Musing on mud

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Musing on Mud – it might well be the name of a village on some desolate stretch of coast, but in reality it is just a little weakness in which I regularly indulge at this time of the year. To the enthusiastic trials supporter the autumn is indisputably the time of year, and when the beech trees begin to spread their yellowing leaves upon the muddy ground our thoughts go irresistibly out to those tortuous little lanes in the South Downs and the Chilterns and the Cotswolds where once would hang the pungent blue haze of exhaust smoke above a line of quaintly-garbed people in comic motor-cars. Up the hill would be set a series of numbered cards, whilst at the foot would stand the enticing announcement: “Observed Section Begins.” A hand would beckon, and the leading car would move forward – or not – depending upon a variety of factors. A foolish way of spending one’s Sundays, perhaps, but strangely attractive.

Indeed, what is the compelling fasination of mud? Purely the association with trials. I suppose, yet here am I with my present occupation causing me, during the past 40 months, consistently to wallow in the various muds of Monmouthshire, Breconshire, Gloucestershire and Surrey, and still the fascination persists. Combating wheelspin on a tractor is admittedly a rather different proposition from similar pursuits in a motor-car, but I confess, without shame, that I find it difficult to resist an ever-present temptation to pick the muddiest path on all occasions – and I might add that to hear the Fordson’s healthy exhaust barking in obvious enjoyment is definitely reminiscent of the “real thing.” Recently we built a hybrid sort of tractor comprising 60% Chrysler, 20% Maxwell and 20% ingenuity, and this vehicle, of course, heightened the pleasant illusion even more.

Our war-weary island has surely a unique variety of mud to offer, and what real enthusiast is he whose heart has not warmed at the sight of his potent motorcar, back in the prosaic drabness of the city, with liberal helpings of mud still adorning the wheels and chassis? Doesn’t it carry with it a breath of the country – perhaps a memory of a particularly villainous hill or a flat mud section skilfully conquered?

From the creamy-white caking of the downlands, through the browns of Berkshire, the yellow of North Sussex and the reds of Devon and Worcestershire to the repellent black ooze which denotes an ancient accumulation of leaf-mould or the unsavoury presence of foreign bodies in Mother Earth – all have their peculiar attraction and all have claimed their victims. A finer example of the last-named brand of mud cannot be found than that encountered at Wyck Hill near Selborne. Here I well remember a pale grey A.C. coming to a sudden and sticky halt during one of those grand Southsea Club trials. The exasperated driver looked about him with growing alarm, sniffed the fetid atmosphere and murmured, “Great heavens, what an evil brew!” The sight of his hitherto immaculate companion pushing steadily at the rear was at once an inspiration and a warning to all would-be passengers.

But that, I confess, is not my idea of nice mud at all. Give me the good clean mud, unsullied by farmyard or other “outside influence,” and all is well. I recollect with a blush that when putting the gallant Austin “Arrow” (known affectionately as “Petroleum Blownaparte”) into forced retirement last summer, I deliberately refrained from washing the wheels on account of their cheerful coating of rosy Devon mud. From the colour of the wheels one could often tell at a glance what trial a certain car had last been through, and it was not an uncommon sight to behold a number of slightly-battered vehicles motoring through the University towns each November with liberal layers of that bright yellow mud peculiar to the western end of Hatch Farm and several other of the Haslemere hills. When mixed with the ominous black of Cosford this sometimes had a most imposing appearance, and the smell of the two blends cooking together on the exhaust pipes was really quite distinctive.

But why mud? Why not sand, for a change, or stones? All these types of obstacle play their part in trials, of course, and all test the competing vehicles in varying manners, but it is mud which is seasonable, as it were, and thus it is to mud that my thoughts turn in October. As the driver of somewhat ineffectual motor-cars, I naturally preferred the autumn mud, for then the surface is pleasantly slippery without the depth being too great for novices such as myself. Possibly my conception of trials is concerned mainly with mud because, too, I have always lived in the southern half of England – where Vicky hills are the exception rather than the rule. I recall discussing the point with Bert Kay, the successful M.G. exponent, when covering the Scottish Six Days Motor-cycle Trial several years ago, and it would seem from his remarks that in Scotland the popular idea of a good trials hill is synonymous with rocks.

But give me mud every time. Tip it up at an angle of about 1 in 7, and put me in (assumed) control of something fairly stark – with under-inflated rear tyres and intelligent weight distribution. Then, and only then, am I happy. But. that means looking back at least three years, or ahead to Heaven knows when. Still, there is one consoling thought – the mud will still be there when we again have the opportunity to pit our skill against it. And may that day be not far off.

R.G.V.V.