I’VE always been an ambitious person – though not always about the right things, it has to be said.
For example when I was in the sixth form I never had that burning desire to be the best in the class or move heaven and earth to get the grades I needed. But I was always determined to be the first one to the pub .
I never wanted to be an astronaut or a nuclear physicist but I remain committed to getting to every speedway track and league football ground in the country.
So it was with that slightly off-kilter sense of ambition that I refused to let the small matter of being out of the country until the morning of race day rule me out of attending last weekend’s British Grand Prix at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
This year’s later than usual staging of the biggest meeting on the speedway calendar meant it dovetailed perfectly with the Neal family’s annual holiday.
But hey, the ferry was due to dock at Hull at 9am and the meeting didn’t start until 6. So a series of train journeys with changes at Doncaster, Birmingham and Bristol would get me there in plenty of time.
Getting from Bruges to Cardiff via an overnight ferry and a series of trains (Mrs N was talkin the car back home) couldn’t be too difficult, could it? What could possibly go wrong?
Well one or two things actually.
For a start we docked an hour late and by then the novelty of the all-you-can-eat buffet breakfast and bargain duty free after shave had well and truly worn off.
The sat nav spending its first 10 minutes on dry land stubbornly protesting it was still in Belgium hardly helped. We think it was getting its own back after we refused to take its advice and go via the M62 on the way there.
But nonetheless I was dropped off at Hull station in good time for the first of my scheduled four trains. And leg one to Doncaster went like a dream. So far so good. Told you it would be easy.
That was where it started to get tricky though.
Train No 2 was 20 minutes late. Now 20 minutes isn’t a lifetime, I grant you, but it sure feels like it when your connection leaves Birmingham New Street 15 minutes after you’re scheduled to get there.
So there I was sweating like John Prescott in a pie shop, eaten up by anxiety as I shared a platform with trainspotters, geezer football fans having a crafty slurp of Carling on their way to the game, women dolled up to the nines in high heels and strapless frocks on their way to the races, the regulation nutter shouting random, indecipherable comments a random people, and all manner of characters in between.
Intrinsically different we all were, yet bound together by the common desire to be on a train that wasn’t there.
Eventually it pulled in and I found my way to the seat I had reserved… only to find it occupied by a lady who quite clearly wasn’t me.
“Hello,” I said with forced cheeriness. “I’m sorry but I believe you’re in my seat.”
Give the lady her due, she didn’t deny it. Her excuse was a little flimsy however. “I’m supposed to be at the other end of the carriage,” she protested indignantly, “and it’s crowded up there.”
I pointed out as politely as I could that, whichever way she dressed it up, she was in my seat and her argument was more than a little flawed from the outset. Would she turn up at my house, sit in my living room and eat my dinner if the A19 was busy and she didn’t fancy battling her way through the traffic to get to her own gaff?
Of course not. So eventually we – albeit reluctantly on her part – reached an agreement and off she toddled to the seat she should have been occupying all along. Result.
That didn’t fix the major problem though. I’d missed my connection to Bristol Parkway. The next one was an hour later. And if that was delayed..?
Suddenly I was surely destined to be making the final leg of this crazy journey long after everyone else had taken their seats and allowed the sweet smell of burning Castrol oil and methanol to waft effortlessly up their nostrils.
Fortunately I then discovered there was a direct train to Cardiff from Birmingham leaving in half an hour that would get me to the Welsh capital only about 40 minutes later than I’d planned. I could have kissed the girl at the information desk when she told me. To be honest, I could have done that before she’d said a word, but that’s another story.
Thankfully a warm glow of calm engulfed me after that. Indeed I was soon given a timely reminder that it could have been a whole more arduous, traumatic and expensive.
For sitting close by me on the 14.30 from Birmingham New Street were Kate and her family from Northwich – Belle Vue fans who were involved in a car crash on the M5 while making their way down to Cardiff for their first ever GP experience.
Fortunately no-one was injured but then came the dilemma. The car was undriveable and a recovery truck was on its way – but should they head home or continue to South Wales via public transport?
Well, we all know they breed ’em tough in speedway and on this occasion the sport really was the winner. The recovery truck dropped them at Birmingham New Street station and the rest is history. And they enjoyed it so much they’re already talking excitedly about going back next year.
Anyone who has ever been there can see why, too. Once again GP weekend was a cracker. A great meeting in a magnificent stadium, a get together of fans from not just all over the country but the continent too, and a big party atmosphere to boot.
The city centre is like a who’s who of speedway post-meeting with riders and personalities past and present in just about every corner of every bar.
The press facilities are great too and, thanks to a lift back to Teesside the next day, I had a nice, easy journey home in time to write my report for the following day’s Gazette.
All’s well that ends well.