OCCASIONAL BLOGS

 

Boyhood Heroes
7th April 1968

That date is a sad one to remember for any motor racing fan of a certain age. I was still in my teens, and had travelled down to Brands Hatch in Kent to see my hero, Jim Clark, drive a brand new prototype racing car, the Ford F3L, in the long distance BOAC 500 race. Sadly Clark never made it there. A last minute decision by Colin Chapman, Lotus supremo, moved Clark to Hockenheim in Germany to race the single seater Lotus 48 in a Formula 2 race instead.

In that race Jim Clark left the track on a fast wooded part of the circuit at 160mph, there were no witnesses apart from a lone track marshal. Clark plunged straight into the trees, where the car was ripped apart and he died instantly.

Of course, I didn’t know any of this during the race at Brands Hatch. I watched the beautiful yet unreliable F3L lead for a short time before it retired.  I compensated myself for Clarks absence by enjoying my favourite race cars, both then and now, the Chevrons, last the 500 miles, when more powerful cars from Porsche, Alfa Romeo, couldn’t make the distance. The race was won by another Ford, the GT40, driven by Jackie Ickx and Brian Redman.

I can though, remember the sadness and quiet as we all left Brands Hatch that day.  Some hadn’t picked up the news that crept though the circuit but those that had seemed to influence others. I didn’t know the news until I hitched a lift to the railway station and the driver told me there had been an accident.  Then of course other fans were talking about it on the train home.

The following day the newspaper headlines confirmed the worst.

I suspect we have all had childhood heroes.  Jim Clark posters were on my walls at home, I had model kits of his cars which I’d built and my Scalextric track cars revolved around Clark’s green lotus’s.  And then he was gone.  Of course he hasn’t been forgotten.  It is 50 years since his untimely death and his memory and achievements live on.  Rightly so, in my mind he was the very best.

Alongside winning half the races he entered, a massive achievement even in those days… Clark also entered the Indianapolis 500 which he won, but what is often overlooked is his achievements in the 1966 RAC Rally.

Not many out and out circuit racing drivers would dare to enter a World Championship Rally even in those days when drivers took in all the challenges thrown at them.  I watched the rally that year, as I had previous years, rushing from stage to stage on my Honda 50 motorbike in the winter cold and shivering in the various stages.  The North Wales forests were familiar to me having seen several rallies and this year I was rooting for Clark driving his, what else, Lotus Cortina.

Clark and Brian Melia (co-driver) were mostly within the top 10 stage times throughout the event: They took three stage wins, second-fastest on seven more. Third-fastest on four stages, and fourth-fastest on five stages.  As a die-hard Clark fan this was heaven… and no more than we expected.

Of course he didn’t finish, which is probably why this performance is often overlooked. Clark had an off once the rally had passed over the border into Scotland and damaged the side of the car. Later he rolled and was out, but not before he had impressed other more experienced rally drivers and his all fans.

I did take some photographs at the rally and one, a number 8 Lotus Cortina driven by Jim Clark featuring him hurling it around a hairpin in the forests of cold North Wales, remained with me for years. Sadly, after several house moves, it has long since disappeared.

Everyone should have their heroes.
(6th April 2018)

 

A Boy in Short Trousers

I lived in Liverpool as a child and have recently been looking for images of Birchfield Road School opposite where I lived until the age of ten.  Each evening and during school holidays, we treated Birchfield School as another playground.

My own primary school was a couple of miles away, and I remember walking to it on my own almost from day one.  Can you imagine that today?  Walking along Edge Lane (a main road) and our parents not at all worried about our safety.

Being a little fella and skinny, I used to slip through the railings of Birchfield School on summer evenings and at weekends, to play football and climb the trees (birch I assume) which surrounded the perimeter. The summer pastime was mostly playing football but when the season was right we also used to collect caterpillars.

This is me onmy first bike with Birchfield Road School in the background. You can see those railings and the Birch tress.Goodness knows how we climbed trees whilst grasping hold of jam jars covered with pieces of cloth provided by our Mums and tied on with string.  We put small holes in the cloth for our captives to breathe and made handles with the string.   We usually collected several sizes and colours of caterpillars and put them in our jam jars together with fresh leaves until they started to pupate and become butterflies. Then we let them go. I don’t think it’s something youngsters do much today. There’s probably a phone app for that these days.

Of course the school isn't there anymore, which is a real shame as it was a beautiful red brick building and seemed enormous to us little ones.  They knocked it down in 2002 apparently.  It even had a swimming pool (How things have changed) where one Summers evening I tried to climb a second set of railings.  This extra set of railings was much scarier than the perimeter railings as they enclosed steps which led down to the swimming pool entrance. I can picture them clearly. The playground side was easily climbable but on the other side the steps fell away steeply to an entrance to the pool which was below the playground level.  I guess I would have been about six or seven.

On the top of the railings whilst trying to climb over, balance on the top, and climb down the other side, and at the same time trying to avoid the spikes, I managed to fall backwards.  Somehow I caught myself - in my short trousers - upside down with two of the spikes on the railings passing through each leg of my short pants.  I can vividly remember watching the world, facing my friends, upside down, hanging on my short pants, as they continued to play for what seemed like ages, until they saw me, came running over to ask “how did you get like that Paul”.  I must have looked a strange sight. Of course they were too small to get me out of this predicament, but eventually one of them went to fetch an 'adult', who lifted me off the spikes.

An artists impression of the demise of my short pants (!) by George Burns

I remember being grounded for a few days!

 

LETTER TO TIFFANY

Years ago I wrote a letter to Tiffany Murray, the writer. I knew her Mum and Dad. I don't know if she received it but I'm reproducing a slightly amended version here.

I’ve been intending to write to you since reading ‘Diamond Star Halo’ last year, and realising our paths had crossed during the times the book portrays.  I really enjoyed your novel, it felt real and touched me as music had done then and still does now. 

I knew your mum (Joan) and Fritz when I and my then girlfriend worked at the restaurant in Monmouth. Shirley and I lived in Trellech, in Providence Cottage, a rented cottage, which was previously used as a base for house bands at Rockfield. 

Shirley started in the restaurant as a washer-up and was ‘promoted’ to help in the kitchen with your Mum.  I took her place next to the sink and was happy to wash-up several evenings each week, not for the wages you understand, but for the profiteroles which I used to steal (! - sorry Joan), the banter, and the wonderful atmosphere which seeped out of that little place on the corner of Church Street/Walk in Monmouth. 

I can remember several evenings when Rockfield guests came into the restaurant and provided excitement and a spread of nervous energy buzzing through all of the part-time staff - let alone Joan and Fritz preparing the food...  Other fun evenings, though, were when - now forgive me – Joan was a little stressed and the sound of pots and pans being thrown about the kitchen (was it downstairs?) became the soundtrack for the evening.   Both Shirley and I loved working in the restaurant, it proved a little extra income when times were hard for us both, and more importantly lots and lots of fun. 

The whole team did an outside catering ‘gig’, at the local military base in town, and the three female waitresses for the evening, Shirley (who with an Irish mother could produce a convincing Irish accent), Mary (herself Irish), and another, might have been Veronica, were being hit upon by the (then) drunken officers, all wearing their posh uniforms. All three women pretended to be outraged as they claimed to be Catholic nuns away from the convent for the evening and working for extra pocket money!  Of course the military, by then completely pissed, believed them and fell over themselves apologising! 

Shirley and I told this story for years afterwards!

There was also a good night at a party at your cottage in Glewstone, and being impressed with your sunken bath - god, how sheltered we were in those days.  Of course, all this was when you were still at school, so apologies for reminiscing about times which you may not remember, although ‘Diamond Star Halo’ shows you did remember lots.

This letter is prompted by the news that Fritz has passed away.  I can’t tell you how sorry I was to hear that.  He was such a lovely bloke, calm and a friend to all.  Nights when food was ‘slow’, he’d come onto the restaurant floor and pick up his guitar to play for the diners, offering ample wine to ease the delay...   which he did for us both when Joan and Fritz gave us an engagement present of a meal at the restaurant. It’s nice to know that his name is remembered and not only in Ross-on-Wye, and since the advent of the web, his career in music is highlighted and credited.  I have nothing but pleasant memories of my time in and around Monmouth and evenings spent in the company of your Mum and Fritz.   Please pass on my recollections and very best wishes to Joan.  I hope she is enjoying good health and sunshine.

 

Best Wishes

pc

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LINKS to more about Tiffany, her Mum and Fritz

Granta article: Mum & Fritz

Tiffany Murray's first novel

Tiffany Murray article on Queen's (the band) visit to her home

Telegraph Obit: Fritz Fryer

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TALES FROM UNDER THE BONNET

In a previous life, I worked as a mechanic at a Renault garage in Gloucestershire.  Now, I’m not the tallest of chaps, so when working on Renault 16's I used to take out the spare wheel (gearbox in the front of engine and spare sitting on top of the g/box) and sit on top of the radiator and gearbox inside the bonnet to work on the car.  Anyway, one day I put my spanners by the side of the battery as I always did whilst working on 16's and must have left one behind.  In those days my dad ran a Ironmongers shop and I bought all my tools from him, including a stamp which I used to mark my tools.  All my spanners were stamped with my name or initials.

Moving on::: I left this garage to move back north.  Years later, must be 3 or 4 years later.  I'm working at another Renault garage on the Wirral, and this Renault 16 turns up with engine problems.  The owner was driving from Gloucester north to the Lake District with his family, had an engine misfire, came off the motorway and drove to our garage.  I get given the job.  I open the bonnet, take out the spare wheel, climb inside to sit on the gearbox and automatically reach across to the battery, and there, low and behold is a spanner.  I pick it up - and it's my spanner from all those years ago with my initials stamped into it.

Firstly the owner wasn't initially planning on driving past the garage I was working at, but the misfire dictated it.  Anyone of half a dozen mechanics could have been earmarked for the job, but, no it came to me..   How weird is that.

I've still got the spanner - the trouble is, it's a not a particularly good spanner!