Part 2 No More Prep
Le mans 24 Hours & Newbie is on the road to the great race!
Arriving at the ferry port waiting lanes the boys can't wait to see what cars are on the pilgrimage. There is a good hours wait before boarding, so we all step out of the van. All except Bagpuss who's having a kip. There is a group of guys and girls behind us in a very old Winnebago so we share a few words, have a quick beer and a laugh and a joke.
I decide to go for a look around and Twit decides to tag along.
As we wander I almost immediately find racing fans are very easy to spot: the Racing Car Tee shirt, the Le Mans group type shirt (you know know the ones, Club Arnage, Beer Mountain, Drinking for Britain,) all self explanatory. But the older super car drivers in distinctive trousers catch me off guard! Will anyone ever be able to tell me why the red cords? Don't get me wrong if I ever get the Ferrari I will be straight down Moss Bros for a pair.
I guess it's code for" I am minted".
Then there are the "Old Hands" with their deck chairs out with a picnic table, a glass of wine and nibbles. All compact enough to slip back in the boot of the Aston or the Jaguar.
The trip down: A time for breaking in newbees
Once on the French roads we are part on a massive cavalcade of British registered cars all on their way down to La Sarthe the area in which Le Mans resides.
Dell up front has so many great memories of his thirty five trips. He keeps chipping in with observations like "I remember doing 150 MPH once down this road in an old Datsun 240z, great car by the way"
There was a couple of classic remarks "I remember breaking down in this town back in 92" but the most common memories seemed to be "I remember that bar one year"
The journey down was really lots of fun, with a harmless playful vibe inside the van. And every beep of a car horn in recognition of another great sports car flaming past us made the feeling of sharing a very special event all the more real. I was starting to feel like one of the boys laughing at every turn as I skidded across the van floor on my plastic patio seat which was no longer wedged in as the beer crates were some what depleted by now!
And of course there was the "Le Mans" compilation of music! Basically driving songs and old classics belting out from the massive home speakers near my feet at the back of the van.
We had Radar Love. Yellow's "The Race" with its superb sound of a V8. There was of course Madness Driving in my car. I was really enjoying doing an air guitar solo to "This sex is on fire".
Then just outside the town of Sees Dell leans around again and commands silence as a low crackling noise comes from the sub woofers. To a man everyone goes silent and listens intently as the sound of windscreen wipers and a radio traffic message come through. Not sure what was going on both Scarey and Bagpuss smile. Bagpuss puts a finger over his lips to say shush. As the sound of rain and noise gets louder a guitar string sounds.Patiently we all wait then after nearly three minutes the whole van slowly recites the classic words;
"Stood still on a highway, I saw a woman ......by the side of the road......With a face like I new like my own. Reflected in my window. .......Well she walked up to my quater light .......and she bent down real slow. A fearful pressure paralysed me in my shadow" by this point with the whole van, me and Chris Rea belting out Road to Hell I swear the hairs on the back of my neck stood up proud.
Things don't get much better than this I think as I took a deep breath before almost shouting "What are you doing here?
At this point all hell did break loose as Chris's main guitar rift was joined by everyone's air guitar including Dave who was standing on his seat totally immersed in the song. "On your journey across the wilderness from the desert to the well you have strayed upon the......"
Suddenly from up front shouts of "Calm it down a minute in the back will you? Gendarmes. Should be OK they are just over-taking." Then a very serious Dell proclaims "Shit we are being pulled over"
The van pulls into a small lay you for lorries. As the vehicle comes to a halt Derek winds down the drivers window and leans to the back and reassuringly whispers "Keep quite and it should be OK"
Two Gendarmes approached the van window. " Vous avez papiers" Our cool driver handed over his driving licence, insurance and passport with no words exchanged and the two men in blue headed away from the van to check the paperwork. After what seems an age they returned to the window and in the back you could have hear a pin drop as there is complete silence inside the van.
"C'Est OK" they say. I feel a sense of relief now the situation seems to have been resolved...The Gendarmes started to walk away from the van. But what's this they have returned to the window and gesture to the back of the van. Team leader Derek jumps out and escorts them to the back doors. He then opens them wide to reveal me sat comfortably in my patio chair. They two officers of the law look dumbfounded and shake their heads at my precarious seating option.
They gestured for me to get out from the van. Everyone jumps out smartly to show solidarity. Once in the lay by my stomach turns over as I started to realise the seriousness of the situation. In an accent resembling someone I have heard before the first Gendarme speaks slowly and sternly in broken english "Your situation iz very bad. You av been very bad. Show me some identification now" he demands.
I desperately rummage through my pockets for my wallet and then struggle as my hands shake wildly as I open it. Fumbling I manage to extract my drivers licence and hand it over. He then looks over it and hands it to his colleague. They then both made eye contact and shake their heads simultaneously.
"Vee may av to arrest you and take you away so you must give me your belt to stop you urting yourself in custody. So aand... it to me now, let down your chinos to ankle height. Dis is a simply a way to stop you running avay do not be alarmed."
I couldn't believe the state I was in and was almost on the verge of tears. Fumbling again I undo the belt and with a feeling of solemn resignation I let my trousers fall to my ankles. Feeling totally vulnerable I resign myself to what ever fate be holds me. With my head down and despondent I notice the gendarme has a twitchy hand and it keeps brushing over his gun. It was like tunnel vision as I cannot take my eyes from the deadly weapon and the only thing I can hear is the policeman.
"Now I will decide your punishment! Bad people go to prison! But I could decide to punish you now" he retorts.
I swear I heard a couple of chuckles or were they coughs.
I think "Bastards! My so called new mates and not one is sticking up for me. And where the hell had I heard that voice before?
Suddenly I feel like I have woken up and something is not quite right but what. Damn what is it?
The Gendarme speaks again "I ave decided not to prison you, but to spank your bottom, you naughty man"
Suddenly I clocked it! It's voice of the guy from "Allo Allo".
I slowly and deliberately raise my head and in a very sarcastic voice declare "Don't tell me you will only say this once! You bastard".
Everyone lets it go and there is total mayhem and uncontrollable laughter from everyone including the Gendarmes. Still not quite sure what has just happened I collapse to my knees in relief and emotional exhaustion. Dell then crouches down beside me and puts an arm around my shoulder and introduces me to his brother in law Mike the Gendarme along with his best mate Colin. But the uniforms and guns" I declare.
"We bought them about five years ago along with the fake guns. Even the moustache is fake! Mike does Le Mans every year and we arrange this for every Newbie. You didn't even notice the British plates on the blue car! Congratulations you are the first to actually get his trousers down".
"You bastards. I can't believe it bastards".
With everyone patting me on the back or congratulating me in tears of laughter the van reloads and I sit stunned and silent in my patio chair for a few miles. Eventually it dawns on me the brilliance of the prank and laugh out loud.
"Excuse me everyone. ...I will say this only once!" I pause "Bastards!" I shout "Bastards"
I bet loads of fellow Newbies now and over the years are unaware of the supermarket stop and the protocol that goes with it. For me it was the Auchan on the North Circular just after we had the big cheer for the signpost. Well it did have "Le Mans" written on it!
"Here we are. We shall be just pulling into the shopping complex boys" a smiling Stu informs us.
Always one for a bargain I pipe up "Did you see up there there was an Aldi and a Lidl,Dell?"
Dell turns around like a shot, and like a magnet I draw the stern looks of sixteen eyes all looking rather imposing "We always stop here! So first timers like yourself be aware we are not stopping anywhere else end off. Plus it's tradition OK?"
Dell looks to me for a confirmation.
Weakly I reply "Fine by me everyone, I wanted to go in here anyway"
Scary pats my back and calmly says "That's the spirit" and beams his colgate smile directly at me.
"Come on bail out, your going to like this" he adds"
As we congregate outside the doors to Auchane Derek try's to organise us "Right then Scarey, Newbie, Stu and Bagpuss you get the trolleys here's the four Euros".
Scarey holds out his palm to accept the coins and then Dell says "Bagpuss you sort out the boxes OK" Bagpuss nods in acknowledgement.
"Right then Expert and Twit you get the empty pink Eski for good measure"
"And what are you going to do Dell talk to officer Dibell?" Says Bagpuss.
Dell pauses before smiling and replying "You cheeky git! Top Cat does the driving so I might just do nothing! Ok with you Benny"
We all laugh and get on.
The Auchane on the outskirts of Le Mans is truly enormous. It is a good five minute walk through the shopping mall just to the hyper market entrance! Once inside you can see row after row of aisles. "Right then we don't need much in the way of food just crisps and pistachios. We need blue cheese and that smelly French stuff"
"Camembert Dell" says Scary
"The name of the Bloody cheese!"
"Yeah Cannon something or other. Can you sort that out Scarey. I am going to the fish counter with the cool boxes, we'll meet up at the beer and wine aisle in ten"
"Fish Dell?" I ask puzzled.
With a chuckle and another beaming smile "Come with me Newbie" and with that we scoot off to the fish counter each with a trolley and each containing two empty cool boxes.
A few yards from the counter Dell without a care in the world wolf whistles the Lady behind the mountains of fish and ice. I just can't believe him but to my astonishment the middle aged women attired in blue overalls, wellingtons and a piny smiles and sets off out front to great him. With a warm smile and a wonderful soft French accent she joyfully cries "Derrick".
She then proceeds to hug him. I just can't believe it and look on in disbelief.
Dell places his hands on her shoulders and pushes her back a couple of steps and deliberately looks her up and down "Wow beautiful" he says.
She blushes and replies with a smile before grabbing the first trolley and taking it behind the fish counter. She opens the first box places the lid carefully on the side and then picks up a large shovel and proceeds to scoop up the fresh ice and fills the box. Nothing more is said as we both watch her collect the second trolley and repeat the process of filling the boxes with ice. She then delivers them back to the front. By this time a small cue is watching on and everyone seems happy enough to wait while once again the two old friends embrace kiss on both cheeks. "Au Revoir Dell"
"Au Revoir.....Till next year fish face" Dell shouts as he walks away.
As we push the now quite heavy ice laden shopping trolleys away I turn to Dell. I don't say anything but he replies "What?"
"You know what" I smile.
"Oh the fish girl" he chuckles like a schoolboy "Believe it or not I met her twenty years ago. She was a very young waitress in the cafe over there and I tried everything to chat her up. Four years in a row I stopped here and went for a coffee and another go at pulling her. I thought I got close once but no cigar. On the fifth year she wasn't there anymore so stopping here had lost its magic"
Dell pauses leans on his trolley looking wistful before continuing "Well anyway I stopped here the next year just to get shopping and as I got around here by the fish counter she ran out and greeted me. She doesn't speak much English but I got the impression she missed me pestering her the year before, and now she had a job with the fish. The ice thing started about ten years ago. It's just a godsend having it for the beer and it will stay frozen for about three days if you pack things in it tightly."
I look Derick in the eye, frown and ask "Was any off that true"
He spreads his hands apart blows out his cheeks and let's out a long sigh before he calmly saying "No"
"Oh no don't walk away, I need to know you couldn't have made all that up could you?"
"Come on you muppet of course it's true. Now let's get down the booze alley."
As we arrive at the incredibly long wine aisle Derrick stops and looks around as if he has thought of something profound. He pauses before turning to me and says "You know the French supermarket is something the partners at home will never understand. At home we avoid them at all cost, they eat our money and are mundane. But the French supermarkets are great they only seem to promote beer, wine and food to accompany the alcohol. And it's cheap, well it must be because none of us ever check the price! We just throw it all in." He then points in front with a chuckle. And sure enough there in front of us is the rest of the group with their trolleys laden high to overflowing! Case after case of beer and wine.
"Hi boys" says Stu "I see you have the ice. We've gone for the healthy option of five a day"
Scarey holds up a shopping basket "I got the cheese and nuts Dell"
He then comes close before smiling and then whispering to Dell "Be careful With Twit. Because at this point and being the youngest in the group he is at his most venerable!.....
Expert is now a fecking wine expert and you have left him with the halfwit"
We both smile before Dell replies "Look at the poor sod he is Mesmerised by the giant array of coloured wine bottles"
Expert stands back from the wine shelf bottle in hand and looks toward us before curtly stating "I can hear you lot insulting me, but I'll have you know I nearly bought a vin yard in Bulgaria a few years ago!"
"So how the feck does that relate to French wine?" Asks Dell
"Well in Bulgaria they have winters similar to the northern part of France and the grape harvest reflects"
Expert is stopped mid sentence as Dell sarcastically yawns and says "Oh tell us something we don't know already".
Expert slams the bottle down with quite a clink and the bottles rattle on the shelf. He looks a little annoyed and worryingly marches the few steps over towards us. He goes very red in the face and loudly declares "Ok I will tell you something you don't know."
We all keep quite as we are taken aback by his umbrage to the banter. His lips quiver in rage before stating "I used to have a dog! A golden retriever called Goldie. I loved my dog and he was a great family pet. I used to walk him every morning and evening. He came to the shed with me and just used to generally keep me company. And I miss my dog"
"Ah... ok Expert" Says Dell
We all look on puzzled by the statement and by the way Expert is staring straight ahead like we are all invisible. Just as it is getting uncomfortable Twit asks "What happened to your dog Expert?"
"Well one night I had a dream that Goldie was given a special power to speak four words to me! He had to be really careful and pick the right words so he could express himself. So after what seemed an age I was sat in my arm chair Goldie gets up from the floor walks over to me and sits in front of me and looks up to me just like when he wants a stroke. His mouth opens and he says four words." In this most surreal of shopping trips we all wait in the wine aisle with baited breath to hear what the four words were.
Expert purses his lips and slowly states "I DON'T LIKE YOU!"
He then just goes silent. Completely bemused I break the silence and ask "What's that got to do with you missing the dog?"
Expert looks at me as if I am stupid before stating what he thought was the obvious "Well I couldn't keep him could I? Not after a dream like that. For days every time I looked at him I could just see him saying I don't like you. I lasted about a week before I found a home for him with my nephew."
"Expert what the hells this got to do with anything" a bewildered Scarry asks.
"Dell asked me to tell you something you don't know, well you didn't know that did you" he Immediately he replies.
"Your off your head. In fact you are a complete fruit cake" Dell shakes his head in disbelief before again stating "Your off your box complete nutter"
We all laugh as Dell puts him arm around his shoulder and starts to lead him away laughing " let's get you back to the van".
Then from around the corner comes Bagpuss armed with the biggest pile of French bread you have ever seen. "I could hear the laughter what have I missed?"
With the last of the extra supplies loaded into, onto and literally on us the van chugs away from the supermarket and back on to the main Le Mans ring road. Dave turns to me from his seat just in front of me and says "Do you know what Newbie. I still get a little excited on this part of the trip. I just love to see the old landmarks and once you get the first sight of the grandstands you realise this place is special"
I smile warmly at Dave's sincerity and listened and looked intently as he first pointed to the east "If you look there that is the cathedral at the heart of the city"
Stood proud on a small elevation was the gothic church with clearly visible ramparts but no spire. Set amongst the sprawl of French urban planning it was very noticeable that Le Mans is a city, and a large one to. A few minutes later he was again urging me to look.
"See the coloured arrows on the junctions they are the different campsites. You can approach them from alternate routes. And this massive junction is Pointleau. In the early years of the race the cars used to race around the tight junction here".
As I looked out the window the massive billboard caught my eye. Three cars at speed with the words below "Le Passion Le Mans". It really was a fine piece of art.
If you turn up that hill it will lead you past the Carrefour supermarket and then the road turns into the straight!"
"What as in the circuit?"
"Yes, half the circuit is public road. We'll go down it in the van in a while. We carry on up here two junctions because we like to go over the hill which looks down on the main straight."
After about five minutes of heavy traffic we start to head up a small hill with a few shops and bars on either side. After about a kilometre we reach a roundabout at the top take the second exit and there it is. The whole horizon is dominated by the backs of massive grandstands, billboards and recognisable structures like the Ferris wheel, giant screens and a huge half a tyre in the shape of a bridge or is it a bridge in the shape of a tyre. I smile and try to imagine the track amongst it all. The sheer scale of the place is really so cool.
The atmosphere in the van is electric as the whole entourage are excited to be here. Scarry slaps me on the back and says "You made it Newbie".
I smile and acknowledge the sincerity and warmth of Scarey's statement with a high five "Cheers"
We descend down a hill off the busy road and stop at a set of lights "That's the main entrance opposite and that to the left is the Le Mans museum, it's full of Le Mans cars and really cool" adds Twit.
"When have you been in the museum?" Dave asks.
"I haven't been in"
"Then how do you know it's cool?"
"Cos its full of Le Mans cars in it!"
Dave rolls his eyes and calmly replies "Yes it must be cool if it has those in it" he then leans toward me and Scarey and is grinning he then silently mouths "Twit" while shacking is head in disbelief.
The lights turn green and we turn left under a large bridge which carries the main road we have turned off. As we come out of the dark the-other side Dell slows and indicates right. Dave, Stu and Bagpuss cheer as they realise he is turning into the Carpark of the bar "I don't know about you guys but I'm gagging for a pint"
Aux Portes Des Circuit is on a red neon sign right across the front of this simple looking building. From an open front car park straight off the road the bar sits on an elevated concrete base. In front of the entrance is a two meter wide terrace with tables and chairs. It has a thick metal railing all the way around the veranda and a set of steps up the middle. There are a couple of sports cars parked and some tents on a strip of grass down the side of the bar.
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