Friday, 11 November 2011

The Ladybird Book of Adrenaline

Yep it’s another update from the blog with more words on it than are tattooed on Frankie Cocozza’s arse, although at least it’s 191% less twatish. However much like Frankie I have been kicked out by Gary Barlow – who knew Take That Concerts had such good security?

Anyway moving on to this week’s topic, last weekend I had my first ever taste of Extreme Sports, I say “extreme” sports, “extreme” is of course a relative term. Those of you veteran blog readers will remember way back in August, when I talked about the London rioters and my predisposition to worrying.

Yes. When worrying is a full on hobby for you, crossing the road without using a designated pedestrian crossing can give you the kind of terrifying thrill, that a normal person can only find by going parachute jumping without a parachute. So given my deep nervous disposition you’ll understand when I say that my Sunday spent Go Karting, to me was a foray deep into the world of Extreme Sports. In fact not knowing how to drive and never even having had a single driving lesson, all meant that this would be my first time in charge of a motor vehicle with any speed above that of kiddy dodgems, which generally are so slow that even the most lacklustre of snails have time to throw themselves to safety should they see one approaching.

Usually pathetic people, such as myself, would only ever dream of doing something so adventurous if we were forced to by circumstance – such as a stag weekend, or other such hideous social activity where people do things they don’t want to please someone they sort of like. As a general rule I try and avoid new experiences in case they’re aren’t enjoyable, why do something that could turn out to be unpleasant when you can do something you always do, that you know you’ll enjoy? Never have I once been horrified by sitting on my own sofa, except for the time my flatmate had Coach Trip on.

Anyway for reasons too tedious to explain, on Sunday I found myself at a Go Karting track near Tower Bridge with a group of work colleagues/friends - they might be reading so I don’t want to sound too fond of them. Now you’d think trying out a new activity in amongst a group of friends, would be the perfect way to test out new experiences – as they’ll be there to support you every step of the way, even if you don’t enjoy the experience or aren’t any good. How wrong you are. Friends I’ve found can often be as much support as Gordon Ramsay in a beginner’s cookery lesson. Unlike friends even the most obnoxious of strangers tend not to pour scorn over you whenever you make a mistake or find yourself out of your depth, whereas friends (certainly these ones – in case they are reading!) have an entirely different dog-eat-dog agenda where all that counts is finding new material with which to mock you. A hobby which they already excel at. Still part of me had high hopes, maybe I’d be naturally good at Go Karting, maybe despite all on-paper predictions, I’d be a brilliant Go Karter zooming around the track, weaving in out of the opposition and running loops round my friends. As I claimed victory after victory and got to stand on the podium spraying champagne around with comic disregard for where it was landing. It would be like the movies where the nerdy kid is really good at American Football and has a result wins a place in the cool kids and a hot girl to be at his side. Maybe, just maybe, I held onto that dream as I entered the building.

If you’re are feeling a bit nervous prior to your first race you’d be hoping that walking into the Go Karting centre is going to reassure you of some of your fears - it’s not. As to great you at the door is a sign saying that “Go Karting is a potentially dangerous sport, you are here at your own risk.”, after reading that you are presented with a waiver to sign, accepting you may die, and asked to give details of your next of kin. All of which is about as comforting as receiving a large package at your house hand delivered by the Taliban. You’re then presented with a one-size does not fit all Crystal Maze-esque jump suit (Richard O’Brien era of course, with different coloured shoulder pads for no real discernable reason) to put on in the changing room where you also find a locker for all your worldly goods and a pad and pen for recording your last will and testament.

Afterwards it’s time to head to the briefing room to be given a tutorial on how the karts work, and all the important safety information. My general reading of the room is the more manly a person you are, the more likely you are to scoff at and ignore the safety instructions. I took detailed notes. The controls seemed simple enough, a steering wheel – which was pretty self-explanatory and two pedals, the accelerator and the brake (this is broadly speaking how normal cars work – or so I’ve been told). And the basic rules were no bumping, no hitting the sides (who aims to hit the side anyway?), no running down the marshals, no spitting and no wearing poppies on your shirts. There’s also a complicated system of flags and lights dotted around the track, green lights mean go (with me so far?), flashing yellow lights mean proceed at walking pace (and try not to hit the marshal who is on the track pushing someone off the wall), red means stop and black means you’ve been disqualified. How anyone is supposed to see a black light though?

With all that information appropriately stored, I nervously headed trackside, a place where it’s impossible not to hum Fleetwood Mac’s Formula 1 theme tune in your head, no matter how inappropriate to your driving skill it may feel. Here I was given a helmet, which due to my hideously deformed oversized head had to be one of the super-freak sized helmets on the top shelf designed to fit Andrew Marr’s ears. I followed the important advice to leave the visor open a crack so as not to steam it up. Given my nervous heavy breathing there was every chance my helmet would turn into a Finnish sauna at any minute, and driving round with a completely obscured visor might not be the safest driving experience. Still I held onto my dream, maybe I would claim victory?

Approximately ten seconds after leaving the starting grid it became exceptionally apparent that I would not be fulfilling my dreams today. Whilst everyone else roared off (well didn’t really roar, they were electric not petrol go karts), I stuttered along the track like a crippled milk float. Unaccustomed to being in charge of a motor vehicle at any speed, the 30mph these karts could easily achieve left me a stressed, terrified, wreck at the wheel. Which didn’t improve as I headed into the first hairpin bend and simply ploughed straight into a wall of tyres, only to have to be pulled out by a marshal, a feat which much to the marshal’s disapproval, I repeated on the next four laps. The lights changed from green to flashing yellow so often due to my incompetence you could be forgiven for thinking it’s an indoor disco. After the marshal gave me a little pep talk on how using the steering wheel would help get around the corner (I knew that, I’m just not very good!), I started to worry that I’d be taken off for poor driving – crashing into the walls, after all, is disallowed. Bad as it would be to come last, I’d never survive the post race ribbing I’d get from my friends if I was disqualified for been as inept as Maureen from the old BBC show Driving School. Hence the next few laps were spent carefully steering around the course, allowing people to overtake me, simply concentrating on getting around the track rather than worrying at all about position.

After a few laps like this, I made a fatal mistake. I became confident. Heading into a rather tight corner, I decided speed was of the essence, the brakes weren’t required, simply confident steering. A few seconds later a sharp skid caused me plough side first into the tyre wall at what I considered to be an horrific velocity, I was flung into the side of my seat which dug right into my ribs. The combined force of the impact and the surprise, as unlike most of my other crashes I hadn’t seen it coming, successfully took the metaphorical wind out of my sails. Not to mention leaving with a really sore set of bruises all over the side of my body which are currently the colour of the Ribena berries. The force of the impact had been so great that my visor sprung off it’s mountings on my helmet, and I headed straight to the pits to have it repaired, much to the mocking of fellow racers who considered my foolish worry for protecting my eyesight to be ridiculously unnecessary.

The rest of the first race I completed terrified of repeating my crash I headed around at the pace of an average student tidying their bedroom, stopping at each corner before looking both ways and completing the turn in a safe and serene fashion. I got lapped so often, that the race organisers thought the lap board must have been malfunctioning. Eventually the chequered flag was waved, and we all had to head in the pits next time we’d passed them, but where were the pits? In all the “excitement” I’d forgotten where the entrance was. I couldn’t afford to just miss it, and go around again, that would surely get me thrown off the track as it would like I was taking the piss. Plus the other drivers would have to wait seven hours for me to complete one more circuit of the average twenty-eight second course. The track ahead was clear, so I took my eyes of the road and darted around looking for the pits, ahhh there they were just round the next corner. My eyes darted back to the road, to find that I simply veered off at a right angle and was rapidly approaching a tyre wall. I hit the brakes and came to a rest about 10 centimetres in front of the wall, I’d not crashed, I’d effectively parked. However without a reverse gear there was no way I could get out of this position without crashing. Worse I’d crashed/parked on a completely straight bit of the track, there were no marshals around to help as no one had ever crashed here before in the history of the course. Instead I was forced to call one over with a camp wave and a shout of “Ahoy there!”. I finally made it back to the pits and gracefully navigated the tight entrance to stop a foot behind the car ahead of me, in what I thought was quite a controlled manoeuvre. Unfortunately the marshal wanted me to close the small gap between the cars to half a foot, as expected I was unable to perform such a subtle navigational change and simply ploughed into the back of the car ahead shunting everyone ahead along like a racing themed Newton’s cradle.

The remaining two races were much the same, with me trailing at the back of the leaderboard, simply pleased to have stayed on the track as everyone else merrily overtook me. In fact the only people I ever overtook were stationary cars that had crashed, I never once overtook anyone at speed. Finally we got trackside again, and were presented with our result’s sheets, at this point no one else knew how awfully I’d done the leaderboard only listed kart numbers not names. Sadly this ignorance was shattered when the marshal handing out my sheet called my number in a very loud and unsubtle way – that man should not be allowed to break bad news in a hospital.

So there we go, my first taste of Extreme Sports, did I enjoy it? My ribcage would certainly say no, I’d go as far as to say it was “alright”. The fun aspect was largely balanced out by the stress I found during the whole experience as I constantly gripped the steering wheel so hard it was probably bent out of shape. I did get better in fairness, by race three I came last by a considerable margin rather an astronomical one. Would I do it again? Maybe, with a roll bar, padded seating, wrapped entirely in bubble wrap and with someone else to do the driving. Oh and to the bright spark who after the race suggested paint-balling next time… no thank you, I’d rather eat my own scrotum! Leave me my own Extreme Sport of walking past a broken glass bottle worrying that if I feel over I could cut my neck open. It could happen.


Holly said...

I always feel kinda exhausted after reading your blogs, Matt... but I like it! If it makes you feel better, I crashed three times quite spectacularly :-)

Matt said...

I am kinda exhausted after living my life, but I like it (sort of)! Glad I'm not the only disaster on the track!