Saturday, 24 March 2012

Copse Racing

Bournemouth School, most of the fifties.  The school itself was a monolithic affair, red brick; but a monolith laid on its side, as it was only two storeys high but very wide, at least that’s how I remember it.  The older you were, the further to the right was your entrance: there were two playgrounds, the one on the left for juniors and the one on the right for seniors.  No boys were allowed in through the main, central entrance, which had a parliamentary aura about it.  That’s one of the many design flaws in grammar schools of that time, because ‘seniors’, who would be those boys of fifteen or over, didn’t need a playground, being more inclined to the library, to some kind of intensive sporting activity, or to the playground of Bournemouth School For Girls down below the fields.

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.


  1. What a brilliant car!

    Boys are quite different from girls, aren't they. We never did anything like that.

  2. Excellent post, Tim. Seems that some of us secondary modern types, shared boyhood interests with grammar school lads. We arranged similar Dinky events, though usually in someone's garden. Never had a Ferrari in my collection.

    I have wondered, on occasion, what grammar School would have been like. Still, if you will contrive, along with your school-weary best pals, to fail your eleven plus...

  3. Happy days. We did much the same, tho' I remember a trying tendency for the tyres on my Dinky toy Aston Martin DB? (can't remember) to come off at critical moments. And commercial vehicles were faster than cars. Dinks always won the day, leaving Matchbox (not sure they existed then, actually) and something called Minics trailing far behind.

    But did you then move on to yo-yos?

  4. I had a Dinky Ferrari and Alfa Romeo at Junior School. We used to race on the playground and turn them over regularly.
    It's a tad ironic that the little swots who kept theirs pristine in box had the last laugh on eBay but they are still the emotional losers.

  5. I had matchbox cars. As I was a girl, they didn't race much but went on adventures round the garden, often carrying farm animals.
    When I first looked at this post I thought it said corpse racing and was expecting something quite different to happen in the copse.

  6. "But did you then move on to yo-yos?"

    Hula-hoops wasn't it? (The rings, not the crisps). Preferably with a young lady inside.

  7. Yo-yos AND hula hoops. And girls (who I can confirm, from memory, are indeed quite different).

    I REALLY like the idea of corpse racing, Mig, and feel a zombie story coming on.