Friday, September 12, 2008

Enfield's Bunty Golightly never said 'die'

Last in a series of articles.

As he told the story, British Army Maj. Bertram "Bunty" Golightly jumped into Normandy in 1944. Along was a Royal Enfield Flying Flea, a small motorcycle rigged with a parachute harness to accompany airborne troops. When the Major recovered the motorcycle, the blasted thing would not start. Nevertheless, he kept it with him, eventually storing it in 1949 in the stables on his country estate.

In August, 2000, checking the Internet for information on Enfield rifles, he claimed to have happened across the Royal Enfield Yahoo message board and learned that Royal Enfield motorcycles (although not Flying Fleas) are still made in India and are available for sale. Enthused, he checked on the stables and discovered the Flying Flea had been swiped.

There was nothing for it but to buy a new Royal Enfield, the Military model, of course, but should it be the 350 or the 500? He asked Yahoo board members for advice and so began five years of delightful, infuriating and politically incorrect stories about "peasant" hunts, wild sidecar rides, fox hunting and chasing fillies (meaning women).

Along the way the Major found time to make fun of himself, everyone on the board and everyone else on earth who was not a retired British Army officer and country gentleman. He portrayed himself as the word's least responsible authority on Royal Enfield motorcycles, and so he seemed to become.

It was fiction, of course. But who was the author? And why did Bunty drop from sight in November, 2005?

The great danger in writing an article like this is that there is much I don't know. Maybe everyone but me is in on the joke. Perhaps Bunty lives on elsewhere on the Internet. Perhaps the whole routine was a take-off on a popular TV show I've never seen. The name Bunty Golightly appears elsewhere in literature, but those characters seem unrelated.

Trying to guess Bunty's real identity, or his author's, was popular on the message board. One member pointed out that Bunty posted during hours that would have been daytime far to the east of England. Perhaps the author was in India.

I suspected the author was Australian, because one of Bunty's first gibes was aimed at Australian soldiers. Later, asked to name someone he respected, he named an Australian soldier, a hero of World War I who went on to oppose war.

That sort of contradiction, and the knowledge he occasionally displayed of popular culture, suggested that the author was younger than the 82 years Bunty claimed. The Major's rantings were delivered with a chain-of-consciousness corkscrew logic that was very funny. The typing and spelling indicated that they really were written in just this way.

That made Maj. Bunty Golightly seem very real even if it was ludicrous to believe he could be real. Whoever created him was a master. I wish I knew who he was.

There are only two new clues I have to add. The first is that I once encountered on the Internet a posting by our Bunty on a Land Rover message group. He wrote in character and started off with the sort of question that first introduced him to the Royal Enfield group. I no longer can find that posting but I suspect the date might reveal that Bunty's author was trying out the character there.

The second thing is this: the Yahoo Profile of Maj. Bertram Golightly was last updated in February, 2008. The Major is out there, somewhere. Laughing.

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