Once I arrived, it took me probably a term to get the ropes; longer to take my sneaky control. (I was good at that leading-from-behind thing, once I discovered it.) My first trick was to be able to jump across the six-foot wide ramp down to the bike garage at its deepest point, ten feet, and grip on the other side; and then to be able to drop down the ten feet into the slope, by hanging on by my fingers and flexing my knees as I landed. But that wasn’t enough.
To the left of the junior playground, there was a patch of waste land called the Copse. It was a vale fringed on each side by scrubby trees, stunted undergrowth and dust or mud, depending on the season. The school authorities blind-eyed it as an overflow playground. For me, it was an overflow of the kind of location – beach, dangerous cliffs, dangerous bike rides – that my parents allowed or ignored, or didn’t notice, at home. As you can imagine, it was a world for us boys.
Aside from falling off trees and getting our blazers proudly tainted with dog-do, the Dinky races were a brief but important interlude. Twelve year olds get crazes, encouraged by parents. Dinkies were one, parents presumably seeing them as a wholesome nudge towards the collecting urge, to be arranged in display on top of the chest of drawers. We knew better. Racing cars were for racing. So we devised a track-based competition which, as far as I know, has never been replicated. It was impossible to build a track wide and even enough, down the edge of the Copse, for four or five cars to compete in parallel. Instead the winner was the one who could send his car furthest from a standing start. This became a completely different skill set, combining the technical capabilities of your vehicle – I honed, refined, oiled and possibly sanded my Ferrari to its highest efficiency – with your knowledge of the intricacies of the course and, not least, your ability to launch your car at the right speed and trajectory. So, actually, a bit like golf.
I haven’t been able to find a copyable photo of my Ferrari, but here's a link to something close, though not exact; I don’t recall mine having a driver. A similar one sold on eBay for £500, apparently.
I’m not sure what was behind this post, apart from a casual comment on Christopher's blog, but I did enjoy writing it.