Binkie's Blockage - or 'What the Policeman Never Saw!'
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Margaret wiped away a tear. “The Bus Pass Olympics. That's what dear Emmie once told me they were called. The XIV Olympiad, held right here in London in the summer of 1948. I just wish she could have lived a little longer to have seen the London 2012 event.”
Troy and Fran exchanged knowing sibling glances. Attending her life long friend's funeral had been Grandma's firmly expressed wish, but it seemed to have badly unsettled the old girl.
“And being Dutch she was naturally delighted when The Flying Housewife as she was dubbed, Fanny Blankers-Koen, took four track golds for The Netherlands! Britain was financially broke in 1948 of course due to the cost of fighting the war. Export or die! International athletes were simply boarded out in guest houses and issued with London Transport bus passes. Hence the name.”
Margaret rummaged in her handbag for a lace frilled handkerchief, and blew her nose firmly. The funeral party all but occupied the main part of the café, with various groups clustered around the individual tables.
“Now, no more of these silly tears! When we were both still probationer nurses Emmie used to ride a motorcycle you know. And she once told me of the funniest that ever happened to her at that time. 'What the policeman never saw!' with a wink and a laugh accompanying every telling. Do you want to hear about it?”
Troy and Fran nodded in unison. They'd probably have heard it before, but the circumstances were exceptional. Fran reached out to take her grandmother's hand as Margaret forced a brittle smile.
“Well, as I say, back at the time of the 1948 London Games Emmie and I were young probationers at the Lewisham Hospital. She was rather keen on a young man named Peter, who was motorbike mad, and who'd taught her how to ride one. He had lodgings somewhere out Croydon way I seem to recall, so Emmie acquired herself a little and very second-hand motorcycle of her own. It was called an Excelsior, and I remember that because it had its make spelled out in gold letters on red panels on its petrol tank. And it was also a two-stroke, whatever that means. Anyhow, Emmie and Peter had spent an evening together, and when the time came to ride back into London they set off together on their respective machines. After a couple of miles their ways parted, and so Emmie carried on alone until her little Excelsior began to lose power … and then stopped altogether ...”
A smooth looking African guy sporting an Olympics 2012 logoed tee-shirt unexpectedly placed three tall glasses containing a translucent liquid onto the highly polished green surfaced table. Fran looked up and nodded and smiled.
Margaret picked up the story once more. “Being a native of Rotterdam as she was Emmie's spoken English was always the tiniest bit strange, but this is how she related to me what happened next.”
'So I started talking to the one-two-five. “Binkie”, I said, for that is his name for sure, “You can't be doing this to me!” There was no answer. “Not to me, not your precious, ever loving owner!” A hopeful prod on the kick starter, a cursory fiddle with the carburettor, a couple more determined kicks - still silence. It is almost dark now, but pushing Binkie up the road to the nearest lamp post I flip him onto his stand and get to work with the special plug spanner Peter have given me. And so I very knowingly copy every movement I have seen Peter make, and I carefully check there is no oil nor excess gap on the spark plug.
'So I am just screwing the plug back in again when a young man and a lady walk by arm in arm.
'So I explain Binkie's tale of woe. The young man takes the spanner and unscrews Binkie's plug. I am making no protest as I am thinking I may well have missed some important detail. He gazed at the plug, rubbed it on his sleeve, blew across the business end of it, pronounced it fit, put it back, and worked the kick starter expectantly … but never there comes from Binkie so much as a single murmur.
'Then a bus pulls up at a stop over the road, and three young men in their de-mob suits saunter over. After asking a few questions one unscrews the spark plug, cleans it in a petrol soaked handkerchief dipped in Binkie's tank, and screws it back in again. The starter is duly kicked again, and six people sigh in parallel at the total lack of response.
'Perhaps ten minutes are passed when a black police car turns up. The sergeant is big and quite old, the constable younger and rather handsome.
'“Nah then you lot, what's going on 'ere then?”
'For one horrible minute I am thinking he is going to start unscrewing the spark plug. But the young man with the petrol soaked handkerchief informs him that: “That has already been tried.” A discussion between the three follows until the sergeant enquires if Emmie has turned the fuel on.
'I was on the right side of Binkie for the petrol tap. I casually lowered my hand down to it as if to show what a stupid waste of time it was. “Of course I have,” I say, at the same time giving the slide a forceful yet very private shove.
'The sergeant decided to try a bump start, and the engine burst into life, billowing blue smoke down the road, as well as waking up a sleeping dog in a nearby house. Everyone talked and cheered and congratulated the old sergeant, who did look rather pleased with himself. And of course, he never saw!'
Margaret let out a long breath, and managed what her grandchildren believed to be a more genuine smile. “Emmie and Peter got married. They were very happy. He passed away a good number of years ago. That is their son Jan and his wife sat over there.”
Fran gave her grandmother's hand an extra little squeeze. A lesson in the mortality of Man even for her and her brother Troy, she mused. Maybe one day they'd have their own reminiscences to impart about London 2012?
Margaret began speaking again: “But Emmie had a postscript. As she said, the next morning as she stood before Matron on charge of entering the hospital via a kitchen window twenty minutes after lock up, the incident had seemed for a while to have lost much of its funny side!”
Copyright Terence Hugh Hazelton, 2011
Published on writebuzz®:
> London 2012