A Grand Day Out

Morning alarms are not my friends. I have spent a great deal of my life being nocturnal and I do love that – a ringing endorsement of morning light while at war with the fleeing night sky is not something that sides easily with me.

It’s Friday July 9th and the first day of the 2010 British Grand Prix and all notions of organisational theory have been dismissed in favour of firing my “what to do” list out the window – who needs that anyway? There’s a living, breathing, pumping brain in my head box and it deserves more attention than it normally receives – this was, of course, a painfully bad move; almost akin to the time I dared myself to cycle without a saddle for a laugh. It wasn’t funny and medical costs in Ireland can be rather high.
Once dollops of cheap suntan lotion was poured over my paper-white skin, the capped bottle was thrown into my bag ready for later use. See that!? I can do preparation… A breakfast consisting of tea… then another cup… and in fact several more thereafter made me feel lopsided like a bowling pin – one tip and I was going over. A walk was needed; thankfully the ten minutes trip to the station was enough to get the airflow going to my head again.

Tube station. Tube station.
Like many people I love hearing the sound of Whitney Houston being blasted non-stop for 25 minutes; especially if it’s the same song on repeat… as much as I’m sure “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” was a perfectly acceptable song in its day, its day is not today and most certainly not at 6.35am. The gentleman (for it was indeed a balding gentlemen of a rather nervous disposition) seemed almost impervious to the collective glaring from fellow passengers, no doubt basking in the glory of an imagined disco inferno. Yeah, brilliant. Love that. Cheers. Run for your life.
Train station. Train station. Train. What a breeze – except possibly for the screeching young teenage girls across from me as we travelled up to Milton Keynes. It’s an odd spot that might as well be Skegness; it reminds me of those “two days in sunny Milton Keynes” holiday prizes handed out on radio stations some years ago, until the Ibiza revolution arrived and the British booze holiday fodder went to “sunnier” places. However, I will say that Milton Keynes train station has some very, very nice toilets, although they may need a paint job – the blue on the walls was beginning to run pale.  Anyway, a quick hop to Northamptonshire reveals a town I’ve seen before – or it looks like a lot of towns; I lose track quite often, which explains why I lose myself regularly.

The bus journey would have made for interesting tales had it not been for the guy behind determined to inform us all that in the “good ol’ days, thing’s were better”. Maybe you should ask Martin Donnelly, Ayrton Senna or Elio de Angelis and see what they say; perhaps an explanation from Gerhard as to where he got his burn marks per chance..? Anyway, I digress – thoughts collect feverishly and ears sweep forward to the sound of a guy loving his own voice, taking the time to regale all with stories of every single race he has ever been to. Oh the faint look of the poor lady beside him, desperately wanting to run for her life. When the maverick begins to talk of Thierry Boutsen, you can see her eyes glaze over in ignorance… or maybe she was drunk? Possibly both. Probably both.
To be honest, the stage where I could make an honest judgement had passed several miles back, especially seeing as how I had been headbutting the balance pole for quite some time – not only quell the storyteller’s drone, but also to try and numb and block out the sound of the belching child beside me. What billowing depth; indeed such a course noise, partnered by the slow motion replay of broken crisps launching themselves out of his mouth in sympathy – it was ballet-like, as the projectiles painted the pole and forefingers of the sleeping tourists ahead.

Just as the end was in sight, calamity decided to pick himself back up and beat me with a stick. The local bus driver – presumably knowing the roads – engaged in taking several wrong turns and rather than ending up in Silverstone Village ready for a brisk walk, the chap delivered us directly to West Gate 15 just outside Stowe. “Brilliant” says I, while wiping the lobotomy-related dribble from my double-chin. “Go back” says a jumped up Silverstone steward, demanding that the driver turn back to Silverstone Village and make us walk back to the point at which we’re already standing. “Oh bugger” went the collective mutter.
Realising immediately that we were surrounded by a few thousand other cars, it was fairly obvious that if we tried back for the village, we would miss First Practice – there was simply too much traffic to get out and back in with time to spare. Suddenly it began to get hot as the morning sun tore through the windows of the bus and the thoughts of crawling along the sardine can-packed road did not make for a pleasant affair.
After ten minutes of snail pace tourism and vociferous noises from a very determined fan, a sensible steward was found who let us out onto hallowed ground. Suddenly I was like Steve McQueen in the Great Escape – not because I can act, but because I was free… I’m also a twentieth century icon – really. I’m just not as sexy.

By now the sun was ripping through me like my old Irish teacher on a Monday morning, as her hangover shifted from one side of her head to the other. Granted, this only happened occasionally, as every other Monday her time would be spent spewing out the previous evenings contents, while next to her the maths teacher applied several layers of lip gloss before the 6th year boys sauntered into room 11; the windswept and cool near the back dominating attention, the boring farts up front simply a distraction. I’m a fart by the way. Flirtations with lust and the law, while only teetering on the tip of mind and tongue revealed to all on a daily basis – still, my hair has gotten better since, as I prepare to steal vague representations of “cool”.
Damn – distractions – apologies.

A traipse, a wander, a desire to familiarise. Through the gates, a coffee, a croissant and a man covered in flies telling me where to go. Welcome to Silverstone. My ticket – General Admission with Roving Grandstand; loosely translated means “any grass patch and a stand that doesn’t have a roof.” A spot near the end of the pit straight, slightly up from Woodcote; the crowd stood and gave Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton a standing ovation each – pottering just behind, Timo Glock received tumbleweed.

10.30am – time for more tear inducing suntan lotion. No, wait. Backtrack…

Once dollops of cheap suntan lotion was poured over my paper-white skin, the capped bottle was thrown into my bag ready for later use left on my kitchen table, whereupon I forgot to take it with me.

Oh bugger. As one might imagine, my body is now known from afar as ‘Red City’, where the sunspot touched citizens live on my lower face, arms and neck – all of which now resembling a desperate lobster, scuttling away from determined chef, eager to trap a raw body in a stainless steal pot bubbling to the boil. Grabbing what little shade was possible I watched stuff fly by, but without Kangaroo TV, it was impossible to follow what was going down; although judging from the large number of thumbs-down being waved, there was not much love for Sakon Yamamoto. Practice done, no idea who came where, knock back a gallon of water and don’t ask anyone for a spot of lotion if you dare – I’m a chap after all and admitting I screwed up in the lotion stakes. Will. Never. Happen.
Some sneaky Grandstand seat hogging during GP2 and Formula BMW practices was enough to cure my mood a little and at least guarantee a sweet spot for the second free practice. No one’s going to keep me out of shelter when I’m already here… nice. Several bottles of water and a delectable 99 later and I’m sorted for the afternoon. But it was still hot. So hot in fact that I sweated out most of my body weight. At the beginning of Friday, I was shaped like a potato, but I finished it looking like a Peperami – thin and red. Yeah, sexy.

Needing to split after second practice, the circuit was ditched for Northampton, clear in the knowledge that my clothes were sticking to me like Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassination charges. A walk through Silverstone Village took me to the pick up point, whereby I ended up being smelly and sweaty on a bus, with a bunch of horizontally challenged men. We sweated together – it wasn’t attractive by any means, but it was a peculiar sort of community bonding. I didn’t hug any of them.
In the searing heat, we pulled away collectively groaning and pining for cooler climates. Come 5pm and I was ready to bask in the joys of Northampton. Thankfully some shops were still open – being in a somewhat disgusting state I found myself a new (cheap) shirt and deodorant (both very, very necessary) and set off for Towcester for “An Audience with Joe Saward“. With it being about 9 miles down the road, a taxi could easily be doable – found the taxi rank, no taxi’s… anywhere – brilliant!!

To my delight, I found what I thought to be a better solution – the local bus service; “how could this possibly go wrong?” says me in my heavily cushioned head. Excellent ride and probably pennies compared to the cost of a taxi. Upon getting on the red single-deck contraption, I informed the driver where I was looking to go (Plum Park Hotel) and the kindly chap said fine – he’d drop me off as close as he could go. Sweet!! Approximately half-past-five in the evening and as the sun still reigned ahead, the heat collected in the metal tube, while trundling through various passageways and roads. Pulling down to the far end of Towcester, the driver clued me into directions to the hotel; with a swift hash of details, the hotel was:

“…just down the road and over the hill passed the racecourse…”

In this instance, the driver failed to inform me that “just down the road” meant three miles and “over the hill” actually meant several. As the sun bore down on the back of my head, I could feel my neck superheat and redden as some real damage was done to some already harmed skin.
Upon arrival, the hotel owner took one look at my shattered frame and poured me several glasses of very necessary water. It was a good thing I was not drinking as early evening destruction would come my way; but the air cooled, clothes were changed and freshness prevailed. An evening picking the brain of a Formula 1 journalist was indeed great fun (and something that is highly recommended) and meeting up with the lovely Mr and Mrs C from Sidepodcast as well as Naoise Holohan from ManipeF1 was a bonus.

Me at 5am Saturday morning, as I finally crash...

As the night drew in and thoughts of getting back to Milton Keynes for the last train settled, things were looking a little grim until one of the other guests at meet-up drove me to the station – how sweet is that? As with various night trains, the sounds of drunks and manic teens excited to be out late filled the carriage and I was far too tired to sleep as the countrysides, villages and darkened towns drifted endlessly by; fading into busier scenery as London approached.
Oh to be caressed by the number 205 as the pubs and night clubs throw out their drinking machines; some of which vanish into thin air, while others disappear into unconsciousness on the pavement and a chosen few fight in the corner, all the time stepping over fresh vomit from the mouthpiece below.
The music of Friday night substance abuse played loud and with this being London, a drunken girl delighted in pouring herself onto the carriage and in the heat of the moment, fell on me breast first – she squeaked an intoxicated squeal, I yelped an muffled yelp; even-stevens I thought, as her heavily diluted and cock-eyed friend pulled her off of me.

As the red wagon pulled up and shifted away, even I disappear into a night vaguely beginning to brighten into weakened sunlight. Right now more than ever, what I need more than anything now is a box of salt and vinegar Pringles and several cups of tea.
But first sleep, most definitely sleep.

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