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Who needs a Pembleton when you have a 2CV?

Going to watch the racing at Angoulème is fun but it also provides an excuse to get in the car and drive it. Also do other stuff, see places, meet people, eat, drink, gather stories and feel smug. This started off as a Pembleton trip but eventually involved a Blackjack Avion, a Triking, a motorbike and a 2CV but all with serious Pembleton credentials. Oh yes, and four Pembletons.

Having sold my Pembleton (Guzzi 750) to Alain Pommier in Paris last December and since been too busy I found myself sans roadworthy Pembleton. It was either not go or choose another steed from the stable. Casting my eyes over the selection available the choice was not too difficult - my 1958 ex Rick Pembro, oily rag condition 2CV. The first time I saw this car Rick drove it into my yard on his way back from Cornwall, he had a 2CV chassis strapped to the roof. It was love at first sight. I wanted that car. It wasn't to be. Another friend acquired it from Rick without me realising it but then sometime later, somehow, my name was on the V5. How does that happen? That was couple of years ago. Being Rick's car, despite outward appearances it is mechanically and structurally as it good as it could be and the best I have driven. 602cc of course. So, with minutes to go before departure I booked the ferry and threw my stuff into the back of the car and set off for Portsmouth. Don and Lynda in 'Rocket' had been waiting patiently for me to get ready. They're used to it.

First stop on the other side was an hotel near Limoges and rendezvous with Dave and Nikki Parr and Duncan who had made their separate ways there. A delightful stopover, the sign on the wall said 'Relais du Silence'; obviously not while Duncan was there. Then off we went full of excitement and anticipation of a brilliant couple of days at David Stevenson's place near Cahors. We were not disappointed. Kevin and Heather in their Blackjack were already there and a surprise guest arrived at 10 that evening - Tom Rae had travelled 500 miles that day having first toured the glorious exhibits of the Schlumpf Collection. I know, it defies understanding. Only those who have spent two weeks sitting beside him in a Pembleton would come anywhere near understanding. I was gobsmacked. Any normal human being would consider, A) visiting the Schlumpf or B) driving 500 miles enough in one day. When Tom arrived the rest of us had wilted-willey syndrome. We just can't compete with Tom the alpha male of the Pembleton world.

What a fabulous evening at David's, he and his partner, Snowy had prepared a banquet. We ate, drank and were merry, thoroughly entertained by Duncan's singing and monologue recitals. Naturally he had brought his ukulele with him. These days ukuleles turn up in the most unlikely places. In any gathering of more than half a dozen there's someone who has one/wants one or is learning to play a ukulele. It's like weddings and kilts, have you ever been to a wedding where there hasn't been someone wearing a kilt? Ok, in Scotland, but in Guildford for crying out loud!

The following day David lead us on a run out but not before we all drooled over his Two Bugattis. Actually the next best thing to owning a Bugatti is knowing someone who has one. Duncan was the chosen one to be taken for a spin in the Type 35 (the writer slaps his forehead in disbelief, horror and jealousy at the recollection). Still he did manage to recite two versions of Albert and the Lion the night before. The run out was great, I cosied up with Duncan in the Silver Surfer which was just as well as it was a fast trip, David in his Guzzi powered Triking setting a brisk pace. We visited another Pembleton, a hill top town with fabulous views of the Dordogne and a chateau-castle thing. The Pembleton was at the premises of the Montgolfiere Balloon Company which was not only interesting but the hospitality was marvellous. That evening Don was in charge of cooking and we were all obliged to sit around the table with more delicious food, cider, wine and laughter.

In the morning it was Ho! for the open road to the hotel at Angoulème. Convoy rules applied so that we all stayed together and no one got lost or left behind. Ha ha! Every car except mine had a satnav. I had a map. I'm not saying anything, just don't mention 'satnav' in my presence. I'll stick to the old ways... Somehow we all got there within minutes of each other with much laughter and were greeted by a large grey beard with Colin Ferguson standing very closely behind it. Wherever that beard went, Colin went, amazing. He also had a too-much-to-do-and-Pembleton-not-ready situation so casting his eyes over his stable mounted his trusty BMW bike, thus completing the not quite all Pembleton, Pembleton trip.

Having been keen to go to 'Angoulème' for many years frankly I didn't really know what to expect or what the schedule was apart from some vague notion of chaps belting around the ramparts in Bugattis. Fortunately, as is usual, others had more idea and had done a little planning - thank you Dave and Nikki. The first full day there was a massive run-out/rally thing of 700 classic and vintage cars around the surrounding area. It costs 300 Euros to join but our cunning, cost-conscious organisers had a plan. Find a couple of suitable stop-off places and watch them go by which we did for a while. Innocent enough but the next phase was to simply merge in all unnoticed and enjoy the fun while saving all that Eurodosh. Brilliant! Turns out that of the 700 participants only about 300 actually paid. Disgraceful. It was the greatest fun. Watching all that lovely stuff go by was pretty good, joining in was awesome. The Pembletons, Triking and Blackjack receiving much cheering and applause but my old ripple bonnet 2CV was, not unsurprisingly, worshipped by the French countryfolk in the villages. It was a long trip, I think about 140 miles, in brilliant sunny, warm weather. Some of it slowish but as the day wore on and the field thinned it got faster and faster and not for the first time since arriving on French soil I tested the 2CV's handling to it's door handle scraping limits even getting the tyres to squeal but never a moments concern. What an amazing day that was and all this with a complete absence of marshals, police - or signage.

I was slightly sceptical about the next days racing around the ramparts assuming it would be a rather tame affair. Not a bit of it. This was serious stuff. Why not take a 90 year old, half million pound value car and race it around a circuit with no run off and only walls and fences to crash into? It's a good lesson for all of us. Get in and drive it. If it breaks, fix it and drive again. If you survive the crash that is. To see a line of Bugattis waiting in the sunshine to be started up and raced about with a deafening roar is difficult to take in. You can't quite believe what you are seeing. It is a feast for the eyes. Exhilarating and inspiring. It is not all Bugattis of course, there are cars to suit all tastes it is just that they are the heart and soul of the racing day whereas the day before was just sheer variety and exuberance. It was a hot day on the hill top town of Angoulème on race day and we split up into groups to choose vantage points and/or shade to enjoy the racing. The Beard, Colin and Tom on one hairpin, Don, Lynda and Dave on another and so on. Nikki and myself being moved on by security men. Look, I would say, here's a good place, brilliant view of the oncoming cars and nobody else there... Eventually we gathered in a piazza, or whatever they call them in France, to swap stories, drink beer and watch the cars go by before moving to another venue to do more of the same but with food. What a truly brilliant couple of days. To get a better idea take a look at Youtube but it can't compare with the fun of actually driving there and sharing the experience with your pals.

That was it for Angoulème and the next day we dispersed as though nothing had happened. A grey beard was seen heading back to the Arctic Circle on a silver BMW. Crikey! You don't think it could have been Him? Don, Lynda and myself headed off to stay with friends David and Jane Magee (Lomax 223) and enjoyed yet more fabulous hospitality for another three days before reluctantly getting back on the ferry for Portsmouth.

A cracking good two weeks of the best, the very best of experiences, of company, hospitality and driving fun. Thank you everyone.

Chris


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