The things we take for granted are fast disappearing from our lives. Among them, in the foreseeable future, will be my weekly excursion to Brooklands. As a club member, I like to get my money’s worth and enjoy taking pot luck to see what old cars and motorcycles have turned up for the day. There’s often something really interesting, such as that lovely Paris taxi I encountered on a routine visit back in 2018.
Something new, something oily
It’s a wonderful place to visit, even for a frequenter, and there is always something new to see. A walk through the grounds and around the remaining section of the race track is always a pleasure and, usually, there are many interesting people to chat with. I count myself lucky to have such a magnificent destination within a half-hour drive of home.
Today, though, was a special occasion. After three days sitting at home in purdah, apart from an exercise walk or two, I decided to jump in the car and drive the 20 miles or so to the Brooklands Museum at Weybridge. I reasoned that it would be quiet and, since it is largely an outdoors sort of place, probably safe. I slung the Leica Q2 around my neck, not really expecting much in the way of interesting things to photograph. In this, I was right.
When I arrived, I found I was one of a very select handful of visitors. Staff and volunteers were all on parade as usual but with nothing to do and no one to talk to. The cafeteria sported the usual impressive display of breakfast goodies. The sausages, in serried ranks, looked rather forlorn and, I suspect, most of this food will have to be thrown away at the end of the day.
In common with many businesses in Britain — we are advised not to visit them but they haven’t been told to close — Brooklands is in a state of limbo. Sadly, I doubt that it can continue at this rate for more than a day or two. So this is probably my last visit for many months.
I console myself with the thought that this place has survived far worse in its 113-year existence. It’s definitely made of stern stuff. After flourishing as Britain’s premier motor and motorcycle race track for over 30 years, the track was abruptly closed at the outbreak of war in 1939.
It became a centre of aircraft production but, rather miraculously, avoided total destruction during the years of bombing. It was the place where Barnes Wallis designed his famous bouncing bomb, the real star of the movie The Dam Busters. The Club House stands as it did over a hundred years ago, although the signature banked race track is reduced to a fragment of its former glory. With factories already rooted over most of the trackside land by 1945, opening again as a racetrack was impossible. It is remarkable that so much remains to form the basis of this living museum.
For the first time in my life, I can begin to understand the sense of change and foreboding that must have been universal in this country in 1939; the sense that nothing will be the same again and the realisation that we face a hard slog.
When the dust settles
Brooklands and its exhibits will survive this new crisis and I look forward to seeing it back in action when the dust settles, with luck during the summer but possibly not for a year or more. It has become a part of my life, somewhere I can escape to for a few hours, take a walk, take some photographs and have a chat.
I will miss all the wonderful summertime events, the gatherings of exotic and mundane classic cars, the veterans, the period-dress days and the everydays, every one of which turns up something new and amazing to view and photograph.