Page 99 Ford Madox Ford Test at Methanol Press

Ford Madox Ford famously said, “Open the book to page ninety-nine, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you”

See below if reading these snippets from my books published from 2006 to 2010 prompts you want to buy any…

Shale Trek (2010) p.99

Comment and the recent outcry over allegations about Poole’s alleged manipulation of the averages hold little interest for Rob. “I may be in a minority but I don’t think Poole have done anything wrong! Why would Matt Ford go out of his way to ruin his own business when his crowds were already falling? People avoid failure so making sure you lose meetings over a period of time is going to be suicide! Anyway, it’s all hearsay. Some rider’s dad says it’s happened! Where is the proof? There isn’t any! It doesn’t make any business sense.”
[ Jeff] “Maybe Poole want to get relegated to join the excitement of the Premier League?”
[Rob] “Why, they’re champions! The best! The Elite League will exist next season and they’ll be in it, you can be sure! No one from the Premier League would want to go up. Sure the money’s more but the costs are even more so! No one would be that silly to even think of it! There’s a divide at BSPA meetings nowadays – a more explicit one. They can have their businesses and we can run ours. Anyone who goes along to speedway knows where the excitement is!”
Rob briefly runs through some of the changes to the stadium infrastructure since my last visit. He points out the new
grandstand area on the first bend, highlights the work required to build the stockcar wall and notes the introduction
of the air-fence (something Rob considers is a vital safety development for all levels of speedway). He politely enquires about the key chapters in my new book Quantum of Shale and, when I say that I’m pleased with the insight the Redcar chapter provides into speedway finances, Rob reveals himself as not the biggest fan of ex-Redcar promoter Glyn Taylor. “He still walks around like he’s someone, which can’t be right when some riders still haven’t been paid! He was good at promises but didn’t always come through with them.”

Though the turnstiles have still to open there’s already quite a crowd inside the trackshop. When I stand in the
doorway Pat asks Dave Rattenberry, “Did you see Tai [at the Cardiff Grand Prix] with a stud in his ear and a tattoo on his arm? It looked like a cotton bud. And the tattoo! Well!” Rather than discuss Tai’s body art, the question I want an answer to is, ‘How long have the wind turbines been next to the stadium?’
[Dave] “This season. At least it keeps the gypsies away!”
[Becky] “They’ve been there about two months now. One of them’s broken – they were fixing it today.”
[ Jeff] “Aren’t they noisy?”
[Anne Hollingsworth] “They don’t make any noise, it’s a myth!”
[Dave] “Anne is Mrs Redcar, Mrs Scunthorpe Speedway, I mean!”
[ Jeff] “Is Rob [Godfrey] powering the floodlights off them?”
[Anne] “He wishes!”

Later Barry [Bazza] Preston – here tonight with his enthusiastic daughter, Chloe – definitely sounds like an expert on the legislation that surrounds wind turbines, “I think you can’t have a residence within 800 metres of a wind turbine!” Dave Rattenberry speaks highly of the atmosphere regularly found at Scunthorpe, “It’s like a family here – it’s excellent!” On the subject of families, trainee referee Daryl Clark arrives at the track along with his daughter Zoë and wife Diane. Daryl will be under the tutelage of Margaret Vardy for this evening’s meeting. She’s already here too and takes Daryl off to the referee’s box to continue his education and smooth his induction into the rarefied world of speedway officialdom. Earlier I’d snatched a few words with Daryl, “I grew up with speedway [at Halifax]. I’ve done my reffing with rugby and that and I wanted to get back involved with speedway, so this seems ideal!” Daughter Zoë has recently completed the second year of her sport’s therapy degree at the University of Teesside, “It’ll be hard work next year – I’m a finalist and, of course, there’s a speedway track nearby. Bradford closed when I was young.” Her mum, Diane, interjects, “It wasn’t the best track!” Diane and Zoë both take pride and a keen interest in Daryl’s speedway referee apprenticeship. Daryl and Zoë both have to study, “It’s about two years to qualify as a ref, I think.” Given that they often travel as a family round the country together, I wonder how they feel when they hear referees in general or Daryl in particular get abused by supposedly ‘knowledgeable’ speedway fans. They say its water off a duck’s back. Diane is quite definite about her favoured response, “If you can do a better job – do!” Julie Harrowven from the Scunthorpe Speedway Commercial Department catches the end of our conversation and nods sympathetically, “When they get really abusive, I’ll walk away in case I say something!” Now that Julie’s here the unspoken elephant in the room is the present health of Scunthorpe co-promoter and Premier League team manager, Kenny Smith. Earlier, when I was over in the pits, I’d seen Kenny sat behind the desk in the speedway office and, to my shame and embarrassment, I was lost for words. We said our hellos but, given his gaunt look, platitudinous enquiries about his….

Quantum of Shale (2009) p.99

his mechanic Ted “The Bear” Midgley  when he tripped unexpectedly and fell in front of a live audience. When I’ve previously watched him work with Harris in the pits he’s clearly a fast worker and enjoys an excellent working relationship with the Grand Prix star. Though I don’t know him at all, I wrongly expected that he owned a good sense of humour so, when he passed my stall, I called, “Mind the step”. Ted stopped and theatrically held his sides, “Ho ho!” and continued until a few strides away when he stopped and turned back to quite aggressively say, “How much did it cost you to go to Cardiff then? ’Cause it cost me nothing!” Ted then managed a few further steps before he again turned to deliver more bons mots, “Oh, I had a call from Ronaldo the next day telling me he’s gonna teach me how to dive!” Later, Coventry fan and Steve Chilton would tell me, “Ted lives in our street – he’s always looks like a proper mechanic to my mind!”

Just prior to the start of the race action I pack away my table and rush to the home-straight grandstand. Usually I’d expect it to be difficult to find a spare seat but this evening I’m spoilt for choice. The Coventry fan I sit next to is festooned in logoed clothing bought from the trackshop and tells me, “People are complaining about a side full of guests but I think it makes us stronger! With Swiderski, Lindgren and Woffinden I think we could do really well against Poole tonight.” It’s a prediction that looks a little misplaced after Magnus Zetterstrom and Chris Holder combine for a 5-1 in the first heat. Stood on the centre green watching the action is the somewhat battered Chris Harris. Peter Yorke snatches a brief interview with him before the start of the next race, “Not such a brilliant start, then! But it’s doable, isn’t it, Chris?” Ever phlegmatic and a man of few words Harris replies, “Well, it better be – otherwise I’ll go back and kick ’em up the backsides!” Contrary to Chris Harris’s expectations, things look like they are going to take a further turn for the worse. The Poole Pirates definitely look on for another maximum heat win until an engine failure for Daniel Davidsson on the third bend of the second lap robs them of their heat advantage. These rapid changes in fortune are all part of speedway’s appeal. Whenever I’ve seen Chris Harris in person (or on the television), he always strikes me as a modest man who’s ultimately really just one of the lads rather than imperiously aloof like some speedway riders are or can become. As if to confirm that his man-of-the-people attitude is genuine – and that he really is drawn from the same milieu as the fans – as soon as each race finishes Chris immediately fills in his programme (that features a vivid picture of his Cardiff facial injuries on its cover) in synchrony with the vast majority of the other diligent fans within the stadium.

If the Poole riders expect to romp to an easy victory they are surprised in heat 3 when Olly Allen and guest Fredrik Lindgren combine to hammer home a 5-1 win and thereby level the scores at 9 each. The next race then sees Swiderski gate with some alacrity and surprisingly beat Grand Prix rider Bjarne Pedersen. A fast start is the exception rather than the norm for the Coventry riders throughout the evening and, suddenly also infected by the Coventry malaise, Fredrik Lindgren makes a shocking start to heat 5, while Zorro and Chris Holder gate and zoom to the first corner ahead. Fortunately for the Bees, Magnus Zetterstrom fails to demonstrate the spatial awareness you’d expect of an experienced rider and thoughtlessly takes his younger partner extremely wide and almost into the second-bend air fence. It is a gap wide enough for a police formation motorcycle team to pass through and Lindgren needs……

Concrete for Breakfast (2008) p.99

Fayre I was kindly invited to display my wares at by Andy Griggs last year also runs and attracts keen interest. Talk slowly filters through that though my space in the corridor en route to the toilets remains unused, plus some form of confusion over the booking, means that Andy and Dave Rattenberry have to set up their displays in the less than ideal location of the bar area after they find the main display room already occupied by Wulfsport. I sympathise with their disappointment at their exclusion from this key sales area since last year I also experienced that possession is nine-tenths of the law when I was relegated to the corridor.

Over at the rugby club, many people stop by for a chat at my stall and the hall buzzes with conversation about the meeting ahead along with speedway gossip in general. I try to catch a few words with Johnny Barber who says, “not now when I’m holding my Hans Andersen mints – mints? Yes he does!” Anyone who is anyone to do with the sport of speedway in this country will try to make their pilgrimage to Cardiff today (if they can afford to), so it’s no surprise to see the great and the good wander past during the day. There are the traditional dramas, of course, including the temporary loss of his hearing aid by Workington promoter Ian “I’ve lost me farking ear thing” Thomas. Conversations are many and varied, ranging from a few words with friends to encounters that highlight the rich tapestry of people who make up one of the joys of following speedway. Paul ‘Grizzly’ Adams tells me passionately about the difficulty the contours and topology of the rugby pitches that Plymouth constructed their track upon in the lee of the A38(M) caused, particularly the vexatious “water table” that he kindly promises me a thorough tour of on my next trip to Devon. I also meet an obsessive baseball and speedway fan (as well as the Belle Vue and Birmingham club physio!), Steve Williams, who has been on his own Showered in Shale type odyssey to every baseball stadium in North America. He’s written up some chapters on his journey but, like many before him, has found his enthusiasm taxed by a lack of time and the responsibilities of everyday life. It’s a theme explored many times in Literature. Most notably by Laurence Sterne in his brilliant (and my second favourite book of all time) The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759). In this novel, Tristram’s dad tries to write an encyclopaedia that explains how to rear a child properly but gets so bogged down in the minutiae of the project that Tristram has almost grown to maturity before his father has completed the section on the care and development of the six-month-old baby.

At one point I even volunteer to share my table with hard-working speedway/sports commentator Nigel Pearson who arrives for a couple of hours to try to sell the Birmingham Speedway history book that he’s invested his money in. Standing around with your books can be a thankless and soul-destroying task at the best of times but, at least, he’s brought company in the form of a distracted and bored ex-speedway rider whose name I don’t catch and whom I don’t recognise. This turns out to be Neil Evitts who rode for a variety of clubs including Birmingham, Stoke, Halifax, Bradford and Wolves. He rode in a World Final, was England captain at one point and was also British Champion…..

Shifting Shale (2007) p.99

they are subject to the age discrimination legislation that enters the UK statute book later in 2006. Anyhow, that is what the staff understands to be their aim. Many of the people employed here are senior citizens with considerable service and, although they only work part-time, their work as a security man or parking attendant at greyhound and speedway meetings is something that they really value and enjoy. It’s both work and provides welcome frequent socialisation with other people – welcome at any age but particularly in older age. Judged by the hours I spend with them, they’re very conscientious, naturally people-friendly and can’t do enough to help others with directions, banter and assistance. Just the kind of conscientious and friendly employees that any company would ideally want to employ if their business requires that they regularly have to deal with the public and value good customer relations.

My book doesn’t prove popular so instead I content myself with trying to give out leaflets that advertise it. Most people are happy to take one though some react as though I’ve made an improper suggestion and one man mysteriously says as he refuse to take one, “no thank you, I don’t have a website”. I overhear another lady say to the man she’s with, “that’s the chappie whose book you’re reading”. In the end I only sell one copy of the book to a man who loves the book but has left his copy in Tenerife. He’s enjoying it so much that he can’t wait to be reunited with it. It’s strange to hear that one of the few copies that I’ve sold has already travelled so far! Even on an evening threatened with dark rain clouds, the Aces attract a large number of people through the turnstiles. Lynn Wright, James’s mum, busily helps out with ferrying the cash from the turnstiles to locations unknown and Jayne Moss, Buxton co-promoter and Aces fan, works very energetically all evening, despite being noticeably heavy with child.

The meeting itself starts promptly and is almost straightaway under the threat of abandonment due to the light drizzle. This always has an impact on rider safety, not so much for the detrimental impact on the track conditions but because of how it affects the riders’ vision. Nonetheless, the referee Dave Dowling runs the heats quickly. The Belle Vue riders’ cope better with the drizzle, though they don’t really establish a commanding lead until Heat 9 (sponsored by the renowned jokers and notable Aces fans the “Mancunian Mexicans”), a race that is notable for a fine victory on the line for James Wright over Nicki Pedersen (as he slows too early to coast to victory) after a determined last gasp dash up the inside. It’s a great scalp for James, who appears understandably delighted with his victory. I stand throughout the later heats with Richard Frost, who I thank for his kind words in the programme, and John Turner who writes the reports each week for the Speedway Star. I learn a lot by just listening to the chitter chatter of their conversation between races. Earlier, after Kenneth Bjerre has been beaten by Eastbourne’s Joel Parsons, Richard remarks with chagrin, “[the result of that race] with Bjerre finishing last behind someone he should beat every time and would in Poland or Sweden, is precisely why we won’t win the Elite League this year”

While we wait for the next race, a car owner is summoned to his car over the tannoy. Apparently feral youths from the nearby estates regularly choose to break into cars parked outside the impressive security fence that surrounds the stadium car park (but that requires payment to enter). Since, as I’ve noted before, speedway provides the ideal distraction for car thieves – since we’re all otherwise occupied for 90 minutes with our concentration directed elsewhere as well as the additional advantage that the noise of the bikes provides suitable camouflage.

David Norris has had his sense of humour stolen if his reaction at the end of Heat 11 is anything to gauge things by. Though he finished second (on a tactical ride), he pointedly stops by the start/finish line and picks up the red and black flags, ostentatiously waves them at the referee up in his box and then melodramatically throws them to the floor. This is probably tragedy, comedy, sour grapes or farce depending on your point of view. The meeting ends after the next race without the formality of a track inspection so that, though abridged, the result can still stand.

The crowd flood out through the exits and I wander round to the stand of the club’s freaking professional John Jones. After he’s finished serving his customer in a butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth kind of way, the affected bonhomie immediately fades as he turns to me. I tell him of the limited success of my evening – one copy sold – and proffer his agreed albeit meagre commission. “It don’t matter,” he barks, though his eyes betray his words. Strangely, for a “freaking professional”, he fails to ask about stocking my book. If you judge his merchandise solely by the quality of the badges on sale on his stall, he prefers to stock…

When Eagles Dared (2006) p.99

Heat 14 then finds itself mired in controversy and farce in equal measures and serves as the ideal example of why speedway as a sport loves to shoot itself in the foot. One of the ways it achieves this is by wreathing a simple proposition in rules so complex that they defy casual understanding by experienced practitioners of the sport, never mind the impossibility of providing a rational explanation to the fabled but elusive beast – the ‘casual’ lay punter – who just might (but rarely has) have happened to have accidentally strayed along to watch. Put simply, as the Wolves trail by 8 points they are able to attempt a last almost desperate throw of the dice under the present rules to gain the bonus point by fielding Peter Karlsson as a tactical substitute. This meant that he will start with a handicap of 15 metres from the start line and will wear the special black-and-white helmet that would double any points he gains. Wolves are unable to use him in the frequently derided role of a tactical replacement ride, since they are not the prerequisite 9 more points or more in arrears. The rules that govern this are exactly the same as above, except that the ride doesn’t have a 15-metre handicap. So far, so complex!

Though handicapped, Karlsson still manages to catch up with and pass Mooro, but is unable to catch Davey Watt. Since his team mate David Howe then ‘lets him pass’ (another regular and unsatisfactory aspect that has resulted from the introduction of this regulation), Karlsson gains double points for his second place for a race score of 3–5 that would probably return the bonus point to Monmore Green, if the last race goes according to plan for them. However, we then suffer an inordinate delay before we learn that the meeting now borders on farce, as Karlsson is disqualified for not wearing the requisite black-and-white helmet cover.

Next to me by board number 51, John Hazelden had immediately pointed out that PK had erroneously appeared in the yellow helmet cover when he came round to the start line. On such tiny mistakes do championship campaigns flounder; ironic when earlier that evening the very wily Wolves team manager, Peter Adams, had explained to me that the chance to pit his wits, attention to detail, and speedway knowledge against his opponents and contemporaries was one of the primary appeals of his own position for him within the sport. The obvious and what is right in front of your nose can often elude you. But when the rule of law breaks down, the Daily Mail tells us we have “anarchy” and Barry Richardson isn’t going to allow that to happen on his watch at Arlington as the SCB referee for tonight’s fixture – so he (correctly) excludes Karlsson. This adds to the tension of the last race, as the Wolves now need a 2–4 to force a run-off for the bonus point and a 1–5 to win it outright. Anything less than that would see the Eagles win on the night and gain the much desired bonus point.

To my mind, this is where the GP Series has come back to spoil things again.  Not only has it deprived us of the chance to see some of the most gifted riders of this generation of speedway exponents race, Pedersen and Max, but also it has compounded its effects when both of our guests line up for the Eagles in the nominated race. Not that I doubt the commitment and desire to win exhibited by Bomber Harris and Mark Loram, particularly Mark whom Jon Cook prefers to hire if he can in light of the many times he has excelled as a guest in the Eagles colours. But, these are not our own riders and, in these tense concluding races when vital points are at stake, you would have to fancy Nicki Pedersen to win the majority of them against practically any opposition, home or away, never mind when he’s fired up against the Wolves. Predictably or surprisingly, depending on your point of view, Bomber trails in for his only last place of the night and Mark finishes second in a 2–4 result that will now require a race-off between PK and Mark Loram.

Given that PK has looked quick and on superlative form all night, hopes aren’t high that Mark Loram will win this match race. As it happens, we don’t get to see this race completed since after one lap of neck-and-neck racing with PK leading, Mark falls at the start of the second lap and is excluded by the referee as the “primary cause of the stoppage”. Wolves triumph for the bonus point, the ranks of the Eagles fans around me are suitably deflated at this almost farcical conclusion, and so leave muttering about the iniquities of the GP series and darkly alluding to the dangers of guest riders. KC interviews JC who, in the context of the mid-week decimation of the team through injury, highlights the positives of a night when the Eagles gained two points he didn’t really ought to expect, “I can’t give them enough credit for how they’ve performed tonight”. He reiterated this afterwards to local reporters: “I am absolutely delighted. That really shows that when we are down we are certainly not out and I cannot say enough about them”. The view of the fans as they stream away isn’t so forgiving or positive about this meeting, or what they feel that this implies for future play-off prospects for the club.

Showered in Shale (2006) p.99

open for a closer inspection of the relevant section that includes the exact regulations that apply to suddenly absent riders. He does this simultaneously while he conducts an animated and lengthy discussion on his mobile phone, about the various possible scenarios that apply to these unusual circumstances. Chris confirms what I had suspected, but that Peter Adams guarded ‘public’ demeanour mostly disguised, that he is “like a bear with a sore head” and was “absolutely scathing” to Chris about his missing team members. He’s strongly suggested that the referee “report them to the SCB” and wants Chris to ensure that they “implement the maximum penalty fines allowable under the circumstances” at them. Chris explains that he’s consulted with other referees on the notorious referees’ grapevine, just to ensure that his interpretation of the rules with regard to substitute riders is correct. Every referee is agreed that since Max and Karlsson have been nominated in the Wolves’ team already, then it’s impossible at the last minute to replace the Number 1 rider Max with a guest or rider replacement. The Wolves have been left with little other available options but to replace Max with a young, promising but inexperienced Conference League rider from Stoke, Jack Hargreaves, and to replace Karlsson, who was programmed to ride at reserve, with locally based Tony Atkin, who literally dropped everything to answer the emergency call to shoot across to Monmore Green to fill in at the very last minute. This team line up will leave the home side severely depleted and, according to Chris, leaves Adams “desperate for a thunderstorm to cancel this meeting”. With the mention of rain, we both instinctively glance out at the tractor that still continues to intensively water the track with the bowser. Whatever happens, the referee notes with some understatement, “it’s going to be interesting”. Wolves will attempt to mitigate the disappointment of the crowd by warning the fans of the late change to the team; both via the club call line and by posting information notices on the turnstiles. However, the majority of fans will be already on their way to the stadium confident that the meeting will definitely be held on an intermittently sunny, fine but cloudy evening.

Chris takes some time to explain many of the details involved in the work of a qualified SCB referee. Like many people who work in speedway, it is a labour of love that involves many hours of dedicated work with little financial reward. The officials are another vital part of the essential staff every track requires, the grassroots of the sport if you will, without which speedway in this country wouldn’t be able to continue to function. Later I learn that the referees receive travel expenses and a small nominal payment for their work, – very different from the compulsory SCB fee of £100, in advance, for the services of their officials. Chris deliberately notes that, “so many people who do menial tasks at a speedway track do so without pay, usually because they’re very passionate”. He describes the lengthy qualification procedure that any would-be ‘trainee’ referees have to endure to become qualified and able to take charge of a meeting. This apprenticeship involves many hours of travel throughout the country at their own expense, while they shadow experienced qualified referees as well as undertaking rigorous study of the ever-changing rulebook. Ultimately, you will get to take part in a qualifying sequence of three meetings that you referee under supervision. This effectively constitutes your pass-or-fail examination. Many people never get this far, but instead immediately drop out at the first hurdle when they learn about the long hours of travel and the wear and tear on their cars. Even then, for those that manage to continue their apprenticeship, the attrition rate is high. The
attrition is mainly due to the “ruthless and quite brutal” rigour of continual study allied to the stringent tests, which cause many of the trainees to “crash and burn”. Out of the cohort of eleven trainees Chris started with, only four survived to qualify and it often comes down to the “survival of the fittest” and those adaptable enough to the “long hours, stress and loneliness”. Each trainee referee adapts to the training programme in their own manner and takes a different length of time to serve their apprenticeship, usually a couple of years, before they pass. Chris passed in June 2002 and relishes his work as a referee. But the job makes huge demands on your family and spare time with many referees only able to do the job if they are self-employed or if they use all their holiday entitlement in order to fulfil all their refereeing obligations. Chris suggests that at another meeting I join him for an entire evening to get a real insight into a job the fans, promoters and riders consistently underestimate and take for granted.

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