The RREC President’s Picnic

2005 Buscot Park, Oxfordshire

The English Summer, as King Charles I allegedly remarked, comprises two fine days, followed by a thunderstorm. Thus after a run of hot (by English standards), dry ( by anyone’s ) but humid, the Kimberley family set out for the President’s Picnic in full expectation of a downpour. The wine had been chilled, sandwiches made, fruit washed, Cornish pasties double-wrapped in foil. The dog had been walked and reminded that he was on guard. My gynaecologist (a.k.a. Mrs. Kimberley) regrettably had a prior engagement pulling unwilling babies into an unwelcoming world, but our children, who after 9 & 14 years respectively have just about come to terms with the world, or at least the parts of it where Royce and Bentley motor cars are to be found had been made presentable enough for public exhibition.

We were cheered by the knowledge that, in fact, few members of the Great Unwashed were likely to be met: the Lord Faringdon and the National Trust were to keep Buscot Park free from hoi polloi for the day. While it may sound disingenuous or even snobbish to wish to avoid the general public whilst travelling in a Proper Motor Car, the truth is that, once parked, one can be subject to a lot of unwelcome attention. While delighted to talk with fellow enthusiasts, or indeed the honestly curious, there are sometimes the dishonestly curious, ready to remove anything portable or even attached to the vehicle, those who want to make pointless observations based on (perceived) class distinction, and all those whose second cousin twice removed had the self-same car, but better. Time was, when anyone with an unusual car was invariably asked by boys of all ages ‘what’ll it do, mister’. The answer usually seemed to be disappointingly slow. Nowadays all anyone wants to know is ‘how much is it worth?’ The answer is undoubtedly more of a disappointment to me than it is to the enquirer, for the sad truth is that I drive a Bentley T1. We are thus ‘below the salt’ in Rolls Royce company, and rarely acknowledged at all by Bentley folk.

Arrival at Buscot Park was hampered by the state of the British road network, exacerbated by the summer weather. We not only have the wrong car, we also commit the other great social solecism of living in the wrong part of London, the South-East, which is the ‘right’ part only for drug-dealing and gun crime. London’s Mayor, ‘Red Ken’ Livingstone, abetted by Her Majesty’s Government are avowedly opposed to private motor cars, despite a readiness to collect ever-increasing tax revenue from their use. Neglect of the needs of the motorist in terms of roads is therefore unsurprising, the poor standard of public transport regrettable. More surprising still is the response of the British motorist to good weather: with or without family, at the first hint of a fine weekend they set out to join a traffic-jam. If there is no traffic-jam nearby, they will travel as far as required to join one, or get together with friends and family to create one. Were fortunate enough to find one near home and crawled through it for nearly three hours until the turn-off from Faringdon gave us nearly five miles of empty road before arrival.

As Noel Coward’s lyrics describe:
“the Stately Homes of England,
How beautiful they stand,
They show the upper classes,
Have still the upper hand ”

There can be few which stand so beautifully as Buscot Park, particularly when graced with a fine selection of fine motor cars in the surrounding parkland. The sight of dozen of Proper Motor Cars in careful lines, many with their owners, family and friends picnicking on the grass behind them was a fine one. As we arrived we were greeted by Ashley James, who had assembled a group in the shade of trees at the side of the paddock, and after parking and meeting another Rolls Royce enthusiast, Peter Kimberley, (and again wondering what family relationship we may have) we joined them.

A popular feature of the British countryside is Enclosure, so popular indeed that Acts of Parliament to facilitate same have a notable place in English history. One of the most popular means of enclosure of modern times is barbed wire. This lacks the solidity of Georgian brick, and the grace of Victorian wrought-iron fencing. Or even the rustic simplicity of post-and-rail, but it does the job. Ashley’s fine picnic spot was in the shade, but outside the parking area. Decisions had to be taken: carry the comestibles the long way round through the gate – no, over the wire. Children? Through the wire – they heal quite quickly, and their mother isn’t here to remonstrate. Me? Over the wire. (They were very old trousers, and they’ll still be good enough for the lower sartorial standards of Bentley Drivers Club meetings). I was reminded, though, that Rolls Royce prefer Scandinavian hides to British because Nordic cattle are not penned with barbed wire and thus have more perfect skins.

After rescuing our Cornish pasties from the engine compartment of the T1 – hence the need for double foil – these were consumed hot, followed by sandwiches and fruit. My rule with picnics, following many wet experiences at Glyndebourne, is to keep food simple and flavours robust. Food should be only that which the prudent person could keep in a raincoat pocket, wine must be able to stand dilution with rainwater. Elaborate tables and serving arrangements only cause distress when a storm comes and all must be packed up and taken to shelter: if the only shelter is one’s car, one doesn’t want balsamic vinegar to become a leather dressing, does one? Fine for a Ferrari, of course, being Modenese, but not for a Crewe car.

After our repast, still in fine though overcast weather, we set off to review some of the other exhibits. With the general public excluded, owners are generally very happy to show off the finer points of their prize possessions to like-minded people, and this meeting was no exception. After my daughter Imogen had seen the cunningly-placed torch in Ashley James’ MarkVI Bentley, she was keen to investigate under the bonnets of other cars. She found another one in a fully-restored, Franay-bodied Continental, after which she Charles (my son) and Ashley moved backwards in motoring history to examine a Phantom II Continental by Park Ward and a fine 20 hp landaulette, amongst others. The quality of the workmanship of these cars was outstanding, both originally and during renovation, and their owners are justifiably proud of them. It is also notable that they use them, probably mostly on special occasions, but to use such a car is an occasion in itself. (Not to use a car for transport reders it a piece of sculpture, not what the Mechanic would hav wished).

Whenever the subject of cars owned came up, I hid behind Ashley. My children have enough social skills training rarely to admit to arriving anywhere by T1.

We also inspected a new Goodwood Phantom, whether we admired it or not was more difficult to decide. It is just possible that the Goodwood car is more a showcase for money than for taste, but that may very possibly always have been the case with many of Rolls Royce’ products. History will decide.

After an all–too–brief tour of the Water Garden, which features a couple of fountains and a gentle cascade flowing to a vast lake, it was time to return to the press of traffic for London. With the recent dry weather, little water was travelling in the cascade, but the long series of shallow steps made the most of what there was, and the effect was charming and soothing, completely reversed by the effects of climbing back up the slope to the house in oppressively humid weather. After admiring more of the grounds, we said our goodbyes, agreed with some of the organisers that Buscot was an excellent venue, well worth returning to, and set off.

We again enjoyed five or six miles of the open road, then over four hours of tropical heat but glacial progress.