This is a first for Lieslieslies. A guest article from Simon Arron, who sadly died last week.
Simon was an absolutely fantastic writer and, as a former editor of Motoring News (a role I also once occupied), he was a true inspiration for me.
Below is a piece he wrote for MN’s 50th anniversary edition and every time I read it, I laugh out loud. It is literary gold. I chatted to him just a few months ago and it seems unreal that he has gone. I miss him already.
As you pick up the phone, the sound of fumbling at the other end of the line is the clue. A familiar thunk tells you the caller has dropped his handset – often the case before any words emerge – and confirms your suspicions. The patriarch is on the line. Well, almost. “Come to my office for a quick word, boy.”
A summons from company chairman Wesley J Tee – to whom I was every bit as much a ‘boy’ in my early 30s as I had been when I first met him a dozen years earlier – could be a source of infinite surprise.
Wholesale bollockings for some trivial non-offence were commonplace – and sometimes accompanied by threats of dismissal. A blistering rant often seemed to cheer him up, though, and by the time you’d returned to your desk the phone would be ringing again. There was invariably an olive branch dangling from the end when you picked it up.
Initial rejections of requests for modest travel expenses – almost always overturned, to be fair – were frequent (“Belgium, boy? Why on earth d’you need to go there?”), yet sometimes life could be unfeasibly straightforward (“Curacao? Of course you can – but you’ll need much more money than that. Had some friends who went there once. Very expensive”). Pay rises were an anathema to him, yet obtaining a new company car could be a breeze – as though he didn’t recognise that they involved money.
Once, he called me in for a chat and spent so long telling me about some Canadian girl he’d met in about 1919 (“Perfect breasts, boy”) that he eventually forgot what he’d wanted me for in the first place.
His motoring escapades were the stuff of legend (if there is a lap record between Walton-on-the-Naze and London EC2, it’s his) and conservative estimates suggested that most panels on his Mercedes-Benz 450 SEL, registration TEE 10, had been replaced at least three times. One morning, while the assembled company stood outside the old City of London offices in Bonhill Street, in the wake of a fire alarm, TEE 10 came screaming around the corner, missed the fire attendant by a fraction and stormed through the car park entrance in a fast, smooth arc. Those oblivious marvelled at his exquisite, Senna-esque precision: those who knew him realised he simply hadn’t noticed the fire engine. He emerged from the Merc, ignored the commotion and shuffled into his office, but then he had always insisted the building was immune to fire (“Concrete doesn’t burn, boy”). In the face of such defiant optimism, it seemed churlish to point out that piles of MN back issues just might.
In his own mind, of course, his driving was peerless. Which is where we came in.
“Sit down, boy, sit down. All right are we?”
“Fine thanks. You?”
“Can’t complain, boy. You need to watch how you park, though. You left your car at a funny angle this morning.”
“I’m not sure I did…”
“Just try to be more careful in future, that’s all. Oh, and you might need this…”
He reached below his desk, picks up the end section of what is unmistakably my rear bumper and hands it over.
“Mind how you go, boy.”