Caravanning and RVing in Australia
I first became aware of "Murphy" many years ago ? probably long before he had formulated his law of : What can go wrong ? will go wrong ? and he has been a faithful companion ever since.
Readers familiar with my monthly column, On the Wallaby in Caravan World magazine will know of some of the tricks he has played on me over the years but he is very versatile and his ingenuity knows no bounds.
One of the first appearances of Murphy in my life was one dark Sunday night on a lonely road skirting the river Avon in Hampshire, England. I was about twelve at the time and I'd walked from our home in Fordingbridge to the little village of Bickton with mate Ken. It was about three miles each way and when we got there Ken said, Take my bike to go home ? I wont need it.
It was a new bike and had lights run from a dynamo driven by the back wheel. Making great speed along the deserted road I suddenly saw in the beam of light a galloping horse! We lived on the edge of the New Forest and New Forest ponies were often wandering the area. I locked the brakes and this immediately plunged me into darkness as the dynamo was no longer turning. What I hadnt noticed was a second, dark, pony galloping alongside the first and I hit it fair and square ? sending me over the handlebars to land on my side on a bunch of very hard keys in my pocket that left a bruise for days. Unfortunately it didnt do Kens lovely new bike any good either so I was up for repairs to it as well as nursing a very sore leg.
When I was in my mid-teens, Dad had an old Triumph 500cc motor-bike he used to ride to work. One Saturday afternoon he was on his way back to milk the cows at the farm where he worked, and had an accident that put him in hospital for quite some time.
This left me at home with an unattended motorbike and I grabbed the opportunity to ride it up our yard and then push it back again as there wasnt room to turn round. It often took hours to get it started as it had no compression lifter and was very hard for me to kick-start. It was during World War 2 but although petrol was rationed, I managed to scrounge some coupons from a fellow I knew.
One day it just wouldnt go and I wheeled it through the house to the back garden where there was a bit more room to push start it ? or so I hoped. It had a hand throttle and first gear didnt work. Id watched the racers of the day make their starts by running alongside their bikes, bouncing on the saddles to get the back wheels turning as they engaged the clutch and then swinging their legs over the bikes as they roared off into the distance. Thats for me, I thought as I pushed the bike backwards towards the neighbours fence to give as much room as possible.
The first part went OK ? a quick run, a bounce, engine turning over with me alongside but not firing. Murph stepped in then and just as Id decided it wasnt going to start, it gave a couple of mighty bangs and we ? it and I ? shot in through the back door to end in a roaring heap on the floor of our backhouse where we stored coal and potatoes. Mum rushed in from somewhere ? very white ? and shouted for me to stop the engine. Not likely, I said. Ive been all morning trying to start it. It was a long time after Dad returned from hospital before we dared tell him about that incident!
When Dad finally was able to get around again and think about riding a motorcycle once more he realised I would soon be old enough to get a licence to ride. In England you could get a motorcycle licence at sixteen and drive a car when you were seventeen. Not wanting me to ride the heavy 500cc Triumph he sold it very cheaply to some friends of mine and bought a little 250cc Panther that he thought would be safer.
Wrong! One Saturday afternoon just after passing my driving test and getting a licence I went for a ride on the Bournemouth-Salisbury road and was overtaken by a motorbike and sidecar. This was no ordinary outfit but an International Norton that belonged to a man who worked in the same iron foundry where I had just been taken on as a core-maker.
This was like the Nortons that used to win the Isle of Man TT races every year back then and it left a beautiful and distinctive smell of Castrol R racing oil as it roared past.
Here was a challenge I couldnt resist and I opened the throttle to keep up with the flying Norton. I kept on his tail until, in the little village of Breamore, we struck a large patch of manure left by a herd of cows.
The Norton went through with hardly a slip but I was going too fast so Murphy saw to it that I finished up sliding through the manure on my rear-end with the bike going its own way much to the astonishment of the crowd of people waiting across the road at the bus stop. With bent handlebars and footrests I limped home to incur the full force of the old mans displeasure.
I incurred it again just after that when I converted the Panther to a foot-change gear shift. It had a three-speed hand-change but I disconnected this and put a foot lever on instead. This was a straight up and down change and required quite a degree of skill to manipulate although it allowed much faster racing changes. Dad hadnt been riding the bike and having one day spotted the new gear change wanted to try it out. Changing straight from first gear to top and then back to first with a fearful grinding and revving he ordered me to put it back the way it had been designed.