One frosty winter night, I followed friend John Matthews who was riding his Vespa, from the Film Co-op office in Spring Street in the city, to his home in Woodstock outside Melbourne, .
His scooter had been having electrical troubles and he was anxious to make it home; which he shared with some muso friends , in the then rural paddocks of now suburban infill. There was some reason he had to get home that night, I think he had the overdue rent money or some (more likely) stash to deliver.
A Vespa was easy to maintain, even by students and ‘bush mechanics’, and the Italian garages in Carlton and Coburg had most spare parts. But this was an intermittent fault and the scooter was barely road-worthy at best. So I agreed to travel up the Hume Highway, following slowly behind in my Fiat 1100. When his fingers froze, I swapped with him for a while riding. We stopped at the Kalkallo pub for, at his insistence, a brandy to thaw out. (The pub was closed but the locals knew if you came in the side door of the ladies lounge before midnight…) I remember feeling the effects of the alcohol (not my usual flagon wine) when we left the highway and wobbled down the dirt roads between paddocks, raising dust, me following his flickering tail and head lights. Sometime after midnight I drove back to Carlton with the MilleCento heater on full, but still having to stop to scrape a view through the ice on the windscreen.
I think my mother briefly had a Vespa when we lived in Walwa. Or did I just invent that? I liked how they looked even as a kid. My father fixed up a second hand one, but my mother quickly realised it wasn’t a great way to travel the few kilometres into town in all weather, no matter how cool she looked. So they bought a second car (this Triumph Herald and that’s us in front in the picture in 1962. We all went on a beach side holiday in that Triumph. Towing a trailer.)
When Jan and I were in Italy in 2001, I started to notice the groups of teenage leather clad ‘bikies’. Lounging on corners and in piazzas with their girl friends, leaning on their motorbikes as if they were rebels without, er, a Vespa. Which clearly wasn’t cool in the country. It was sort of a pre-shrunk Hell’s Angels gathering. Mean? Boy they were 50cc tough, in the neatest of fashionable leather/vinyl tight pants and jackets, school bags, cans of Coke, an occasional cigarette, and their bike names reflected it all. Or maybe just English as a second language?
And wherever you ride in Umbria, if you sticky-tape on her picture, St Clare of Assisi will protect you. Apparently she was designated as “the patron saint of television in 1958 by Pope Pius XII, because when St. Clare was very ill, she could not attend mass but she was reportedly able to see and hear it on the wall in her room”. St. Chiara is also the patroness of goldsmiths, laundry, and eye disease which may explain why she is also protector of 24 inch monitors.