A hot September Saturday in Cheshire, 1959. We haven’t moved for ten minutes. Ahead of us, a queue of cars stretches out of sight around the corner. Everyone has turned his engine off, and now my father does so too. In the sudden silence we can hear the distant whinge of what must be the first race of the afternoon, a ten-lap event for saloon cars. It is five minutes past one. In an hour the drivers will be warming up for the main event, the Gold Cup–Graham Hill, Jack Brabham, Roy Salvadori, Stirling Moss and Joakim Bonnier. My father has always loved fast cars, and motor racing has a strong British following just now, which is why we are stuck here in this country lane with hundreds of other cars.
My father does not like waiting in queues. He is used to patients waiting in queues to see him, but he is not used to waiting in queues himself. A queue to him means a man being denied the right to be where he wants to be at a time of his own choosing, which is at the front, now. Ten minutes have passed and my father is running out of patience. What is happening up ahead? What fat-head has caused this snarl-up? Why are no cars coming the other way? Has there been an accident? Why are there no police to sort it out? Every two minutes or so he gets out of the car, crosses to the opposite verge and tries to see if there is movement up ahead. There isn’t. He gets back in. The roof of our Alvis is down, the sun beating on to the leather upholstery, the chrome, the picnic basket. The hood is folded and pleated into the mysterious crevice between the boot and the narrow back seat where my sister and I are scrunched together as usual. The roof is nearly always down, whatever the weather: my father loves fresh air, and every car he has ever owned has been a convertible, so that he can have fresh air. But the air today is not fresh. There is a pall of high-rev exhaust, dust, petrol, boiling-over engines.
In the cars ahead and behind, people are laughing, eating sandwiches, drinking from beer bottles, enjoying the weather, settling into the familiar indignity of waiting-to-get-to-the-front. But my father is not like them. There are only two things on his mind: the invisible head of the queue and, not unrelated, the other half of the country lane, tantalizingly empty.