We needed assistance from the villagers - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

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We needed assistance from the villagers

On 10 March 1955 Don Taylor and I went out on his motor bike for a pleasant afternoon ride. We had gone about 35 miles when we got a flat tyre. We thought at the time that there was either a slow puncture or that the very hot sun had made the tyre go down. We knew that the only garage behind us was about 8 miles away at Ingiriya so we pressed on, taking it in turns to push the bike. After a while we stopped a bus and borrowed a pump from the driver but the tyre wouldn't inflate. The driver and passengers were very helpful in their own particular way - by getting out of the bus and swarming around us. The bus was held up for about a quarter of an hour; the passengers seemed amused at our plight and none seemed annoyed at the delay. Again we pushed on wondering if we would ever get to a garage. We eventually came to the Police Station at Kiriella. There was a police Land Rover standing outside but a chap in the office said that they had no tools and no means of mending a puncture. He also said that the next town, Ratnapura, was about 14 miles further on. By that time we were getting a little anxious as Don was due on duty at 1800 hrs and already it was 1600 hrs. It never occurred to us to ring up camp from there. We pressed on.

About a mile further on we came to a house; a chap was working in the front garden and he asked us what the trouble was. We told him and then he said that he was the official driver of the Police Land Rover and that there were, in fact, some tools at the Police Station. Almost immediately a uniformed Postman arrived on the scene, also anxious to help. He could speak very little English but we gathered he used to be a motor mechanic before he became a 'government servant'. With his help we took the back wheel out and then removed the inner tube. This revealed a half-inch split in the tube caused by a two-inch nail which was actually still stuck in the tyre although we hadn't noticed it earlier. Apart from that there were numerous small holes in the tyre caused, no doubt, by wheeling the bike such a long way whilst flat. There was nothing for it but to get a new inner tube.

Above: That's Don Taylor at work.
After further discussion in English, Sinhalese, and a mixture of both, it was agreed that the postman, on his own suggestion, should go into Ratnapura by bus and buy a new inner tube for us. He left us, with our money, at about 1710 hrs. Knowing what local buses were like we reckoned he would not be back before 1900 hrs so we stayed where we were providing entertainment for, and being entertained by, a number of small boys and almost every other person who passed. The police driver brought us a cup of tea each from his house and very welcome it was. Later one of the small boys swiftly climbed up a very tall coconut tree using a loop of twine around his ankles as his only aid. He lopped off two coconuts with his knife and dropped them to the ground where another villager expertly sliced the tops off so we could drink the milk. It was delicious.

Surprisingly enough the time passed quite quickly and by 1830 hrs night had quickly fallen, as it always does in Sri Lanka because it is so close to the Equator. The villagers wandered off - to their homes presumably. The police driver also went off somewhere, promising to come back when the postman returned with a new inner tube. We were left to our thoughts and to wonder what would happen if the postman was unable to get a tube. All was well, thank goodness, and he returned at about 1930 hrs. The police driver then returned with some friends and we started the job of putting the wheel back.

It was a relatively simple job to get the tube in but there was more trouble when it came to pumping up the tyre. We had two pumps between us but neither was very efficient so our helpers stopped the next vehicle which came along, another motor bike. His pump was not much better so next the villagers stopped a lorry. His pump did the trick and soon we had 21psi in the tyre. Putting the wheel back was simple and presented no difficulties. Finally, at 2115 hrs, we were ready to leave. We bade farewell to all the friendly villagers and set off back to Gangodawila by the shortest route. Even then our troubles weren't over because the headlamp flickered on and off erratically and was not very bright even when it was full on. This, combined with an unlit, twisting, hilly road, kept our speed down to about 25 mph most of the way.

We arrived back at camp at 2230 hrs to find that the Orderly Officer at Colombo had been called out of bed and the civilian police were about to be called. Everyone thought that we must have had an accident - a natural assumption I suppose as we hadn't telephoned in. Mike Laver, who was supposed to be on local leave, had done the evening watch for Don. Chiefy Owen, as always, said very little. The following morning I spoke to Chiefy and explained what had happened - apparently Don, the one who had actually been officially absent without leave for missing his shift, had not spoken to him. Chiefy did not seem very concerned and said that such things were all part of the joys of motor cycling.

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