Viewing each other through a yellow-tinted hotrod ...
In the 3 years or so that I have been The Pirate's Siren, I have learned a thing or two about cars. I have also learned a fair amount about boats, wood, welding, tea, Zen Buddhism, snowboarding, the-things-that-other-people-throw-into-skips, splinters, and oh, so many other things, but on the last weekend of July 2016, it was all about The Cars ...
It began, for me, somewhere in the summer of 2014, when I innocently encouraged The Pirate not to sell his 1941 Ford Pick-Up Truck, but to bring it down to Cornwall instead and maybe attempt to fulfil his dream of putting it back on the road. The story of how he eventually achieved that dream is one for him to tell, but for me that particular road has been steep, largely unpaved and full of unexpected potholes. Still, it has (mostly) been worth it just to witness his achievement, and also to have the pleasure of cruising along the coastal roads of Cornwall inspiring looks of surprise and joy from the people we rumble past.
In the summer of 2015, the pick-up was looking a little forlorn. Sans wheels, and languishing in the inhospitable salt-air of the boatyard, she appeared, at least to my eyes, to be deteriorating into a rusty little heap. Tim had successfully rebuilt the engine on an insanely tight budget, working mostly outside, sometimes even out of the boot of his Freelander, and had managed to get the 60-odd year V8 running again during the winter of 2014/15. It was a huge achievement, but there was still a long way to go.
It seemed unlikely then, if not impossible, that we would ever be driving the pick-up to the 12th Hotrod Hayride all the way over in Surrey, but when we were invited along by The Pirate's Mum and her other half, July 2016 seemed a reassuringly long time off, and so we said 'yes' and then promptly forgot about it for the next 11 and a half months.
Those 11 and a half months, as they do, went by alarmingly fast, but as it turned out, and for those of you who follow us will know, Tim surpassed all of my expectations and got the pick-up on the road earlier this spring. So much hard work has gone in to this incredible achievement, and despite all of my concerns over the project, I really did have to hand it to him for hanging in there. The truck, now replete with some whitewall tyres, a beautiful rust 'patina' and a very cool piece of sign-writing, is quite the head-turner, and for a while it looked like it might even make it to the Hayride.
Well, as we all know, the best-laid plans often don't make it to fruition, and one leaking water pump and a flat white-wall later, we found ourselves heading along the A303 towards Surrey in a little black Ford KA with a 'my other car's a Hotrod' sticker on the back window.
It was disappointing not to be taking the truck, but not the end of the world, and the good news was that I had a really nice red gingham dress to wear, courtesy of the dressmaking skills of The Pirate's Mum.
I was a bit nervous. The last time I did festival camping, I had a Very Unfortunate Incident with a toilet which left me scarred for life. This time, however, I was camping with proper grown-ups who had a caravan, an awning, and a pop-up tent for us to sleep in and I was hopeful that (unlike previous camping trips with The Pirate) I wouldn't wake up on an Ostrich farm, in a lake, or covered in straw. To keep me 'entertained', Tim talked about Hotrods for 4 and a half hours, but I really had no clue until somewhere between Junctions 8 and 4 on the M3 we overtook ZZTop in a convoy of very old, very rusty, very loud and very modified Fords, at which point I did slightly begin to wonder exactly what I had let myself in for ...
A couple of hours later, having met up with the 'grown-ups' in a lay-by just outside Bisley and having been safely signed in and fitted with a sparkly red wrist band, we found ourselves setting up camp amidst a variety of vintage, bunting-strewn, ice-cream coloured caravans, the soothing soundtrack of V8 engines and rifle fire playing out in the background whilst I took secret nips from my hip-flask of gin and took nervous, sidelong glances at the tattooed bikers and cool, flame-haired starlets arriving both in and on their hotrods and bikes of choice.
The Hotrod Hayride, now in its 12th year, takes place at Camp Bisley in Surrey. It's actually relocating next year and so this is its final outing at Bisley. I'm not sure what I was expecting exactly, but Camp Bisley is actually home to the National Shooting Centre, a fact which very quickly became apparent as we were setting up our camp. In all other respects, it resembles a holiday camp from the 1950s, a strange sort of Butlins from yesteryear, with caravans and tents, chalets and lodges and, as we later discovered when we strayed 'off the path', a somewhat post-apocalyptic area of empty static caravans where I was half expecting some zombie hotrodders to come shambling after us demanding to eat our brains ... In all respects then, apart from the constant crackle of gunfire from the shooting range right next to our chosen camp site ... I was beginning to feel a little nostalgic for the ostrich farm ...
Having established our base-camp a safe 3 feet away from the firing range, The Pirate and I removed my KA to the 's**t parking' area, grabbed a beer and took off for a stroll around the venue. Dodging the hotrods as they rumbled through the little holiday camp wasn't much of a problem as you can generally hear a V8 approaching from a distance of about 35 miles, but it was slow going as Tim had to stop every few feet to admire the cars, which were everywhere. I think it's fair to say that I don't know a great deal about cars, except of course what I've learned from Tim when I've actually been able to focus for long enough on his descriptions and explanations of these things, words which I generally understand as individual words but the meaning of which often get lost when put into a sentence. But I had to admit that there was some mightily impressive vehicles on display here.
Being somewhat fond of our very own truck, I've grown to love the rusty patina and dirty image of some of these cars, more so than those with the beautiful paint jobs (and there were plenty of those too). I like the nostalgia of old cars and the imagination and detail which goes into creating the hotrod look. Here are a few of my favourites ...
Over the course of the weekend, there would be many more wanderings around the show-ground. It became increasingly difficult to maintain visual contact with The Pirate and so I people-watched, drank delicious hot chocolate and ate donuts from Elvis. The people of The Hayride clearly took this stuff seriously. Not just the cars, but the whole retro, 50s nostalgia thing. The clothes themselves were fabulously authentic and I was reminded of old photographs of my granddad from that era. But for the modern curse of the smartphone and the background crackle of gunfire, it wasn't difficult to imagine that this really was the 1950s.
The illusion was only heightened after sundown when beautiful girls in gorgeous dresses came out to dance to the sounds of rockabilly bands in the main pavilion, whilst on the stage outside tattooed ladies with artfully placed tassels and muscled men doing dangerous things with knives performed burlesque. But for one terrifying incident involving an inebriated lady, her large, scowling husband, and the attempted stealing of The Pirate, it was all rather innocent, and we returned to the tent tired and tipsy to make tea and grab some much needed sleep before the dawn chorus of gunfire 3 feet from our heads woke us again in the morning.
Saturday was the day of 'The Detonators Dust Up Day Out', an event which I was looking forward to and was described in the handy Hayride Handbook as 'roundy, roundy hot rod racing'. For anyone with allergies, we were warned, the track 'could get dusty and may contain nuts'.
It took us 45 minutes to drive to the track in my KA where, once again, we were relegated to the 's**t parking', but it was worth the journey as the next few hours were easily my favourite of the weekend. I think I learned something about myself that afternoon, namely that I seem to enjoy dangerous driving as performed by other people, in particular the stock car racing which was indeed dusty, but also noisy and exciting and a lot of fun for everyone involved. There was a lot of friendly jostling, sort of banter for cars, I like to imagine, a lot of wobbling and spinning, and a backdrop of steam trains chuffing past in the wooded valley, but nobody was injured so we all returned to base camp happy and sunburned.
Feeling rather pleased with myself for surviving at least until the Saturday night, I finally got to wear my lovely red gingham dress, and despite being somewhat betrayed by my sea-tangled mermaid hair, I felt that maybe I could blend in here. I was a little put to shame by the expert dancing of The Pirate's Mum, however. Tim and I love to dance, but we favour a more 'freestyle' approach to our moves, so we took up residence down the front of the pavilion next to the stage and lost ourselves for a while under the spell of Smokestack Lightnin', an Alt Country band from Germany with a charismatic lead singer who did me the honour of playing a couple of Bob Dylan classics amongst others.
I slept better that night, despite nostrils filled with dust and nut traces, and woke in a muddle of hangover-in-a-hot-tent-agony, which is indescribable unless you've been there, in which case there is no need for a description because you will know the pain. The Pirate's Mum and Partner were up bafflingly early, something to to with a flea market, and by the time I prised my eyes open, Tim had also disappeared, presumably to help them set up with their stall of dresses and bits of cars.
By the time I had gathered the wherewithal to make myself some tea, The Pirate returned and we spent another morning wandering. (Well, he did. I sat around and drank hot chocolate.) Things were winding down at The Hayride, but there was one more event which I had heard lots about: 'The Soapbox Derby'. A little earlier, whilst Tim was somewhere deep in conversation with a hotrod owner, throwing around words I only vaguely understood as English, I had wandered away and stumbled across the 'soapboxes' lining up in anticipation of their moment of glory. They had each been quite lovingly created, or so it appeared (one appeared to be a hollowed-out cello) and creatively decorated, but it was difficult to imagine any of them going at speed. Maybe a brisk walking pace. So, I was curious.
The way was lined with straw bales and we placed ourselves next to the finish line for a good view. Two at a time, the soapboxes raced each other, down the slope and along the road, sometimes at a brisk walking pace, sometimes not. A couple actually crashed into the bales. A couple ran out of puff and stopped. One was driven by a gorilla. It was very funny. The participants clearly had a lot of fun. And so did I.
So, I had survived the weekend and it was time to go home.
We made a flask, packed up, said our goodbyes to the grown-ups, had one last visit to the relatively civilised festival toilets (fancy soap and hand moisturiser, I'm impressed!) and headed off down the M3 into the sunset towards Cornwall.
It's always good to return to the sea, even after just a couple of days away, but it was a most entertaining weekend and The Pirate certainly enjoyed it, coming away inspired and enthused for whatever the next car project might be somewhere down the line. In the meantime, there was a flat white wall waiting for his attention, which he duly repaired, despite the usual challenges and a Cornish mizzle so thick I suspect he could barely see in it to work. It certainly messed his hair up!
We were sorry we couldn't take the truck to this year's Hayride, but hopefully there will be other years. Until then, with the tyre now fully inflated, we will definitely be taking her to The Mount Edgecombe Car Show this coming Sunday (7th August). Here's hoping for fine weather, good hot chocolate, the rumble of a few V8s and a sprinkle of (fairy) dust.
See you there.
Old Rope Salvage