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Skidmore's Island: Tripod Man

"They are gone the days of Daimler Jags and Lagondas, of Land Rovers and MG TDs. In their place is a walking stick. These days we are a tripod.'' writes Ian Skidmore.

The odd thing is I prefer it. I never felt at ease with the combustion engine. For one thing they rarely combusted on command. Show me a blasted heath or a lonesome grott and I will show you the scene of a grotty me, kicking the wheel of a sulky saloon. Silent and not only on a Peak in Darien. At least the MG always broke down within walking distance of a pub.

The LG6 Lagonda was the worst. At the funeral of an old chum called Mike Quy it broke down when filled to the chrome rims with grieving newspapermen, than whom no-one is easier to drive to noisy scorn. What was worse it gave up its particularly showy ghost just as I was being beckoned into motion by a policeman on point duty. His first summons was slow and stately, not untinged with respect for a classic car. When it seemed the classic car was pointedly ignoring him the stately beckon was transformed into a shaking fist.

"Watch him!” came a voice of a so-called friend. “Any moment now he is going to rip off his helmet, dash it to the ground and dance on it. Just like Charlie Chaplin.” "It wasn't Charlie Chaplin, it was Andy Clyde,“ offered a pedantic sub editor. “Rob Wilton,” suggested another and an argument ensued.

Can you believe the only car I ever owned which never let me down was a Lada I bought for transporting bloodhounds? It failed in its purpose by being so noisy the hounds refused to climb in. Forced, they howled piteously at passing vehicles and nothing does piteous better than a bloodhound in extremis. Nary a car passed without a reproachful driver.

Stepping into a motor car was like suddenly getting a starring role in a nightmare. It did not even have to be my motor car. A friend who owned a Citroen, once the property of the Paris police, wanted me to share its power so he took me to the Grand National. Heavily refreshed, we were driving home when for reasons unknown the car decided rather than go round a roundabout to jump over it. Jumped like a stag. Had it not been for the police car it hit on the other side I reckon it would have been a contender for best jump of the day.

Fair do's the policeman driver trapped well. He was out of the car like Mick the Miller, notebook at the High Port. He opened our door and invited the occupant of the front seat to step outside and tell him what he had drunk before getting in. It took a quarter of an hour and filled four pages of the policeman's notebook. At the death he asked: “And after all that drink, do you think you're fit to drive?" My friend was shocked. "Drive?” he said. “Certainly not. I am a passenger. The car is a left hand drive.”

With a walking stick you know where you are. It has gravitas. A comic character in the novels of a hunting squire of the early nineteenth century played a part in the creation of our greatest novelist. He whittled sticks carved with the heads of great statesmen which would make the fortunes of his descendants. R.S. Surtees also created one of the great comic characters of any age. John Jorrocks was a fox hunting grocer whose cry at table was “Pick me up, tie me to my chair and fill up my glass.“

Lord Scampersdale: “You think because I am a lord and may not swear you may do what you will with me.”

Surtees' publishers wanted him to add comic captions to the drawings of a fashionable artist called Seymour. Surtees refused so the publisher hired an unknown lobby reporter called Dickens. The result was “Pickwick Papers”, which is not without hints of plagiarism.


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