Wipers First Timers. June 2017.
Well, once again motor sport abroad sent out the call to HMC members. What would they do without us. Some returned to LeMans, where they all “enjoyed” weather so hot the bars were watering the customers with trigger sprays, and a thrilling race, exciting to the end. Our group, me and Pat, M and B, and Steve W, advanced for the first time, to the Poppy Fields of Flanders, in support of the first running of the Belgian round of the BRC. That’s the British Rally Championship, not the Belgian Rally Championship, and yes it was confusing, as both were there!
We started the week late morning on the Monday, and our convoy of two motored down to Kent via the A1 and the M11, having a trouble free run up to a few miles short of the QE2 bridge at Dartford when we hit the world’s longest car park, the M25.
Just to confuse us, M. DuBois casually asked if we had opened an account for the toll on the bridge? Apparently there were now no toll booths, so we could not pay on the day, and it had to be done on-line within twenty four hours, or mega fines followed. Now was not the best time to find that out!
I only know how to use my phone to ring people up, but fortunately we stood still long enough for Steve to add our registration numbers to his account, so we think we are ok.
As it was our first trip to this event, we thought it a good idea to stay overnight on this side of the channel, so we would have a full day on the other side to camp and sort stuff out, so we booked into a field at the Wagon and Horses, in a village called Charing, about an hour from Dover. Super spot, flat field with electric, nice pub, excellent meals.
Tuesday morning, 8am start, tea and go, Sooty van and Scooby van rolled down to Dover docks, where I kindly tested the terrorist attack alarms at passport control for them. We three in our van checked in ok, the barrier went up and I drove through, not noticing the “No pedestrians” and the “Stay in your vehicle or be shot” signs.
As I went under the barrier, and Brian followed me up to the window, I heard a metallic clang and scrapey scrapey noise. Brian’s’ exhaust had dropped off!
Margaret instantly confirmed this over the radio. Ok says I, I’ll come and have a look.
So I got out.
Talk about go noisy! Sirens, klaxons, rounds being chambered, tea being spilled, you name it, I heard it. Undaunted I proceeded to take cover under Brian’s van, and yes, the end rubber had split and dropped the tail pipe onto the ground.
“Ok I can fix it” I said to the passport man, can we stop at the other side, won’t take a minute. At the reply “Yes ok”, I ducked back under the barrier, and in a hail of bullets and seagull shit, I made it back to our van. Four cable ties later, and we were on our way again.
The ten o’clock DFDS ferry went like clockwork, but it was probably diesel, and in two hours we arrived in Dunkirk at one o’clock. After about an hour’s drive, plus a long lunch break etc, we were at the campsite auto check-in machine trying to understand Flingish, and not much later the first beers were open. Luckily there was an Aldi just up the road.
Now, I don’t mind a bit of sun, but we had driven down England on one of the hottest days of the year, and now being further south, it was 38 outside, and 39 in the van, and it was hot! Yes very. The big electric fan I had put in at the last minute was losing the battle. It just moved the heat round, a bit like a fan oven. We were all evenly cooked.
Wednesday was taken up looking round the stuff in Ypres, an interesting tour round the museum, and a climb up the bell tower. Looking down at the town square it was obvious that the rally was going to take over the whole town centre in a complete way.
Later we attended the very moving “Last Post” ceremony, held every night at 8pm, under the Menin Gate Arch. Every night since 1928. Complete silence from hundreds of people, including many school parties, and many people from around the world. Even after a hundred years, the memory continues. My feelings are hard to describe, my Grandads brother died in that war. His name will be somewhere in that arch. I still have the letter from KG5.
When the last notes of the bugles had died away, we headed for the nearest bar, only to find that Phil Reece, the C in C of the Brit Marshal Force had beaten us to it. He tried to tell us where we had to go for the briefing, but the “where” was a bit vague. The same place as last year was no help at all.
Thursday playing the touroid again, but the Passendale museum at Zonnebeke was excellent. Went to watch a bit of the shakedown Thursday afternoon. Was good!
Anyway, Friday morning came and we found our meeting, got briefed, I think, and confirmed our presence, and were given a CB radio and twig. Needn’t have bothered, the damn thing only spoke Flemish and French.
Our first stage was 3, Dikkebus 1, first car at 1748, so UK procedure was followed, and we signed on at the start with English speaking Mrs Stage Commander, were given post 13, M and B getting 36. We were obviously in front of the road closer, so there was no ribbon (that’s foreign for tape) up, so we were just going to follow the arrows. No problem. Actually there was a bit of a problem. There were no arrows. They don’t use them. Fortunately we had a stage plan, so we found our cabbage field eventually.
Spectator ribbon was already up etc, so we put the kettle on, and the Banner up.
The spectator rule over there is very simple but strict, 10mtrs away, or 30 if it’s a straight on. The safety helicopter flies the stage about half an hour before first car. If he waves at you with a red flag, you have ten minutes to shoot the offending speckies. If when he comes back, you get another red flag, everybody on that stage goes home. Seems to work well.
Our first run ended with car 22 rolling at the far side of our field, and taking down a power pole in the process. The helicopter pounced, medics turned up, and the kettle was back on.
By then, most of the quick Brits had already gone farming in the earlier two stages. Bogie and McCormac both on stage 1. Probably looking for the arrows!
Dikkebus 2, first car 2030. Same ending, but this time it was car 50 in a field, so we went for an early beer.
Saturday was going to be a long day. We signed on about 0830, and all went to post 4, actually in the village of Mesen, on crowd control near the fire station, with a couple of Frenchies. Good view, well behaved crowds, and the entire crew from the fire station. Slight problem with the language, but a lady very popular with the fire crew translated for us. Translated from Belgish to something nearly as hard to understand, which turned out to be Belfast Irish. We think she was married to at least one of the firemen, who by now had found enough garden furniture to make a grandstand. Some spectacular wheel lifting, especially the Land Rovers. Not often seen them waving a wheel in the air escort fashion. Very popular place, the rally using the town centre and the main square. Our last run, the Classics second time, started at 2035, and we got away about half nineish. I was too dry to remember the exact time, but when we got back to camp, the evening rabbits were out, and so was the beer and malt.
Sometime during the day, had a phone call from the ferry company. Sorry the ten o’clock ship has sunk, so you have to come two hours earlier for the 0800. Sod! That meant getting up about five. Later on had another phone call, sorry they had made a mistake, we were on the 1200, not the 0800, did I mind. Did I mind an extra four hours in bed – no, not really.