Sunday, 28 February 2010

Nery-a-cross word

This curious device is named a 'Ner-a-Car' and aptly too, for it is neither a motorcycle nor a car but successfully combines the bad points of each. Heralded as the new 'best thing on wheels' by its inventor, one American gentleman named Carl Neracher, it was made under licence by the grandly titled Sheffield Simplex company of Kingston upon Thames. For the mechanically inclined it has friction drive involving the forcing of a buffalo-hide covered roller against a brass flywheel which effectively, or rather, ineffectively gives speeds of slow and not-so-slow. It has two brakes, both on the rear wheel and operated independently. The handlebars are really there as a place to rest your arms, for the device is hub-steered like a car and despite the primitive appearance the motorcycle can be manouvered by moving your bodyweight in the required direction. The handling is extremely stable and quite in advance of anything of its time.

Having always been fascinated by the off-beat when it comes to transportation I heard of this device languishing in a disused fish shed in Maldon, Essex. The owner was charming but already had too many sick donkeys in his sanctuary and saw that I would give it a warm, dry stable. It is in what we old vehicle freaks call 'oily rag condition' which means that it's very original but has never received the dignity of polish - rather it has been preserved by liberal applications of a diesel-soaked rag. Consequently it looks (and smells) quite delightful. Having lugged the beast home I studied the miniscule instruction manual and it struck me that here was a machine that was quite serious in its intent; it would be laughed off the market today but must have been quite a revelation back in 1922. Apparently the Ner-a-Car was advertised in magazines like Country Life as well as in Legal and professional medical journals. Many found a following amongst midwives and country doctors, particularly attracted (it says here) by the ease of control and the comprehensive weather equipment. I can tell you that I doff my cap to the sturdy midwives of the 1920's for it is anything but easy to ride requiring octopus-like dexterity to even start the machine in motion. However, on a flat surface, like a billiard table, say, and with a fair wind behind you on an extremely quiet country road there is a certain charm with the tiny two stroke engine emitting clouds of noxious fumes which are thankfully left far behind as you buzz serenely along at around 25 thoroughly English miles per hour.

Last summer the lanes of a remoter part of East Sussex were home to me and the Ner-a-Car as I triumphantly completed a journey of some twenty or so miles, much of it spent with my 'assisting' the little 'bike up the mighty hills thereabouts. But I made it! and my triumphant return to that most delightful of pubs, the Six Bells, Chiddingly was greeted by gales of laughter by the crowds of young motorcyclists who gravitate there on a Sunday. Their mockery turned to undisguised amazement when I parked in their midst and to downright admiration when I regaled them with my (slightly exaggerated) tales of the open road. Ner-a-Car, Ner-a-Bike, Ner-a...nything really, just a huge amount of fun at the expense of its thoroughly worthy inventor - I love it.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Government business...

Going through all the stuff that's left behind when people shuffle off this mortal coil there's always a quantity of what the dealers like to call 'printed ephemera'. This is an example. Nothing remarkable but somehow it sums up the austerity Britain in which I grew up. Of course I had no idea that I was living in austerity Britain at the time what with my free clinic orange juice and cod liver oil and machines in shoe shops that x-rayed my feet. The point is that we were being taken care of, and the government was providing for us. This notebook, dated (can you believe they'd bother to do that?) 1952 proudly states that it is 'Supplied for the Public Service'. The cover is set in Gill in just two weights with a little Times for the reference number and has the look of those 'Don't Panic' posters so popular these days - consequently it appears really quite modern. How nice it would be if rather than the ubiquitous 'red and black' notebooks so beloved of account managers today, someone would produce one of these little beauties or it's foolscap equivalent and start taking down the great matters of pith and moment. My aunt who worked for the 'Min of Ag and Fish' scribbled in thousands of these cream covered notebooks as she tramped the dairy farms of West Kent and East Surrey in her mission of enforcing dairy hygiene and eradicating TB. Her journeys, upon which I occasionally accompanied her took place initially in her MG 'Y' Type sporting saloon, actually a rather underpowered device which however smelled delightful and gave one the impression of traveling around in a drawing room. As dusk approached the orange glow from the octagonal dashboard instruments proved mesmerising and I was normally sound asleep by the time we arrived home. I can still catch the aroma of her Chanel Number Five mixed with Morney's Lilly of the Valley...a curious juxtaposition with her stout brogues, tweed suits and beret...there was something of P.G.Woodehouse about her. She used cattle artificial insemination rods to prop up her Chrysanthemums and took great delight in telling the vicar when he asked where she managed to find such useful items. Funny how such an insignificant object should awaken those memories.