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Impending death in a Welsh farmyard

Bad Map Reading in Wales

by Jem Shaw

My last post recalled sharing the Ford Consul with John Horton. It was a few months ago that I learned that we'd lost him. JRH was, without doubt, one of the most annoying people I've ever known, which doesn't easily explain why it was impossible to dislike him. But despite - or more probably because of - his idiosyncracies, he was great fun to be around, and I miss him greatly. I briefly remade contact with him again shortly before his death, and we committed to an imminent reunion. Sadly, it never happened.

We had many adventures in that Consul, including my introduction to world-class rallying on the Welsh International in 1976. Our schedule between service points was distinctly energetic. We'd frequently stay at one until our last runners had visited, and then race to the next before the front-runners arrived. This required some contravention of the rules of the road.

I was entrusted with map reading from a large-scale Ordnance Survey. Fortunately, this was one of the (very) few subjects I'd found worthy of my attention at school and so was able to make a decent fist of co-driving. It was slightly before dawn on a misty Welsh morning that I spotted a promising "white" that could shave a good ten miles off a main-road dogleg.

"Tightening left, then 100 yards to hard left at junction."

"You sure?"

"Trust me."

John performed a creditable opposite-lock through an open gate and onto broken tarmac.

"Are you sure this is going to go?"

"Looks like it."

"You'd better be right." JRH had no intention of letting the new oik feel too comfortable.

As we climbed, the mist became cloud and visibility shrank considerably, but my bend-calling inspired increasing driver confidence. Avoiding the occasional not-as-map sheep, John picked up the pace.

Holding a wavering torch over a thin white ribbon on a bucking map didn't make for accurate vision. As we exited a bend, I spotted a thin black line marking across the road. I felt the brakes come on as I shouted, "There's a gate!"

"You don't f*****g say," muttered the driver through clenched teeth.

The Consul was skating over centuries of farmyard mud and digested chicken-feed. Poultry scattered loudly and I looked through my side window at the advancing five-bar collision. John had elected to limit the inevitable damage to a dented door and an expendable assistant. As we slid towards our doom, the mist revealed a farmer leaning on the gate and viewing his advancing death with stalk-chewing equanimity.

A patch of unexpected grip brought us to a halt with my door handle virtually touching the gate. I looked up into the farmer's eyes and wound down my window to receive the deserved bollocking.

"You on the rally, is it?"


"Oh, I bet you're winnin.'"

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