The Lord of the Highway

Pioneer motor cyclists had to cope with rocky roads, persistent policemen, dangerous dogs, public prejudice and, everywhere they went, perilous pedestrians…

ACCORDING TO A work on ‘Freaks of Nature’ the pedestrian of primeval days ambled around upon all fours. This statement may be true. It probably is not, but I believe it all the same. Nay, more; I would go so far as to believe almost anything of pedestrians. You may have noticed that the pedestrian of today has so far improved upon the habits of his ancestors as to walk upon his hind legs only. This is so that he may keep a sharper look-out for your motor cycle, and when you approach, spring into your path in several directions at once and finally, if his luck is in, reach a friendly lamp post, brushing a smudge of mud from the tail of his frock coat and hurling hieroglyphics at you. Meanwhile you are convulsed with joy because, being solicitous for his safety, you applied your brakes so suddenly that your back tyre has burst–just at the valve, too. Tut! tut!

How fashions change
Spillby, a friend of mine, is death on pedestrians. He rides a motor tricycle, at least he used to, but fashions change so rapidly that by the time he comes out of hospital ‘trikes’ may be quite out of date.
I am not in favour of spending money upon legislation for the total abolition of pedestrians, because if motor cars churn up as many as the halfpenny press reports to be the case, why it can only be a matter of weeks before they are nearly out of stock. No, I advise patience and moderation.

Pedestrian precautions
If measures were taken obliging pedestrian to give audible warning of their intention to acrobatically perform in the roadway, to carry a number plate by day, a red light in the rear after sunset, and to stand still when called upon by any person in charge of a restive motor cycle, our troubles would be alleviated considerably. Or better still, our legislators might restrict the perambulating pedestrian entirely to the woods and fields, and cause them in their own interests to be ‘hobbled’ by both ankles to two 56lb weights. This would tend to keep them out of harm’s way, and would have the advantage that if persons were required in the interests of science, say as obstacles in car driving competitions, or brake tests, or as ballast in trailer experiments, one could just apply to the Auto Club for a permit and cut loose a few pedestrians to choice.

A new tyre material
Further, bearing in mind the famine in rubber which is inevitably going to arrive soon if everyone’s tyres wear out as mine do, it was suggested to me by a particularly brutal person that under the hygienic and rural conditions above-mentioned, and given a suitable diet, the skin or hide of pedestrians would be found to form an idea material for making tyre covers.
Now, without taking this seriously, I must admit I have run across–both literally and figuratively–pedestrians, possessing to a remarkable degree the two chief characteristics of rubber, namely toughness and resilience.
An instance of this last week. He was round a bend in the road taking a photographic view. His head was under the black cloak, so I do not think he heard my approach. But I was interested to observe that, although the top of my engine was intensely hot, he sat upon it pensively for quite an appreciable time without any apparent inconvenience, which indicated toughness. In fact, it was only after I had regained full consciousness and clambered out of the ditch to reclaim my motor cycle that it seemed to suddenly occur to him that he was being branded for life.

A question of resilience
Then, indeed, he did indulge in a kind of fandango or hornpipe, but this might have been mere resilience. He was not sufficiently resilient, however, to bounce the price of a new pair of trousers out of me. No, my engine is no camp stool! Why did he not sit on his camera instead of using it for a sun bonnet?
Pedestrians are really very trying! Look out for little Reggie who is waiting round the corner to lasso your legs with his hoop, which he will bowl straight at you. If he is in form–and he always is–the best way is to get a bystander to take a file from your toolbag and cut the hoop through in four places. This is a quicker way of getting disentangled than undressing yourself or taking the machine to pieces.
Do not hanker after the acquaintance of the man walking ahead reading the ‘four-o’clock winner’ because he has just discovered that his ‘fancy’ finished last. He weighs 18 stone, and if you smite him in the spine he will chastise you with his boots, and you will require to hire a light van to convey to the nearest railway station the demoralised incoherent Japanese puzzle which is at present your beautiful snorting steed.

The man with a silk hat
When a sudden shower comes on you will find the gentleman in the tall silk hat who rushes across the road for shelter, understands his business as a pedestrian thoroughly, and charges your tank broadside on with the steel stick of his lowered open umbrella, and your petrol anoints the earth forthwith. He makes no apology. Why should he? He has fractured a rib against your handle-bar and the fact that you have dismounted upon the back of your neck and bitten an inch off your toungue is to him the merest detail, especially as it will cost him twopence for the loan of a step ladder to descend from the top of the shop sun blind where he has taken refuge–more resilience.
M’yes, the average pedestrian, like most ancient institutions, requires revising and bringing up to date. But, fellow motor cyclists, pray take him in hand gently or you may be misunderstood, as I have been ere this.