Reading about a good friend’s arrival to interview Gordon Murray, in this month’s Car Magazine and thinking he’d be the nightmare visitor because of what he’d arrived in reminded me of my only visit to McLaren’s Woking HQ back when my life was more about aeroplanes and hire cars and less about hospitals – as it is now, and how it could have been noted that I was their nightmare visitor that week.
It was a whirlwind visit back to the UK to witness some of the development work the hallowed McLaren were carrying out in partnership with Specialized on the Californians’ new S-Works frameset. I was in the midst of following the Giro d’Italia behind the scenes with a couple of the Campagnolo equipped teams when the familiar and welcome call from Specialized came to see if I’d be free to pop along somewhere with a camera in a couple of days, and I remember leaving Italy for a 48hr stop in the UK and returning to the race without even calling home in between. I remember also sitting in a hotel garden on the French – Italian border the following day – a rest day and wiring the images off to America using typically bad French rural internet. It all went some way to a feeling of working on the road that I liked. A far cry from the long and chaotic days of following fashion shows around capital cities, but similar nonetheless. Leaving your rental car at a different airport, flying to another country you used to live in, and returning for another week’s resumption without walking in your own front door did make me feel younger than I was though.
I imagined arrival at Woking would be a light shining from the clouds moment for me finally making it to these automotive halls of excellence. This place had such history, provenance and importance. And a hedge of doom.
As I unpacked my second concurrent rental car of cameras and popped my collars in the window reflection I heard my keys jangle out of my pocket – I’ll blame the lanyard revolution for that, and realised on looking back to lock the car on walking away that the keys were now working their way south at ground level in a long, steep embankment of non navigable bushes. And while I had a couple of minutes spare, it was only a couple, not a forage’s worth.
I was spotted fumbling around in the undergrowth and likely reported, but ten minutes later I found them quite a way from where they’d broken free so hat off to them, they made a good go of it. I arrived at the reception explaining myself to someone that didn’t understand or care but did represent my best chance at a smooth landing.
It’s an impressive building at Woking before one even meets the four wheeled trophies dotted about but the hardest part of being politely told ‘not to photograph of ‘x’ or ‘y’ wasn’t how not to steal memories for petrolhead friends but rather how to adhere to that and still deliver the NASA hanger like white space I had imagined I’d plonk a bike surrounded by supercars in. The clinical hi-tech engineering was likely ten stages above my clearance level as a tourist but of course the cycling engineers were more than courteous and patient and even gave me a Formula One car for the afternoon – my first in fact.
Now I’ve long wanted to have a small carry-on possible bike prop up tool made that could easily be photoshopped out later, but the tally of expensive bicycles that have fallen at my feet continued here in front of engineering royalty looking out of the window at the scruffy bloke asking top level engineers to hold a bike steady for the afternoon. I’ll not easily forget either the the look of disbelief from the windows above when the prototype magically floating in the breeze fell over making an expensive sounding crunch.
Buttons pressed and pixels stored, we headed out to the car key eating foliage and I was told that my polo shirt had skated under the radar as McLaren supremo Ron Dennis likes all inside to wear a tie, in fact frowns on those that aren’t, but he wasn’t in today. As I pulled away, keys safely the ignition I hoped he didn’t scan the CCTV on his return to see a scarecrow made of his own shrubbery walk in on his day off. Perhaps a restart as you mean to go on would be out of the question then another time.