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How Simon's driven to find out history of his vintage car

An Ulster Log

By Eddie McIlwaine

Retired civil servant Simon Thomas (61) fell in love with a 1904 horseless carriage when he first set eyes on it as a little boy. He was charmed by the elegance of the open two-seater which was on view in the Belfast garage of Ronnie Jennings that day in 1960 when Simon was five years old.

And after attempting to follow the career of the ancient vehicle, built by the once Motor Manufacturing Company of Coventry, Simon Thomas now owns the unique car and drives it on special occasions. In fact, he has taken it on the London-Brighton run with friend Andy Johnston as co-driver.

"I traced the vehicle to a Thomas Reid in Tandragee and persuaded him to sell it to me," says Simon. "I had to sell a couple of other cars in my possession to raise the purchase price, but it was worth every penny. All my life I've wanted to own this museum piece. And I'm happy at last."

Now Simon, aided by his wife Elizabeth and their only son Reid (23), is setting out on a mission to trace the history down all those years since 1904 of the MMC vehicle which cost £265 when new - a lot of money back in 1904..

He has discovered that it was registered first of all to a Thomas Dickie of Ballysculty Road, Templepatrick in 1904 and was owned the following year by a Thomas Clearkin, a head teacher in Larne and the father of seven children.

"Mr Clearkin was obviously one of the early drivers in the town of Larne," suggests Simon. "What I can't understand is why a father of seven went out of his way to own a two-seater."

There is much more Simon wants to learn about his MMC. "It has obviously been looked after and cared for by its other owners down the years," he says. The car was rescued from a scrapyard and rebuilt in 1937 by a Desmond Montgomery and became the property of garageman Ronnie Jennings and then Ballymena man Malcolm Templeton, before it was purchased by Tommy Reid in Tandragee.

"I kept seeing it in the hands of several owners through the years and knew I was destined to possess it one day," says Simon. "But there is so much I don't know about the social history of this magnificent old car. Anyone who can tell me about the vehicle can contact me on 028 9752 8241."

It's Harry not Karen asking for a peck

Just in case you think it is the lovely Karen Lavery asking for a kiss in Petz Zone in the village of Crumlin, at Aldergrove, next time you are passing by, let me explain that it will be Harry the Parrot who lives there uttering those magic words.

The blue and gold Macaw from the Amazon will be helping Karen, his devoted owner, celebrate the fifth anniversary of the pet shop in the village close to Aldergrove, in July.

Harry is being taught to talk by his mistress. He asks: "What's the craic?" and can utter one or two other unprintables he has picked up from customers. He really enjoys demanding: "Gimme a kiss."

Is Hanks the type to bet this big?

I'm expecting a letter any day from film producer and star Tom Hanks (59) to confirm that he did indeed have £100 on Leicester City to win the Premiership at odds of 5,000-1.

"I saw it coming," says Tom, whose favourite football team is Aston Villa - just relegated - "because I like the name".

Why are there those doubting that Hanks did have such a bet on Leicester, the miracle team of the season, and with the nickname of The Foxes.

I know when he reads this epistle, Tom will get in touch to confirm his gamble at those incredible odds. (Even if he had only a fiver on The Foxes, it is still a great story).

Tom will also be telling me how large his collection of rare typewriters is since we were last in communication. He constructed a letter to me on one of his typewriters a while back, telling me he would dearly love to possess a Gaelic language typewriter.

I promised to try and find one, so far without success. I'm still trying Tom. One typing machine he would love to own is The Royal on which Ernest Hemingway wrote several of his books. "I've seen it, but I'd love to have it in my collection," he says.

Calling me a grump has ring of truth

A friend of mine called Margaret says she has one just like me at home - a grump. Here's a story to illustrate the truth of that, which I don't deny.

You find out who your friends are when you're all alone at home with a once busy telephone for company. Irene is off on a trip somewhere and all the calls to our number have dried up. Goes to show whom those folk phoning really wanted to talk to.

I have always known that Irene is popular and has pals everywhere in the church and among its clergy, in a choir or two and up and down many the street, but I also believed there were one or two out there who liked me a little bit, too. Well, I was wrong - I've even had BT check the line just in case.

Nobody wants to talk to me while she is away for a couple of weeks.

The consolation is that when Irene returns, I'll know where I stand with all those so called friends.

Oh yes, there was one isolated call, but it didn't count. It was a query about when Irene will be home.

Why I decided not to vote after snub from unhelpful politician

The attitude of one political representative at Westminster, who was rather too busy (or simply couldn't be bothered) to look at my request for assistance with a problem, persuaded me to stay away from the hustings last week.

In other words I was disillusioned after that experience with politicians in general and didn't bother casting a vote. And I've no regrets. Down the years, I've rarely asked any politician for a little bit of help.

And when I did so many months ago, I wasn't looking for a miracle. Although I did expect a courtesy return call at least. The silence was deafening.

No, I won't mention a name or a party. I don't want any grovelling or lame excuses.

Perhaps I do him an injustice; he might just be too absorbed in affairs of state.

Hold the front page... Eleanor's Larne Times back in Dunluce

Here's a postscript to the 100th birthday story of Eleanor Thompson, the widow of my first editor, Emil Thompson, on the weekly Larne Times.

She's delighted to learn that the newspaper has returned to its original home in the town's Dunluce Street. Not exactly to the same address, but next door to the building in which former staffers like myself, Roy Lilley and Robin Walsh spent many happy days and where we wrote great stories. They were unforgettable times for Emil who died too soon and us reporters before we moved on and Eleanor - Mrs T is what we called her - very much shared in them.

There were occasions when she actually went to night markings for me so I could slip away to meet a certain young lady in Belfast.

Why you can't believe all you read in these bestselling books

Next time you're in a book store, don't be too impressed by hardback novels carrying messages proclaiming the worth of the story in the pages.

These slogans include one that will declare on its front cover that it is a 'global bestseller'. Next door on the shelf is a piece of fiction whose hardback claims it is 'the world's bestseller' and a wee bit further on is a book described the 'number one bestseller anywhere'.

One yarn I've read is called The Cracking No 1 and another whose final chapter I've just closed is referred to 'as a book that inspires the reader'. You could have fooled me.

Hyperbole and exaggeration is everywhere in the fiction business, it would appear.

Belfast Telegraph


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