30 July 2014

Classics on the Common

Poop! Poop!

It's a beautiful afternoon.  Splendid English summer. A Wedgewood sky, the sun gleaming like lemon curd amongst a froth of egg-white clouds.  The grass underfoot is crisp like deep fried seaweed.  There are hats to rival Ascot.  Picnics in the shade. A slow cavalcade of bubbling, back-firing, smoking, steaming vehicles edges across the rumble boards and putters around the common, each ushered to a halt by a crew of aircraft carrier type stewards.....

Messrs Madden and Tibble, in their prime....

In 1994 Harpenden resident and Metropolitan Police officer Peter Madden bought a 1968 Rover P5B coupe and, with his fellow enthusiast John Tibble, then landlord of The Carpenter's Arms in Southdown, dreamed up Classics on the Common, which in its first year attracted 125 cars.

The good old days.....

The event is now the biggest show of its kind in the UK, attracting its maximum capacity of one thousand and fifty cars and vans (as well as some two hundred and fifty motorbikes and scooters) each year. 


More than ten thousand spectators, local residents as well as visitors from afar, throng across the common in the afternoon and evening, inspecting and admiring the much loved cars on display, chatting to proud owners, dreaming of what it might be like....

Glorious, stirring sight! murmured Toad. The poetry of motion! The REAL way to travel! The ONLY way to travel! O bliss! O poop-poop! O my! O my! (Kenneth Grahame - The Wind in the Willows.)

A 2 litre Bristol - Quintessentially English, someone said, as I took this picture.....

A classic vehicle should be at least 20 years old but vintage cars also turn up, some of them more than a hundred years old, for example a 1900 Daimler Type A, and a 1913 model T Ford. Every period since then is represented, too, with Bentleys, Buicks and Austins, Morris Minors, Chevies and VW microbuses.  

Nothing wrong with a rusty Dodge from 1960....  Quintessentially American, perhaps?

The twenty year rule applies to vans and two-wheelers as well, but there are some modern bully-boys who will muscle in on the scene, with a phalanx of Ferraris prowling in at a certain point (though this afternoon half of them lost their way and turned up late!)

Robin, from Borehamwood, has had this Royal Enfield since he was 17.......

In 2008 Peter Madden decided to retire from organising the Classics, and, though still connected with Harpenden, John Tibble had by then retired to Suffolk. The Harpenden Village Rotary Club willingly took over responsibility for the event and so, from early in the day, the Rotarians have been busy preparing the grounds, assisted by members of their associated club, Harpenden Village Inner Wheel, and St Albans & Harpenden Police Cadets, volunteers from the principal charities supported by the event, members of Harpenden Lions Club and Carpenters Arms Classic Car Club and other volunteers.

Stalwart volunteers, such as Duncan Naughten of the Harpenden Village Rotary Club, make sure the wheels go round.....

It is very much a community event, and there is an aura of something special about it - perhaps the mixture of leather upholstery and high quality fuels and oils has something to do with that!  

You lookin' at me?

But as the day winds down, and drivers rev their engines for the drive home, the spectacle becomes even more colourful, with the dials lit up in tiny cockpits, and headlights sweeping the crowd.

Vroom, Vroom!

With a touch of Quadrophenia, ageing mods gather for a drink in Southdown.  The bunting is wound up on the common, and the Classics blur into the night.

In 2013 a record £23,000 was raised by a combination of entrance fees and donations. The main recipients were Herts Air Ambulance, the local branch of the Samaritans, Keech Children’s Hospice and WaterAid. 

The money raised in 2014 will be passed on to Community Meeting Point, the local branch of the Alzheimer’s Society, Youth Talk, Macmillan Cancer Support and Guildford Rotary Eye Project.

Elvis is leaving......

The wonder of this event is the care and pride which is apportioned to each vehicle.  It is marvellous to wander amongst these treasures, and to doff one's cap to the masters of this game.  The shine, the wear, the finishing touches all speak for endless dedication, and love.  The owners stand proudly by, glad to talk about their stories.  I have to say, however, that my attempt at pleasantry with one Ferrari pilot, who was struggling to arise from his steed, did not meet with frivolous risposte, but then if you have that much money, who needs friends, Toad?  

If Toad were around today.....

They reached the carriage-drive of Toad Hall to find a shiny new motorcar, of great size, painted a bright red (Toad’s favourite colour), standing in front of the house. As they neared the door it was flung open, and Mr. Toad, arrayed in goggles, cap, gaiters, and enormous overcoat, came swaggering down the steps (The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame).

Probably not the best time or place for a driving lesson.....

I had a lovely day!  Thanks to all who dreamed it, organised it, managed it, and spent years polishing for it!

Evening light reveals the cracks..... but, hey!

Classics on the Common
Organised by Harpenden Village Rotary Club
Sponsored by Harpenden Town Council
Wednesday, 30th July 2014

I'm off home now....  See you next year!  Poop! poop!

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