Image: Brijesh Patel
September 11 2010
Watching the autumnal pageant of russet and yellow as the leaves tend to a parchment-like crispness and fall to earth is not my absolute favourite thing. Where others rhapsodise about a pleasing seasonal palette of brown and gold, I can’t help but see the last days of summer dying in those once green leaves. However, I am not so mired in dysphoria that I do not appreciate the changes effected in the landscape by the passage of the seasons; provided, of course, that nature conforms to my nostalgic notions of what things looked like in the past.
Ah yes, the past: my favourite place. Happily there are others who share my taste for nostalgia, among them Charles March. Lord March has of course taken the whole stately-home-as-a-going-concern thing to a new level, and my favourite of all his events is the Goodwood Revival on September 17-19, a weekend of vintage motorsport for which everyone dresses up in mid-20th century clothing. Well, not everyone dresses up. Given that much of the time I like to look as if I am auditioning for a role in a film by Powell & Pressburger, I just go along in my usual clothes.
The Revival is a spectacle like no other, and not just from a sartorial point of view. It is after all a motor-sport event, albeit an extremely well-dressed one, and one that showcases the talents of the best drivers ever to hold a wheel. I remember one year seeing Derek Bell enter the pit lane on the second lap of a race when some pipe or other sprang a leak and sprayed oil all over his windscreen.
Derek Bell is a great man, one of the last few remaining gentlemen, and a superb driver who has won the 24-hour race of Le Mans on numerous occasions, but I thought that this mishap on what was a short race of only about half an hour’s duration would cause him to retire. After all, having driven for old man Ferrari and played himself in the film Le Mans, it is not as if he has anything to prove. But Derek is not the retiring type. After a couple of minutes he was back on the circuit and I told my children to keep an eye on his car as we were about to see some extraordinary driving.
“But he is too far back,” they said.
“Just watch,” I said
As he came from almost a lap down, we watched him slicing through the competition, overtaking around three cars every lap. Sensational. Sadly the race was ended early, otherwise I am sure he would have won. It is always a pleasure to watch a virtuoso practise his art but my eyes were so riveted to the track following Derek’s performance that I completely forgot to let my eyes wander across the early autumn Sussex landscape. I wanted to check out the corn. Not that I am about to become a cereal farmer, but rather that Charles once told me that he expressly had old-fashioned stooks of corn standing in the fields just as he remembered them when he attended races on the circuit as a boy.
You see, before he became a motor sport impresario, Charles March worked as a photographer and the best photographers have a gift for soaking up detailed visual information in an instant; it is almost as if their mind acts as a sheet of photo-sensitive paper, or a camera chip. And I believe that it is this unerring eye for detail that accounts for the success of Goodwood. After all, there cannot be many period motorsport events where every detail, from the clothes worn by spectators to the crops grown in adjoining fields, is carefully art-directed. This year I really must remember to keep an eye out for the famous mid-20th-century stooks… unless of course Derek Bell drives all agricultural thoughts from one’s mind with another of his victory-from-the-jaws-of-defeat stunts.