By Mike Peake
Back at the Caravan, Mrs FB and I got ready for the awards dinner. We don’t scrub up too badly either if I say so myself!
Gar had very generously offered to be our taxi for the night and turned up promptly to take us to the Ball, also picking up John Simpson, our group’s founding father and all round big cheese in the classic world along with his charming wife Sandra.
Both Mrs FB and I were a little daunted at walking into a venue where we knew no one and would be surrounded by eminent and well known people. We needn’t have worried though. John and Sandra went out of their way to make us feel welcome and included. John introduced us to everyone that came up and chatted to him.
This included Danny Hopkins, Fuzz Townsend, Ed Hughes, and Matt Tomkins among others. It was really odd meeting people I’d seen on TV and read about for years, but guess what? They were all normal stand up guys. (Except Fuzz,he was wearing green plus fours over what appeared to be red tights!) Apart from that, even he seemed approachable and a jolly decent chap.
The evening progressed and among the food and wine we were forced to partake of, I also bumped into and briefly chatted to Ant Anstead and Mike Brewer. I met Mike in the Gents as he was telling the story of how his mate had fallen asleep on the toilet in a restaurant in Singapore….. well, probably best to say no more about that other than to say that he is an entertaining and amusing chap.
As I followed him back to our respective tables, the other people in his group all looked mightily impressed by something he said. I reckon he’d just told them that he’d met Fatbloke in the Gents! (What? He might have!)
Just to let you know how much Mrs FB and I suffered for the group, I thought I’d let you see the meal. Awful isn’t it? At least there was Merlot.
I really don’t know how we got through it all, but we did and it was now time for the speeches and awards. Sir Greg Knight, chair of the cross party historic vehicles group was 1st and gave a surprisingly interesting speech on the possible impact of technology, such as driver-less cars, may have on legislation and the need to keep historic vehicles in mind when drafting new laws. (No really. It was interesting. Although it probably helped that I realised his friends must call him Knight Knight!)
Mike Brewer then stood up to announce the winners of the awards. It wasn’t us. The prize we were shortlisted for, Outstanding Use of Social Media, went to those swi…. Er I mean, it went to the Mark 1 Golf Club.
You’ll be pleased to know that I managed to subdue the extremely strong urge to leap onto the stage shouting “It’s a Fix! We were robbed!” whilst snatching the plate and running out. Fortunately, I had been watching the Oscars and had practiced my “Oh that’s nice. You won and we didn’t” face and politely applauded with everyone else. Our other members, John Simpson and Pauline Blake missed out too and had obviously been practicing their awards faces as well as they didn’t storm the stage either.
My favourite award was the one for best restored car in the show which went to the replica of Jet 1 the gas turbine powered Rover P4. The owners reaction was lovely to watch as he was so pleased and surprised. He seemed genuinely overwhelmed by the whole thing.
The evening finished and Gar was there to whisk us all home before we turned into pumpkins.
Actually, Anita and I had a lovely night and the food was really excellent. We would like to thank the rest of the admins for allowing us to represent the group and John and Sandra Simpson for making us feel so welcome.
The next morning, fortified by one Mrs FB’s excellent full English breakfasts, I joined the Chuckle brothers (Brooks) and Gar for our final journey to the show via yet a different route again!
The final day passed very pleasantly indeed. As with the previous days, It was really great to meet with so many of our members that popped onto the stand to say hello, share a slice of cake and chat about our cars.
Although, I’m sure we’d all agree that Apollo and the Hillman drew the most interest on the stand, everyone also took the time to look at all our cars. I was somewhat surprised and very pleased with the attention and positive comments Poppy received during the show.
Highlights for me were the couple that were reminiscing about their honeymoon in the 70’s driving around Cornwall in a car exactly like Poppy and fondly remembering their dog’s ears flapping in the wind as they drove with the roof down. There was also the chaps who were restoring their own Herald that they’d bought in cardboard boxes. They remarked how wonderfully straight and original Poppy was before exploring every one of her nooks and crannies and taking measurements for reference during their restoration.
Several other Herald owners also wanted to chat and ask questions about characteristics and personality they were experiencing and I was amazed at how knowledgeable and helpful I sounded. I guess a bumbling incompetent fool can learn from experience.
I very much enjoyed watching people’s reactions and listening to their unguarded comments as they walked round Poppy and smiled. Whether it was Dads telling their sons how the whole front of the car opened and you can sit on a wheel to work on the engine or wives saying “do you remember ours”, it was just great to see the happiness that old cars can bring to people. Of course some people took rather more liberties than others and it now looks like Simon Birch will have to add a Herald to the fleet!
Well, all good things come to an end and so it was that the announcement for the close of the show was met by the blaring of every single horn in the halls and it was time for us to pack up, say our goodbyes until the next time and head for home. Apart from a small misfiring episode pulling away from a petrol station, Poppy performed in her usual heroic manner and got me home in time for a well-earned, reheated, Sunday dinner.
Thanks to everyone who helped make these 3 days so much fun but especially to our events coordinator and beloved Fat Controller, Gar Cole and his honour and Chief Mugwamp of the Group, Captain Paul Sweeney for wading through the miles of red tape from the NEC to make it happen. Stirling work chaps and 3 rousing cheers to you both.
See you at Boston chaps!
By Mike Peake
It’s Friday Morning and the excitement is mounting for the 1st proper day of the show. Gar, who was our Fat Controller and taxi driver for the weekend (our cars were locked inside the NEC) turned up to ferry the Brooks and I back to the to the NEC by what I am sure was a very different route to the one taken last night. (Taxi drivers eh?) We arrived at the NEC VIP car park and breezed past the long line of jealous Muggles waiting to get in as we flashed our magic wristbands at the security people.
The stand looked as almost as good as it did last night except the banner had fallen off the wall. It appeared that the Gaffer tape the Brooks brothers had supplied was of the “cheap” variety and not up to the job. (Well, they are Yorkshire men tha’ knows!) However, it was soon back up again, secured by good proper southern gaffer tape.
From left to right, looking at the stand, we had Lincoln Hunt’s stunning 2 door 1972 Range Rover. The car was bought new by Lincoln’s father and been subject to a superb restoration. So much so that during the show, a representative of the Range Rover Owners Club was heard to say that it was the best example he had ever seen.
Next to that was Liam White’s gloriously crusty V6 Cologne engined Mk 1 Granada, looking just like it had spent 20 years in a German barn. Which is not so strange, as that is exactly what it had done.
Next was our meticulously placed centrepiece, Andrew Tanner’s partially restored 1908 Hillman-Coatalen which is undergoing a full restoration and rebuild. As the car has been off the road for 105 years I’d have thought he’d have finished it by now but no, he reckons it will need another 2 years. It turned out that the Hillman was the oldest vehicle at the show.
Poppy was next in line and to my eyes the NEC lighting did her no favours whatsoever. It showed up her poor tired paintwork to its worst and seemed to highlight the poor panel gaps.
Finally, Standing majestically on the right of our stand was… (drum roll please)…. APOLLO! The Brooks family's Apollo is so well known and loved in the group that she needs no further introduction from me other than to say that she even drew the attention of Classic Car Weekly and ended up in their pages.
More details about all 5 cars are available on the website here, and in the case of Apollo and Poppy, multi-part Blogs are there too.
At 10 o’clock, the show opened and the Muggles came flooding in. We realised what a prime spot we had in the top corner. As they came through the main entrance to the hall and looked right as most people do, there stood Apollo, acting as a glittering beacon of the unusual to draw the punters to our stand - and it worked a treat. We were flooded with people wanting to know about all our cars with Apollo and the Hillman drawing particular crowds.
The initial rush died down to a steady flow, giving us time to open the cake and have a cup of coffee lovingly supplied from the depths of Apollo’s kitchen. Very handy to have Apollo there I must say.
We were also able to take in turns to wander off for a look around the rest of the show. Whilst deciding on shifts, we noticed that some members of the team were missing. Lincoln had a pass for the morning as he was working, but Liam was nowhere to be seen. He eventually turned up late afternoon.
Apparently, after leaving us last night he was kidnapped by the local Chinese Triads, bound and taken to their casino where he was force-fed copious amounts of alcohol before being left for dead sprawled, fully dressed at the end of his bed at 6am. It must have been a dreadful ordeal for him as he still looked really shaky and ill when we saw him.
Friday finished with a trip to Gar’s local for a beer or two and a carvery. Now, as you know, I’m a dedicated Fatbloke and it has taken years of hard work to get to the fine figure of a man that I am today.
However, I was shocked at the level of dedication shown by some of my fellow team mates. Their dedication was truly at another level. I have never seen plates so full of food or piled so high as I did at our table. The joint winners of the highest plate award, who shall remain nameless, actually achieved a height of 3’ 7 1/2“ from plate to the top of a teetering Yorkshire pud.
The ultimate winner was obviously the chap who ate all of this and 2nd place was awarded to the chap that couldn’t manage the last 3 peas and a smear of gravy. 2nd place was obviously distraught and blamed his lack of appetite on “Still feeling shaken up” after being taken by Triads the previous night. (oh…did I inadvertently give one away?)
Saturday was much busier than Friday with lots more visitors and again, loads of interest in our cars. We still found time for cake, tea, chat and a wander though. During one of our chats, Gus Brooks offered to have a look at the panel gaps on Poppy. He’s a jolly nice chap is Gus despite what his brother says about him.
When we opened the bonnet to see what needed to be done, it became apparent that the noise I’d thought was a stone being flicked up under the car on the way up was actually the air box bolts falling out. Fortunately the air box was still hanging in there and I was in the right place to find replacement bolts. With Gus’s help it was soon back where it should be. He also had my bonnet and doors straightened and looking SO much better. Thanks Gus.
Later that afternoon Mrs FB arrived in state and deigned to spend some time chatting with us mere mortals and having a look around our stand and the show in general. She proclaimed that it was all “rather nice”.
With that, we left the show before closing time so that we could dress for the awards dinner that evening, where Mrs FB and I would be representing the group. It was going to be a tough night - but we were willing to put ourselves through it for the sake of our members!
To be continued...
By Mike Peake
At last! It was here! The most prestigious event our group has attended. Yes. The NEC Practical Classics Classic Car and Restoration Show and our group, the Enthusiasts of British Motor Vehicles built before Nineteen Eighty Five actually had a stand. (Ye gods! two stupidly long names in one sentence. Sorry about that.)
When I left you last, Poppy was washed and vacuumed ready to go. I’d booked Thursday and Friday off work in the hope of getting to our campsite mid-afternoon for a nice bit of relaxing before the stress of setup. However, after my out of season camping experiences at Crich and Bressingham, I’d decided that my gentlemen’s abode needed upgrading to avoid freezing to death. So I now have the logistical challenge of getting Poppy and our family caravan to Birmingham. However, despite her plucky “can do” attitude, Poppy cannot pull a 1400kg, 22 ft long caravan.
This meant, bright and early Thursday morning, I set off in my Honda CR-V with my luxurious and spacious gentlemen’s penthouse on wheels, securely fastened to the back and Mrs FB by my side. 3 hours later, having battled road works and traffic on the M5 and M42 we arrived at our campsite. 30 minutes were taken booking in and setting up the caravan ready for use and we were back fighting Britain’s motorway network for the 2nd leg of my courageous logistical operation. Mrs FB was at the controls now as she didn’t trust me to stay awake for 2 more legs. She was right, I took the opportunity to slip in a power nap.
Frustrated and cursing our road planners, Mrs FB and I pulled up at home and we leapt out for a record breaking pit stop to rival McLaren. A late lunch was made, clothes were changed, little boys room visited, lunch eaten and I was back out the door with Mrs FB wiping my spectacles as I climbed into Poppy and waving goodbye as I set off for the 3rd and final leg back to Birmingham. This would be a pleasure though, driving poppy through the green lanes. Wouldn’t it?
Well it started well. I was breezing along the A429 happy as Larry with a big grin on my face and laughing as I pass Chris Ball’s breakdown stop (See Coventry and Gaydon Blogs), when trouble struck. The A429 was closed at Moreton in the Marsh. I hadn’t bothered with a map book or Sat Nav as I know my way to Birmingham, so I was now in trouble and reliant on diversion signage. It took me all the way back to Chipping Norton adding 15 stress filled miles to the route and making me even later. I was starting to worry whether I’d get to the NEC by our meeting deadline of 7PM let alone the campsite to have a relaxing beverage before setup. Further worry was induced when I hit the M40 and was in stop-start heavy traffic through to the M42. I did make the campsite to find Gar and the Brooks Brothers settled in deckchairs.
I hadn’t even got the caravan door open before Gar was pressing paper and pen in my hand and making me fill out the forest of forms in triplicate that the NEC were insisting be completed to gain entry. Without even time to have a cuppa let alone a slice of cake, we were back out in the cars again for the short trip back to the NEC. I was following the great Apollo for this trip and was somewhat alarmed at the level of roll shown on the bends to the extent that I was working out how to fit stabiliser wheels to outriggers. However, Gary reassured me, that it “looks worse that it feels….honestly”.
We arrived on time at one of the more remote car parks at the NEC which they had designated as our “meet and wait until they are ready for us to go in” spot. Lincoln and Andy were already there and Liam turned up shortly after. We sat chatting with other exhibitors as we waited and tried to decipher the contradictory instructions that several of us were receiving over our phones. In the end we all decided to up sticks and follow our Fat Controller over to the halls where we were subjected to even more “Hurry up and Wait” instructions.
What felt like some days later, we were allowed into the hall and began setting out our stand. We were like little boys setting out a match box car lay out but on a much bigger scale. The cars were bigger too. Four of our cars could be driven in but we had to push the Hillman which we wanted as the centrepiece. After about an hour of pushing and shoving it backwards and forwards to Gars instructions, we were all rather sweaty and frustrated.
At this point Andy happened to mention that he had wheel skids that would make this much easier. We all looked at each other and there was much eye rolling, but we agreed that we wouldn’t immediately beat him to death with daffodils until he’d finished helping us position his car.
Sometime later, our much loved Fat Controller was satisfied with the positioning of the cars and the huge banner was gaffer taped to the back wall. (Somehow, it didn’t look quite so huge though.)
Looking rather nervously at the remains of the daffodil patch, Gar quickly offered us all a lift back to our respective hotel and campsite in his 7 seat taxi. Gar’s car may be a 7 seat vehicle, but I don’t think it’s designers had the 7 of us in mind when they penned it. Maybe we should have taken a photo, but we were all rather busy trying to get the doors to close.
We made it in the end though and were deposited safely at our accommodations. I was exhausted and retired straight to my centrally heated luxury caravan where I tucked myself into bed with a large glass of Merlot and a book and was very soon in the land of nod.
Oh, and the forest of forms? No one even glanced at them!
To Be Continued....
by Nick Arthur
So after the brutal demise of of my first love, my faithful pale blue MK 2 Cortina, or just plain DWB as it had become known, I was left as a 19 year old with a pushbike, a kinda homemade push bike , not much cash and a poorly paid job.
Things got better, I got promoted to Fork Lift Truck driver, then Supervisor then full time delivery driver. Don't under-estimate the pride of being a full time driver - even if it was a derated class 3 . A professional driver.
I would take out 4 ton deliveries on the back of a very tired old Bedford as new drivers weren't allowed anywhere near the sparkling new Bedford TK's. Mine was a very faded red massively high mileage abused wreck of thing that was just waiting to be traded in or sold off .
It had nothing in the cab, no radio, no creature comforts- it would just about make 50 mph flat out. It had a tail gate and canvas flap for access to the load. It had air brakes and a sitty up driving position that felt like you were sitting on the rusting cow bars on the front .
It wasn't an easy beast to work with. No side doors, so everything got loaded and unloaded by hand. No pallets on and off as it had wooden floor boards and couldn't take the weight of a pallet truck and a fully loaded pallet without splitting the floor. Tell tale holes showed me where other had tried before me! Those holes proved useful if you were caught short and a long way from a W.C, if you follow my thinking.
I loved this old red truck. We had a couple of years covering 1000's of miles. We new the streets of most North West towns. No sat nav then, just a box of Ato Z's and a Collins road map. I loved my Bedford, can't just recall the full reg- FED was the starting point.
During this year I saved enough money for another car. A maroon 1500 avenger. Much more modern in looks than my mk2 cortina. I'd love a mk 2 now, but back then it was considered very boxey after the shapely mk1 and the American looking mk3 - went back to being boxes in mk4 times
I contemplated putting a "Starsky and Hutch" stripe on my Hillman Avenger but my friends reminded me that this was early 1980's Warrington, not downtown Manhattan. I settled for black louvres on the back window, mud flaps that said 'dirty mean and nasty ' on them and sheepskin seat covers.
The car regularly jumped out of third gear, but that wasn't an issue to a boy racer. My maroon Avenger gleamed when polished. The black vinyl interior came up a treat. It was dark inside with those louvres. Black on black - my very own voodoo lounge!
Eventually I got to drive the New Bedford TK at work. It had sliding loading doors , a radio and a heater that worked. Oh yes, I was no longer the newbie. I was sad to see my old truck getting sold to the gypsies. Not sad cos they were getting it, just sad that in a strange way we'd become attached ! In its latter days I'd wired a cassette player into it and put a speaker in the box. Earth Wind and Fire booming out of the back, that's living alright !
Anyway I got a shiny new big red Bedford TK. Essentially I was nearly cool again (albeit still ginger) and I got to pick my deliveries. I also got to drive the managers' cars when emergency runs out were required. They had Marinas, all mustard yellow in colour.
The boss had a Wolsey Ambassador wedge in red , with black vinyl roof - It was top spec, fully loaded. It was different to the Austin variant. This beauty would do over 100 mph on the Widnes to Speke by- pass - sorry Mr Turner! I'd never driven a car that had velour seats and smelled brand new. A proper privilege that of course as a 21 year old was seriously abused!
They promoted me to warehouse manager, but they laughed at me asking for a company van. The status quo remained, then it dawned on me- to get a company car, you had to be a salesman.Salesmen had mustard marinas - One day I would have a mustard marina !!
There was a whole hierarchy that I wasn't previously aware of that would come to really matter.
Some had Marina coupes, some had 4 doors and some had a better spec. Not just old and new like vans and trucks. Like I was used to The senior had more add ons than the junior. You could tell rank of the man by the car, it was a whole new world!
The salesmen came to work later than me, went home earlier, earned stacks of wonga, they worked in clean smart clothes while I had second-hand light blue overalls. They had mustard marinas and just signed for their fuel - an epiphany moment. "I will be a salesman", I decided - what could possibly go wrong?
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