Connecticut Days: Swept away in go-kart mania

The message was on the answering machine on our return home from Britain after Christmas. It was an invitation, discovered one day after the event, to attend a Tiger Cubs go-kart clinic at the house of a neighbour. We played the tape a few times more, but still we were baffled. A go-kart clinic?

Whatever it was, it sounded ominous. Jonathan, our six-year-old, became a Tiger Cub last autumn on his way to becoming a full Cub Scout later this year. The deal was that this was strictly Daddy's department. This Daddy has since learned that most other Daddies take Cub business fearfully seriously. It is not for mucking about.

But nothing in the Tiger Cubs calendar can be quite so intimidating as the annual Pinewood Derby. Open to Cub Scouts of all ages, it is an evening of desperate competition with fathers and sons racing model cars down a sloping length of wooden track. It sounds fun, but there is a catch. The cars have to be made at home out of seven-inch blocks of very unforgiving wood. Therein is the skill of it all. And the agony.

The clinic; if only we had not missed it. The surgeon-in-chief whose wife had left the phone message had been John and he, I know, is a man whose basement is fairly jammed with things like chisels and, most of all, a vice. Usborne Towers is not so richly appointed. Our workbench was a tea-tray and the chisel a putty knife.

You do, at least, have an official "Pinewood Derby Kit" from which to work. Provided is the block of wood, four nails to serve as axles and four plastic wheels. And there are instructions. The notion that Jonathan was meant to be making this thing on his own was plainly ludicrous. No six-year-old could do this.

The instructions turn out to be a rule-sheet. "Wheel bearings, washers and bushings are prohibited ... The car shall not ride on springs ... Dry graphite is the only lubricant permitted ... no starting devices ... " Most crucial are the dimensions and weight. Wheels must be 1/32 of an inch from the car's body. The vehicle must not weigh more than 5oz.

I decide to team up with William, an English friend. Together we hit the local hardware stores only to be met by giggles and ridicule. We might as well have worn signs that read "Hopeless Fathers About to Let Down Their Sons". My vintage English fret-saw with its crooked blade caused particular uproar. "In this country, sir, saws like that would be disposable." What I needed was a new coping saw, but they had all gone to all the other fathers making cars.

It must be said that when the big night comes, neither of our cars are a disgrace. William's model is almost sleek, although ours boasts a rather special windscreen and steering-wheel arrangement ripped from one of Jonathan's Lego sets. But our cars were mere Trabants next to the Ferrari's produced by most of the other parents. Just how many hours and how many dollars did you people spend, I want to shout out.

The races are in a series of heats with three cars at a time. Some fathers crane intently over the track. One is reprimanded by a Cub master after he is caught red-handed squirting last-minute graphite on his axles.

The brilliance of it all is how the British entrants perform. We are persistent second-placers, which means all humiliation for our sons is avoided, as is any danger of going on to the regional Cub Scout finals. Nor do we suffer the embarrassment of another English father, Andy, who last year was awarded a special prize for a car that had clearly been made by his child alone, so utterly crude was its design and finish. His son, of course, had had nothing to do with it.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The cartoon depicts the UK (far left) walking around a Syrian child refugee
newsIn an exclusive artwork for The Independent, Ali Ferzat attacks Britain's lack of 'humanity'
Life and Style
Man taking selfie in front of car
health
Sport
footballManager attacks Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp after criticism of Diego Costa's apparent stamping
Life and Style
food + drink
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Manager - OTE £40,000

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This web-based lead generation ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Intervention Teacher Required To Start ASAP.

£125 - £150 per day + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: A 'wonderful primary ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Our client is an 11-16 mixed commun...

Recruitment Genius: PHP / Drupal / SaaS Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly developing company in...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore