A few years ago (2016) I won a pair of tickets to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, which is a 4 day event (arrive on first day, set up in the camping field, two days of practice and qualifying and then race day). David, a friend, came along and we duly arrived, having only to pay for our camping. So we had four days of chilling out and watching the motor racing, and all of the other pleasures that go into such an event.
Yes, there was the racing, but there was a good amount of downtime, drinking coffees, maybe a beer or wine later in the day – basically periods of indolence interspersed with a bit of motor racing. Ideal.
But apart from the racing (and all of the other stories I could tell about the weekend) there is always one memory that jumps out. The moment when it could all have gone horribly wrong. Let me explain.
David is an Australian.
Enough said, you might think, but we always indulge in a fair bit of international rivalry and it has to be said that David can dish it out pretty good. For instance, if there is a test match featuring our national sides and (imagine such a thing happening) if the Aussies are winning – well I avoid his phone calls. Similarly, should the boot be on the other foot, he is remarkably difficult to track down, so in a nutshell, we indulge in heavy duty ribbing and no insults are too strong – nothing is out-of-bounds.
So how did this kick off at the British Grand Prix? Well, it’s well known there are no notable Aussies in the Grand Prix circus (if you ignore Daniel Ricciardo who barely features in a race, except when he lucks into a win) and Lewes Hamilton had the whole thing wrapped up fairly early in qualifying, so no cause for alarm. That’s when it happened.
It was the evening after qualifying and we were sitting in the catering area eating Badger Burgers (at least, that’s what they tasted like) washed down with a bottle of red, minding our own business, David was reading the Guardian (a bit of a lefty) and all was quiet when we were joined by three fellow enthusiasts with whom we exchanged some merry banter (they had detected an Antipodean). “Are you an Australian?” they asked, stating the obvious, but years of this sort of opening gambit had taught David that you don’t mess about – you go for the jugular.
“Yes” he replied. “Just come to see you pommy bastard makeweights get stuffed by Ricciardo”, he replied, barely looking up from his newspaper. A comment that was greeted with a puzzled silence by our new found friends. That’s when I noticed they wore vests emblazoned with the cross of St George and all had suspiciously short haircuts (or were even bald in the case of one of them who helpfully had his name “Nozzer” printed across his vest). David noticed none of this, took another swig of wine to fortify himself and settled down for a prolonged discussion on the disadvantages of being English before launching into a tirade of abuse against the English in general in the best tradition of Aussie/Brit relationships.
Our new found friends were shocked into silence at this, barely able to believe what they had heard, but this was turning nasty fast, so I stepped in to remind David that we had agreed to meet someone on the other side of the circuit in about five minutes. He looked at me quizzically. “Who?” he demanded. “We don’t know anyone” before he suddenly took in the St George vests and the suspiciously short haircuts, looked at his watch and said “We’d better get a move on”, grabbing his Guardian, his bottle of wine and making off with unseemly haste.
As we left, I heard one of our new found friends saying to another “What’s he on about? I think we might have been insulted. Do you think he was taking the piss Nozzer?” But we never got to find out what Nozzer thought. We had moved on – disappeared into the crowd – making a mental note that tomorrow night we might choose another spot for our evening repast.