only about five cars in the town and they were mostly owned by doctors (so motorbikes were probably not much more common). He had his first driving licence in 1907 and later became a bus driver on the Tidworth, Andover and District buses”. I have the the original copy of the licence.
      Thanks for the congrats – I am seriously considering a Suzuki VanVan…for starters 🙂
      All the best – R

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