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Cooper Garages Visit

10th July 1999. 

By Gary J Lewis.

How to start a report on what everyone who attended will recall as a historic event is difficult, to try and describe the atmosphere and excitement of the day, is almost impossible unless you were there, but I’ll give it a go.

Friday 9th July 1999.
6pm, departure time. The intrepid explorers set off into the unknown, literary! Andy, Mark G, Paul G, Jim and myself, due south.

After a mind numbing drive down the M5, M42, M40 and M25, the A24 and the A280 were a relief that is, unless you were a passenger in Jim’s Mini (‘nuff said). We almost drove past our destination in the dark arriving at 11pm, the usual kissing of hallowed ground followed and then the realisation that the planned camping on the grass bordered forecourt was out, as there wasn’t one.

Andy hit on the idea that if we could find a Travel Lodge we could ‘all’ share a room, after accosting a local we found that there was such an establishment not three miles down the road. On arrival Andy duly approached the formidable sleep fortress, arrgh!! £46 per single room with no access other that through reception, sod that for a game of soldiers came the cry. 

By now it had turned midnight and desperate measures were afoot, directly opposite was a traffic island with a 24 hour Shell filling station attached, the traffic island was grassy(ish). Jim and myself duly marched into the Shell shoppe and after finding out that the ‘grassy’ area belonged to them promptly informed the cashier that we were about to pitch camp on the ‘ere Grassy Knoll.

The Grassy Knoll.JPG (34146 bytes)                        The Grassy Knoll 2.JPG (46132 bytes)

 Grassy Knoll. 

Camp was set, to the bemusement of some of the locals who seemed to think that we were GYPSIES? I’ve personally never seen gypsies in designer tents before! Jim had a new ‘compact’ tent, the biggest compact tent that anyone had ever seen, he could have parked his Mini in it and still have had room to land a light aircraft. 

All set up and no place to go, ha! A 24hr garage and car wash on one side, a cemetery on the other and a road running all round us, bizarre, well, yes I suppose so, but when in Rome (whatever that means). As it was very late Mark decided not to erect his accommodation but to share Andys abode, three in one tent, sweaty feet, Paul G and all, not a recipe for a good nights sleep, anyway after a quick drink, tea brewed on the camp stove and coffee from the ‘Shell quickee mart’, we got our heads down, that is all except Jim who at 1am decides he wants to cook his tin of chili on the stove that’s in my tent, after shouting ‘be gone’, ‘go away’, ‘depart’ and lots of verbal graffiti very close to this, Jim got the message and went to bed, chili’less.

A wild and tiring night towered before us, at 2am a group of drunken local yobbo's decided it was sport to hassle the aliens camped on the traffic island, after driving them off a few times, some with the help of the Shell mobile security vehicle. Sleep enveloped me until 4am’ish woken to the sound of tent zips screeching I leaped out of my personal fridge to find Andy wandering about, trying to find his car keys, as he had had enough of trying to sleep in the tent of snoring Gameson's. To cut things short, sleep finally sent its black veil to Gary's tent. 

The alarm clock was set for 7am.   Early morning and Mark G had what could best be described as a major panic attack, running around the camp shouting and hammering on tents that the clock hadn’t gone off and that it was 7.10am and no-one was up, I emerged to a hazy cold morning and glanced at my watch, damn its stopped, at 5.10, looking closer it hadn’t stopped, Yes, Mark G really had got me up at 5.10am, after some rather harsh language and some quite groveling apologies from Mark G, I again hit the sack, destined not to sleep another wink.

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The Usual Suspects.

7.15am everyone’s up, in one state or another, breakfasts on and tea and coffee are being swilled in copious amounts, loverly! Just before 8am we’re on our way. As it was still early we decided to visit the beach, we were the only people up apart from one lone cyclist who nearly took the front off Jim's Mini coming out of a junction, Jim muttered under his breath, “we’ll get 'im on the way back”. 

The beach was pebbles and the sea was full of shi seaweed. The usual British seaside I suppose. I must say that the weather was glorious all day, quite superb! After a brief rest on the beach and a quick iced lolly we set off in search of civilisation which we found in the form of Sainsburys. Andy speedily accessed the hole in the wall!!! and after purchasing some much needed refreshment we set off for Cooper Garages.

We arrived at the place in question at around 10.30am and were warmly welcomed, the atmosphere was electric as we entered the showrooms, brand new Cooper Minis abounded. The history in this place is tremendous. We were informed that John Cooper was definatly coming in to see us, sometime that morning, as hoped for. Patrick and Paula arrived around 11am and going on Pats beaming smile he was well chuffed.        

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       Dreamer.                                Old Farts?

After soaking up the magic for somewhile a ‘Sport 5 S’ appeared outside, so not being one to miss an opportunity, out I went to have a gander. The car was empty when I got to it and thinking that this could be the only time I ever get to sit in one of these, I did. Loverly!

Sitting there wishing I could ‘have a go’, a set of car keys appeared through the open window (whoever said wishes didn’t come true) “take it out” the said the man and not being slow on the uptake I did, but not before Jim jumped in through the passenger door. We had a great 15 minutes or so leisurely pottering about the East Preston lanes. Getting back we swapped over and Jim took me for a ‘ride’ (‘nuff said). While we were away another Mini appeared a four speed version, well we had to have a go at that one didn’t we? While on our second trip out we came back past the garage to find Mark G waving us down, pulling in, he explained that John Cooper had arrived, so Jim and I raced inside expecting Mr. Cooper to only be there for a few minutes, our mistake.

John cooper is one of the most friendly and approachable people that I have ever met, he gathered us all around him and gave us a 25 minute talk on his life, his part in the Mini’s history and much more, after which he posed for photographs for another 10 minutes or more, a great man. The morning wore on, everyone having a drive in the test  cars, Mark G ordered his new Mini and had a test drive in an equivalent model that was sitting in the showroom, this explains the big stretchy smile still etched on his face.

                                                Historic Moment.JPG (41693 bytes)

                                             Historic Moment!

Time for departure just after 1pm, having thanked Mr. Richard De Jong the General Manager for a superb day he very nicely had a member of staff take for us the obligatory group photos outside the garage. So saying our farewells and overwhelming thanks for memories that will live forever we set off to find food, drink and a ‘nice’ beach. A few miles down the coast a cafe right on the beach fitted the equation. 

                                           Outside JCs web.jpg (88236 bytes)

                                Near the end of a Perfect Day.

Jim meanwhile decided that he wasn’t hungry and went and sat on the beach all on his tod. This baffled and somewhat worried the rest of us so after the ‘banquet’ we all went down to see what was so fascinating that it kept ginger Jim out in the afternoon sun. Topless women everywhere, ‘nuff said! So after ‘20 minutes or so‘ we prized Jim off the beach, it was very hard (close your dirty minds.) So off we set, homeward bound. Great memories whizzing about our in our heads and a long drive before us, on the M40 everyone fell to sleep, at the same time! Not a good move, but after a reviving caffeine break the journey continued and we arrived home safely.

This trip must be repeated, to enable the people not able to make it this time to feel the ‘buzz’ we all still have.


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