Monday 29 April 2024

Chirnside pilgrimage

The weather matched the mood yesterday in Chirnside at noon. It was a grey, dreich and damp day with a large motley crowd sheltering under hoods, bunnets and brollies from the dampness. And yet there were smiles, handshakes and cheerful chatter. The occasion marked the unveiling of a small plaque which commemorated the late Ian Scott-Watson’s huge contribution to the life and career of one Jim Clark Esq, borders farmer and racing driver.

Folk had gathered from all across the country including one chap from Belgium and a healthy representation from even more ‘foreign’ lands, like England. There were even three ‘Hell’s Angels’ in attendance until the helmets were removed and grey hair revealed, more like three ‘Hell’s Rejects’ than angels!

After the pipes had called to cease the chatter and gather around a few words were spoken and the special guest was announced. Long past the first flush of youth, and yet with fierce determination, despite the dampness affecting the bones and joints of all those standing around, it was Ian’s brother George Scott-Watson who stepped gingerly up to the Jim Clark Memorial Clock tower in the village square to unveil the plaque.

After the ceremony the throng headed quickly towards the warmth and shelter of the village hall and community centre where the home baking and hot drinks offered a revival of their own. But gathered there in a very poignant display were many of the personal effects and mementos of Ian’s life in sport, and this was only a fraction of his archive. Mesmerising.

I must admit, I didn’t know Ian very well having only met him a few times and spoken briefly but there was another who was honoured yesterday and that was my prime reason for the visit. Eric Bryce also played an integral part of Jim Clark’s early and later career. Like Jim, Eric was a farmer first and foremost, but at weekends he was a photographer.

Eric passed away last November so yesterday’s memorial service was a joint commemoration of both Ian Scott-Watson and Eric’s lives and contributions. A wee tribute was published at the time on the Blog:

John Fife: Eric Bryce, 1937-2023

In addition to Ian’s memorabilia, there was a display of Eric’s photographs covering motor racing and rallying, equine sports and agricultural shows, and many, many more events in the Scottish Borders. Fortunately, he had made a point of ensuring that his photographic archive would be presented to the Jim Clark Trust, but given his photographic proliferation trying to sort out that lot will be a mammoth task for some poor archivist. At least this most valuable of archives has been saved.

And yes, I forked out the cash to buy a copy of Eric’s book – I couldn’t wait till Christmas!

If ever there was a need to establish a proper and permanent Scottish motor sports museum, yesterday’s glimpse of just these two archives further confirms that need.

Scotland has a huge and proud world-wide heritage earned on two, three and four wheels which MUST be preserved and presented to the public for future enlightenment and entertainment.

Thursday 25 April 2024

Rally - Once upon a Speyside

Last weekend’s McDonald and Munro Speyside Stages Rally brought back memories. Long before stubble was classed as ‘designer stubble’ and beards became fashionable as opposed to an excuse for lazy b*gg*rs in the mornings, it was Sandy Dalgarno who created a new trend.

He had just won the first ever Speyside Stages Rally way back in 1997 but due to his hirsute and bristly presence on the day declared: “I’ll never shave before a rally again.”

Depending on which excuse you prefer to believe, Sandy either forgot to shave in the morning (likely), slept in and was running late (more likely) or he had put a shift in at work before going rallying and was already knackered (much less likely) or quite simply could not be *rs*d because it was the weekend (highly believable) but for whatever reason the usually swanky and ‘dandy’ Sandy’s chin was about as smooth as a jaggy thistle.

Regardless of that, Sandy and Martin Forrest won the inaugural Speyside Rally in a Ford Escort Cosworth which was sponsored by a local engineering firm – a highly respected engineering outfit by the name of Precision Engine Services. Indeed the proprietor of which was also taking part, one Andy Horne Esq, but his Metro lost the lead of the rally after two stages when its engine failed. His demise was followed by other well known local worthies including Graham Clark, Dave MacDonald and the Lord-Lieutenant of Aberdeenshire himself, the right honourable James Ingleby.

Dalgarno didn’t have things his own way though, Jim Carty had taken the Missus out for a ‘drive in the country’ in the family car, a wee Metro – with MG badges and a ‘6R4’ sticker. Anyway, Jim and Frances finished second managing to hold off the fervent attentions of Raymond Munro and Graham Brunton in another one of these Metro 6R4 jobs. Jon Burn and Stan Quirk had been in the mix in another Metro but an un-intended, exploratory diversion up one of the Speyside forest’s notorious firebreaks momentarily diverted their concentration from driving for victory, to fighting for survival! Anyway, their mis-adventure dropped them to fifth behind the Subaru Impreza of Peter Vassallo and Plug Pulleyn.

Duncan Jaffray and Andy McGowan finished sixth in another Escort while in seventh place was a young and impressionable rallying fledgeling by the name of Barry Groundwater with Brian Jamieson in a Mazda 323. John ‘The String Man’ Hamilton and David Noble were eighth in a Sierra Cosworth ahead of the top 2WD cars which were separated by just 10 seconds. And ‘No’, the name ‘The String Man’ is not a misprint or a spelling error for ‘The Strong Man’, Hammy’s business was actually manufacturing string which was an essential emergency tool in the days before gaffer tape and tie-wraps.

Andrew and Gordon Ritchie came off best in this battle in their Ford Escort Mk2 ahead of the Opel Manta of Paul Bova and Carol Christie.

Anyway, this modest five stage event provided Sandy ‘Whiskers’ Dalgarno with his first ever outright rally victory, and therefore one to be savoured, with a new good luck pre-event ritual initiated and a new fashion trend set for the rest of the world to follow. Happy days, eh?

Note: Back then the inaugural Speyside Rally wasn’t part of the Scottish Rally Championship but it was being observed that year for future inclusion. And guess what happened in 1998? It has been part of the national series ever since.

Another Note: I came across this entirely accurate, truthful and honest rally report whilst working on the book ‘The History of the Scottish Rally Championship 1990-1999’ which is well underway – I’m up to 1998 at present. Copies of the first book 1980-1989 are still available:

Saturday 13 April 2024

Rally - Dangerous thinking

Had a thoroughly enjoyable, and ultimately surprising, trip to the far south (Lancashire from Lanarkshire) on Thursday last to the home of 2300 Club, the instigators of the original Tour of Mull Rally. Ostensibly intended to flog them some copies of the book, they turned the tables on their unsuspecting visitor. Thank you one and all.

And yes, some books were sold, including a copy to the originator of the event title, ‘The Best Rally in the World’. This provided something of a surprise, nay, a shock to the system. The grinning potential purchaser flourished what looked like a cherished slip of paper dug out from the deepest recesses of a well worn wallet. He had obviously learned his craft of solemn thriftiness from a certain very well known rally driver in the past! Getting him to part with cash has been as easy as extracting a stripped nut from a wheel stud.

Anyway, when carefully unfolded it turned out to be a £20 note and as it was opened out I’m sure the Queen blinked at the light. It must have been an old 20 quid note as it still had the Queen’s picture on it, but not Elizabeth the second, it looked awfy like Victoria!

However, the trip itself brought back memories of the regular journalistic expeditions up and down the M6 to the magazine office in Leyland and the printer at Bamber Bridge, and brought back memories of some of the good times pre-retirement. 

And so it was the late trip home the other night over a mist shrouded Shap and rain slicked roads offered up its usual chance to contemplate wild thoughts and ideas unburdened by external interruptions.

The two books I have already written and now published (the third one is currently half completed) have been so well received that it has set me thinking and prompted yet another idea for another book. If the idea was ever to see the light of day, it would probably have a title something like – ‘The Lost Talents’.

Looking back on the 1970s, there were quite a few opportunities for aspiring and talented rally drivers and co-drivers to get the chance to drive for a manufacturer’s ‘works’ rally team or one of the many manufacturer supported private teams. Unfortunately, as manufacturer interest in the world series dwindled throughout the duration of the 1980s into the 1990s, these opportunities diminished in number and availability. Fast forward to today, and we have three ‘manufacturer’ teams competing in the World Championship and virtually no manufacturer supported private teams.

So what chance does an aspiring and talented youngster have today of ever becoming a professional rally driver or co-driver? Given the current cost and technical complexity of competing at the top level and the number of manufacturers deserting rallying and flocking to Formula 1 and Formula E, those chances are fast disappearing.

We need a simpler and more affordable formula to increase the level of competition to excite more competitors and attract more spectators whilst enticing more manufacturers and enthusing more sponsors. Make the cars more akin to what are driven on public roads, with less complexity and more easily maintained, along with more manageable events and costs and we might yet have a chance.

If there was to be a change, it would be too late for many i.e. ‘the lost talents’. Over recent years, the sport has produced many would-be champions, but only McRae, Ringer, Reid and Aitken-Walker have made it. Many more got a taste of ‘works drives’ but progressed no further due to a lack of opportunities and budgets and perhaps a book on such ‘lost talents’ as Andrew Wood, Dom Buckley Jnr, Robbie Head, Callum Guy, John MacCrone, Jock and Barbara Armstrong and Lorna Smith, as well as Stuart Loudon and Cameron Fair, to name but a few, might just be of interest. And those are just the Scots, think of the many English, Welsh and Northern Irish talents which shone so brightly but all too briefly.

It could be quite a book, couldn’t it?

Tuesday 9 April 2024

Rally - In the Bears’ Den

There was a good crowd at the monthly Coltness CC meeting last night and the book was well received so a big personal sigh of relief. And if ‘the Bears’ head for home with a smile on their faces as opposed to a growl in their throats then it bodes well for the future.

The encouraging thing about such a gathering with the bears is you get the truth, either it’s good sh*t* or it’s bad sh*t*, and thankfully the general consensus was that the book is good sh*t*. So there you have it, a positive recommendation. Or is it?

Seriously, I was really pleased with the feedback. As almost everyone said, it brings back memories and that’s the whole point. As rally folk age so memories dim and we all need a wee trigger now and again.

Anyway, that’s this latest book on the wee marketing website that I have and it sits alongside the first of the planned books on the ‘Scottish Rally Championship’ which has already been published so make sure you click on the right title !!

And finally … One chap came up to me last night with a copy of the book opened at one page and earnestly asked: “Did I really do that? I don’t remember it.” Well, of course he must, it’s in the book, so it must be right. Mustn’t it?

Sunday 7 April 2024

Rally - Murmurs on Tour

Lanarkshire to Lancashire. After visiting Coltness Car Club on Monday it’s off to the far south on Thursday night for a visit to 2300 Club, the originators of the Tour of Mull Rally.

It’s not another formal ‘book launch’, just a meeting of like minded souls with an interest in rallying – one event in particular of course.

Of course, it was former 2300 Club President, the late Brian Molyneux, who wrote the first book on ‘The Tour of Mull Rally’ which covers the event’s introduction in 1969 up to 1994. Sadly that book is out of print but I do believe there is some interest in another wee print run and maybe something will come out of Thursday night’s meeting.

Anyway, my own scurrilous effort is rather different from Brian’s detailed and beautifully written account of the event’s beginnings and its history, whereas the ‘Mull Murmurs’ bulletins as published during the rally were anything but well written or grammatically correct. There was also an issue of ‘political correctness’ which wasn’t quite such a thorny issue in days gone by! I just hope that to-day’s readers will bear that in mind.

It may only be an A5 paperback but it does have 350 pages, and more to the point, the book does contain every single issue of the Bulletins that were issued during that 18 year period 1993 to 2010 – the only place where the full compilation exists.

The cost is 20 quid, which equates to just about one guinea for each year’s series of bulletins and only those who were there can judge if that was a bargain – or not!

Anyway, the 2300 club night will take place on Thursday evening, the 11th of April, at Foxfields Hotel, Whalley Rd, Billington, Clitheroe BB7 9HY and yours truly will be in attendance from around 7.30pm.

By the way, if any other club wants a personal visitation, perhaps it could be arranged! However, anywhere south of Lancashire might pose a health risk to a sunstroke-fearing traveller from the far north.

For those who can’t make it, full details of how to purchase a copy on-line will be published here shortly, once I’ve figured out how to update the bluidy website!

Onwards and upwards, eh?

Saturday 6 April 2024

Rally - The ‘Murmurs’ are alive …

Picked up the fist batch of books from the printer and they’ll go on sale next week. Price is a wee bit higher than I had hoped, so hope that’s OK. I ‘lost’ the title sponsor just before the book was due to go to press and the price of paper has gone up again, so I cut back on the print run a wee bit. Hopefully I’ll still have enough to go round and nobody is disappointed.

The price will be 20 quid plus another fiver for P&P for those who place an order on line and although it is more expensive than originally planned, here is another way of looking at it – the ‘MullMurmurs’ bulletins were issued over an 18 year period, so that equates to just about one guinea for each year’s series of bulletins.

Please also bear in mind that this is primarily a ‘text’ book, not a ‘picture’ book and the photos, such as they are, are purely there to break up the text and perhaps highlight some of the personalities mentioned and ‘equipment’ used. Picture quality isn’t great but that’s down to the quality of the paper, using better grade paper would have pushed the price up again!

It’s also a paperback book and a handy pocket-sized A5 format, but on the plus side, there are 354 pages which hopefully captures what the Mull Rally is all about. At least now a permanent record has been created to carry on the story from Brian Molyneux’s 1969 – 1994 epic with this book covering the period 1993 – 2010. I’ll let someone else take up the story from 2011 onwards …

For those who wish to avail themselves of a copy before the rush (?) I will be at the Coltness Car Club monthly gathering on Monday evening 8th April from 7.30 pm. This will be held at the usual venue – Dalserf Bowling Club, Ashgillhead Road, Ashgill, Larkhall ML9 3AF. The Club is licensed to sell alcoholic refreshments if you’re not driving but also has both leaded and unleaded Irn Bru plus a variety of other soft drinks, and boattles of waatter, and remember, the bar only takes cash – nae cards, cheques or Provi vouchers.

One other thing, if you haven’t been to a CCC club night before you will drive past the entrance to the Bowling Club at least once before you see it. So dinnae worry, we’ve all done it! It’s a tight left on to an unsurfaced narrow road between the first and second wee hooses as you approach the village from the north. There’s a fairly big car park at the foot of the lane on the right with access to the Bowling Club entrance from there.

For those who can’t make it, full details of how to purchase a copy on line will be published here shortly – I had to get a new card payment reader! And that was a job and a half, thanks to DPD. After this week’s carry-on with DPD I’ll be sticking with Royal Mail for delivery and tracking. In other words we’re in a sad state if the Royal Mail can make another delivery company look bad.

So dinnae try an’ order the book here yet – wait for the details (Tuesday hopefully), or I’ll see you Monday evening.

Onwards and upwards, eh?

Tuesday 2 April 2024

Road - New Land Cruiser

Looks like Land Rover’s new Defender and the Ineos Grenadier have a serious rival on its way. The new Toyota Land Cruiser is coming to the UK with a 201hp four cylinder 2.8-litre turbo-diesel engine and a towing limit of 3500 kgs. There’s no manual gearbox just an eight speed automatic and prices are expected to start from a very competitive £45,000. If they can stick to that price then it really will give its rivals a fright.  It’s also got one helluva reputation to live up to – but then it’s got a Toyota badge on the grille!