Saturday, 28 July 2007

Deutschland über Alles (Chapter 2 - NSU Factory, Germany)

Where the rivers Neckar and Ulm meet stands, aptly, the town of Neckarsulm. And on the cold, rainy morning of our arrival we had no difficulty in locating the NSU factory. For Neckarsulm is NSU, as one of the directors pointed out.

Little blue-and-white signs led us through a pleasant township, across an ungated railway line, and up to a very imposing, remote-controlled entrance. We waited until the large double gates withdrew smoothly and then drove across the threshold, past a reception block, over a wide flower-bordered forecourt and on to the ultra-modern, beautifully designed main building. The little Prima had, temporarily, come home.

From that moment until our departure three days later we were encompassed by the most efficient organization in the world. Smoothly, from the word 'go', the wheels clicked into gear. No frustrating, interminable periods of waiting here, and not once did we hear the word' can't'.

We were introduced to the representative for Asia, Herr Krieg, who gave us comprehensive information about the spare parts and repair situation in Pakistan and India. Hot coffee and sandwiches (always welcome to two-wheeled travellers) appeared (and disappeared) while I filled in a large sheet of everything I felt needed attention on the Prima. There wasn't much but it was extremely satisfying to write such items as: strengthen pannier frames, reserve fuel-warning light not working, heavy-duty rear tyre required, etc., and to know that when we again saw our scooter (which was then being wheeled carefully away by a white-coated foreman) these faults would be rectified.

Herr Stoll, Export Manager, who spoke excellent English with a slight American accent, had us and our equipment smoothly transferred from the factory to the nearby Hotel Post, in which we were luxuriously housed and fed. Not a hitch, and nothing was too much trouble. We decided to send some surplus baggage home. 'Just make a pile of everything you don't need and leave it in the office,' said Herr Stoll. We left it. A week later it arrived home, registered and perfectly packed. There was absolutely nothing one could criticize during the three-day respite-which so far as I was concerned was unique.

The whole place had an air of quality. Not one shop in the township displayed shoddy goods. Not one scruffy workman; all were neatly dressed with their personal bits and pieces stowed away in good leather brief-cases. Not a sign of litter fouled any of the gutters. In the post office we were served without having to wait, during any time of the business day. And always that brisk air of purpose about the people. Our stay in Neckarsulm was stimulating.

We wandered through the older part of the town, where new buildings were being erected, and where Nita remarked in wonderment: 'That's the first time I've seen all the workmen on a building site working at once.' Then into a Schuhaus, where a fine old craftsman handstitched my footwear while I waited. 'Very good boots,' he appraised, looking over the Simpson riding boots with an expert eye. Somehow I felt glad those boots were English made.

We visited the NSU museum which was in the town itself and where were housed some of the earliest of motorized cycles, a few dating back to the turn of the century. But it was the factory which impressed me most vividly. Having not long before spent a week at one of the largest car factories in England, I was able to make comparisons and see just how the Germans gained their superiority.

It was not through technical achievement that they were overtaking us as primary exporters, but by human effort. They work harder than we do, and are more zealous. There had been a detailed time and motion study at Neckarsulm. No one walked a single step without purpose. During two days on a conducted tour and wandering round at will, we never saw a production line held up for lack of parts, a not uncommon occurrence in our own country. Not that one could reasonably compare Neckarsulm with the British car factory I had visited, but I couldn't help feeling that the Volkswagen factory would be little different in operation from NSU's. The foundry was amazingly clean, when normally a foundry is fume-laden and filthy. And the assembly mechanics, immaculate in white overalls, had hands as clean as the clerks' in the offices above them. There was cotton waste in abundance. We never heard the equivalent of 'Where's that blasted rag!' They worked like surgeons with superbly forged spanners, spotless and shining in their quick-release holders, dexterous to a degree, using their screwdrivers like scalpels. No swearing, grunting, or furrowed brows: the job went like clockwork from start to finish.

We watched twelve engine units being tested, and twelve times they roared into life and ran faultlessly. It was all highly impressive.

I happened to mention to Herr Stoll that the Prima air-filter did not seem to be fully efficient in the matter of air intake. Six months later in Melbourne I was to see one of the new models, with modified air filter snugly fitted. Only a small point raised by one person, but an indication that any complacency over a product spells loss to those who would compete in the everlasting race for the capture of world markets.

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Deutschland über Alles (Chapter 2 - to Stuttgart, Germany)

John Butterworth, head of the NSU distributors in Great Britain, had been anxious that on our way through Germany we should call at the town of Neckarsulm. First to make quite certain that our scooter was in as good condition as possible, and then to let us discover what had been reconstructed from the pile of rubble which not long ago was the NSU factory.

But it was not only Neckarsulm where the Teutonic beavers had been labouring. Once through hybrid Strasbourg, with its semi-French, semi-German architecture and its hybrid language (Bon, d' accord, danke), then the impact of a highly industrious nation was evident to the most casual observer. The agricultural areas near the border were a glowing panorama of efficient farming. A good second-class road which took us part of the way to Stuttgart passed through a countryside bulging with crops. We were surprised to see bullock carts which had apparently not been replaced by mechanization, but their continued use did not seem to have impaired food production.

Everything was neat, clean, and tidy: the villages of cobbled streets; lively Gothic-printed signs; ubiquitous beer gardens and high-eaved brick and timber houses, jutting top storeys, and flock filled mattresses airing from bedroom windows. Coming from France it was strange to find the streets empty in the evenings, and we spent our first day-including a night's camping-without speaking to anyone.

This did not matter. We were in no hurry and for the first day or two Nita and I were undecided whether to like these people or not. It was odd, and it was now ten years since the end of the war, but we were still wary. Although it was a long time since the last bugle call had echoed, it was at first impossible to forget that this was our former enemy. My own childhood was suffused with stories of my father and grandfather fighting these people. And my youth was a still-vivid memory of London in flames at night, our own house severely damaged, and our country fighting desperately for its existence. These thoughts made it difficult to smile and make pleasant conversation and, indeed, for a few days I didn't even try. But gradually the Nazis and the S.S. seemed to become meaningless symbols of a nightmare past which no longer existed in the realm of reality; which is, perhaps, as it should be. After a week in the Fatherland, we began to admire the ex-master-race a great deal.

Unlike the Prima which had originated there, its riders were seeing Germany-as the reader will have gathered-for the first time. And what seemed the most outstanding characteristic of this race who are constantly being described, with grudging admiration, as industrious? It was purpose. An almost tangible atmosphere of purpose filled every village and town. Could we in England visualize our children being in school by seven-thirty in the morning? And construction teams working on building projects throughout the night by floodlighting? Their gods are Efficiency and Thoroughness, and they live these ideals twenty-four hours a day, a day that starts at seven a.m. for everyone and finishes, on a social note, any time between midnight and three a.m. One cannot conceive how it is done, but (to console ourselves) there is a tremendous spur for such a nationalistic race. Unification is uppermost in everyone's thoughts, and they lay each brick and turn every Volkswagen off the production lines with such care and purpose that one is convinced beyond all doubt that, sooner or later, Berlin will once again govern this riven nation as one Germany. It is impossible not to admire such drive and purpose.

The Autobahn, built originally as a Kriegbahn, is of course a perfect means of getting from A to B. But for us, scooter-bound for Stuttgart, it was an everlasting slab of white, wide concrete passing painfully slowly beneath our wheels. A cruising speed of anything less than sixty miles an hour guaranteed all that was worst in motoring boredom and there was little incentive to drag our eyes away from the mesmerizing stone squares. It was like driving along an endless aircraft runway, and about as interesting. The only spots of relief were the neatly cut out lay-bys, sensibly tree-studded crescents and fixed picnic tables and benches.

'Stuttgart 30k.' 'STUTTGART.' Yes, but the designers of the Autobahn were obviously loath to release motorists from their symmetrical clutches. There we were at Stuttgart, but we couldn't get into Stuttgart. An arrowed sign told us clearly enough, 'Autobahn Exit', but a hundred yards farther on the mystery began. We were confronted with the most complex maze of concrete signs, fly-overs, circular sweeps that spiralled into themselves, dead ends that finished in the scrub, and short, sharp gradients that led to bridges from which we could look over and see where we had just come from. Round and round, up and over, through and turn left, with never a sign of the city, until an abrupt stop against a 'T' junction told us that our destination was Stuttgart. We joined a Legion of the Lost, who stood with maps and bewildered expressions in the quiet little out-of-play pocket. There were a carload of Italians, a German motor-cyclist, and ourselves, all keen to get into the city if such a possibility existed.

We joined forces and tackled the problem of exit as a team. Three times we played 'tag' amid the concrete, and three times we finished up with likely-looking streams of traffic which all turned out to be heading for Munich. After that we decided to try solo tactics and, rather miraculously, retraced our way back to the spot whence we had come and started operations all over again.

This time we were more adroit. We waited for a big furniture van, showing that elusive name on the side, and fell in behind. This move, after many devious and irrational excursions, paid off, and we dropped our unerring and unsuspecting pilot in the city centre.

Stuttgart is a city like any others, but cleaner perhaps than many, with extensive rebuilding programmes in progress, wide streets, well-stocked stores, and a number of steep hills. Nita chose an attractively neon-lit food shop for revictualling and of course it stood half-way up one of these acute slopes. With much struggling I managed to park the scooter (there was nearly a hundredweight of equipment over the rear wheel) and, breathing heavily, followed her into the shop.

We filled a knapsack with pumpernickel bread, corned beef, and tomatoes and learned that the obliging little Fraulein who served us had a brother in England. Outside there were a knot of interested characters listening to an animated and self-appointed lecturer who was explaining, with gestures, all about this German machine, with Union Jacks on the side and Australia written on the top of the headlamp. As always, with an audience present, a smooth get-away was well nigh impossible. We talked in atrocious German to the spokesman who was interested, like most of the people we met, to know our route to the far-off destination. The others, including a couple of women, gazed slowly from him to us and back again.

So with studied nonchalance I mounted, pulled the front wheel away from the deep gutter and before I could find the point of balance, Nita began to climb aboard. The extra weight was almost more than I could hold, with the equilibrium already upset and the nose pointing downhill at an acute angle. The front wheel refused to stay straight and we described an erratic, drunken half circle, with my left foot slapping spasmodically and desperately against the cobbled hillside. Wobbling awkwardly away from a speeding Mercedes, we finally gained impetus and got away in a general downhill direction (when we really wanted to go up) and with a herculean effort-of which Nita was totally unaware-I managed to keep the machine upright. Dignity was only just maintained. The onlookers gazed perplexedly (probably that word 'Australia') and Nita said, observantly, 'Aren't we going the wrong way?' All of which clinched my resolve never to stop again halfway down (or up) a hill. As Stuttgart fell behind us my wife remarked, 'Really, Mike, you are disgustingly short-tempered at times.'

We camped early that night beneath some of those majestic pine trees that are typical of Germany. Our bed of sweet-smelling, resilient pine needles made sleeping a pleasure. But beneath a starry night sky, it was hard to relinquish our comfortable positions by the glowing fire and, as always when the camp was a successful one, we retired late.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

A Painful Beginning (Chapter 1 - France)

A few hours later we were spinning along, smelling agreeably of Gauloises and garlic, with a friendly blue sky roofing the straight avenue of poplars. Ahead lay Reims, the German border and half the world beyond.

The beginning of the first lap, My mind reached ahead to un­known lands east of the Yugoslav mountains and, as I conjectured, a sensation of butterflies fluttered in my stomach. Nita, living for the moment, was humming 'April in Paris'. An old man straight­ened himself and waved to us from the middle of some furrows. A horn-blasting maniac in a decrepit old Citroen nearly put us in the ditch. (1 would have to remember to keep to the right.) A Bentley whispered past, with GB plate and full complement of passengers, and I experienced a moment of envy.

After a while a neat concrete sign heralded Reims-Centre Ville.

We stopped only briefly to replenish our usual French diet of pate and those crunchy, delicious loaves which we English seem unable to produce, then on again through the gentle country of eastern France. It was all very pleasant and normal, and as yet almost impossible to realize that we were not just enjoying an annual holiday -a jaunt which would end within the prescribed fortnight. I patted my pocket containing the passport crammed with strangely written visas, in order to convince myself that we were, indeed, mounted on this tiny vehicle, heading for the Northern Territory and the filming of those descendants of Stone Age Man, the aborigines.

'Aborigines! My God, they're awful people. Dirty, more animal than human. They stink foully and have the morals of alley-cats. I'm sure you'll find them utterly distasteful.' The memory re­turned of our young, ash-blonde Australian visitor, fitting her cigarette into a long holder and puffing vigorously. 'Look, most of you people here in England visualize Australia as a continent of mulga scrub, overrun with blacks and kangaroos, relieved here and there by hard-drinking coarse-voiced swagmen, who fight at the drop of a hat and whose vocabulary doesn't extend beyond "fair dinkum" and" my bloody oath". Why is it that every visitor wants to go poking about among the blacks in the middle of nowhere? There's a whole new world to see if you only thread your way around the coast.'

'Well,' I had said, 'I don't know about the other visitors, but so far as we are concerned you have answered your own question, Miss Australia. I've seen enough of the modern world for a while, and I can think of nothing more refreshing than a prolonged stay among the world's most primitive people, where I can study men hunting for food and not for wealth-or even more unwholesome gain.'

I swerved to avoid an extra large pot-hole. Dear, decadent, adult France. It was exhilarating to be back once more on her soil, the stepping-off place of our previous adventure-the one that had so nearly ended in disaster, and yet had aroused in me an insatiable desire to 'see over the next horizon'.

The idea of our present expedition was formed when the pre­vious one had ended. And now, here we were, putting the plan into action. It has been said that mistakes do not exist-they are the portals of discovery. . . .

The seeds of the Australian venture were first planted in the pressurized cabin of our homing aircraft in 1953, fifteen thousand feet above the Sahara. Anyway, Nita, who was wearing her usual airborne expression at the time-a somewhat' determined-to-die­ dignified' look-turned from her restricted view of the night and vague contours of the desert far below and said, with undue emphasis: 'Heights are for fools and mountain goats. The next time you get itchy feet, please restrict the transport to wheels or water. Wings, so far as I'm concerned, are definitely out.'

...Next time? At that moment the next time was something about which I could only dream. West Africa had fallen farther behind and the aircraft had thrust hungrily across the desert wastes, con­suming in minutes what had taken us days, even weeks, of heart­breaking toil to achieve. I had felt a certain resentment at the time towards the sacrilegious way in which man telescoped such majestic and endless wilderness. What did those air travellers around us know of that real magic below? I felt they knew nothing: surrendering themselves briefly to the care of a metal con­trivance, to be transported from one continent to another within a night. A brief flirt with the stars, and that was that.

I, too, did not like flying. The other passengers had begun to settle for sleep, fidgeting and easing themselves into more comfortable positions. The hostess made one more nursemaid tour; individual lamps began to snick off. Besides me, Nita huddled under a blanket, rolling herself into a tight ball to escape from the cold in the oblivion of sleep.

I remembered lighting another cigarette arid my gaze had wan­dered from the dimly lit fuselage to the velvet, starlit night. I was unaccountably melancholy. Our Saharan adventures were over. What would be next? Well, those Nigerians had been a wonder­ fully interesting race; not the mission-trained mimics of the whites, but Hausa tribesmen with their historic traditions, simple dignity, and superb bushcraft, who had given our hunting party, out from Kana, such a tremendous welcome at the village of Birnin Barko. These tribesmen had turned the whole community inside out under the guidance of the headman to make our stay as happy and entertaining as they humanly could. For myself, it was good and fruitful to spend time among such primitive people. Deep physical and mental satisfaction was to be found living in those elemental surroundings.

So at some time in the future we would go again among the 'savages'. It was with such memories running through my head that I had thought eventually about the Australian aborigines. What makes men go out into the void spaces of the earth? Perhaps from an increasingly complex world men go out to gaze in won­derment upon simplicity.

'It's nearly six o'clock. Don't you think we had better start look­ing for a camping spot?' I was jerked from my reverie into the present and the immediate problem of those who would camp on the Continent, France in particular-the finding of a suitable spot. And this time we had no intention of adding about forty miles to our intended daily total by cruising along slowly at dusk, scrutinizing the landscape and mumbling, 'No, that's no good ­too marshy,' or 'Hell, no, we'd never get across that ditch.' This time we were not in a car with a sump especially designed to bury itself in those deceptive folds in the ground. If we were to see an attractive, beckoning copse, nestling against a sheltered hill­side, then that is where we would camp, even if we had to lift.our transport over and through the natural and man-made barriers.

And by six o'clock on that first afternoon, we were both look­ing in earnest for our first open-air bedroom. For the truth was that we could stand no more. After five minutes of scanning the landscape right and left we turned off the road down a rutted cart track and through a five-barred gate into a field of close­ cropped grass. It wasn't much, but it was home, at least for a night.

Oh, the sheer delight of dismounting and stamping around to ease the burning, aching areas of flesh. Surely we would get ac­climatized after a few days. 'We can't possibly reach Australia if we don't,' moaned Nita, striking a pose like an advertisement for a sciatica cure. 'Oh! My back.' She said it for the two of us. I turned my head slowly, with much pain, and looked at the scooter with distaste. I could only see it, at that moment, as a mobile instrument of torture. 'You horrible little thing,' I grated. As I spoke, the prop-stand sank slowly into the soft grass and the machine tilted slowly off balance and fell on its side.

We rushed to pick it up and Nita gave me a reproachful glance. 'It objects to being maligned. After all, it can't choose its owners, and if we had spent a few months adapting ourselves to scooter­ing - as I suggested - we would not be in this state now. Ouch!' That sounded like the gambit of a good row, so I muttered some­thing about' everything being better in a few days', and suggested that we should make some tea. For my wife these are always then magic words of solace and so, with much anguished whimpering, we unpacked.

Even our sad physical state could do little to detract from my pleasure at our first evening on the road. There was the gay little orange two-man tent, complete with matching fly-sheet and, in­side, the two wonderfully warm swansdown-filled sleeping-bags; tough, ultra-lightweight equipment which the manufacturers had confidently and generously presented to us. 'That equipment,' they had said, 'will stand up to anything.' At that time we had no conception how right they were. Looking at our canvas home and the bedding within, it was incredible to think that only a few minutes previously the whole lot had been contained in one small roll in a neat waterproof bag on top of our other baggage. Next, we unpacked the off-side pannier-bag and assembled our faithful old folding stove and the rest of the culinary equipment. And while I humped the big valise which held our precious cameras, films, paperwork, and spare clothing to the back of the tent to act as our pillow, Nita rummaged through the other pannier for some­thing to appease our sharp appetites. I kindled a fire, just to make things cosy, and strolled off with my rifle to see if there were any myxo-free rabbits or a pigeon in the vicinity. There weren't, but walking ironed out some of the creases and I returned to the camp empty-handed but supremely content.

Down there at the bottom of the slope lay the tent and the scooter, and in the flickering firelight my wife preparing a meal. Beyond this scene were the fields and the purple countryside of France, all of which we had to ourselves. And to the right of me, that thin black ribbon of tarmac periodically revealed by the brief amber headlights of a passing truck or fast-travelling car; the ribbon we would follow-almost without a break-to the very tip of Ceylon. People may be gregarious, comfort- and security ­loving, but for me nothing could compare with this life - with all its demands - on the move, away from cities, where one never knew who, or what, was round the next bend in the road. The anticipation excited, as it always does, and filled me with happiness. I burst into a tuneless song as I strode down again to the camp.

'Mind where you're pointing that thing! I hope it isn't loaded.' Nita has always been wary of firearms, ever since the time in the desert when she accidentally blew a hole through the roof of our vehicle and deafened herself for a week.

'No, it's not loaded and I didn't see a thing, but nevertheless I'm on top of the world.'

'Well, please come down again long enough to put some more wood on the fire - I can hardly see.' It was evident that my wife did not share my joyful mood, but she usually adapts herself slowly to a nomadic life and then, if anything, is more enthusiastic than I. She was probably brooding over her lost domesticity. I went off to find some more wood.

By the time we had eaten, the aches and pains of the day had largely subsided and, as the air began to chill, we crawled into the tent and snuggled into our sleeping-bags. It was the best place from which to hold a post-mortem of our first day in the field.

'Well, so far so good. We left home early this morning and here we are in one piece and running smoothly on the right side of Reims. The scooter has behaved perfectly and tomorrow I'll put a little more air in the front tyre, just to improve the steering a bit. But apart from that we don't need to modify anything. The gear is riding securely and nothing seems to be loosening; and our bodies will get used to long periods in the saddle.' Here I had to shift my hip from a particularly sharp lump that protruded through the ground-sheet. 'We're going to find this trip a piece of cake, don't you think so, darling?' There was no answer.

I withdrew my gaze from the embers of the fire which glowed through the open flap and looked at Nita; sound asleep. My watch read exactly seven p.m.

Within a few minutes my own eyes felt like lead and refused to stay open any longer. As I stretched out beside my wife, a drowsy brain registered a last somnolent thought. 'We're com­pletely drugged with fresh air.' As indeed we were.

Even so, it was impossible for me to lie in blissful, unbroken sleep until daylight, for the first night with the ground for a mat­tress is always an ordeal; and when one is on the threshold of a journey through virtually unknown country, sleep becomes an elusive luxury. The strange ungiving hardness beneath and an active imagination, sharpened by unfamiliar darkness, produces an unsettled state of mind that pictures innumerable pitfalls along the way ahead.

Unknown country. Well, here in central Europe we were all right. Good roads, regular tourist traffic, even Yugoslavia a reason­ably known quantity. But what of beyond? Even the A.A. had been vague about conditions in Bulgaria, for instance. But they had advised us to keep our cine-camera out of sight, and not to fail to report to the British Embassy in Sofia-just in case we should vanish!

And the other enigma-Afghanistan. There were some queer looks when that cropped up. 'Be careful, old chap. They're a bit hot-blooded, you know. My brother was up in the North-West Frontier just before the war. There's no one to help you much until you reach Kabul, and as that is more or less right on the Pakistan frontier, you're very much on your own for practically the whole distance from west to east.'

Well, why go through Bulgaria-or Afghanistan for that matter? There was an alternative route, via Greece to avoid Bulgaria and across the lower, recognized route overland through southern Persia to Quetta, thus by-passing Afghanistan. But that persistent little imp curiosity kept drawing me away from the known towards the unknown. I wanted to acquaint myself with Communism, for instance, on its home ground. And Afghanistan held the fascination of a country which, like Tibet, holds the mysterious title of Forbidden Land. The formalities in getting visas were certainly forbidding; they included personal applications and sheaves of questionnaires to complete. So it seemed that there were these two stretches to be negotiated warily, as well as Northern Turkey, the deserts of Persia, and the entire length of the Indian continent, all to be tackled on a heavily-laden vehicle with eight­-inch-diameter wheels and a 1.5-horsepower engine; and all this before we even reached Australia. Impossible. . . . Here we were, at the end of the first day, aching in every joint and we hadn't yet been off tarmac. How were we going to feel after a day on the rugged dirt tracks which, by all accounts, would start in Yugo­slavia?

The wind, eddying across the moonlit countryside, caught play­ fully at the fly-sheet, simulating the sound of a prowler. Just first­ night nerves. It was no good, I couldn't sleep. A smoke at three a.m., however, is always soothing. . . .

Yet, for all the fearful speculations, I would not have changed places with anyone. This was the essence of living, and in years to come I would remember July the 4th, 1956. All that this date would mean to my safely-housed ex-colleagues, whom I momen­tarily envied, was perhaps American Independence Day.

The ensuing days and nights along the roads of France were an admirable test for the inevitable rough stuff to follow. We dis­covered that our fuel range was two hundred and eighty miles, including the two-gallon reserve can which stood between my feet; this meant that over rough country we could rely on some­thing like two hundred miles between refills.

We also adopted a modified driving technique. I began to realize after the second day that I was not in fact driving, but riding, and the introduction of regular half-hourly breaks helped us to cover the mileage far more agreeably. Nita would tap me firmly, when I would immediately pull over and stop, steady the machine and wait for the groan as she leaned heavily on my shoulder and gingerly dismounted. As many motorists will know, stopping on command requires an almost superhuman effort, and wives never realize the reluctance with which their menfolk re­linquish the controls. However, with this new system the groans were briefer and certainly less vehement. As the miles mounted, our stiffness lessened and the commanding taps grew less urgent. This was as well, for later we had frequently to cover a hundred miles without stopping. To do this on a motor-scooter calls for practice, stoicism, and muscle development here there normally isn't much muscle.

Friday, 6 July 2007

A Painful Beginning (Chapter 1 - UK)

On a cold, rainy morning in July my wife and I set out from England for the Australian Outback, with the sum total of our equipment stowed behind us in two pannier-bags and one valise. Beneath us, a little 150 c.c. engine pop-popped erratically. Other travellers, waiting to board the Dover cross-Channel ferry, waved our excessive exhaust fumes testily away from their noses.

'I say, old boy, switch that wretched thing off, will you? My wife's damned-near asphyxiated.' The driver of the open MG, complete with 'gorblimy' cap and large moustache, tapped me on the shoulder.

'Sorry,' I sympathized. 'But I must run-in the engine with plenty of oil. We've a big mileage ahead of us.'

Suddenly, the annoyance on his face splintered into a beaming smile. 'Good Lord! I saw you two on TV last night. Riding that midget all the way to Australia, aren't you?'

'We're attempting to,' replied Nita cautiously, dismounting and stretching painfully.

'By Jove,' said the holiday-maker. 'I'd love to be coming with you, only I'm afraid the wife wouldn't wear it.' And he dashed back to his car as the line started moving up the ramp. As our rear view was again obliterated in clouds of smoke, Nita gave her behind a quick massage and mounted for the last time on English soil. She remarked, by way of a parting shot, 'I'm too soft. . . .' It sounded a bit double-edged.

So our second big adventure began. The first, a Saharan cross­ing in an old ex-London taxi three years previously, had left us with nostalgic memories and an increasing urge to traverse more of the world's remoter areas. Unless one has spent periods living a nomadic existence, simply and close to the elements, it is difficult to understand the tremendous lure of distant horizons. Our wanderlust, instead of abating, grew more severe with the passing of months, until we found ourselves irretrievably committed to reaching northern Australia, twelve thousand miles distant, in order to film Arnhem Land aborigines for television and to write about these primitive and fascinating people.

We could, I suppose, have reached the Antipodes quickly and efficiently by plane or ship, but this would have been a tedious mode of travel compared with passing through countries like Persia and Afghanistan. Overland travel won hands down.

Our choice of independent transport was not difficult. It had to be absurdly economical, yet robust enough to carry two people and luggage half across the world. Possessing a modicum of pro­tection from the elements, the NSU Prima scooter was encoura­gingly sturdy and on inspection seemed to have been assembled with typical German thoroughness. We both felt that it was a shrewd choice and we were confident without being complacent. Our machine had not the power or performance of its cousin the motor-cycle. But then, on this trip we wanted to keep our speed average down to a minimum. The faster one travels the less one sees.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

"Two Up" By Scooter to Australia (Cover)

(inside cover)

Michael Marriott and his wife once crossed the Sahara in a twenty-year-old London taxi, and recounted their adventures in a book called Desert Taxi. Three years later the same urge for bizarre and cheap travel led them to set out together bound overland for Australia riding 'two-up' on a motor scooter.

Yugoslavia. Bulgaria. Turkey and Persia have roads, but in Afghanistan the road was usually nothing more than a humped and gullied track across a grim, almost deserted land of mountain ranges, sandstone ridges and bare, scorched villages. Every mile of travel in this country is a hazard, and with nothing but a scooter every hazard might have had serious results. Yet, after some unpleasant set-backs, the Marriotts emerged from Afghanistan and made their way through Pakistan and India, to Ceylon. Steamer took them to Adelaide, but the faithful scooter carried them round the eastern half of Australia and across to Melville Island, reserved for aborigines whom they had come to observe. This is a travel story of unusual character, told with humour and great vivacity.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

How this blog came about (Paul McIntosh)

I have been into all aspects of scooters for some time now. I got my first scooter (a Vespa 50) when I was 17 (1985) and I have been hooked ever since. I have especially liked scooter touring, doing many many thousand km's, I've toured New Zealand a few times, done a bit of Australia including Sydney to Perth, Europe and North Africa all on Vespa PX 200's.

I stumbled across Michael Marriott's book "Two-up" By Scooter to Australia when googling for some history on the Melbourne scooter scene. I managed to track down a second hand book , read it and loved it.

It seemed a pity though that books such as these would disappear, especially in an age where it costs nothing to bung something up on the internet. I tracked down Michael Marriott through the publisher and to my delight not only was he alive, he gave me permission to publish the book on the internet for free!!!

So I have decided to publish the book chapter by chapter as a blog for everyone to enjoy...