Two motorsport journalists met Darlington's bravest man over the Croft TOCA weekend, which as usual featured great racing, lots of pubs and a curry.
It's become a standing joke that, seconds after checking into 'The King's Head' hotel in Darlington on a Friday evening, we'll be sitting outside 'The Pennyweight' pub, having our first pint after the long drive up.
Just to digress a little, this year 'The King's Head' had been renamed 'The King's'. Next year we expect it to be further truncated to 'The'. It's a sprawling, ramshackle place that seems to have hundreds of rooms going down countless little corridors that we'd not noticed before, but never seems to have more than five of them occupied. Jack Nicholson could go mad in this place.
This year Motorsport News's Matt James and I made the traditional short walk from 'The King's' to 'The Pennyweight' pub, where we were meeting up with BTCC media man Carl McKellar. This year we would not be sitting outside, wondering how the Darlington women passing by manage not to freeze to death in their outfits, but in it, watching England take on Algeria in the World Cup.
Marlon Stockinger begins the victory celebrations © LAT
After wasting an hour and three quarters of our lives, we headed over to the infamous restaurant where Mat Jackson reckoned he was poisoned by chicken shashlik in 2009, determined to once more prove how tough we are. Thereafter the memory hazes into the traditional Darlington blur, but I think we went to a few more pubs, stupidly mixed our drinks, said goodbye to Carl somewhere along the way, and finally found ourselves in a place that was empty save for the husband-and-wife proprietors, and a barman so camp he made Graham Norton look like Mel Gibson - if you've ever been to Darlington, you will understand why I immediately told Matt that I considered him to be the city's bravest man.
The hangover faded during the course of Saturday morning at the circuit, and everyone from TOCA chief Alan Gow down was disappointed that Matt did not repeat his Croft-Saturday-2009 trick of snoozing the booze away on the grass banking just outside the paddock at 8.30am.
I was determined that the coming evening would be a 'light' one. Matt 'David Coleman' James had a Question of Sport-hosting commitment at a Honda dealership, so I arranged to hook up with the Atech Formula Renault team, pretty much the only other guests at 'The King's'. In the meantime, Atech's Marlon Stockinger took his maiden race win late in the afternoon, meaning that everyone would be in a good mood come the evening.
After dinner, that 'light' evening swiftly took a different direction, as we all steered into a succession of those gargantuan pub/clubs where you can't hear yourself think - not that anyone really goes there to do any thinking. There was some fairly spectacular eye-candy (a girl in a red tutu was probably top of the league). But I stayed firm to my commitment to be wide awake on Sunday: my last memory is of a very happy Swiss-Filipino Formula Renault race-winner giving it large on the dancefloor to Bon Jovi's 'Living on a Prayer', before I had a common-sense attack and sloped off to catch up for lost sleep.
It wasn't my first intelligent action of the year, as I'd given up smoking four months earlier. I knew that spending most of the weekend with the B&H profit margin who calls himself Matt James would seriously test my resolve, but to my surprise I passed the test and I'm still on the wagon. Who knows whether I'll still be smoke-free by the time Croft comes around next year? What I do know is that it will involve varying degrees of alcoholic misadventure starting in 'The Pennyweight', a curry, and a truncated slumber in my hotel room at 'The'.
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