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....
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