Driving, Musings

Charging ahead or still on the grid?

Electric cars need to be plugged in every now and then. But what do you do if you haven’t got a driveway?

As the countryside around Bampton fills with huge new housing estates and commuters, even the lanes that lead to major routes are rammed in rush hour. Traffic on the A40 is moving so slowly that the County Council are rumoured to be considering parking meters.  We could do with the railway back again (we even used to have a station – fancy!), but there’s little chance of resurrection.

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The A40 from Witney-Oxford. Image from The Oxford Mail

And car pollution is back on the agenda.  Specifically diesel pollution from private cars. Politicians seem to think this is different diesel than the stuff used in domestic heating, lorries, trains, buses (peace be upon them) and taxis.  

Their response is as predictable as it is tedious; they’re wading in with a big tax-and-bannit stick.  The diesel car on your drive is now worth around 30% less and, if you live in the countryside, the alternatives are thin on the ground. 

So you might be thinking about an electric car.  And why not?  They’re green (at the point of use), they’re cheap, there’s no tax on them (yet) and, if you get the right one, they go like hot tar off a shiny chrome shovel.  That’s an attractive proposition.  Perhaps it’s time to convert?

If you live in a town, you might have a handy charging point nearby.  But what about people who decide to trade their conventional motors for a new electric car and park on the street, particularly out in rural areas?  

This is the practical problem I’ve recently tried to solve.

Of course, there’s an easy and simple route. Just run a wire from the house, across the pavement under one of those little plastic cable covers, to the road.  

electric car charging

With thanks to http://www.transitionblackisle.org/

But that sort of thing would fill County Hall’s offices with litters of Health & Safety kittens.  And there’s little point spending a stack of money on a new electric car only to find that someone in a day-glo jacket, fondling a clipboard, spots the wire and bans me from charging it.  And my neighbours are lovely – I don’t want them having to lug prams and their bins over a semi-permanent pavement speed bump.

But surely someone’s thought about the thousands of people who aren’t fortunate enough to have a parking space or a driveway?

For once I decided to play by the rules and find out.  But that’d be a cinch – right?  After all, the Government are behind electric cars, so getting information and help in a county as pro-green as Oxfordshire should be easy.  

I start on the web.  There are grants for electric car charging points as well as electric cars themselves.  If you fancy a look – cars are here:  https://www.gov.uk/plug-in-car-van-grants and https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/government-grants-for-low-emission-vehicles for charging.  But these aren’t for on-street charging points, they’re for off-street charging for people with driveways.

That was no good to me, so I began by searching the County Council website (as the .gov website suggested I did) about how to get on-street charging points installed.  There’d surely be a whole library of helpful information.

Nope.  There was a slightly hair-shirted and miserablist page that said unless I was driving at least 50,000 miles I should consider a small petrol or diesel car.  I remember when the council’s transport supremo drove a rather smart, large-calibre Jaguar saloon, so this advice raised a wry smile and thoughts of Zil Lanes.

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From Oxfordshire County Council’s website

The page went on to suggest I contact a third party charging point installer for more information.  It also advised that I lift share (anyone fancy sharing to my meeting at Tower Bridge at 5am at short notice? Thought not), use a taxi, a bus or just not go anywhere.

This is what Chargemaster, who make and instal charging points, say in their terms and conditions:

You also confirm that there is garage or other suitable private off street parking within your premises, compliant to the conditions set by OLEV, allowing you to charge your vehicle safely and without creating a trip or other health and safety risk to yourself or any other party, with modern household electrics. Full eligibility conditions that can be found on the OLEV website on: http://www.gov.uk/olev.

So I gave them a call to check and to see if they could help.  Nope.  They were as helpful as anyone could be, but they can’t instal a charging point if you’re going to run a cable across a pavement.  They’d sell me a charging point but I’d need to find my own electrician to install it at my own risk.  They also said I should call the council.

Round One to Kafka.

Surely it couldn’t be this hard?

Before I picked up the phone again, I looked elsewhere on the County Council’s website to make sure I’d not missed anything. Nothing on electric cars.  Only the page above.  It was almost impossible to find a phone number for anything except paying parking fines, so I tracked down one for a completely unrelated department and gave them a call, hoping they’d point me right.

The lady I spoke to was as helpful as she could be and put me on hold while she asked her colleagues.  Apparently the chap I needed to speak to was the Network and Street Coordinator.  She couldn’t reach him, so asked me to send an email for his attention.

I did as I was asked, but somehow the email ended up in Council’s system for reporting potholes so they can ignore them.

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Pothole or electric car? Seems like OCC doesn’t know.

Round Two to Kafka.

It seemed I had fallen into the Pit of Careless Disregard that is in the basement of so many local authorities.

But I was determined to claw my way out.  More Googling sent me to the Air Quality team at Oxford City Council.  The very helpful officer there (no – seriously) said she wasn’t able to do very much as (logically) Oxford City Council just look after the City not the county.  Had I tried the County Council?

Round Three to Kafka.

Next, I tried our local team at the ever-helpful West Oxfordshire District Council. 

“Hi – I’m trying to find a way to run an electric car out here in Bampton. My house doesn’t have off-street parking, so I park on the road. Is there any way I can charge an electric car on-street?”

The reply from Wood Green was courteous, but sent me straight back to the County Council:

“Thank you for your email, can I please ask you to forward the details through to Oxfordshire County Council’s Highways department in the first instance?”

So I did.  And waited for the reply.  And waited.  In fact, I’m, still waiting.

I explained I’d already tried this route a couple of times.

They said they’d talk to the local Parking Team to see if they could give me some advice.  I couldn’t work out why the Parking Team were the source of all wisdom on car charging points, but I am not wise in the ways of local government.  So, more waiting.  It seemed sensible as I had no desire to pick up a ticket for charging my leccy car.

They didn’t hang about with a reply – within the week my in-box went ping:

“Thank you for your enquiry relating to installation of an electrical vehicle charging point in Bampton.Whilst there are grants available West Oxfordshire District Council, (WODC) does not have the resource capacity at present to make the necessary arrangements and installation of a charge point.

WODC would need to get permission from OCC as the highway authority.

There would be an on-going cost/resource implication relating to insurance, who would be responsible for maintenance, who pays for the electricity and who has overall responsibility.

It is unfortunate that OCC also appear not to have the resource capacity to deal with this which is why I suspect your query was passed back to us.”

No kidding, Katy.

The officer clearly wanted to help but was trying to claw her way out from a Sleeping Beauty-style thicket of red tape.  All I wanted to do was charge a car – something government wants me to do – yet everyone seemed keener on reasons why I couldn’t.  

Round Four to… oh, you know by now.

It felt like no-one had thought someone in a village would want to own and charge an electric car.  No-one had got a group around a table from each of the authorities and said “OK, these electric car things are going to be big. Let’s find a way to help people in rural areas charge them and hey, I bet some of them haven’t got driveways.”  Instead, I was passed from council to council, authority to authority, none of whom seemed to have thought people might want to charge a car at the roadside.

Individually, as ever, everyone at the councils I spoke to were terrific – helpful, kind, trying their damndest – but the structure they worked within tied them down.

And here – for the moment – my ideas, time and, bluntly, the will to live, have run out.  I’ve given up on the idea of an electric car, simply because I have no idea how I can find a way to charge it legally and safely.  And no-one seems to be able – or know how to – help. 

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With thanks to http://www.roadandtrack.com/

So instead, I’ve done what Mr Gove told me to do and sold my old, economical, reliable diesel that did 50mpg – at a huge loss.  To replace it, I’ve followed that County Councillor’s example and bought a large, comfortable petrol car.  It’s an old V8 Merc that will hit 60 from 0 in under 6 seconds and does 26mpg but is still Euro IV compliant.  Ironically, that makes it exempt from the new London Toxicity Charge.  

After all, if you can’t beat ‘em…

UPDATE… August 18th 2017

I’ve just had a note from one of the Communities Team at Oxfordshire County Council about plans for charging points in Oxford City:

We will trial 6 different solutions over 39 bays which provide residents with a means to charge their ULEV car at or near to their home over 12 months. The long term aim of the project is to find a solution, or range of solutions which can be rolled out at volume across the city.

As yet we have no plans to expand the trial to the rural areas, but I am confident this will be a consideration going forward.

Sounds good.  There’s certainly a demand in central Oxford – and a growing one out here.

And I also heard from another OCC officer who proffered a superb, helpful real-world reply.  The long and short of it was “I can’t give you permission to run a cable across the pavement. And even if I could, you’d need the sort of public liability insurance that would make a supertanker owner sweat. But if you do decide to charge a car that way and no-one complains, we’ll not take action.

Maybe the V8 Beast’s days are numbered after all.

 

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Musings

Driving from the back seat.

I’ve not worked as an advertising copywriter since June 2013.  I’m rather relieved about this.  A recent Twitter post about difficult clients reminded me why, so I dredged this out of my ‘drafts’ folder.  It’s a piece I wrote in March 2008 to try and illustrate why the traditional client/agency relationship in advertising was (and still is) screwed.

Imagine the scene…

Opens on a smart, glass-walled City lawyer’s office. Two people sit facing each other over a meeting table. They are lawyer and client.

Lawyer: “Now, Mr Client. Here’s the contract for the transaction. We’ve spent the last week working on it and it’s pretty much perfect. You’ll get the company, the buildings and the staff. They get £3.5m over five years, that’s what we agreed.”

Client: “Thanks – that’s great Mr Lawyer. Where do I sign?”

Now. Imagine another scene…

Opens on a smart, glass-walled advertising agency’s office. Two people sit facing each other over a meeting table. They are copywriter and client.

Designer: “Now, Mr Client. Here’s the copy and design for this year’s press ad campaign. We’ve spent the last week on it, tested it with customers and it’s pretty much perfect. You’ll get…”

Client (interrupting): “I don’t like green.”

Copywriter: “Sorry?”

Client: “I don’t like green. And we need a bigger picture of the product. And the copy isn’t ‘salesy’ enough. And… AAARRGGHHH!!!”

SFX: Agency bludgeoning client to death with a cafetiere.

Cafetiere

I have seriously though about introducing a £50 fine for each time a client says “I don’t like it.” I don’t actually CARE whether clients like or dislike the work we do (although it’s personally flattering when they do – which is very dangerous indeed).

What I care about is whether or not our work sells for our clients. I care whether or not it’s appropriate to the target market. I care whether or not it gets their message over clearly, simply and effectively. But I don’t give a stuff whether they like it or not.

Why?

Not because I’m an arrogant, stroppy ‘creative’, (not always, anyway) but because I give a damn about my clients’ work and its effectiveness. We spend all our time thinking about the people who buy from our clients, reading what they read, understanding how they think and use websites, printed material and ads. I’d like to think that, after (blimey!) nearly twenty years we’re OK at it.

Casual comments like the famous ‘make the logo bigger’ entail rather more than casual amounts of work; they’ll mean re-work and more work.  Vague requests like ‘can’t you make it a bit punchier?’ guarantee it.

Comments range from the reasoned and justified (“that ‘phone number’s wrong, you prune”) to the bizarre.  My all-time favourite was the client (now a senior at a high-street restaurant chain) who once told me to redraft a piece of writing completely because “I don’t like words that end in the letter Y.”

We don’t have a codified set of principles to fall back on in the same way lawyers can. The only way either of us is proved right is through the sales figures.  So I can’t prove to my mythical client that ‘punchy, salesy copy’ is about as appealing as being cornered at a party by someone who talks solidly about themselves unless they’ll let me test it against something that sounds like a human wrote it.

And, sadly, most clients don’t test.  They often don’t have time.  Sometimes it’s just too much bother in the JFDI, short deadline world of corporate marketing and advertising.  Instead, we plough on – one opinion butting against another.

And, slowly, as their work gets pecked to death, plenty of scribblers and designers stop giving a toss.  The expertise they’ve spent years researching, learning and testing to develop counts for very little against the determined onslaught of arbitrary but bill-paying opinion.

Clients get poorer work because of it too. This death-by-a-thousand-opinions approach creates a pecking cycle of work-amend-work until what started out as a sound Shire horse ends up as a three-legged donkey.

And, as people who see ads, we end up with poorer ads that, ironically, don’t sell. Because it’s not about the writer or the client being right – it’s about the customer buying something that keeps us all in business.

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Musings, Watches

The 241 year old pendulum clock that’s more accurate than your watch

241 years ago today, John Harrison, one of Britain’s finest clockmakers died.  He left behind designs for a clock that makes the accuracy of that quartz watch on your wrist look pretty average.

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John Harrison (thanks to http://www.inverse.com)

Chances are, your quartz will be be reasonably sharp.  Probably just +/- 15 seconds a month.  Not shabby, given the low price of a mainstream quartz.  If you have a modern mechanical watch, +/- 15 seconds a day would be normal.  Still impressive, particularly with a balance wheel inside that has to revolve nearly 700,000 times each day.

But how about John Harrison’s pendulum clock built from a set of 241 year old plans? How long would it take to gain or lose a second?  Just to make the question more interesting, imagine it was designed by a man who’d started life as a rural carpenter who made his first clock out of wood.  Then imagine he’d decided not to lubricate the mechanism either.

How accurate would a clock like that be over 100 days?

This is Clock B, made by clockmaker Martin Burgess from John Harrison’s pendulum clock theory. Harrison was the eighteenth century English clockmaker who should have won the Admiralty’s Longitude Prize and pretty much invented the accurate marine timekeeper.  In January this year Clock B finally vindicated its designer’s 1774 claim that he could design a pendulum timepiece that was accurate to within a second over 100 days.

Harrison was living proof that you need more than talent to get on in life.  He endured knockback after knockback throughout his 63 year career.  The British Admiralty picked fault with each of his chronometers. Rivals criticised his work and publicly undermined him.  And his final assertions that his pendulum clock with his own grasshopper escapement could be accurate to a second in a hundred days were met with derision.

Harrison's H5 Chronometer

Harrison’s H5 marine chronometer

Little wonder that his snappily titled final work, “A description concerning such mechanism as will afford a nice, or True mensuration of time”, was so bitter. Later clockmakers referred to it as “…the ramblings of superannuated dotage.”

Two things in Harrison’s background seem to have combined to make him a remarkable and innovative clockmaker.  First, he was – in effect – a natural materials scientist.  He’s often portrayed as ‘just’ a rural carpenter, but that understates his affinity for, and experience with, the materials he used.

Rory McEvoy, Curator of Horology at Greenwich and a Harrison expert, explains, “Take the way he used metals in H3, his third marine chronometer.  The brass gear wheels in the movement are wide and very lightly made, yet they’re perfectly true. If you or I tried to produce wheels like that, with the inherent tensions within an untreated sheet of brass, we’d end up with something shaped like a crisp.”

Not only this, but Harrison instinctively understood the need to reduce – and even remove – lubricants from clock mechanisms.   As McEvoy explains, “Oil was the Achilles heel of any clock or watch. Harrison did away with lubrication altogether in his pendulum clocks and large timekeepers.”  Modern watchmakers are still trying to find ways to do this.

Second, he was self-taught.  That meant that he was able to think outside contemporary clockmaking practice.  As McEvoy explains it, “Harrison came at things from a different angle, almost from first principles.  He wasn’t indoctrinated with current watchmaking ideas.”

It was this fresh thinking that led to the plans for Clock A, an ultra-accurate pendulum clock, being realised by clockmaker Martin Burgess.

Burgess B clock

The escapement of Harrison’s B clock

Clock A was commissioned from Burgess in 1975 by the Gurney family, a Norwich banking family.  Completed in 1987 (proving you can’t rush good clockmaking) they gave the clock as a gift to the city of Norwich where it ticked happily in a local shopping centre, the Castle Mall, until it was removed in 2015.  Burgess had also started another Harrison pendulum clock, Clock B, but not finished it.  The parts for the clock gathered dust on a shelf in Burgess’ workshop until 1993.

In 1993, he delivered a paper at a Harvard horology symposium where he talked about the ‘scandalous neglect’ of Harrison’s work in pendulum clock innovation – and, crucially, mentioned Clock B.  Art historian and clock collector Donald Saff read the paper, tracked him down and persuaded him to sell him the unassembled and unfinished Clock B.  Saff then commissioned English clockmaker Charles Frodsham to complete the project.

Once the clock was completed in 2014, it attracted the sort of attention from horologists that premier league footballers would be familiar with.  They began studying the clock in March 2014 and how it worked…

It quickly became clear that Clock B was something very special indeed. McEvoy continues, “We looked at the behaviour of Clock B very deeply, and we found that any fluctuations in its timekeeping were cyclical.  In other words, they weren’t a problem because they were wholly predictable.”  So although the clock’s timekeeping varied by a few fractions of a second, in effect, it evened itself out.

Finally, to determine whether Harrison’s words were indeed “…the symptoms of insanity” as The London Review of English and Foreign Literature suggested, Clock B was sealed in a perspex case in January 2014 and trialled for 100 days.  

To ensure there was no horological tinkering, the National Physical Laboratory and Worshipful Company of Clockmakers oversaw the trials.  At the start, Harrison’s B clock was running a quarter second behind GMT.  After 100 days of running, it was a mere 5/8ths of a second behind.

Harrison B clock 1

Harrison’s B clock – thanks to http://www.rmg.co.uk

Guinness World Records have confirmed Clock B as the “most accurate mechanical clock with a pendulum swinging in free air.”  But that bald description understates the achievements of both Harrison and Burgess.  This is a clock that is so accurate, its curator was able to measure the impact of barometric pressure on its going. “As the barometer moved up, so the clock slowed down with air density,” explains Rory McEvoy. ‘When we adjusted the clock to take barometric pressure into account, it was 96% accurate.  On most clocks, you wouldn’t even notice the error, let alone be able to correct it.  We don’t see this sort of accuracy until at least 150 years after Harrison’s death.”

You’d think that with pin-sharp accuracy like this,  Clock B would be a horological prima donna, throwing timekeeping tantrums if it was stopped or started.  But not so, says McEvoy, “Once it’s adjusted, Clock B is remarkably stable.  You can stop and start it without any problems.”   

So why did Harrison do it?  Why did he persist until almost the day he died in developing, defending and promoting pendulum clocks?  He had a vision that, one day, every port would have a public pendulum clock, accurate to within fractions of a second, for mariners to set their marine chronometers by.  This would mean they were able to calculate their position at sea to within a few nautical miles, thus missing shoals, sandbanks and rocks.  Harrison realised that accurate timekeeping wasn’t just a theory, it was a lifesaving practice.

So, today, the 24th of March, raise a glass to Mr Harrison’s 241st anniversary.  A remarkable man very much ahead of his time.  This year, take a trip to Greenwich and take a look at Harrison’s other remarkable marine chronometers – it’s well worth the visit.

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Watches, Writing

Happy Birthday, M. Breguet

Today will pass in most people’s diaries with never a thought for the man behind so many elements of the watch on their wrist.  Abraham Louis Breguet was born 270 years ago today in Neuchâtel, Switzerland.

Automatic winding, tourbillons, gong-repeaters, more accurate escapements, better hairsprings, shock-absorbing escapements, lubrication-free escapements… Breguet was responsible for either inventing or significantly improving them all.

Yet, for a man who brought such ordered beauty to watchmaking, he lived and worked through some of the most chaotic and ugly times in European history.

Imagine. It’s the 1780s, you’re a French watchmaker and your work is not only being bought by Marie Antoinette but the titled and wealthy glitterati of the day. Even better, the French Queen is – in modern parlance – your brand ambassador, telling anyone who’ll listen that you’re the finest watchmaker in France, if not the world.

Cut to May 5 1789 and the start of the French Revolution. Proof, if ever it was needed, that celebrity endorsement can end up being rather more of a burden than a boost.

Welcome to Breguet’s turbulent life. As watchmaker to the rich, royal and famous, hanging around in revolutionary France was likely to cut Breguet’s career short in more ways than one. Being both smart and commercial, he packed his tools and headed home to Switzerland.

And that’s where he conceived the idea of his single-handed Souscription watch. It was a perfect idea commercially, horologically and democratically. Anyone could make a down-payment (a souscription) for their watch which allowed Breguet to keep his cashflow running and start making it.

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Breguet’s Souscription No. 580 from 1800. Image from http://www.artcurial.com

The watches were simple (by Breguet’s standards), and were designed to be repaired by any watchmaker. You’d set the single hand with your finger or a sliver of wood and wind it through the hand’s centre. That’s because the barrel is in the middle of the watch with the balance and second wheel engineered symmetrically around it. No need for friction-generating motion work either. Genius.

You could even have your Souscription fitted with Breguet’s montre à tact system that allowed you to feel – rather than see – the time by touching tiny protrusions from the watch case.

62mm of simple, classical gorgeousness with so much history inside the case there’s barely room for that beautiful movement. The only thing better than owning one would be the chance to have met the man whose workshop made it.

Happy 270th birthday, M. Breguet.

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Watches

Rare vintage watch turns up in auction.

They always say ‘never meet your heroes’. The same often applies in Watchworld. That gorgeous IWC Portofino you thought was the pinnacle of refinement and gorgeousness turns out to look like an oversized Christmas chocolate coin on your wrist.

But sometimes it works out. Continue reading

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Writing

Cargoes. Updated.

Car goes.

British racing Jaguar from Surrey’s leafy verges,
Wafting home to pebbledash in sunny Haslemere,
With a cargo of brown envelopes,
And sherry and golf clubs,
Sandalwood aftershave and a crate of beer.

Gleaming blacked-out Bentley coming from the night club,
Growling through the avenues to a Mayfair mews,
With a cargo of blondes,
Brunettes, footy mates,
Gold Rolexes, paparazzi and a boot full of booze.

Thrusting little Audi with its foglights blazing,
Butting down the M6 to the sales away-day,
With a cargo of laptop,
iPhone, Boss suit,
PowerPoint, pointy shoes and bonus pay.

With profuse apology to John Masefield.

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Driving, Musings

Brooklands

There weren’t many better places to enjoy clear, blue sky and things with engines than Brooklands last Saturday. It must have been a study for the English country idyll in 1906 when Hugh Locke King (the chap who owned most of Weybridge) decided to build the world’s first motor racing track on his fields and woods.

All the best ideas need a bottle or two.

Like most good ideas, it was hatched over several bottles, a good supper and some good pals. And, despite a conspicuous lack of key performance indicators, service level agreements and “official” suppliers of branded anything, it became the crucible that produced British motorsport and British aviation.

One I was sorely tempted to bring home.

A proper Rolls Royce. One I was sorely tempted to bring home.

The Brooklands banking in sunshine.

The Brooklands banking in sunshine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take Selwyn Francis Edge, a businessman, car importer and noted motoring enthusiast. Even before the track was open, he decided that he would set a record for driving at 60mph over 24 hours.  That was an impressive ambition in the days when cars broke more than they ran and injured their drivers about as often.

Mr Edge and the Napier.

Mr Edge planned to use his seven-and-a-quarter litre Napier with a heady 60bhp, on tyres barely wider than a motorcycle’s, and establish the record over the night of 28 – 29 June. He would start at 6 o’clock in the evening, so he’d still be alert when darkness fell.

The feat meant hustling a car that only its good friends would have described as ‘overpowered’ and ‘skittish’ around a banked concrete oval of 2.75 miles for 24 hours. With acetylene headlights needing – shall we say – a little help, it meant lighting the edge of the nighttime track with lanterns and flares. And it meant sitting on a seat that was really a green buttoned-leather club chair. With brakes that looked better than they stopped – and they weren’t pretty. Oh, and it rained all night. One leading doctor told Edge he’d either die of exhaustion or be driven mad through boredom.

To give a little context, just thirteen years earlier the first motor race had been run from Paris to Rouen. The winner’s average speed? 10.7mph. Although that would now get you a speeding ticket in parts of Islington, back in 1894 it was hailed as a huge achievement.

Mr Edge’s record?

Edge smashed the Paris-Rouen speed and covered 1,581 miles and 1,310 yards of Brooklands track at an average speed of 66mph, near as dammit. That’s an average 66mph. If you think that doesn’t sound very fast, check the average speed display on your modern car – bet it doesn’t say much more than 48mph.

To get a sense of what it must have been like, try steering a wheelchair down the Stelvio pass – blindfolded – while people drench you with fire hoses.

That’s the sort of place Brooklands is. It reeks of history. Still. They made Wellington bombers here (2,500 of them), Sopwiths and Hurricanes too. The Royal Flying Corps’ 1, 8, 9 and 10 Squadrons had their homes on the in-field. Hugh Dowding (he of “Dowding Spread” machine gun harmonisation fame) learned to fly at Brooklands. You can still smell the 100 octane and cordite.

Historics’ Auction

The banking in the sunshine. 148mph, anyone?

The banking in the sunshine. 148mph, anyone?

I’d gone to see some of the cars in Historics’ June auction. There were some real beauties. And a couple I rather fancied. An Amazon 121 combi (that’s the shooting brake version of mine), a little Alfa 1300 Junior, a proper Rover P4 and a T1 Bentley (really a Shadow that reeks just a little less of cheap cigars and sheepskin). Also, to demonstrate what a taste-setter I am, a Rolls Carmargue – they’re soon going to be seriously hot property, mark my words. And a couple of BMW 635CSis.

IMG_8342

No, that’s fine. Rest your catalogue on this E Type’s roof.

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They wouldn’t have let the likes of me in back then.

Some Mercedes are Grosser than others.

Some Mercedes are Grosser than others. Here’s a 600 on the finishing straight

The auction was fascinating. There were serious dealers with every other catalogue page clogged with Post-Its.  There were dilettantes like me, with more hope than expectation. And there were chaps in scruffy jeans with 18ct gold Submariners who, I suspect, owned some of the more exotic kit on offer.

The auctioneers had a perfect line in cynical, slightly combative patter. To a buyer offering a £100 increase “Ah, a squeak. I see we now have a mouse-bidder” and, to another reluctantly plodding bidder, “I asked you for £50,000 twenty minutes ago and now you’ve just bid £50,000. You could have saved me the time, couldn’t you?”  All splendidly good natured.

Auction prices.

The first lot of the day – bits of a Bentley 3 1/2 that the uninitiated would use to make a garden shed – was expertly auctioneered up to just over £1,100. A white Bentley Continental R with under 50k on the clock sold for under £25k. Even if it was lard-white, that’s still insanely cheap for a soft top Bentley. A Noble Ferrari 330 P4 replica with a £30k reserve hit just over the target – which may have been bargain of the day. And a Delorean DMC-12 with barely delivery mileage and the factory papers still in the window clocked up a busting £57,120.

As a Z3M headed north of £17,000 I decided I’d stick with the Amazon.  But my Carmargue didn’t sell, so there’s always August’s sale…

The Brooklands the council wanted rid of.

So I left the chaps with wads of fifties that could choke a racehorse and went to look at the other Brooklands – the banking and the airfield.  There’s not much of it left now after decades of development and incursion from the surrounding area. But the finishing straight is still there, with the WWII air-raid shelter off to the right.  And the Members’ Bridge and banking.  A very special place.

On a summer Saturday I was expecting it to be packed. Instead, I had it to myself.

I walked in the sun up past the old Bofors gun towers and a soon-to-be restored AC Aceca and, simply by strolling through a gap between a couple of barriers, I was there on the pitted, concrete track.  I soaked up more sunshine as I walked what’s left of its length. Without doubt, this is the most important and significant piece of motor racing heritage in the world.

This was where motorsport records started.

Men and women with more ability than sense hurled unstable, overpowered and underbraked machinery round with little regard to their own mortality. Courage like that seeps into the stone.

An AC waiting to be restored.

An AC waiting to be restored.

A couple of other solitary pilgrims were walking by now. One father was telling his increasingly wide-eyed son about Birkin and Barnato’s Bentley Blower No1. I walked on, thinking that it must have been a wonderful, if closed, world for those fortunate enough to be part of it.

What would they have thought?

I sat down on what would have passed for a crash barrier and thought about how important this few square metres of racetrack are to British motorsport and aviation. And then about the chain-shop retail park that now sits at its south western corner, thanks to the local council’s decision to trade motor racing history for cash in the 1980s. And the risk-assessed, compliance and procurement-controlled corporate offices within its ambit.

And I wondered what Edge, Barnato, Dame Ethel Locke King, 84mph Joan Richmond and 143.44mph John Cobb in his 24 Litre Napier-Railton would make of it.

Not very much, I suspect.  But then they’d probably have taken the same view of an ex-comprehensive school lad from a rather different sort of estate hanging around their track.

Progress ain’t always a bad thing.

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