In 2006 we spent a holiday in Portugal and it was there that I saw my very first Piaggio Ape. The owner introduced it as the Portuguese 'Farrari' !. I decided that this was the vehicle for me !.
I think Ape is the word for 'bee' in Italian. They certainly sound like a bee, when you are zooming along at 30 miles per hour !. After the last 'Great' war, transport was in short supply. The Italian solution was to take the front end of a Vespa Scooter, mount two wheels on the back and a box to carry things in !. To compensate for lack of power the transmission was geared down to increase torque. The end result is that it could carry up to half a metric ton .... up the steepest hills ..... but not very fast !.
Today this vehicle is manufactured by Piaggio. It is available with various size engines, but mine came with the standard 49cc two stroke, with a separate oil mix system. OK lets have a look at this beast .....
This is mine ... the very first time I set eyes on it. I had seen it advertised on EBAY and immediately fell in love with it (that was actually before I tried driving it Hi!). I paid for it and that left only the small matter of driving it back from Bournemouth to Andover.
The gearbox has four forward gears and neutral .... plus another four gears for reverse. I think during the drive to Andover I found at least two of the eight gears !. Traffic and gigantic woofers piled up behind me ... and every few miles I had to pull over to let the traffic jam pass !. The Ape is somewhat smaller than it appears in the photograph .... and I was a bit concerned that the driver of a 40 ton truck might mistake me as a ladybird beetle .... and flatten me !. I was also wondering what I would do if I got a flat tyre !
I bought the Ape from a motor cycle shop ... hence all the stickers. While I was still at the shop I was busy trying to think up intelligent questions to ask about it . One question was where is the spare wheel and jack .... well we found the spare wheel OK but not the jack. When I complained about this the chap said "No problem" and with one hand lifted one of the back wheels off the ground !. I later found the jack and some tools hiding under the seat. I guess the lightness of the vehicle explains why he said I should slow down when tackling roundabouts .... because he said that if you twitch slightly ... you will never know which turning you will skid off into !. He also warned me about accelerating into traffic ...... no acceleration !.
I think when home finally came in sight, I welcomed it with a measure of profound relief ..... a large dollop of disbelief .... it was that kind of journey !. Maybe I am being a bit negative here because I did do the 40 mile trip in one day !.
Now the reason I told myself I had bought the Ape was to get rid of garden rubbish ... of which I had a large amount of. I had previously been ill and was not supposed to survive the summer of 2003 ... and when I did ... it completely screwed up all my plans for my future !. Fate has a way of kicking a man when he is down and during my illness our kitchen was doing Titanic impressions ... on one corner. Also a tree attacked our double garage, which required demolishing. I was going to remove the wrecked wooden garage material with the Ape, but apparently one can burn this wood stuff on fires .... and someone took it all away for me !. So in the end I used the Ape twice a week, once to do the heavy shopping and also on Sundays to get the newspaper. Still filled with fear and in trepidation, it took me quite some time to notice that as I hummed along people kept smiling and waving at me, Especially the ladies !. In fact every time I stopped someone would come up and start asking questions about the Ape. Now, I have to tell you that I was a sullen, miserable old man who preferred his own company only slightly less than that of his fellow man .... but most of these admirers were women !. I was so enthused by all this attention I decided to get the clutch changed, which do not sort out the gear problem. However I did a few adjustments and in the end could get most of the gears ... on a good day !. This probably cheered me up and I must have accidentally smiled occasionally ... because more people actually talked to me. I got so confident that at one stage I considered making up a sign for the back of the Ape .... saying .... "If you have never had sex in an Ape ... please queue here !". I bet there would have been thousands of women in the queue ... if only to find out how it could be done !. I was just thinking that in the early sixties I had a Heinkel bubble car .... but it had a sunshine roof !. I remember that once six of us decided to go to a 'not so local pub' in it. I was the driver so I got a seat to myself. The other five had to stand upright in the sunshine roof. Unfortunately when I drove out of camp someone must have had his leg or something in the steering wheel (it was somewhat crowded) ... because when I tried to turn ... we went straight on into a ditch !. They all spilled out, lifted the bubble car back onto the road, pointed it in the right direction ... and off we went again. I think I still have some of the original boot marks on me !.
On a more serious note, I am concerned about the future of our planet and we really do need to think about more sensible means of transportation and the use of fossil energy. I doubt if this will happen, but feel slightly reassured by the scientific forecast that man may not survive .... but the planet will !.