Milan or bust: the ultimate mods' weekend
Wet and saddle-sore, Nic Cicutti joins the scooter boys in Italy
Saturday 21 June 1997
Why, I ask myself for the 18th time in less than an hour, am I doing this?
Three months ago, Martin, a friend, rang me excitedly to ask if I wanted to go with him to Milan for the 50th anniversary of the Lambretta, the Italian scooter that became a byword among Sixties British mods.
The Italian Lambretta Club is organising a weekend to celebrate the first "Lammie" rolling off the production line. "Thousands of scooterists will be there from all over the world. You've just got to come," he said.
The aim is to get to Milan, taking it in turns to ride our Lambrettas through France and Switzerland. "Easy, just a few hours riding each, we'll get there in two days," Martin said. Now, as I look over my shoulder and see him nice and warm at the wheel of the back-up van we've taken with us, I begin to wonder what friendship is really all about.
12am - 200 miles from Calais. It has stopped raining. My hands are numb from the vibrations of my handlebars. We've stopped several times to fill up, five-minute pit-stops for me to rest my aching shoulders and increasingly sore backside. Only 550 miles to go.
3pm - 300 miles from Calais. It's my turn at the wheel, as Martin pulls out his 1963 Lambretta LIS3 for the next few hours. The problem is, he can only do 40mph, so we are reduced to crawling along the motorway. From my cab, I can see cars hurtling past Martin then brake suddenly to look at the site of a wobbly scooter travelling at a snail's pace, trailed by a van that has barely moved out of third gear all day. At this rate, we'll have caused several pile ups along the way.
7pm - Swiss border, 500 miles from Calais. The Swiss border guard scratches her head as we arrive. She initially demands that we pay import tax on the scooter in the van, until we explain that we are on our way from London to Milan.
A portly border patrol guard wanders over "You had better keep it under lock and key when you get into Italy. These wops will nick anything." I tell him that I am Italian. He shrugs and turns away.
8.30pm - Lucerne. It's belting down again. We begin to climb through the Alps. Martin's Lambretta is spluttering and he is knackered. At this rate, we'll be stuck in the middle of nowhere at high altitude. We cave in, load his scooter in the van and decide to drive all the way there.
Motoring to the Italian border I try to keep him awake by reading from the official brochure for the event. "Dear Enthusiast," it begins. "This year occurs the 50th anniversary of our beloved motorscooter Lambretta." To celebrate the event, the Italians are planning team games including gymkhanas, blind riding, rope pulling and other delights. A covering letter from the Lambretta Club of Great Britain says: "Please note that the jamboree dinner on Saturday night is `smart dress'. I appreciate that some of the foreigners don't bother, but the LCGB traditionally do bother so please bring shirt and trousers for the gents and something suitable for the ladies." We decide to keep on going anyway.
10pm - Italian border. Only 30 miles to go. the site is near the airport, miles from town. We arrive 40 minutes later.
The waterlogged campsite already has 100 tents or so pitched on it. We decide to go out again to find a cashpoint but the gate is locked. "Sorry, no one's allowed out for security reasons," a diminutive man, wearing black army gear and armed with a walkie-talkie says. We sneak out through a hole in the fence.
3am - A pizza and two beers later. We are back at the campsite, ready to crash out. Soul music from sound systems all over the site is still blaring out. Hundreds more scooterists have arrived from Germany, Spain, Austria, Britain, even the United States. "I wonder whether there will be any noise from the airport," Martin mutters as we drift off to sleep.
6.30am - A giant roar jolts me awake. It seems we are directly under the path of aircraft taking off from Linate Airport. Welcome to Milan.
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