Sunday, August 10, 2008

Mud and steam

Mud and steam? A visit to some kind of health spa today perhaps? Nope. The Evesham Steam and Vintage Vehicle Rally. That's where I've been. Dawn was exhibiting there so I tagged along.
Evesham is in Worcestershire and we had to drive through five counties to get there: Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire. Saying that, the drive was only 90 minutes each way. Which just goes to show what a tiny sceptred isle we live on here in the UK. It's curious just how varied the accent can be after travelling just a few miles. The people we met and spoke to veered from drawling West Country elongated vowels to broad Brummie plumminess. Our route took us through Oxford and on through several villages and towns that incorporated the word 'Chipping' in their name; Chipping Norton, Chipping Camden ... and when we passed a sign saying 'Micro Chipping' I expected to find a tiny village full of tiny people. But, disappointingly, it was just a branch of the Dogs Trust Charity Kennels advertising their services.
The tiny bus to Micro Chipping hits a slick

We arrived at the showground. Or show-swamp. It had been raining overnight - Lord bless the English Summer - and the several fields in which the show was sited were thick with gelatinous sticky mud that clung to your shoes like a squid to a bath-tub. The beautifully restored and lovingly cared-for vintage cars and motorcycles on display were splashed with filth and heavy dark clouds hung over the venue like a soiled duvet. Despite this, there was a cheery atmosphere. Hordes of strangely intense beardy men roamed the fields with little notebooks, admiring the traction engines and vintage farm equipment. Even more intense men displayed their painstakingly restored steam-driven pumps and lathes and generators. Large ladies with rosy red cheeks and green quilted gilets sold homemade cakes and bric-a-brac. And the air was filled with the barbarous dissonance of a hundred noise-making machines howling for attention; at least three steam-powered organs with clashing cymbals and tooting horns, clanking, spluttering traction engines, roaring throaty motorcycles and, bizarrely, a singing animatronic moose head. It was mounted on the next stall to us and sang 'On the road again', 'Boom Boom', and 'Theme from Rawhide' in a continuous loop. After a couple of hours, I was in the mood to re-enact the first few minutes of Bambi. Instead, I braved the scattered showers to take a walkabout.

Organ fans enjoy a rendition of Anarchy in the UK. It does have a scary face, doesn't it?

At one end of the show were the traction engines; the monsters, the beasts, the metal mammoths, the behemoths of iron and steel. They are, let's face it, steam engines that go on the roads instead of rails and ... did I mention they were freakishly big? They were certainly too heavy for the waterlogged grass and their great wheels spun and dug deep ruts in the field. But while several cars and vans also became stuck and had to be towed free, the traction engines simply bolted some metal blades to their wheels and dug themselves out. Most impressive. And that smell of coal and steam is wonderful. I barely remember the great steam engines but I remember that smell when the Paddington to Penzance steam loco came into the sheds when I was a small boy. It's the whiff of nostalgia.

"More coal! And to Hell with our carbon footprint!"
Elsewhere there was a small fairground with a motorcycle 'Wall of Death', a traditional merry-go-round, a ghost train and the usual carnival stalls designed to take your money and let you win crap. There were ex-army and police vehicles. There were even a few Romani caravans complete with fortune tellers that I avoided - you may recall that I wound one up at the Rickmansworth Canal Fair a few months ago. However, if she did put a curse on me, it hasn't worked. Life is pretty good at the moment with the book coming out soon (I'll be holding the physical printed copies in less than a month!) and the work I've done for the prestigious QI Annual.

Throughout the day we were entertained and sort-of informed of events by a beardy bloke in a leather stetson who mumbled, faffed and ummed and erred into a roving radio microphone. He talked almost continuously about subjects as diverse as dog training and last night's TV viewing and with little knowledge of any. Occasionally he even argued with himself. He held on-the-spot interviews with people that took on a surreal quality as he refused to hand over the mic for the replies. We just heard his questions and then a low, unintelligible murmur. He also gave a running commentary on the parades of tractors, motorcycles and Land Rovers that took place. There would have been more such parades but the quagmire of the show ring prevented all of the Ford Anglias, Morris Minors and Humbers from taking part. My favourite moment came when he carried on talking while tidying up the back of his car. Every sentence was punctuated with long pauses and strange clunking and rustling sounds. Genius.

The Tractor Section, in case you were in any doubt. The men at right are performing the Massey-Ferguson Morris.

Tractors, tractors and more tractors! It doesn't get any better than this. No, really, it doesn't.

Gandalf the Greaser prepares to tear up The Shire

Favourite moments for me - apart from the perverse delight of watching people slip in the mud and fall on their arses - included finding a large mirrored dome to photograph (see top of post). It turned the whole world into a curious ball with me at the centre and the resulting shot looked like a 1970s prog rock LP cover. And I must just mention the man with the annoying moose. Kids loved his joke stall. Mind you, look what was on sale ... or is that final item an instruction?

Wildly eccentric, curiously bizarre, the Evesham Steam and Vintage Vehicle Rally is a little slice of British nonsense and obsession at its very best. Despite the wind and the rain, the mud and cold, people had enormous fun. If anything, the weather forced them into enjoying it even more. It brought them closer together as they huddled together for shelter and warmth. Unity in adversity.

That's the British way.


willow said...

What an odd and fun filled day!

chris hale said...

Blimey! Traction engines! That takes me back. I remember going to traction engine rallies with my mum and dad when I was very young. That smell of the coal and steam is something you never forget. I also remember the massive Gavioli organ (fnarr fnarr!) and I'm pleased to see it's still in working order around 45 years after my last encounter with it. I love the thought of it playing "Anarchy in the UK".

Janet said...

SO British!

You weren't all that far from us, when you went through the Chippings. When we moved house last year, our movers were from Chipping Norton. The natives refer to it as "Chippy" - with that great accent of theirs. (And nearby Hook Norton becomes, of course, "Hooky".)


Stevyn Colgan said...

Willow - Oh yes indeed.

Janet - I'm envious! It's such a nice part of the world. I love the Cotswolds.

Chris - To be fair, the Gavioli was a bit more pedestrian than that. It was all 'Daisy Daisy' and songs from 'My Fair Lady'. But there was another beastie there called 'The Locomotion' by Verbeck and Kelders of Holland that played modern stuff by people like Coldplay, Depeche Mode and The Zutons. They tried to make me buy a CD. I told them I had far too much street cred.

Anonymous said...

Chipping Sodbury is my favourite Cotswold name and never fails to elicit a giggle from me - very schoolboyish I know, but it just gets me every time.

A-bit-o-rain-n-mud - it's not a British day out otherwise!

Stevyn Colgan said...

Rob - Do people from Sodbury call themselves Sods, Sodders, soddys or worse?!

Me said...

You passed my house and did not wave.....and at that very moment I was passing yours.....bad timing I guess!

Stevyn Colgan said...

Me - How frustrating is that? We could have drunk tea and nibbled some goodies together. x