I’m home from the 2009 Eco-Rally and oh, what a gig it was.
Late Sunday night found me and my co-driver Joe Wadsworth hovering outside the Royal Albion Hotel in Brighton, awaiting a full collective of hungry eco-celebs (Quentin Willson, Robert Llewellyn, Penney Poyzer and more)…
After the exciting arrival of the Tesla and once the blokes had all taken it for a spin around the block, we eventually went trotting off to get a bit off Thai tucker and I sat next to the lovely Robert Llewellyn (Kryten from Red Dwarf).
Carl Honore, the bestselling author of In Praise of Slow joined us and good food was munched by all. Robert had half an eye on my tasty veg spring rolls and I thought it only fair to share the love…but he wasn’t getting a look in at my sweet and sour prawns.
We all waddled back at midnightish and Penney, Joe and I were drawn to the shore to talk at the moon and listen to the waves wash over the pebbles; it was a full moon too and just stunningly peaceful. It gave poignance to the fact that we were all about to bang the drum for environmental transport issues and we talked sense for at least 10 minutes before feeling the chill and retreating to our respective starchy beds.
I was up at 6.30am, woken by seagulls and intrepid excitement of what lie ahead.
My ‘Z’ list status meant I drew the short straw and got the 7.25am interview on BBC Brighton and another an hour later as I was trying to poke toast in and Quentin Willson got the 9 o’clocker!
Typically, just as my mobile phone rang out a random ring-tone around my room, I had half a leg in a pair of trousers, the hotel phone rang too and a paper-delivering hallway knocker tapped on my door (by mistake)…clear signals that the green light was shining and it was time to go, go go…
Breakfast was as surreal an affair as dinner had been (NB: Royal Albion doesn’t do healthy yogurt, so I had to resort to egg and bacon and beans…) and everyone awaited the briefing to find out what we’d be driving…but those in charge were keeping their cards close to their chests (either that, or they’d lost the sheet). The meeting dissolved with instructions to pack up, ship out and hot foot it to Madeira Drive down on the front.
The weather was perfect; sunny, a little breeze tossing clean hair all over the place and time was ticking, celebs were trickling in, as were the flashy eco-cars and their guardians, all clad in well pressed shiny suits and Arnie sunglasses. Some had obviously arrived very late/early and (possibly) kipped in their cars, with breath of a 1,000 camels and forgotten toothpaste giving them away.
As with all every best laid plan for an event of this magnitude (and this had lots of magnitude) the 10am start was delayed.
We girls (Penney P, Joanna Yarrow and I) were left wafting about aimlessly, looking like we were waiting for collective waters to break. Truth was, we were! The sensible mothers in us all kicked in and we started asking everyone if they’d been to the toilet, telling them it was best that they did, they’d only want to go once they were on their way….and all that.
It was at this point I realised there was only a tiny handful of ladies present; it was almost all blokes waiting on the grid for their spangly car keys. Oliver Heath laughed at wee girls and said we should just nip over the bump of the pebbly beach and tiddle in the sea! No one would watch, he promised…see that’s the difference with boys and girls – ‘they’ can take advantage of a bit of camouflage for a crafty pee – girls don’t stand a chance of keeping their dignity with their full moons on full view.
Anyway, there was a nearby playground with kids loos and teeny seats for low down bots, so we quick-marched in and quick-marched back to the starting line with minutes to go before 10, although we had been regularly reminded, ‘This is a rally, not a race’.
I don’t think Quentin heard. He’d been allocated the Tesla and the front of the grid.
He shot off once the church bell had boinged 10 and as the darn thing was electric, no-one really heard him or the subsequent first third of the rally whizz off in hot pursuit!
All of a sudden, the line was short and we were eating dust and laughing our heads off, until we realised, our car was with them…. I was part of ‘Team Volvo’ and Duncan (the lovely car guardian) did what we’d all do in that situation and followed the leader!
The boss used the walkumtalkums and tried to reel them all in but by that time, we realised Quentin was probably lapping the M25, so we just got ourselves together like a bunch of motorised, synchronised swimmers and put the pedal on the floor…until we hit the lights and mini-roundabout, at which point any chance of keeping a formation together were shot to bits.
We stopped off at Sainsbury’s Eco store in Greenwich and refuelled (ourselves, not the cars) with sarnies and water then proceeded on to City Hall to meet Boris Johnson, the London Mayor.
After getting ever so slightly lost (only a tiny bit) we found ourselves back on the rightish road and god bless the sat nav, but it obviously doesn’t seem to know legal driving manoeuvres and we had to turn around in the car park of the London Mission, as had Zac Goldsmith before us, now driving the enormous Tesla…
Ah well, all was done, our mission was over and as we arrived in broken procession in completely the wrong order, the press clicked, the film crews filmed and the public must have wondered what on earth was going on.
The enigmatic Boris Johnson (rather oddly shorter than I’d imagined) came down to inspect the spectacle that presented itself before the Crash Helmet building and I must say, I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
The media pack that encircled him and Quentin was almost indescribable at one point. All the journos and snappers jostled each other for prime position and how they didn’t knock the poor man over I’ll never know.
I know how you play the photographers game, it’s not hard but for a good natural shot, you should ignore the cameras and natter as if they weren’t there, behaving perfectly normally. From here on in, I’ll not bat an eyelid if I ever see the dear boy turn around and deck someone for breathing down his neck…goodness knows how you cope with that on a daily basis, we were all knackered just watching him.
So what happened next? Well, those of us who had trains to catch and homes to go to peeled off in stages and we left the rest of the die-harders and true carophiles to go to the reception as WhatCar? unveiled their Car of the Year Awards.
I set off with Joe about 5pm and we carved a route through the rush hour in a methane powered Mercedes sprinter van (the gas having derived from lactose – absolutely remarkable use of a completely useless by-product of dairy farming) pointing in a south-westerly direction and I plonked my bottom on my lovely couch just before the 10 o’clock news, completely exhaustamacated, at which point I found out that ‘my’ lovely little ec0-rally car for the day, the Volvo S40 DrivE had won Green Car of the Year!….ah well, no speech was given, no applause was heard…it was all I could muster to mop the snooze-dribble from the corner of my mouth as I dozed off whilst listening to the sport and weather at the end of the bulletin.
No more high life for me, that’s London ‘done’ again for another month or so.
If you fancy looking at the pictures I took of the day, hop over to my Flickr and have a flick.
And don’t forget, the best form of truly sustainable transport is your feet!