Friday, 12 February 2016

A moment in time

This is becoming quite a habit: yet another dip into Dolph and Mabel's Post Card Treasure Trove and we come across this mysterious photograph. It is a photograph rather than a card and has only "Bert and his friends" written on the back. No indication of time or place. It is obviously a loaded charabanc about to set off, or coming back from, an outing to the seaside or the countryside or a race meeting or some such.  It is almost certainly a pub trip, and I'd guess that the pub in question is the one just behind the "chara". Unfortunately the pub sign is too indistinct to read, apart from 'inn' and that's not a great help for identification. Where was it taken? Given that the photograph was among a pile of Cornwall related memorabilia I'd assumed that it must be from down here somewhere. But, and here's a puzzle, Mr Google tells me that the single letter registration plate of C1077 shows a West Riding number and can be dated some time between 1902 and 1912, when the single letter Cs were superseded by a double letter combination. It was a well-known fact that the charabanc was so uncomfortable that it was only used for relatively short journeys. That, combined with its top speed of 20 mph, would suggest that this photograph was taken somewhere up north, rather than down west during a long distance excursion. But where? And by whom? And who was Bert and what was his connection with Dolph and Mabel? So many questions, no answers and no way of finding out. I find this very frustrating. Mr Google, you have let me down this time. Probably too busy avoiding tax to bother with my little query.
Putting all these unknowns to one side, it really is a fascinating photograph. Look at that line of, let's assume, Yorkshire faces - as doughty and as solid as you'll see anywhere in the UK. Which one is Bert? Unfortunately there are no family resemblances that I can make out, so he remains anonymous. Look at the splendid collection of headwear: a man would be undressed if he didn't have a cap on his head at all times in those days - including in the shower (and I've got a true story about this to relate sometime). And look at that charabanc, a Leviathan amongst its contemporary motorised transport midgets.

It is eighty or ninety years since charabancs were seen on English roads and my younger readers may be wondering what they are. They are simply very early motorised coaches, with the name originating from the French char à bancs ("carriage with wooden benches"). Their demise is rather sad: the modern-day hen-night stretch limo just can't compare to these magnificent beasts. It would appear that their journey to obscurity has reached the terminus - in 2011 Collins Dictionary finally removed "charabanc" from its lists. The word just exists in the memories of old fogeys like me, not, I hasten to add, that I've ever had a ride in one.

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