Friday, 23 September 2011

Goodwood Day 1

In four days of Goodwood I only wore my normal clothes.
Hell I dress like this all the time. It doesn’t take any extra effort. Only difference was that I used heated rollers in my hair and a bit of Elnett. I reckon I’ll start doing that regularly now…I like the effect.
I was extremely lucky to be there on the Thursday. This isn’t open to the public. It’s setting-up day and all cars arrive, retail shacks are filled with corsets, brooches and car posters and so on.
My aunt Shirley races a 500cc Cooper with a JAP engine, though that does not mean it was made in Japan. Au contraire. J A Prestwich’s engines are as English as they come. The man set up shop in a backyard in Tottenham in 1895. These beautiful machines were still being made in Tottenham in the early 1960s.
The small but mighty cars may look like sleekly-made go-carts equipped with lawn-mower engines, but they snort like six-storey Bison, and go at 100mph. Racing legend Stirling Moss used to own my aunt’s car, and won the Monaco Grand Prix with it in 1951. In a very British display of selfless (and sporting) respect for heritage, Shirley and her husband and mechanic Bill keep it as it was then, even though this means it probably won’t win many races.
Another JAP Cooper was driven by a Frenchman right out of a Stella Artois advert, and it even had the same number as it had when it was raced by Harry Schell years ago, painted on in the same way. It was kept in the Paddock like a museum piece, with a framed oil painting of the car propped up on a chair next to it, and racing overalls artfully draped over the chair. There was also a collection of fliers advertising the museum that usually housed the car, and framed newspaper clippings.
Aunt Shirley picked me up at the station in a red Alpine Sunbeam. Finally an opportunity to do the sunglasses-and-headscarf look. Really this look is a bit silly unless one is in a vintage car with its top down.
I dressed casually. I was given the task of painting the number “9” on the side of the Cooper – Shirley didn’t want decals as they’re not authentic – and I also was given the chance to push-start the car.
“Push down a bit and make sure your legs don’t go out from under you,” instructed Bill. I’d never heard such an engine before, nor been sprayed by Ethanol. The tweed was none the worse for it.
“Baptism of fire!” said one of the other Cooper drivers.
There are some Swedish 500cc (aka half-litre) automobile fans and it’s become a Goodwood tradition for them to serve pickled herring on rye crackers and a choice of six different Aquavits on set-up day. How about that. I tried two. Had been travelling from Vancouver (nine hours, starting at the end of a full day) and then to Hanwell from Heathrow (dump out contents of suitcase, pile in the tweeds and frocks and hot-rollers) and Hanwell to Chichester. It had been long. The Aquavits were marvellous. A hint of caraway. Pleasant warmth. Two lovely ladies in vintage Swedish Navy uniform served. It was like a lovely big family. Other parts of the paddock housed different types of cars for different types of races and they had cameraderie of a sort, but there was nothing like these 500s owners.
Then we all went to Goodwood House for the cricket game, a custom that sees the drivers play Lord March’s staff. I’d never been to a cricket game but I knew the tradition. Secure some cake and some champagne, ensure you have a seat, look interested sporadically (whenever someone’s about to throw something) and then fall asleep. I can tell you that these sloping folding wood-and-cloth seats are designed admirably for this purpose.
I woke up to see the sun setting, and people saying “Ray Hanna came right between those two trees, directly from the sun…” Another tradition. A Spitfire flies over Goodwood House several times, performing beautiful arabesques and victory rolls. This time it was another famous Spitfire pilot, first name Alastair. Those planes fully deserve the fuss people make over them.
Then came the debriefing for the drivers. Huge crowds round the tent and I didn’t like to get too close because the speakers didn’t carry far and others needed to hear it more than I did.
I found myself standing in the middle of the field admiring the sunset with a spry old gent who stood with excellent posture. He said he liked Motorcycles. “Don’t go in much for the four-wheeled.” He told me he was enjoying his old age, that he liked having no ties. No wife, no house, no car. “What people usually do when this happens is buy a canal-boat,” I said. “Oh not me. I like to travel too much.” We stood for a while and then a Japanese fellow comes up with a camera. “May I?” he asked. The gent beamed benignly. The young fellow took a photo and then bowed and backed away, bowing more.
“I think you’re famous and I think I’m ignorant,” I said. “What’s your name?”
“Jim Redman,” he said.
I wrote it down. I looked it up later. Yes, he’s a legend.
“I retired, and then years later my kids and I went to watch a race and they entered me in it. I won. I came back the next year and won again. But now I just go around and do parades.”
He then told me about various types of bikes he’d owned, and how a museum finally bought one from him for a massive amount of money and told him he could borrow it whenever he liked. He also rides something around that Honda lends him for events like Goodwood. “A fellow came up to me afterwards once and said ‘Tell Honda I’ll buy that for a million dollars.’ So I did. They said ‘Not for sale.’ I said ‘He’ll pay you two million.’ They said ‘Not for sale.’ I thought I’d see what happened if I said six million. They said that it wasn’t for sale, not for any price. And this was what I was riding all this time.” He shook his head in amazement.
I’ve missed out many of the specifics of his conversation: names of bikes, races, dates, etc. For this, I will have to read his autobiography!

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