We had planned this trip for a while now with little success due to a variety of reasons; lack of time, bad weather, a nasty outbreak of swine flu and matrimonial quibbles. Well, quibbles is a euphemism really, just like saying the Holocaust was due to a minor gas leak.
July the 5th was a beautiful Sunday and everything coalesced to make it happen. Michael arrived at 11am in his beautiful '67 Karman Ghia, resplendent in its recent bare metal re-spray in pearl white.
I had gone to Halfords to buy a quart of oil and also to check out a young Ishmaeli girl at the sales counter who was particularly un-phased by the sledge-hammer wit and charm that I was busily doling out. Still, it saved me from a night out, five pints of Stella and a dollop of Chlamydia!
When I arrived back at the den, Sean and Michael were pottering around the garage prepping up the HP 49. This was a rotary valve model engine that had recently undergone the equivalent of an engine rebuild. Originally manufactured in Austria by the colourfully named firm of Hirtenberger, Sean's colleagues Phil and Lesley had breathed new life into it, after years of it pickling in an old jam jar full of petrol, which had done absolutely nothing to it. Les had spent countless hours un-sticking the engine with a secret formula only known to himself. Being naturally reticent, "I need to work some magic on it" was all he was heard to say. Les must have been lonely or lacking in other interests to have spent countless hours, rebuilding a model engine for a friend for nothing. In my cynical mind I wondered if he just got off on it. Whatever it was, I was happy he did that voodoo that he did so well!
We decided to get into the flying spirit by getting the 49 started. I knew the engine wouldn’t start unless it was wet, and so we primed it to within an inch of its life. Soon, It was wetter than a dozen teenage girls after an arduous session at their gymkhana, and responded immediately to the electric starter. We tinkered with it for a few minutes revelling in that peculiar mix of sounds and smells we knew so well; un-silenced combustion and burnt methanol and castor. (It reminded me of the first car I owned, a P6 Rover 2000TC, the sumptuous cabin of which welcomed you with an aroma of wood varnish, old leather and high octane petrol).
After packing a small picnic we left Wembley at 12:30pm. We dusted the covers off the ageing but eager BMW 730, and despite the inconsequential oil leak, headed up the A1 in the direction of Biggleswade and Old Warden. I had remembered to pack a can or two of amber nectar and a very nice bottle of fermented grape juice. Nothing goes down better than a day out in the sun with pickled senses and raddled flesh I thought, as I imagined stretching out on the grass with the eager anticipation of an early liquid lunch and the sound of supercharged Merlins overhead.
Soon we were out in the open country and things started to fly by as we let loose the Bavarian beast and beat up the A1. We weren't going to let the price of petrol and a maniacal control freak spoil a good weekend. I was already buoyed up by the news that our ancient Triumph 5T motorcycle had passed its MOT. The old boy who was overseeing this (over seventy now and still going strong) was a delightful chap called Bill Cosby who had been in the motorcycle trade ever since its inception, or so it seemed. One of the nice things to look forward to during a visit to his 'Alladin's cave' was a freebie coffee, whilst he ragaled us with stories of building race bikes, founding the London Motorcycle museum, and general deeds of derring-do. It’s a shame he was long on the stories and short on the maintenance. However, it was turning out to be a good weekend for the boys. Things were starting to happen at last.
We arrived at Old Warden aerodrome at 1PM, an hour before the air-show was due to begin. It was already a hive of activity. I expected the car park to be full of crusty old codgers in their equally crusty old classic cars. There seemed to be a lack of it this time. Just a smattering of Bentleys, the odd Jag E-Type and an immaculate Vincent Black Shadow – restored to within an inch of its life. It was truly in concourse condition. Perhaps he had given it to Robin James – restorer par-excellence,who like The Stella Artois, is reassuringly expensive. Maybe the credit crunch had taken its toll and the old Bristol or Healy had been moth balled for less parsimonious times.
Our first stop was the RFC camp and field dressing station where everyone had dressed up in their army fatigues, and hobnail boots just for the weekend. Fearsome infantry weapons were on display causing my fevered imagination to go into overdrive. "Sir! Your helmet and entrenching tool are enormous!" "Never mind your ankle puttees Graves, just feel the width of my bayonet." "Would you like a Satsuma sir, before I drop down and give you twenty?"
Then there was the re-enactment of a WW1 dogfight and the exchange between an RFC pilot and his rear gunner.
"Did you get the Kraut?
"Did you see him smoke"?
"Yes saar, and some flames too".
"Good show Douglas, very well done, so we've bagged a flamer after all"!