Opinion: AMC Anorak 35

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Frank Westworth last attended the AJS and Matchless Owners’ Club’s remarkable Alternative Jampot Rally in 1990. Until this year…

I was entirely entertained when Mr Jampot Magazine Editor Chris remarked that he’d had a comment from an Ajay Club member who was annoyed with me. He was annoyed because I had apparently announced that I don’t enjoy rallies. In fact, I do enjoy rallies. Some rallies. Sometimes. And over the years (and years and years and years … sigh) I have attended if not hundreds then certainly dozens of rallies. So I must enjoy them, surely? Although I would probably deny it if asked…

What is the appeal of an old bike rally? When I was an even younger, even more impossibly good looking and even more modest chap, I enjoyed riding vast distances in lashing rain, freezing gales and howling fogs. Well. Mostly I enjoyed it. Sometimes I hated it with a passion and indeed a vengeance.

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Much like the elderly and cantankerous AJS I usually used as a particularly characterful (read ‘mostly reliable’) transport, back then. Mostly I enjoyed riding it, living with it and understanding its little foibles (look it up). I enjoyed the challenges involved in keeping an elderly and cantankerous AJS on the road. I enjoyed the riding experience, too. Mostly.

And sometimes I hated the wretched, oil-dribbling, rusting, chain-wearing and dimly-lit beast, too. Perfect for club rallies then.

A 1965 AJS Model 18 at an AJS rally. This is *not* Frank’s wretched, oil-dribbling, rusting, chain-wearing and dimly-lit beast.

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In case you’re interested, I enjoyed a great time at this year’s Ajay Club Jampot Rally. I did. Not least because it was held in Cornwall, not too many millions of miles from RCHQ. I enjoyed belting over to the Launceston rally site at TOP SPEED on my smart red Harris G80, I enjoyed belting back to Bude, also at TOP SPEED, and I enjoyed ambling about in the pre-deluge halfway point on the Sunday Run.

That Sunday, mind, I had decided that I hated Sunday Runs, so I just rode over to the breakpoint, rather than wrestling with all those madmen who ride too fast and those dullards who ride too slowly. Only I, just me, no-one else, ride at the correct speed. My definition of the correct speed is of course TOP SPEED, and it might not be the same as yours; you may ride faster and you may ride slower, but I am right. That’s it. So there.

Luckily, just as the August event was turning into an almost orgasmic experience of transcendent motorcycling delight, it lashed down with rain as I was riding back to the rally site, which transformed my TOP SPEED into something tediously sluggardly … so I went home, had a bath, and reflected ruefully upon the idiocy of riding anywhere in a Cornish summer without overtrousers, a heated vest and a roof, stereo and possibly tea-brewing facilities.

After riding at TOP SPEED essential checks must be carried out...

A Harris G80 at an AJS rally. This is also not Frank’s.

But it was great to meet so many other Ajay club members, both the many I’d met previously and the many many more I’d not. An entirely agreeable way to pass the time. And so…

…and so I decided that in a flurry of gregariousness I would also visit this year’s Alternative Jampot Rally, over in steamy Newbury. This was a far more serious undertaking. The last Alternative Jampot Rally I dragged my whimpering corpse to visit was on September 30th, 1990. A fair while ago, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

Up to that point, I had visited all of the Alternatives, not least because I completely supported the original notion of a closed-to-club, marque-only rally, a back-to-basics-Mr-Major rally; a rally without caravans, campervans and comforts; a proper under-canvas rally, if you like. I supported that notion one hundred percent. And I still do. Although I’ve not slept under canvas since I left the Army Cadet Force in 1971.

Let me explain a little. Like a lot of big clubs, the Ajay chaps offer a huge, friendly, family friendly and very friendly friendly rally; the Jampot Rally. This is very big. It’s packed with people riding all sorts of bikes and towing trailers and towing caravans and driving campervans and everything. Then, back in the late 1980s, some folk decided that the club should also offer an alternative: a rally for bikes only, closed to non-club members and for bikes of the marques (AJS and Matchless in this case) only. Not Nortons, not Hondas, not BMWs. You could turn up on The Wrong Bike, and because the club is packed with friendly folk, you could camp on the rally site. But you left your bike outside. I thought this was a great idea, and I still do. Not very PC, of course, but who cares?

And so, gripped by a certain steely resolve and inflamed by the Spirit Of Jampot, I forged a letter from mum and begged that I might attend the Alternative Rally aboard my Norton. Yep; I am entirely hopeless. I needed the Norton’s big luggage and bigger fairing, to say nothing of its lights. No excuses.

Begging not illustrated...

The redoubtable Malcolm Arnold (left)

I almost begged the redoubtable Malcolm Arnold, he of the organising Newbury section of the Ajay club, to refuse me entry, but he was wearyingly hospitable. I pointed out to him that a Norton was neither an AJS nor a Matchless, and therefore should be barred from the rally site, along with its witless rider. He disagreed, in a depressingly friendly and cheerful way. No more excuses. I was fated to attend my first Alternative Jampot Rally since September 30th, 1990. The date of the last one, as you see, is etched into my memory.

This is because, on my ride homeward aboard my cantankerous old AJS (because in those distantly youthful days I left my Norton in The Shed and rode my AJS to club events, being dead right-on and everything) I hit a coach head-on and spent the next several yonks in hospital. This was not a great experience, although an experience it certainly was, and we’ll go more down that road!

But it did put me off riding to autumn rallies. I’m not sure why this should be, but put off I was. Until now.

And I’m glad I went. I enjoyed the ride over there, travelling of course at TOP SPEED, like one should, and I met hordes of friendly folk, like one always should. No-one yelled at me for appearing on a not-AJS. People are very kind. The last Alternative Jampot I attended, on September 30th, 1990, had been blighted by the appearance of an obnoxious individual aboard (if memory serves) a Honda. He wasn’t even an Ajay club member, and I vaguely recall the acrimony, although it paled in significance a bit once I’d made the short trip to the hospital.

'You can park over there, next to the hordes of friendly folk...'

Matchless G12, fully laden and freshly arrived….

This year, as well as the hordes of friendly folk, there was a fine array of machinery of the marque, too. So I can thank everyone who shared their enthusiasm for AJS and Matchless machinery, and will try harder next year, aiming to prod my Harris-Matchless G80 into life for the 2009 Alternative Jampot, wherever it may be held. Because I will make the effort, and I will share in that peculiar delight; the closed-to-club, closed-to-marque event.

Old and New AJSesses on eBay

The Alternative Jampot was a great idea back when it was only an idea, and it remains so today. Hurrah, then.


The AJS and Matchless Owners’ Club can be found at www.jampot.com

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