The things we did for love…

Neil Cairns remembers a nightmare ride in the snow, while serving in the RAF, to visit the girlfriend who would eventually become his wife

It was on a cold, damp, overcast November Friday evening in 1969 when I set off from RAF St Mawgan in Cornwall on my 1963 Triumph 350cc 3TA.

I’d recently been posted from RAF Germany to St Mawgan and had bought the 3TA for £80 from Camden Motors in Leighton Buzzard.

Then I met the girl whom I eventually married, and was lovestruck and courting – which entailed travelling from St Mawgan to Newport Pagnell every second weekend (all I could afford on my Junior Tech pay of £9 a week) on Friday evening, returning on Sunday night via the A30-A303 -– a 500-mile return trip.

The 1957 Triumph Twenty-One sported a full bathtub fairing, and is seen in one of the most popular Meriden colours of the day.

I’d wanted a 500cc Speed Twin but simply couldn’t afford one, so that little three-fifty twin had to work hard to earn its keep, and this particular trip to Buckinghamshire became a nightmare because it started snowing heavily when I entered Devon.

I was wearing RAF cold-weather gear, an open-face helmet and RAF Mk9 goggles complete with RAF wellington boots and white woollen socks. It was ‘wet’ snow and it began to get into my clothing, and by the time I reached Stonehenge I’d had to stop many times to clean the thick snow and slush from the engine and front wheel.

The slushy road conditions
forced me to ride very slowly, and then the engine started to misfire because the ignition had become coated in cold, wet snow. I cleared this off a few times with my now thoroughly wet and cold gauntlet leather gloves. To try to dry them, I’d been grasping the
two exhaust pipes, but this had burnt the leather, making it difficult to open out my hands to operate the clutch and front brake (which was now drenched in salty water from the road).

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