CS Ride – Withering Erudition

Geoff Hill’s update on – THE CS CLANCY CENTENARY RIDE

Supported by Adelaide Insurance Services and BMW Motorrad.

Recreating the first around the world ride 100 years on.

England-04-Geoff-Hill-in-St-Werburgh-smallIn Glasgow, Clancy declared the people individuals to a man and the accent almost unintelligible from the red-nosed, bare-kneed women who gathered around them at every stop, rolling their r’s and sounding like Harry Lauder.

Storey was still too nervous to ride through the heavy city traffic, so Clancy gave him a lift to the city limits then went back for his Henderson.

By this time it was almost dark, and before long they were lost in the gathering gloom, made almost infernal by the lurid glare of countless iron foundries, and were forced to stop for the night in the unprepossessing Black Bull in “the dreary town of Stonehouse”.

Still, at least it only cost them $1.15 each for a hearty supper, a big feather bed and breakfast the next morning, during which a clergymen, as Clancy puts it, “told us that although he had been a weekly visitor at The Black Bull for several years, we were the first guests he had met; the bar being the inn’s principal mainstay and pure whiskey its principal staple”.

Naturally, it could only go downhill from there: a peeling monochrome pile on a windy corner, it’s finally been closed because of the inability of its customers to pop in for a small glass of sherry without finishing the bottle then breaking it over their neighbour’s head.

Warmed, fed and watered, we found a hotel and fell gratefully into bed. Gary and I took turns at keeping each other awake by snoring in shifts, and we rose at seven and were on the road at eight, heading for the balmy south.

Indeed, the snow looked ever so slightly warmer as we rode into Northwich in Cheshire, where Clancy and Storey had stayed at the Crown and Anchor, which had closed in 1960 and was now Madison’s Bar and Restaurant, the forthcoming attractions of which included the Playboy Bunny Party on Friday, with free bunny ears and a prize for the best costume.

“I can just see Clancy and Storey rolling up the street on their Hendersons and saying: ‘Playboy Bunny Party? That’ll do us’,” said fellow biker and journalist Peter Murtagh, who was riding with us as far as Spain, and whose hands had gone a funny shade of blue which matched my nose.

It was time to find somewhere warm to stay the night, and after riding around for a bit, we found the Blue Barrel, a pub with rooms and a sign outside advertising a Psychic Evening.

Funny, I had a feeling we were going to stay there.

Clancy-pic-St-smallThe next morning, we rode between the frozen fields the next morning to stand in the exact spot where Clancy had a century before when he took a photograph looking up St Werburgh Street towards the cathedral.

It hadn’t changed in all that time, apart from the large Chrysler parked on the double yellow lines. And the double yellow lines, come to that. Still, at least Clancy would have been pleased that it was an American car.

In Birmingham, we took shelter from a blizzard in the Witton Arms, which turned out to be the worst Irish pub in the world, a cavernous hall occupied by a gloomy Mexican and an inexplicably cheery Jamaican watching the horse racing on a giant screen.

Things got much better in London, where two mornings later we pulled up at the stroke of nine outside the Ace Café, which Clancy didn’t visit for the simple reason that it only opened in 1938, to accommodate traffic on the new North Circular Road.

Because it was open 24 hours a day, it started to attract motorcyclists. It then became popular with the Ton Up Boys and girls in the 1950s and the Rockers in the 1960s and many bands and motorcycle enthusiast groups such as the 59 Club formed there.

It was, you’ll be glad to hear, exactly as it should be: down one end was with three Triumphs, a Royal Enfield, a BSA and a Brough Superior; the first time I had seen in the flash the machine favoured by Lawrence of Arabia up to the point where he met his death on one.

Down the other was a jukebox on which Mick Jagger was complaining yet again that he couldn’t get no satisfaction, and in the middle, a bunch of grizzled chaps with faraway looks in their eyes were sitting at scrubbed wooden tables, tucking into bacon butties washed down with mugs of tea.

In the circumstances, it seemed impolite not to join them, then buy an Ace Café sticker as a memento and a Castrol one because it reminded me of the metal one that once turned in the wind outside my dear old dad’s motorcycle garage.

All stickered up, we rode into London, where Clancy and Storey spent several happy days at the Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall planning their route east.

Black-Bull-in-Stonehouse-today-smallClancy had joined the RAC associate organisation the Auto-Cycle Union of England before leaving the States, and called into the RAC, which had only been built the year before, to enlist the help of the RAC’s resident experts in getting maps, GB numberplates and international passes, although only after having his riding skills approved by an examiner in the street outside.

He was deeply impressed by the magnificent building and interior, and he had every right to be, for it is a soaring hymn to tasteful opulence, from the richly carpeted reception room in which someone had carelessly parked a Bentley Continental, through the swimming pool, saunas, steam room and gym to the St James’s Room in which we were expected for a press conference; an appropriate venue, since it was named after the saint whose bones had inspired centuries of pilgrims to set off on their own adventures to Santiago de Compostela.

In deep armchairs all around, the descendants of the same chaps who had sat in the same chairs when Clancy was here were busily unscrewing their fountain pens, just as their grandfathers had, to write letters of withering erudition to the Daily Telegraph about the state of the nation’s roads.

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Background information:

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This annual poll had responses from 29 000 readers.

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