The paddock seems to be brimming with aero-engined Edwardian monsters, there’s a healthy crowd watching although this is just Saturday afternoon and practice day. Tomorrow is when it all gets serious. Sunday will be the day. The sun’s been out and it’s very warm but the odd shower has reminded us of the forecast prolonged rain. But hey! When were forecasts ever accurate at Prescott hillclimb? It’s got it’s own, notoriously fickle little weather system.
My neighbouring stall holder, Elinor, pops her head round the corner, points at the sky and tells me there’s a very dark cloud heading our way. I think I’m well prepared already as I’ve got one of the two front flaps down on the stall (the prevailing wind blows directly into the front) and a tarp half-covering the remaining opening. That should be enough. It has been so far. The lady buying a book on the Mille Miglia road race is telling me her father actually died while competing in this legendary event and the book in her hand features a photo of him and his team happily socialising the previous evening. Outside it goes suddenly very dark.
Then the rain starts. It doesn’t so much fall and hit us. Like a wave. Bang! The marquee rocks. I run forward to roll down the other flap and in the five or six seconds it takes to unclip it, the water running off the roof has run down my arms and totally soaked my shirt, as if I had just jumped into a power-shower. For a second or two the wind is so strong and the rain so heavy it takes my breath away . The sky lights up and an almost instantaneous explosion of thunder signals the storm is right on top of us.
Several other customers are in the marquee and all stand around open mouthed looking at each other as the storm batters the front, then the left side and seconds later the back of the marquee. A 12 inch metal stake holding one of the straps that peg down the corners of the marquee pulls out of the ground and the steel frame bends over by a good ten or fifteen degrees. The marquee is about to take off…
I’m holding onto one of the roof poles , the rain blowing up under the flaps and further soaking me. The noise is astonishing. The rain is beyond heavy and suddenly the rapping on the roof is joined by a metallic pinging. Hail. Huge chunks of it. Some big enough to put the rocks in your average scotch. The pinging noise comes from it hitting the steel frame through the roof fabric. When I look out through the plastic windows all I can see is water . Prescott’s attractive Orchard car park , when all the trade stands are located, has vanished from sight. And still it goes on, roaring, clattering, wrenching at the forty or so tent pegs and three remaining straps that hold everything to the ground . But they don’t give way. The time spent securing the marquee to the ground at every event has paid off. In 29 years of trading at these sort of events, under-canvas, this is the single most violent storm I have encountered, but the belt-and-braces approach has proved itself.
Ten minutes later and the violence of the wind has abated, although the torrent still falls and the hail stones are now the size of back teeth. Amazingly none of these icy bullets punches a hole in the fabric. The water stays outside the marquee and the books stay dry (except for one box on a low shelf) . Some of the photos are swimming in water that’s dripped into their display box and one of the framed pictures has been knocked over by the manic gyrations of the marquee ; it’s wrecked but as the rain starts to abate, that’s about the sum total for storm damage. That was a ‘damn close run thing’ as Wellington once said. An hour later there are still piles of hail stones around despite the blazing sunshine.
The lady with the Mille Miglia book decides to brave it as her friends were waiting for her under a specific tree and she’s worried for their safety. A few minutes later it’s tranquil again. The sun is back out and the wind and rain have ripped a swath across the camping field. Later we hear stories of a flying gazebo with a camping gas bottle still attached to it’s leg, which has crashed through the screen of a Porsche and someone reports six trees uprooted. Luckily none of them landed on anyone.
Venturing outside is a surreal experience. It’s a shambles out there. Instant rivers of muddy water have gushed through several stalls. The roof of one has caved in under the weight of water and Elinor’s display of handmade bags and tweed travel rugs has been blown around like confetti. Some low-life’s have even tried a bit of instant looting. Unbelievable!
There’s an odd mix of shock and adrenaline which in my case gives the sort of buzzing europhia that you sometimes experience from ‘getting away with it’ in a road accident and I feel a bit guilty as I’ve certainly ‘got away with it’ this time when others haven’t.
Saturday evening. Long after the storm. Bonhams’ auction house is kindly providing a hog roast and some free beer to those who hang around after practice ends. We’re all admiring the Alvis and the SS 90 that adorn their stand . I’m talking to a regular book customer at this event, Dermot, who’s competing in a lovely Alfa 6C 1750 which he brings over from Northern Ireland every year . The sun is arm, there’s a New Orleans jazz band providing a suitable sound track and children on bikes are pedalling furiously up and down the course while they have the chance. You would never imagine just how genuinely scary the weather has been only a few hours earlier.
As the dusk starts to settle and the free food and drink has run out, I wander over in the camping fields. If the paddock boasts some great cars (and it doesid) this is possibly even better.
Is that a Delahaye parked beside a huge motor home? Yes it is! In fact that’s about the fourth one I’ve seen so far and across the way is a wonderfully patinated (rusty) vintage era truck that looks as if it might have been used driven by Henry Fonda in THE GRAPES OF WRATH . And is that a Tatra? Blimey it is! When did you last – or indeed ever – see one of those? Everywhere, through a haze barbeque smoke, cars of all vintages slither along the ‘roadways’ that more closely resemble trials sections .Getting out of here would be fun if the rain returns tomorrow
The jazz band is setting up for an evening session, uniformed figures assemble trombones and fit the reeds to clarinets. A film show is operating somewhere and in all directions something is happening. It’s a kind of vintage car Glastonbury, complete with trashed ‘festival tents’ and mud.
Lagonda is parked just across the way from a “2.9” Alfa Romeo . Either of which would form the centre piece of any major classic car show – and here they are in the camp site, not even competing in the event itself or on display.
Back at my own tent, a little way from the marquee, the structure is sound but the weatherproofing clearly leaves a lot to be desired. An inch or so of water pools on the floor, the airbed is almost floating, the sleeping bag soaked, the pillow soggy and the battery on the airbed pump is making an ominous fizzing sound. The entire Fielder family sets to work helping me tip out the water and mop up the inside of the tent. They even lend me a blanket as the sleeping bag is a serious non-starter. A chilly night ensues but it was all worth it as Sunday proves to be, the odd shower aside, a lovely and successful day in a really beautiful location . But I do wonder what the Vintage Sports Car Club does to deserve the kind of weather we had on Saturday after something similar, if less violent, at it’s previous Donington event just a few weeks ago! Who’s been running over black cats or braking mirrors ?
- Donington Park VSCC 2014 – Reflections From Beneath The Flight Path
- Vintage Cars On A Summer’s Day : VSCC at Much Marcle.