Jezebel, our nine-year-old Skoda, sits at home, alone most of the time. The main variety in her daily life is a trip to the Co-op, shopping. (I empathise.)
There are times, though, when Jezzie has a really grand day out.
And so it is this Saturday morning. A hint of rain on the wind, a bouncy road along the coastal marshes, she soon rolls up in the middle of a field. Ejecting the two of us, fast as she can, she settles in for a parking fest. A carnival of badges and hues.
Leaving Jezzie to her fun, we trudge towards several ‘mature’ men wearing Rotary t-shirts, waving leaflets and taking our money.
Crossing a land drainage ditch, we’re stopped in our tracks by a banner showing how much Rotary has raised to help end polio. I’m glad we added £7 a head.
Hunger sets us straight on course for food.
As we step smartly past the first ‘steam engines’ I’m a little disappointed. They’re not as big as I’d expected – in fact they’re downright small. Even the vintage prams are more spectacular.
But when we reach the main arena, the sound of music fills the air.
And I start singing.
I know. But I can’t help it.
The Beach Boys are blaring out in the fairground.
It’s an omen.
The last time I had a really great outing the Beach Boys set me off – surfing downtown … And now it’s happening again.
Goggle-eyed as a toddler, I gaze up at the big wheel with desire in my eyes. Born in Atlanta in 1949, she’s oh-so enticing.
But first, we must feed.
Giving the Hippy Chippie a miss, we opt for shredded topside of beef, in a floury bap, with horseradish sauce. So much I can’t finish mine (and I’ve clocked the ‘Robinsons’ home-made ice-cream’ van).
Strains of the ukulele orchestra seep through the canvas walls of Aunt Nellie’s Victorian Tea Room. Men in bowler hats and flat caps wander by.
Flecks of soot land on my face as we start our trek. The scent of coal smoke’s becoming stronger.
I feel a prickle of excitement.
The smell of hot tar – just a memory.
‘They still used those when I was little,’ I say.
Anthro-man looks at me as if I’ve just said dinosaurs walked the earth with humans.
Am I muddling my sister’s Matchbox toys with real life?
He reads about one from Preston. Working into the late 1960s, it says.
Like vast metal carthorses, their gleaming coats and plaited manes replaced by burnished metal in glossy reds and blacks, the engines are beauties.
Each one tended by devoted figures in dark blue overalls.
Tins of Brasso and stacks of yellow-packaged steam coal punctuate the displays. A steam-fair version of ‘spot Wally’. There, somewhere if only you have eyes.
The old fashioned engines give way to hefty lorries, military vehicles, motorbikes and vintage cars.
And the Robinsons’ ice-cream van.
‘Two 99s, please.’ It has to be.
White, frosty ice-cream, scooped onto a cornet, speared with a Cadbury’s flake. I have sauce, he has sauce and bits.
What more could a person want? The sun, warm on my head, the fairground organ steaming away and an ice-cream in my hand.
Car spotting, I see my first Lagonda, a name I encountered in a Betjeman poem. Now I can envisage it, ‘crunching over private gravel’.
The model T Ford’s so big – and, yes, it’s black.
There’s a couple sitting inside, like an art installation.
‘See the badge on the bumper,’ says the elderly man, ‘that’s from the Zuider Zee rally.’ He beams with pride. ‘And she still takes us to France.’
‘I bet you cause a bit of road rage,’ says I.
He smiles, ducks that one.
‘Forty miles an hour. With the top half down I can keep my Panama hat on.’
I hadn’t noticed it was a soft top.
His passenger looks as if she’s been sitting there forever – in the nicest possible way, I mean – happy to be touring.
‘How old is she,’ I ask, ‘the car?’
‘1939. Wearing well, aren’t we?’ answers the woman with a twinkle.
We tear ourselves away. My feet are complaining.
Time for a sit down. With a view.
Like the big wheel.
On the first turn I wonder if I’m going to be sick.
I reverse my strategy for small aeroplanes. Look straight ahead, not down.
I’m sad to leave.
But it’s time.
And so, back through the small machines. More solitary men in blue overalls. More bags of steam coal. More vintage oil cans and bottles of Brasso.
We reach the last little display. I smile at the man but can’t think of anything to say. It’s just a small machine. Doing nothing much.
As we stroll on Anthro-man comments on the light.
I missed the point completely.
The machine’s powering a light.
I turn back, confess, have a laugh with the man. Ask him about the machine.
Another labour of love. Another story of passion – and cherishing – and history.
She was started life in a putty factory in Yorkshire.
(A putty factory? Something new to wonder about.)
Ended her working days in a milk bottling plant. In Yorkshire.
He tried to clean out the putty from some bit of the machine I didn’t recognise but Anthro-man did (well he nodded) but it was set so hard he couldn’t budge it. He left it. Part of its history, we agree.
‘Maybe you’ll find some cheese there, too,’ I quip. He looks a bit confused, then gets it.
Jezzie welcomes us back. Reluctantly, I suspect. Hundreds of everyday motors are parked in the field. I doubt, somehow, that ours will be cherished by a man in blue overalls, wielding an oil can and rubbing her with Brasso, in another 100 years.
And so, our dull but doughty Skoda takes us home, resumes her place outside, once more.
It’s been a grand day out.