A friend of mine spotted this Alfa while on holiday on the East Coast of Scotland, he saw it in someone’s drive covered in tarpaulin so wasn’t sure what it was but knocked on the door anyway and asked if he could have a look. When he saw it was an Alfa he knew I had mentioned in passing it was a car I might add to the fleet, so he asked if it was for sale, it was and I bought it. I always thought an Alfa would work with the cars that I ready have, it is a car I like and it is a bit of an icon. I hitched up the trailer and headed north. When I first saw the car it didn’t look too bad, as with all classics first impressions are never quite what they seem. After a good clean and inspection – I knew it would need a total restoration from the bottom up. So I put it at the back of the garage as the 2014 season was upon us and I had no time to get started on it. At the end of the season I luckily managed to get some space over at a friend’s farm where we will be able to complete the restoration of the body work. After stripping the car of all mechanical parts, engine, front and back suspension, gearbox and the interior we hitched up the trailer again and headed off with the Alfa, a kettle, teabags, plenty of biscuits and a gas heater.
Everyone seems so incredibly busy, we all seem to be trying to fit things in rather than taking the time to enjoy them. The way some people speak about their life reminds me of watching a young child trying desperately to squash a square shaped object through a triangular hole. When someone overtakes me on the road (with no blue light flashing) doing 100 miles an hour, I wonder what on earth is causing them to drive fast enough to kill themselves or someone else. I bet it is something totally trivial, just trying to cram everything in.
I think living in the countryside helps you take your time, although I feel busy most of the day when I head out on my daily walk through the woods I have time to notice things. I look at flowers that have come into just come in to bloom, I spot the buzzard sitting on a tree stump looking for something to eat, I hear the birds chattering above me and I often look up in the clouds just for a few minutes and escape the metallic noise of the modern world.
Life it seems has to be instant or it is not very good. I find people’s expectations get higher and higher while their empathy towards others gets less and less. If something small goes wrong disrupting plans it is like a huge deal and people do not seem to be able to cope with any sort of disappointment. I think we have all probably got a rather inflated idea of our own importance. When you hear and see the recent tragic news, it really makes me want to take time to spend on things that really matter.
One thing is for sure time marches on towards the end for each of us, it is precious and we don’t get it back.
The reason behind people deciding to hire one of our classic cars to tour round Scotland seems to be because they just want to drive something a bit quirky, a bit unique. What we have found over the last 11 years is that they set off in a classic car expecting a new driving experience but the same holiday experience you would get when driving a Euro box. When they return after the tour the first thing everyone says to us is what a different holiday experience they’ve had. As soon as you spark the car into life and head out on the open road you can forget about using your mobile phone or your blue tooth you can’t hear anything anyway, same goes for the radio, instead you talk to each other, you have time to think, to ponder to look. For the first time in ages the modern world with all its clingy needs and wants is left behind you. No GPS to take you on all the boring roads, you use a map and ask human beings for directions if you get lost. Smells are another thing, with the hood down you capture the essence of where you are driving, wild garlic in the hedge rows, the warm smell of heather, bluebell woods have a beautiful perfume, the sea even if you can’t see it, the sharp smell of pine and the most surprising smell in Scotland is coconut from all the yellow gauze. When you pull up, people help you find a car space, they come and chat to you about the car, you get helped in ways of times gone by and other road and pavement users actually smile and wave at you – refreshing in so many ways.
When we started this business 12 years ago (often feels like 112), we were in our early 40’s and all our clients seemed to be in their 50’s, 60’s, or 70’s, we assumed it was the nostalgia thing, memories of a rich Uncle who used to turn up on summer days in his E-Type Jaguar or the old lady next door who teetered about in a Morris Minor and always wore a hat. My memories are mainly of my mother kangarooing from one village to another in various motors but that’s another story.
Over the last couple of years we have noticed a big shift in age group of our cliental, we still get middle aged people (which is what we are now – scary) and we also get lots of customers in the 25 to 35 year old age bracket, people that have never driven a car without power steering and as for using a choke, what’s a choke? At first we thought it would bring problems but we have found young people to be really respectful of the cars, they are here for a bit of fun, an enjoyable experience, they don’t need an E-Type Jaguar to have a good time, they are equally happy to head off in the MGB or Morgan, although the Healey a pretty difficult car to drive has been popular. It is great that the younger generation see a value in these old classics, gives me hope for the future, in this throwaway society.
Also we have noticed that the youngsters are not constantly on their mobile phones or IPADs they actually seem to be happy to chat and chill out while our older generation of guests seem to be more glued to technology than ever before. We have had a real cross section of the under 35’s a lot with worthwhile careers, careers that will make a real difference. We enjoy their company and it’s great to see them come back after a road trip with stories about their adventures around Scotland and people they have met.
There is a lot of moaning about the youth of today, I think they have it hard. I was happy to have my youth when I did, not judged on face book and twittered to death, we could be different without being bullied for it. As for buying a house it was something we drifted into eventually, now it is a huge mountain to climb, rather them than me.
So we have no complaints with our young customers, they are a breath of fresh air
I was interested to hear that they had found King Richards’s remains under a car park in Leicester as his death had a direct impact on my own life. I had looked in to my family history long before it became popular and through Mr Alan Worsfold who had done all the amazing groundwork, I could trace my ancestry right back to one person, a German mercenary who fought at the battle of Bosworth in 1485 on the side of Henry VII . I thought mercenary sounded quite wild and interesting at the time until I later found out he was probably a prisoner in France and his passport to freedom was to get involved in someone else’s war. If Richard hadn’t been killed and hurriedly buried under a car park, my ancestor would have met a very unpleasant end and that as they say would have been that.
I watched people line the streets as Richard went to his final burial place a much more salubrious affair than he had previoulsy experienced. I thought of my ancestor thanking his lucky stars all those years ago, he had by pure chance picked the winning side. He ended up in a village in Surrey called Abinger Hammer. I was born hundreds of years later just up the road, the circle of life. So I really can say, Richard III……. it was either him or me.
When I was young, I loved getting on a plane, it was my transport of choice, then on a trip back to Menorca where I was living at the time, everything changed. I was on a Dan Air flight and as we boarded the plane a group of guys sat down opposite me and laughingly said ”hope this one doesn’t have to land on the motorway like the last one did’. Being 24 at the time I laughed with them. We were 15 minutes into the flight when there was a very large bang; lots of silver bits flew past the window, smoke and an acrid smell filled the plane. At the time my immediate thought was shit this isn’t great, then one of the Air Hostesses screamed and let her trolley go, I just remember ice tipping everywhere as she was carted off behind a curtain. Whatever confidence I had left had now evaporated. The pilot came on the tannoy to explain that unfortunately we had lost one engine but it was okay we were turning round heading back to the airport, everyone was to remain calm. I looked over at the laughing boys; they were no longer laughing they had their eyes shut and were as white as a sheets.
I think that was the eeriest thing about the whole episode, in disaster movies you hear screaming, you see people getting hysterical there was nothing like that on our flight, nobody spoke, nobody moved, nobody dared hardly breathe. We were all terrified. Time seemed to stand still. We had an emergency landing and when we finally stopped in a very British manner we all clapped. The Captain came out of the cockpit and shook our hands as we left the plane. We were taken to a private room and about 3 hours later about 15 of us caught another flight to Menorca, the rest of the people on the flight went home. I later learnt that our plane did have the same problem as the plane that landed on the motorway, the engines were wired up wrongly so when then Captain turned the engine off that was on fire in fact he turned the good engine off – this actually freaked me out and my next 10 years of flying was accompanied by various types of sleeping pills.
When I heard about the air disaster last week, I just remembered that awful silence, time standing still, I think we were all convinced that we were about to die and it was not going to be quick. I hope those people didn’t know anything until the very last seconds, I hope they were oblivious because I remember the terror. I keep thinking about the Captain who would have known exactly what was going to happen as soon as he he couldn’t get back into the cockpit, he would have felt the plane in descent he knew the terrain. It was a cruel and heartless act for a human being to destroy the lives on 150 people, not only them their friends and family too.
I cannot get the Captain out of my head, his desperation to save the plane the passengers and himself, it is a haunting thought.
It seems to be ages away and then all of a sudden we are open for business. The 2015 season starts this week. All the cars have been serviced and ready to go. The Alfa Spider is still in the garage being restored; I think it will be 2016 before it is on the fleet. Our bed and Breakfast Kennels Cottage has had a spring clean and looking bright and ready to go. Hopefully the hens will start laying lots of eggs although they are getting older so can’t expect too much. The daffodils are just about to come out and they always give a huge splash of colour to the garden. We are going to need a bonfire to get rid of all the fallen sticks. Planting out the pots at the front of the cottage is the next job, I did one yesterday and forgot about the hens and once my back was turned they dug up all my hard work, so netting is needed before I do it again. So onwards and upwards and bring on some Spring Sunshine.
I really enjoy April in Scotland we often get dry and quite sunny weather. We have held our group classic car tours in the middle of April in the past and we have great photographic evidence of sunshine and hoods down. I think people always think the summer will be better and April gets forgotten. The spring flowers arrive later up here as well so it’s a colourful month in the garden the end of the daffodils and the beginning of the bluebells. Our garden at Kennels Cottage is a real treat in April, bluebells everywhere and quite varied in colour, white, pink and blue. The garden is a hive of activity with all the birds and red squirrels at the feeders, it is a real joy. I am thinking of running a retreat for writers this year at some point and maybe next April as well as it is a peaceful time to visit.
I always think we have a long time when we close in October to the beginning of the next season but before you know it we are into spring. This year we open on the 26th of March, the E-Type Jag is being stripped and ready for a re-spray, we have purchased a restoration project in the shape of a 1970’s Alfa it is in bits in the garage, the rest of the cars are taking their turn for a general check over and service nothing major. Normally one car a year gets painted and totally overhauled this season is the E-Type Jag next season it will be the Healey 3000.
The bed and breakfast will get a spring clean and paint and the garden will get a tidy up. We have about 100 moles (seems like) in the garden creating a mess not sure what we are going to do about them. I do plan to plant a large wild garden at the front of the house after my success with wild flowers last year.
Lots of trees came down in the strong winds a month ago so we are still getting rid of branches; the woods behind us have taken a bashing I was worried about the red squirrels but we have 2 at the moment playing about in the garden and enjoying piles of monkey nuts every day, so all is well.
I really think the commonwealth games were a hit, lucky with the first week of weather too. I listened to quite a bit on the radio and watched the highlights on TV in the evening. I think the back stories of some of the competitors are truly inspirational, I have never been sporty myself but I deeply admire the dedication of sports people and all the people that back them up. It did seem a very friendly games and the support for the home teams was amazing England seemed to get nearly as big a roar as Scotland.
While the games were going on we had one of our busiest weeks of the year in fact August is turning out to be our busiest month of the year, the cars are in and out all the time by about 11am we both feel like we’ve done a day’s work already. It really varies from year to year which is the busiest time, last year it was May. This year we have had a lot more European visitors mainly from Sweden, Norway, Germany and Switzerland who seem to favour July and August.
So head down and keep on going, the next Scottish event which is just up the road from us is the Ryder Cup.