Confessions of an Edwardian jack the lad

FOR REASONS THAT will be presently obvious, this contribution must be strictly and severely anonymous. I do not want gentlemen calling me at my domicile with announcements that “Edward, by your grace,” etc, desires my presence at his Palace of Justice at 11.00am on a certain day hereinafter named. Yet I do not feel that I am a specially wicked individual, judged by average standards. There are certain laws, rules, and regulations in this country that are peculiarly irksome to otherwise law abiding subjects. There are few of us who do not break them often, and I doubt whether any of us have not shattered all of them, provided we have had time and opportunity.

Passing the policeman
For instance, there is the iniquitous law of restricted speed. I am not a scorcher, nor an idiot who goes tearing through villages, but I see no reasonable objection to winding up to twenty or twenty-five miles an hour in the open country. Certain members of ‘the force’ and their supporters on the bench think otherwise, and as they have the best of the deal when it comes to an argument–well, it is better to avoid an argument. Consequently, I make a point of keeping one eye open for a bluecoat boy in the dim distance; and when I see one looming up, do I switch off and slide slowly past him? Not a bit. The gentleman is naturally suspicious, and that would put his code at work with the next policeman a mile or two ahead. I just pull the sparking lever as far back as it will come to give the ‘latest’ sparking without opening the exhaust, and the speed promptly drops to somewhere about ten miles an hour. It is wonderful how quickly a motor bicycle will lose it’s way if it gets a chance. The policeman has seen you in the distance coming up rapidly, and has probably got ready for a capture; but when you get closer, and he hears the beat of the engine going steadily, he feels that his eyes have deceived him, and he lets you pass. The rural ‘copper’ is not cute enough to distinguish between a weak explosion and a strong one. Once around the corner, you can advance the sparking to its proper place again; but do not forget that policemen often hunt in couples. When you see one look out for another.
Another excellent rule is never to look in the direction of a policeman. If he happens to walk out into the road towards you–well, if you are closely interested in something on the other side of the road, of course you cannot see any signals he may be making. As he is a human animal, he will believe that you did not see him, and let you go. At least, that has been my experience on three separate occasions. I trembled at the third time–for we all know the fatality of the third time of asking–but, fortunately, the old saying did not work in that instance.

Saving the petrol
Then there is that weird and wonderful decision of the railways that they will not carry any petrol in the tank when the machine is sent by rail. A well-known motor cyclist, who is also a lawyer, once told me a good story of his first experience of this. He had a breakdown and wanted to get home by train. The railway officials refused to take the machine till all the petrol had been run out. On the other hand, the highway authorities might have something to say about a gallon of petrol strewn over the road, as the lawyer’s mind well knew. I asked him what he did. “Well,” he answered, “the railway people were there and the highway people were not, and so I just made the best of the situation.”
However, it is not always necessary to be on the horns of such a dilemma. There may be railway officials reading this, and I do not think it is wise to enlighten them altogether as to why I have never yet had to run all my petrol out. But there are such things as carburetters and waste plugs and other things, and if between them the motor cyclist cannot retain enough petrol to carry him home from the station of debarkation, he deserves to walk.
I do not know what pains and penalties I may be incurring by leaving petrol in my tank, but I do know that it is a deal safer there than carried in a glass bottle in a railway carriage, as they will allow you to do, and as I have seen done.

The ‘hanging on’ cyclist
One of the unmitigated nuisances of the road is the cyclist who will ‘hang on’. It does not matter that you can run away and leave him. Probably you are going at a nice steady pace, and do not want to go any faster.
There is one little way of getting rid of this gentleman that is always effective, while it does nobody any harm. There is a method of imitating the sound of a puncture most accurately by placing a finger in the mouth, withdrawing it suddenly, and following with a long hiss. Now, my simple little rule is to retard the sparking, so that the cyclist will find that I am going too slow. It is a thousand to one that he will come sailing up alongside with a broad grin over his face. Just as his wheel gets ahead, so he cannot see what I am doing, I give him that imitation puncture. It is about a thousand to one that that cyclist tumbles off in a hurry, and by the time it begins to dawn upon him that he has been fooled, I am a good mile away.
One little story about this, though not exactly a motor cycling one, is worth retelling. The polytechnic men have acquired this trick to perfection, and anyone who chances to be out with them should be wary of punctures that he only hears and does not feel. The following occurred in Plymouth last year. A venerable old gentleman was seen cycling down one hill, a small boy on a decrepit bicycle was visible coming down the other. At the foot, just as the two almost came abreast, a wild spirit amongst the Polynesians produced the puncture effect in remarkable style. The old gentleman and the boy each thought he had struck it, they collided, and both sat down in the road. Then ensued ten minutes of plain speaking between the old gentleman and the boy, the Polytechnic crowd taking sides and entering into the fun, one lot saying they were surprised to hear a respectable old man using such language, and to a boy, too, the other telling the boy he ought to have more respect for his elders.
But as a means of shaking off the ‘hanger-on'”, this little trick is wonderfully effective. Practise it first in the seclusion of your own home, and then wait for a convenient opportunity. I promise you a hearty laugh. Perhaps some may think it is very wicked and very sinful to attempt to outwit the law in these ways. Perhaps it is, but are we not all ‘miserable sinners’?