Norman Rally

24th June 1988 - Hastings and Rother District MCC

Early Friday, I started up the bike, waking a couple of the other club members, who may or may not have been spending a few more days in Sour Nook, and headed for the nearest garage, as I though it might be a good idea to start the trip with a full tank. The petrol at this garage was quite pricey, and the attendant, (yes - they still had attendants there even in the late 80s!), was rather grumpy, so I made do with only a couple of gallons and had a proper fill-up at the next main town.

The weather was fine at the start, as I passed through Unthank, and stayed pleasant for the whole trip but, unfortunately, the weather alone wasn't enough to keep the bike happy and the engine had a slightly strange feel to it, but nothing I recognised as serious. After a few miles on the motorway, the gearbox exploded with a scream. On the hard shoulder I could not locate a cause, but there was hardly any oil in the reservoir. I know I checked this before I left home and it was definitely full then. The engine was still running and the loud noise only manifested itself in 3rd and 5th gears, so I divined that a spindle had self-destructed and nothing I did from here on would make it any worse, so - ONWARDS as far as I could!

At the next services I filled up with oil - it needed the full amount the reservoir could take. Then, with the engine running, I could tell where it was coming out. There was a little hole fairly high up on the gearbox. Anyway, I had a rally to go to, so I got a couple more litres of oil and charged on, remembering to change up twice after second and not to go into top!

So, I eventually rolled into the field just outside Hastings, the same field as the club always used for their rallies I attended, for the first time in a few years. I attended the first five Norman Rallies, then they changed the date and it clashed with the Simmer Dim. This year it was the week after, so I could attend both.

I had a subdued Friday evening/night as I had been stressed out enough on the trip down, but it was still a good-natured music/dancing/drinking affair, with a few points of interest.

On Saturday, I decided not to use the bike at all and managed to blag a pillion into Hastings to see if it had changed in the four years since I had been there. Much of it had, some shops had changed and it had become a bit more touristy, but no worse than any other seaside town. We went back to the site.

I noticed a trike had appeared not too far from my tent, which had a folding caravan, with alcove tent, on a trailer. It also had an enclosure in place of the back seat that seemed to be permanent, and was used by the owner's dog.

Members of the Harlow 70s MCC had brought a parachute along with them and were trying to do some paragliding by being pulled by a bike across the field. After a few attempts they realised that bikes would be pulled over as soon as the 'chute filled with air. Somehow they managed to persuade the organisers to use their transit to pull the thing along. It filled with air, but I don't recall it actually taking off. This was not really surprising as it was the wrong sort of parachute.

The evening drew on and the music played and there were some more points of interest on display. About this time it was reported that some 'outlaw' types were trying to get into the field. Several people volunteered for a 'show of force' to dissuade them, but this was rejected, probably for the better. In the end, it was decided to shut everything down to remove the reason anybody would want to come in. This seemed, to me, a rather extreme reaction to an occurrence that many clubs these days manage to deal with without issue.

Anyway, all of a sudden, it was standing around the bonfire time. While we were standing about the diminishing pile of wood, there was a bit of a kerfuffle near me as one woman was determined that she wanted a man, and the man she aimed at was definitely taken, as his wife was explaining. A friend was aiming her away from anybody too unsavoury and, almost as a joke, I pointed out that I was free and she dragged me back to my tent! Very strange, and all too unique. But certainly welcome!

The presentations had been abandoned the night before after the 'incident' at the gate. Having crawled out of my tent in the morning, (my new friend, having had her way with me, had departed some hours previously), I was presented with the long distance award. I had backed up my claim with receipts from the garages I had fuelled up at, in case somebody thought I was making it up.

After everything had shut down, most of the equipment had been put in a place of safety, which meant there was no breakfast being served! In my opinion, that was totally uncalled for.

After a swift packing up, having watched the trike/caravan pack up even faster, I started the bike, with a little trouble, wished my erstwhile companion a fond farewell, (which, I felt, met with a little indifference) and set my sights for home.

The bike was noticeably noisier now, even in the remaining gears, so it was no real surprise when, some miles down the road, another loud bang brought me shuddering to a halt. I managed to find one gear still working (no idea which one) and guided the plot into a village where there was a phone box. No mobiles in those days! Having found an open newsagent and bought a packet of crisps for breakfast, I called for the RAC and waited. I was a little surprised when a normal repair van turned up, as I had described in detail the deterioration of the gearbox, but the driver proceeded to pull out a collapsible trailer on which he carried the bike home.

The good side of owning a BMW is the speed at which the dealers can get things repaired or, indeed, replaced, as was the case with my gearbox. The bad side is the expense, in this case around £700, for a re-conditioned unit. This was a bit of a hit, but I could just about afford it. The killer is that three weeks later, the bike was the filler in a three-car sandwich and written off as a result.

As far as I am aware, there were no more Norman Rallies due to fears of further trouble.

- Phil (the Spill) Drackley