Published on Jalopnik.com
I'll talk to anyone. No, really - anyone.
Regardless of their native language, whether they want me to or not, I'll talk to them.
It's been suggested in the past by a number of people that I must be paid by the word, which is categorically not true. Anyway, if that was the case, some of the major car manufacturers I have worked for would be in serious financial trouble by now.
As a child, I'm pretty sure my chatty nature drove my parents crazy - I know my school teachers noticed early on that it was almost impossible to keep me quiet and it's got me into some trouble over the years.
Like the time I spotted a local advert for an old motorbike I was interested in buying; I called the number, spoke to the owner and arranged a viewing.
Upon my return, I couldn't help but excitedly share the news of my findings with my parents - who were absolutely furious. Understandably so, seeing as I was only was 11 years old and they promptly grounded me for a fortnight.
The day I casually offered a certain racing driver a lift in my cab, is another example. Well, sort of. The point being, if I'd kept my mouth shut more often, I'd probably save myself a lot of hassle.
Occasionally though, I've managed to talk my way out of some tricky situations. Not so long ago, an overzealous policeman pointed his loaded gun at me for some unknown reason during a random roadside check point in a fairly liberal Middle Eastern country.
Whatever his motive, I wasn't that impressed and I made it quite clear that I didn't appreciate him waving his pistol in my face.
After telling him that he would never have the balls to actually shoot me, because "that's not the sort of thing that happens over here"- he went silent, stared, then dropped his aim slightly.
I wound up my window and drove off. Win.
And another time when a drunk driver hit the vehicle that I was travelling in late at night, I discreetly called the police and then kept him talking. Turned out he'd also made a sneaky phone call himself - and three of his bruiser mates turned up out of nowhere.
The guy eventually tried to drive off once he realised how much trouble he was in - not before his mate threw a punch at me - and I spent the rest of the night at a police station showing the bemused coppers the iPhone video I'd shot of the whole thing.
(They got caught, by the way. Double win.)
Just a side note here: whilst I'm often the first to instigate conversations, I am able to be quiet for long enough to hear what the other person is saying.
I like listening to peoples' stories - who they are, what they think, where they come from. Which is why I've always enjoyed hosting guests at events around the world - I work with and meet some fascinating people.
A few years ago at an event, I hosted a group from Greece - some of whom didn't speak English. On the last day, one of the guests who had been almost silent throughout, very quietly asked me a question in English. I answered - a little surprised - and the conversation moved on to the usual 'who, what, where?'.
He casually told me that he worked as a masseuse in Greece - which would explain his zen-like silence, I guess. But when I enquired about how long this had been his career, I was not expecting the answer he gave me.
"For a few years. But I used to be a fighter pilot in the Greek Air Force."
I was stunned into silence (rare, believe me) and then proceeded to ask him dozens of questions, before he invited me to meet his Top Gun mates next time I was in Greece.
It's not every day you get offered a ride in a fighter jet whilst you're sat in a rain-soaked field in France, drinking mulled wine and watching rally cars buzz through the surrounding vineyards.
So I guess being a chatterbox has its advantages, after all.
And no, before you ask: I've never ever talked to myself. I've never been that lonely.
The voices in my head keep me company, I find.
Recently, a charming American told me how once upon a time, he handed his business card to a figure that he admired within the auto industry.
A seemingly innocent act at the time, it soon sparked a union which - years later - resulted in a significant personal achievement for them both and gave the aforementioned chap a driving seat on a career-changing journey which is still going full-throttle to this day.*
Now, my short-term memory is shockingly bad but consequently, most events which occurred more than five years ago are almost crystal clear in my recollection - so I was more than happy to share my own career-story with him.
(Let’s be honest, being able to remember clearly the first time you drove a car/ kissed someone/ got horribly drunk in a field is far more interesting than being able to name ten items that you need to put in your shopping basket. Just get yourself a notebook.)
So, my story goes: ten years ago whilst studying for my Travel and Tourism Management Diploma at college, I made a phone call that undoubtedly influenced the course of my life.
Answered by Claire Williams - then Press and Communications Officer at the famed Silverstone circuit and daughter of Sir Frank - she kindly accepted my offer of assistance in the months leading up to the 2002 British Grand Prix.
Having been lucky enough to grow up within earshot of the track, I was keen to spend my college placement doing something that I was genuinely enthusiastic about and I can honestly say that it was one of the best work-related experiences of my life - even a decade later.
Whilst my college friends worked extra shifts at their existing hotel and travel agency jobs to tick off the mandatory days before the summer break began, I spent the next five months in the little ‘temporary’ office that still sits at the entrance to the circuit today. I also cancelled a month-long trip around Europe with my motorsport-loathing best friend, who was understandably less than impressed. I’ve since made it up to her, honest.
Now you might be thinking, ‘Why would an 18-year old opt to spend the summer in a pre-fab on a glorified airfield instead of exploring the sights and sounds of Amsterdam with her mates?’.
I don’t doubt that there were moments when I was of the same opinion but even on the days when my friends were jetting off into the sunshine, I knew that this was an opportunity I couldn’t miss.
I wasn’t wrong.
Anyone who followed F1 at the turn of the millenium will know that it was a pretty crucial time for Britain’s flagship motorsport event. Octagon Motorsports, in association with circuit owners the BRDC, had just signed a lucrative 15-year deal to ensure that when the F1 circus came to our little island, it would be held at Silverstone.
That’s not to say that Octagon had it easy - they were in charge through some tricky F1 events; most publicly the traffic chaos and ‘mud-gate’ affair which coincided with the event being moved from its usual slot in July to the Easter weekend in April 2000.
After it promptly pissed with rain on qualifying day and hundreds of fans got gridlocked on the surrounding B roads on race day, the lucky ones who got to see Coulthard take his second consecutive home win promptly found themselves paying smart local farmers to be pulled out of the mire by a Massey Ferguson.
According to a farmer friend, he thought ten quid per car was reasonable but “charged BMW owners double for being stupid enough to drive into a muddy field in the first place.”
The following year they tried their best to relieve the access issues, proudly declaring after the event that the average speed on the main access road was a nippy 6mph. “That is double what we have achieved in the past,” said a spokesman. Presumably as he boarded a helicopter transfer back to his motor which was stranded in the world’s largest temporary car park nearby.
In 2002, it was almost inevitable that something travel-related would scupper Octagon’s future plans. After Bernie’s chopper got grounded by poor visibility in a nearby aerodrome on race day - resulting in him missing an important meeting at the track - his negative post-event comments were the final straw for Octagon’s then CEO, Rob Bain. He formally resigned the day after the race and I can tell you from first-hand experience; you could cut the atmosphere with a knife.
A matter of months later, before the 2003 British Grand Prix took place, Octagon’s parent company decided to extricate themselves from the loss-making motorsport arm of their business, making a number of people redundant and the F1 event looking for a new promoter.
Whilst I was quietly assisting where I could in the run-up to the big event and beyond, I quickly began to understand how the wonderful world of motorsport operated - and I was hooked.
Securing my first post-grad job in the motorsport industry was undoubtedly influenced by my experience at the track and I will always be grateful to Claire and the many others who kindly gave me some of their precious time whilst I was there.
On the occasion that I’m contacted by people who are looking for their first step into the industry, I’m always conscious of how lucky I was to be given such a great opportunity early on in my career and my advice is always the same - offer to get involved in any way you can, keep your head down and develop your contacts.
Obviously I will never know how different my career would have been if I hadn’t made that call ten years ago - nor can my new American buddy say that he would have followed the same path without his own chance meeting.
But, it’s entirely possible that if neither of us had made those split-second decisions all those years ago, we would never have experienced working in one of the most fascinating, fast-paced industries out there.
It’s just that I will have to wait at least five years after each event to remember exactly what happened.
Or, I’ll just have to get myself a bigger notebook.
*I’m not even going to apologise for that sentence.
As a kid, I spent hours of my life looking at cars with my Dad.
Days, probably weeks of my childhood wandering around car showrooms viewing new and old alike, listening to him asking the seller all the right questions, kicking a few tyres.
When I think back, it’s probably one of my fondest childhood memories, especially when it was just the two of us together. I was his tomboy sidekick in a house full of females - both human and animal - so occasionally, we would leave the womenfolk to tend to the beasts and head off to look at something he had spotted in the Thames Valley Auto Trader (printed, of course).
I don’t ever remember being bored by any of these visits - especially to the local Mitsubishi dealer, where we were always welcomed like old friends and I was fed biscuits and glasses of orange squash by the doting receptionist.
Hailing from an era when children actually interacted with other adults and - shock horror! - they were expected to behave in public without having a pair of headphones surgically attached throughout the whole ordeal, I was always allowed to roam the showrooms whilst my Dad attempted to screw some unsuspecting Honest John out of that month’s bonus.
When I was about 5 years-old, I distinctly remember attempting to jump my bike off a small hill outside the local Nissan dealer, which ended in the most spectacularly obvious way. It’s no coincidence that my sister was there at the time - this, just one of many challenges that she set me which I duly accepted - to my own detriment - well into my teenage years.
At some point during these visits, if the car in question was deemed a ‘definite possible’ by my Dad, he would ask to see a copy of the HPI report and a few cups of coffee later, a fax machine would whirr into life and produce a flimsy, smudgy print out for him.
Now, I pretty much loathe most forms of modern technology unless they are suitably useful or time-saving. For me, it’s Moleskine diaries, not iPhone calendars; real Post-It notes, not virtual ones.
So surely having the old-fashioned ‘car-fax’ system replaced by similar online and SMS services is a good thing, right?
Instant access to information is one of the most genius developments of late, I agree. Especially when you can cheat at the pub quiz with the click of a button and spend the winnings on more gin, whilst your fellow drinkers wonder how someone so drunk can be so goddamn clever. Ahem.
But what if - over twenty years ago - my Dad could have found out whether that white-over-silver SWB Shogun with chrome bull-bars was a ringer before he left the house? Would he have still spent his Sunday afternoons trawling the local dealerships with his mini Evel Knievel in tow?
Some of the people that he dealt with back then became trusted partners - some even friends - in the quest to secure his next purchase. He got to know the good ones, the bad ones, to find out who was worth spending his money with and who was trying to rip him off.
All of this counted towards very few poor choices in his car buying history (Citroen AX GT as my sister’s learner car: really?) because he committed time and energy into finding out exactly what was being offered to him by communicating with other human beings about it.
Imagine that - not having access to a million reviews, blogs, forums and posts about what faults to look for in a particular model, which dealers to trust, what the real-world mpg figures are versus the ones printed in the brochures that inevitably end up as temporary child-friendly distractions in the back of the car on the way home.
I’m not for one minute suggesting that my Dad doesn’t make use of this wealth of information when considering a purchase nowadays because that would be foolhardy, but still to this day he has a strong contact list of (mostly) small dealers who know his name when he walks through the door and who won’t try to rip him off.
It just makes good sense - getting to know someone who has a vested interest in selling you something that you need equals mutual benefits for all concerned. Hell, you might even make a new friend without having to suffer the embarrassment of wondering if they will click ‘Accept’.
This all gave me a good head-start in knowing how to strike a deal on a car, too - which is something I will always be grateful of - especially as I’m pretty sure most car dealers can’t think of anything worse than having a good deal screwed out of them, particularly by a woman. Figuratively speaking, of course.
So, as my chavvy white Fiesta Zetec S is shortly coming to the end of its lease, I’m on the hunt for something new (old). It’s been a while since I convinced the nice chap at my local Ford dealer to give me a hefty discount which - coupled with his own calculation cock-up of the figures - has served me well these past two years.
I just have to remember: no wheelies outside the showroom this time. It’s a bit harder to get away with when you’re 28 years-old and your sister is nowhere near to take the blame when you split your head open.
According to someone I met recently, the fact that I am female and I enjoy working in a male-dominated environment must mean two things:
1. I'm either a ball-breaker or a floozy
2. I work with hundreds of hot guys
I quickly responded:
1. "Actually, I'm both."
2. "Yeah, but most of them are gay. What a waste."
My irony was lost on him, so he now thinks I'm some sort of masochistic ho who spends her time with a load of camp racing drivers. Still, I've been called worse.
I learned from this incident that I shouldn't waste my dry wit on people who have no sense of humour but also that sometimes, I should just pretend to be unemployed as it would result in far fewer misconceptions.
I didn't choose specifically to be a minority in this profession, it's just that my chosen industry has historically been male-dominated in most areas – drivers, engineers, technicians, management – and I happen to own a pair of breasts. Sorry about that.
Do I think that there should be more women in motorsport? Sure, if they have the right skills, experience and enthusiasm. But I don't think it should be encouraged just to balance out the numbers for the sake of political-correctness or to satiate some testosterone-fuelled dream at the expense of people who are genuinely cut out for it.
"You should stand up for women!" I hear the (female) audience cry. Well, shoot me.
I have no desire to be part of the cliché sisterhood whose members perpetually moan about men being useless, unworthy Neanderthals who buy misjudged gifts for their WAGs and spout such idiocies as, "the world would be a better place if women were running the show!" like some tawdry female comic who has run out of topical, genuinely funny material.
Neither do I feel the need to put myself down at every opportunity to try and make other women feel less threatened by the fact that I'm mostly a happy, confident person who has a ridiculously large capacity for enjoying life.
Get over it; sometimes women are a bit crap, sometimes men are a bit crap. We’re completely different – thankfully, else I would have shot myself a long time ago.
So, when I now tell you that I'm keen to get out on-track more this year and get my race licence, it's not because I'm trying to 'beat the boys', or because I think I'll get a load of attention being a – gasp – female in a race car, it's that I actually love driving cars, that feeling of hitting an apex just right and I've spent the past ten years working with some amazing people who do it every day and I'm fed up with being the passenger!
I'm planning on making the most of my contacts list to see who can give me some advice; hell, maybe even sit next to me in a car and teach me some cool stuff on a race circuit. I might even take some photos or footage and post it here, if you're lucky and if I remember.
Just one thing – nobody point me to the Demon Tweeks catalogue and the page with the pink race overalls and helmets or else I'll be forced to come over there and break your balls.
Apparently it's de rigueur to find new things to do as a new year dawns. I've never been one for making resolutions but, seeing as 2011 is one to (almost) forget, I figured I would wholeheartedly embrace 2012 and all it has to give.
Five days in, and 2012 has so far offered up:
1. A confusing 'non-hangover' on January 1st, after drinking for 12 hours straight. Not sure how... if I find out, I'll share.
2. Twelve hours of commuting to and from my office in only three working days. Blargh.
3. Enlightened pre-sleep reading in the form of "The Rules of Life (Second Edition)' by Richard Templar.
4. Pondering if I will be able to top my 2011 title of 'Badass Babe of the Year' in the next 361 days. (Hat tip to Jalopnik.com)
5. Wondering - after what I managed to unwittingly cram into 2011 - what the hell is going to happen this year?
6. Finally setting up orridgenal.co.uk to facilitate this blog and many more things to come.
I'm going to give it another week before I make any official judgments, but something tells me it's going to be a good'un...