I need to find myself a time-machine.

time machine

It was my son’s 10th birthday, him reaching double digits, him really coming of age, him just being him and us loving him more and more for it. Don’t you just love those times that you know are memories being made that you’ll cherish and hold forever. We had a great party. Go-karting with some of his mates followed by a massive water-pistol fight by the pool followed by two hours non-stop mayhem in the water. It was a great afternoon and a great evening with the other mums and dads who’ve grown close over the years. It was as near perfect as perfect could get. If the day were a pole dancer, after her first shift wiggling and wobbling, her thong would be full of crisp fifties. If it were a golfer it would be his second hole and the second hole-in-one of the day. Then the ducks died.

I’ve lost pets in my childhood and I can say that I don’t really handle death very well. The fact it was so sudden, the fact it was both of them and the fact that it was during a party all just made it the more unbearably sad for me and totally heartbreaking for the children. Tears flowed, questions with no possible answers were raised and in the first real moment of utter sadness my son experiences, all I can do is hug him and try to stop him seeing I too am crying, crying not only because our little ducks touched us in a special way, but because his sadness is just too much for me. I tried to think how my parents coped with my tears when we lost the dog or the guinea pig climbed those steps up to the pearly gates. But I just couldn’t remember. Just 10 years into parenthood and I am feeling out of my depth and unable to support him like a father should. I know we are only talking about a couple of ducks, but they weren’t just ducks, they were our couple of ducks, they were family. This then makes me worried for when the rabbit meets her maker or dare I think, when we end up with the dog they all so constantly hassle me for… How will I ever deal with that popping its clogs? He slept with us that night. I slept little, still trying to come up with answers that may help what was going to be a difficult Sunday. I failed in that as well and all day it was tears, hugs, more tears and more hugs. I felt crap, helpless and so completely useless.

Later that day we began digging the grave at the bottom of the garden and to help distract from the gloom of our task, we began discussing what tree or shrub we should buy to mark and remember them. As it happens, the spot where we were digging was near the road and passing cars can be seen and heard a ways off, so having decided we would look for a yellow flowering bush, we began seeing if we could guess what car was coming by just listening to the exhaust notes. I reckoned I could spot any BMW 3 series manufactured between 2002 and 2010, he boasted of a pitch perfect ear for Volvo 4×4’s and any Ferrari. The next car he correctly guessed was a Volvo, my guess proved wrong, the Ford Focus most obviously had a blown exhaust as on any other day, I would not have made such a mistake. The hole was a good size when a throaty roar filled the still afternoon, it grew louder and went higher up the scale as the driver began accelerating. “That’s a Ferrari” he shouted as he ran to the fence. And sure enough, around the bend came a lovely Ferrari, trademark red, it passed us, crested the hill and turned into our road. “It’s coming here!” he screamed with excitement. And indeed it was. Earlier, a friend who owns a Ferrari had suggested that taking our son out for a spin in the car would be a super thrill and a treat to really finish off the celebrations. We also knew it would help lift his spirit. Boy did it work. The tears dried up, the smile came back and his face lit up in anticipation of a chance to go for a ride in such a stunning looking and sounding car. Roof down, engine singing, off he went with me capturing the moment on film.

I decided to wander up the road, I wanted to get some footage of the car coming back. So, with a cup of coffee I settled myself down on the verge and waited. And waited. I’ll add at this point that the car had only just come into the country, it wasn’t registered, was uninsured and had no tax, so it could only be driven around the estate. It’s certainly not a small estate but after twenty minutes, I was getting a little concerned. Twenty five minutes later a car pulls up, the window rolls down and out pops my sons head with a big grin on his face. “We crashed!” he shouts out the window. In disbelief I hear how the rear wheel spun up on a corner causing it to oversteer, which was overcorrected causing the whole car to spin into the golf club fence, knocking that all over and coming to a halt in the ditch. I went to their house later to look at the damage. Every panel was scratched, dented and needing some kind of repair, the wing mirrors were damaged, light clusters broken, runners buckled and I’d have guessed you’d be looking at a complete respray. An expensive car to buy, but a real expensive car to fix. I felt the pain. My son though, with a grasp of economics based on the market price of fizzy sweets, saw not a financial nightmare but a wild adventure park ride where they didn’t check your height and you got the front seat. The accident had made the ride quite simply the best thing ever and if he could do it again, he would.

It didn’t end there. Stupidity and his mates clouded my mind that day for sure as I had the most daft idea that it would be a good idea to nip over to the security office at the estate entrance and ask them if we could have a copy of the CCTV footage. Both my son and I thought that having the crash on film would give everyone hours of laughter, not right now maybe, but certainly in a few years. After all, how often can you say you’ve been in a prang in a Ferrari and have a copy on film to show everyone. See where my mind was going on this..? Well security said they couldn’t give us the footage, they said the cameras weren’t on. Yet as we drove off we could see the security guards hunching over the computers searching and scanning the footage to see for themselves a Ferrari being binned.

A short time later we get a call from the Ferrari owner. He was concerned and worried, he’d just driven past the scene of the crash and security were there snapping pictures of the damage. He wanted to know if he should just pretend it hadn’t happened or face up to things, go speak to security and admit fault. Obviously I said ignore it. Which, it turns out, was not only morally wrong but stupidly wrong as entry into the estate is through numberplate recognition cameras, meaning all residents have their cars registered at security. Finding the offending Ferrari would be a piece of ‘birthday’ cake if you’ll excuse the pun. If I had not gone to the security office, they may not have noticed the damaged fence until Monday or maybe later and by then they may have overwritten the CCTV tapes. But like I said, stupidity and his mates seem to visit my head far to often. There is no escape, the cameras I hope make for a more secure life, have him bang to rights, on top of having to fork out the full cost of the repair and respray of the car due to no insurance, he’s certainly going to be landed with a bill to fix all the fence he ripped apart. I can’t let a mate carry the full burden of the fence. Being fairly close to, but not completely devoid of morals, I will have to help in some way.

So happy 10th birthday my most amazing little boy. It’s one we’ll all certainly remember with a mixed bag of feelings and many conflicting emotions. Watching you put the little cardboard coffin in the hole with such care, listening to you say a tearful, final, ‘good-bye’ was both lovely and so incredibly painful. If I could ever have just one wish in life, It wouldn’t be to win the lottery or have a fancy yacht, it would be to go back in time so the ducks wouldn’t have died. But you know, I wouldn’t stop the car accident. Nope, armed with some wire cutters, I’d ‘take out’ the CCTV cameras at the scene, hide myself in the bushes and capture that one particular moment on video.

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Start a fight with a fighter jet and you will lose…

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“Keep to the left” they kept saying, “make sure you stay out of the heat blast and maybe you should consider wearing some ear plugs.” Thanks for the advice but I left my ear plugs at home and with a bloody great fighter jet shaking the ground next to me the last thing I am planning to do is swerve into its path. I’m thankful for my fireproof suit, just in case, grateful the car is not a cabriolet and beginning to wonder just why I agreed to do this. 

Having driven onto the runway, we were in position and waiting for the challenger. Over the radio, the tower gave the all clear and from behind this giant, awesome F18 fighter jet rumbled slowly onto the runway and shadowed me as it took position to my right, it’s engine whine reverberated through my body. I’d expected the noise to be more, was worried about my lack of earplugs, but it wasn’t so bad. Then he hit his throttle and fully powered up his engines. God help me, David had just met Goliath.

The noise was incredible. Gorgeous, intoxicating but so, so loud. I think the fillings in my teeth need looking at again. I look up and over at Captain Javier Ramos, the pilot, he gives the thumbs up, no, I think he’s giving me the finger! I press the throttle down, tease him a bit. I need to show him that 37,000lbs of thrust isn’t worrying me. He’s confident he’ll thrash me and judging by the technical data I’ve read on the F18, he may be right. But, can he do a handbrake turn… No. Can he park outside the pub on a Saturday evening… I don’t think so. Has he got a seven speaker sound system with CD interchanger… Of course not. Does he have room for the children’s school run, their sports kit, satchels and the finger painting they did of daddy using cotton wool for his beard even though he hasn’t got a beard..? Nope. He hasn’t even got proper windscreen wipers fitted, just some basic hot air blowing system.

It had taken two months of planning, we needed permission from the very top for a stunt like this and whilst we had a bag full of cash for bribery and photos of various key people in compromising situations with ladies of ill repute it proved unnecessary as everyone was happy to accept our challenge. We also needed a car. Luckily a luxury car dealer helped us out and just happened to have a few Ferrari’s kicking about that we could use. “Pick whatever one you like” he said, waving his hand over a selection of some beautiful works or mechanical art. I didn’t pick the fastest, I picked what I thought the best, the car I would most like to own, the Modena 360 F1 a stunning car, easy to drive, quick, responsive, a bargain at somewhere around 180,000 euros and of course, red! We had tried to get a celebrity to drive the car but celebrities don’t like taking risks or at least their management don’t. The top Real Madrid players may well get photographed getting out of their pricey toys, but when it comes to really driving them hard, they shy away. so it was down to me, it was my silly idea, so with no one of any fame to speak of coming forward, I stood on the crease. Having driven and owned a number of high performance cars, spent my childhood racing anything with an engine and being the one with the most health insurance, a straight line drive should be a piece of cake…

The briefing was conducted with military precision, satellite imagery on a large screen in the cinema style briefing room indicated all activity planned for the event and clear instructions were given as to who was to be where and when they were to be there. The fire crew and ambulance staff were to be on the taxi-way at the finish line, the bus with our timing, radar and camera crew aboard would drop people off at three marked points along the 1.2 kilometre part of the runway designated for the race, giving us the best opportunity for photographs and data recording. Radio frequencies were issued and communication with the control tower was established. Our schedules had been confirmed and everything was now ready. Time for a strong coffee and the nearest bathroom.

Back in the car, the radio crackled into life and one by one the all clear is given by each of the groups and emergency teams standing by. The pilot gets himself the call sign ‘Poker 1’, I wanted a cool one as well, like ‘Ice Man’ or ‘Devil in Red’ but everyone just told me to ‘shut up and drive’ so I ended up with the unimaginative call sign ‘Ferrari’.

Ahead the runway just vanished into heat haze. I gripped the steering wheel and kept telling myself, “floor the throttle and change gear just before the needle hits the 8,500 red line, easy. No need for anything else. Concentrate on nothing but the view ahead.” “Group 1… ready. Group 2… ready. Group 3…ready. Firefighters, ambulance… ready. Ferrari…ready. Poker 1…ready.” My eyes closed, I breathed, (I think I farted as well, I was nervous for sure, but my this had nothing to do with nerves, probably the Indian food and beer the night before) I was at one with the car, I was ready.

The flag went down, my foot followed a fraction after and we were off! The engine tone of the Ferrari was lost to the sheer noise of the F18. Climbing to an unbelievable, ear-splitting crescendo as he came level with me, I glanced at my speed, 97, seconds later he nosed in front, the roar seemingly louder and louder as he got further and further ahead, the flames from his twin turbo-thrust jet engines and the heat haze behind was an absolutely incredible sight, the ground shook, the car shook, my whole body shook. He just kept on going and going at an increasingly alarming speed. I was lost, my foot firmly on the floor the car was at its limit, there was nothing more I could do. I swear he gave me the finger again and I can imagine his smile matched that of all the military personnel watching. By 600 metres Poker 1 was airborne and later crossed the line at a staggering 960kmph to my 293. 1,200 metres in just over 16 seconds! I eased off, the car had performed superbly it was no longer necessary to let it suffer further. Dejected by failure, elated by the event, I stopped. I had lost the race but I had achieved something very special and very personal. But Poker 1 was not finished with me just yet. He arced gracefully round and took a low fly past overhead. A supersonic fly past, some 10 metres above me that furiously rocked the car and left the loudest bloody sound blast I have ever heard ringing in my ears. It was one of those moments you rarely witness but never forget, like a comet or an eclipse. Stunning! In the blurred haze left by his afterburners he banked away and was once again out of sight.

The next day we were big news. We even made it into the nationals in Spain and England and went worldwide on the internet. Overnight Javier had become a hero and I had become Spain’s biggest loser! In the spirit of the competition we opened two bottles of champagne, one expensive, quality stuff, the other cheap, bitter and nasty. Guess which one I got to drink…

I know that this type of race is not so new, in 1931, Italian motor racing legend Tazio Nuvolari, at the wheel of his Alfa Romeo 2300, was beaten by a biplane at Rome’s airport and in 1981 Canada’s Gilles Villeneuve and his Ferrari 126 CK turbo raced a F-104 jet fighter in northern Italy. Schumacher did it in his F1 car and Ducati ran their GP bike against the Eurofighter. And they all lost. Well I did it too, un-famous, unimportant little me lost as well. But I did it in a car you or I could buy, maybe not me now I think about it, but a real, normal road going car nevertheless.

Losing this fight was fantastic and it was a fight I’d happily lose again.