A Country Life: A bus in bits

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The Independent Online

Our friend Ian, who featured here last week in connection with his remarkable talent for impersonating the warble fly, crops up again because of the principal role he took in organising the inaugural Richards Castle Soap Box Derby on Hanway Common. Ian is a man of many parts. Unfortunately, his is also a soap box of many parts.

Our friend Ian, who featured here last week in connection with his remarkable talent for impersonating the warble fly, crops up again because of the principal role he took in organising the inaugural Richards Castle Soap Box Derby on Hanway Common. Ian is a man of many parts. Unfortunately, his is also a soap box of many parts.

He built a tiny replica of a Midlands Red bus, which was driven, on one of its three timed descents, by his friend Richard. We were standing with Ian as the bus hurtled past, although in truth it was less of a hurtle, more of a trundle. Even at trundling speed, however, it ran into trouble round the final bend, and almost in slow motion started falling to bits.

We had been looking forward for weeks to seeing Ian's bus in action, and here, before our very eyes, it was falling apart. There is some famous old footage of the Hindenburg disaster, when in front of an excited, then horrified crowd, the great airship bursts into flames, passengers start leaping to their deaths, and the announcer begins to cry. This was Hanway Common's own Hindenburg disaster, except that there were no flames, nobody died, and the announcer began to laugh. As, indeed, did Ian. He laughed and laughed, until I wondered whether the waiting St John Ambulance crew might be pressed into action, if only to stitch up his sides.

Coincidentally, the event took place on the same day as the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, but was infinitely more exciting. There were some truly weird and wonderful contraptions, all engine-less of course, including one painted to look like a giant slab of cheese. "Oh no," exclaimed the announcer, as this contraption veered off the track towards another local beauty spot. "The cheese is heading for the Goggin!"

The announcer, a plummy chap called Sebastian with a voice that evoked a 1950s BBC radio broadcast, did an absolutely superb job, retaining his enthusiasm from first descent to last, over many hours. "Wibble, wobble, wobble, wibble!" he cried, as a souped-up go-kart looked vulnerable round the bend where the Midlands Red had expired. And then, "wobble wibble, wibble, wobble!", as a box on pram wheels looked shaky down the straight. ITV should hire him immediately to commentate on Formula One.

As a study of the English at play on a July day, the first Richards Castle Soap Box Derby could not have been bettered. There was an announcer with the zest of Murray Walker and the vowels of Raymond Brooks-Ward, capable middle-aged women dispensing tea and walnut cake, a hot-dog van, a bouncy castle and leaden skies. It was marvellous.

Boogie nights

That was quite a day, the Sunday of the Soap Box Derby, because in the evening came the finale of the Ludlow Festival, a Showaddywaddy concert in the grounds of Ludlow Castle. Now Ludlow Castle has seen some pretty strange goings-on in its 900 years, but an elderly Teddy boy dancing vigorously to Pretty Little Angel Eyes, accidentally treading with one crepe-soled boot on a Sainsbury's quiche lorraine, the centrepiece of a picnic being enjoyed by a group of women on a hen party wearing phallus-shaped whistles round their necks, might go down as one of the strangest.

I took my daughter Eleanor to see Showaddywaddy. For my wife Jane, the Soap Box Derby had generated quite enough excitement for one day. Besides, Jane said she hadn't been especially keen on Showaddywaddy even the first time round, and nor could I tempt her by pointing out that Joe Brown and the Bruvvers were on the bill, albeit wivvout Joe Brown, not to mention Jet Harris of The Shadows, albeit without The Shadows.

She missed a treat. The last night of the Ludlow Festival is quite a Social Event in these parts, to the extent that steps had to be taken this year to make it less of a Social Event. People had got into the habit of taking increasingly generous picnics and ever-more elaborate items of garden furniture into the castle grounds, but this year the organisers, not unlike that elderly Teddy boy, put a resounding foot down. Only collapsible chairs were allowed; no pergolas.

Eleanor and I didn't even have collapsible chairs, but that didn't matter as we spent most of our time dancing. At first, being 11 and on the threshold of self-conscious adolescence, she declined to dance. I didn't try to persuade her but must have looked disappointed, because she then changed her mind, and we cheerfully boogied the night away, only once coming close to stepping on somebody's Scotch egg.

P is for party

A friend has advised me to urinate in my garden as a means of deterring foxes. We now have 11 chickens, and I am more mindful than ever of the warning I was once given by a veteran poultry-fancier, who told me gravely that the fox only has to get lucky once, whereas we have to get lucky every night. I had already been advised that piddling on fresh molehills is a good way of discouraging moles, but I didn't know that the same procedure applies to foxes. Considering the number of foxes round here, to say nothing of the number of moles, I'm not sure that my bladder is up to the job. I'm thinking of sending out invitations to a urinating party, with a heartfelt RSV, erm, P.

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