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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Every Pit-stop tells a Story

I didn't go to see the Stew Roberts Band expecting it to change my life. It's just that his 55th birthday tour was stopping off at the West Hamley Alhambra, and we hadn't had any decent rock 'n roll in the town for years. I got my ticket way in advance, dusted off my old RAF greatcoat and shuffled in on Saturday night looking forward to a blast of some of my old 70s favourites- you know the ones… 'Maggie Might', 'Stray With Me', 'Petroleum Alley'. Yeah, all that old stuff with tunes. As long as he didn't do too many of his naff disco ones from later on.
So it was disappointing that by eleven o'clock, me and all the other tired old throwbacks in the auditorium were still being subjected to the stomach churning noise of the local tecno-garbage-grunge support band, who I swear had been through their whole set three times. But every time they tried to leave the stage they were barred by some very heavy looking roadies. The answer finally came when an extremely rancid looking individual took the mike and announced that Stew was indisposed backstage. 'I thought he'd got over that' groaned the guy next to me, rolling his eyes. But the MC hadn't finished. 'Stew has asked me to enquire if there are any slot car experts in the audience tonight.' I blinked and whacked my hands against my bruised ears a couple of times, then turned to my neighbour and asked him if he'd heard what I'd heard. The tecno-grunge band had started up again though, and he just smiled and offered me the stub of his clumsily rolled cigarette. Unable to take any more of the howling feedback, I stood up, slithered past the rest of the stalls and went up to the guy guarding the stage door. Amazing chap. Six and a half foot square he was. Anyway, I motioned towards the door, and his huge hand immediately came down in front of my face like a wall. Unable to speak for the din, in desperation I made a throttle twitching movement with my thumb. He stared impassively at me for a few moments, then made inaudible noises into his throat mike. Seconds later, with one hand clamped over his earpiece, he grabbed my shoulder and pushed me through the door into the arms of the guy with the greasy bouffant hair who had just made the stage announcements. The big padded door swung closed behind me and relative silence descended. 'So you're a slot car expert, are you?' he asked. 'Well, I don't know about expert exactly, but I've been racing at West Hamley for several years now and…' I replied hesitantly, still not sure whether this was all a wind-up. 'Great' he said. 'Stew needs you. He's having one of his hissy-fits. Follow me.' He walked me down corridors lined with heating pipes, past bursting rubbish bins and busted trolleys, and finally past a queue of severely underdressed young ladies before knocking smartly at a door with a big spangly star fixed on with a drawing pin. I could hear that familiar throaty voice as soon as the door moved on it's hinges, and I shivered with excitement. Except he wasn't hollering raw and moody R'n B. Stew was wailing about his Williams. 'It won't bloody go!' I heard him roar plaintively before I even saw inside the dressing room. But when I did, I realised with a shock what was going on. Laid out on top of a bunch of Marshall amps in the centre of the room was a good sized four lane track. Three F1 cars were slewing their way around, but one was dead on the start line. I recognised Snood Battersby immediately- Stew's drummer since way back. He was prodding the stationary Williams with a drum stick while squeezing the life out of a hand throttle. Stew himself was pacing up and down, yelling constantly, his rangy 55 year old frame loose inside his spandex pants and mirrored vest. 'It's in the contract!' he screamed. 'I don't go on without a fifty lap warm up. And if there's not going to be any racing with the lads after the gig, we're pulling out now!' I watched the rest of the band, checking off some of my rock star heroes; Pigfat Fitzgibbons, keyboards, was thumbing one of the other cars. Flint Hoobsby, who provided that epic twenty minute mandolin solo on 'Raincoat Failure', and regular bongos man Dwight Knightly were running the other two McLarens with some expertise. Two suited gents, one of whom was Stew's legendary manager Big Jim Gonads, were negotiating and gesticulating frantically in one corner. Vleeg Hadstrom, the newly recruited bassist, was idly polishing his machine heads in another. Numerous young women were strewn about the place, so poorly dressed as to require at least a metre and a half of stout material to make them presentable at a topless beach, let alone at your auntie's birthday party. Interestingly, Stew's new twin lead guitarists, Shag Baddely and Flak Jakkit, were on a sofa, snogging avidly.
But here I was in the same room as these people, breathing the same slightly spicy air. Rock heroes. Legends. I couldn't believe it. But all the time Stew was pacing and ranting, occasionally kicking the malfunctioning Scalextric as he passed. 'I'm not going on 'til this is fixed' he roared, in exactly the same pitch that he used on the fade out of his 1971 'B' side 'Lag my Pipes, Baby, I'm the Plumber Man'. It made my backbone slip.
'Stew, baby, this is er, er…' 'Clint', I interjected quickly. 'Yeah. Clint. He's a top slot car expert. We just had him flown in from L.A. He'll do the job. Chill, man.' Slipping easily into the role, I tried to high-five the great man, but he just scowled. 'Expert? I've never heard of you. I subscribe to the NSCC, man, and I never saw your name. Not even on the letters page. But I'll give you a break. Fix my car and you're the man, man. I need my hit of slot action before I can sing for my people out there.'
Not wishing to give away my lack of an American accent, I moved toward the track in what I hoped would be perceived as a cool and understated manner. I was thinking hard. I had seen all the controllers being handled while I had been in the room- it was obviously a problem with Stew's own Williams. I needed to get the car apart quickly if there was going to be a show tonight. 'I need a small cross-head screwdriver, fast' I said. 'Yeah. That'll be a no.2 Humbucking cover plate removal driver. Second shelf left hand side. I glanced around, but saw no-one who looked as if they might have spoken recently. Then I noticed a movement out of the corner of my eye as the door of a huge red stove-enamelled cabinet swung open. It was a wardrobe sized toolbox mounted on heavy-duty castors, the top of it covered with a futon mattress. On the mattress was another slack-jawed hairy in stretch denims and bandana. A heavily-bangled hand looped down and pointed at a beautifully laid out rack of electrician's screwdrivers. I looked quickly along them and noticed that he one neatly labelled 'no2 Humbucker' was indeed exactly the one needed to get the body fixing screws out of the Williams. I glanced up and said thanks, and got a surprisingly warm smile in return. 'Hi. I'm Badger. Stew's guitar roadie. I take care of all the axes, and a few other of Stew's more personal concerns. Come up and see me some time.' For the first time I noticed that this particular set of stretch denims was stretched in some very interesting places. The voice was low, but soft and definitely feminine. But I was determined not to be distracted from the work in hand. Hundreds of people were outside, waiting to hear the Stew Roberts Band in full flight. I took the screwdriver and dismantled the Williams on a convenient fold-out work table built into the cabinet. Everything seemed O.K.; everything turned and meshed, but it was absolutely straight out of the box- nothing had been done to tune the car. I found a halogen work lamp and flicked it on to get a better look at what I was dealing with.
Then I saw something glinting between the lead wires on the motor. Looking quickly round the tool racks I found a small pair of tweezers and pulled out the thin wire which was shorting out the power. I checked it carefully. It was the end of an ultra-light gauge super-solo Ernie Ball guitar E string. That should do it, I thought. But even though Stew was still pacing the room like an oran-utang on heat, there was so much immaculate gear in this tool kit- it made the Ferrari pit garage look like a car boot sale- I couldn't resist giving the car the make-over it badly needed. In a few minutes I had the tyres trued, the magnet shimmed down, the gears and bearings lubed and the braids cleaned and straightened. The thing was race ready and on the track quicker than one of Dwight Knightly's bongo solos. I handed the throttle to Stew with an air of cool indifference, and he was off.
Stew's rage dissipated immediately as the car zinged away from the start line. Within a few laps there was a beatific smile of contentment wrapped around his taut-skinned face. Then he stopped abruptly. He obviously realised from the smooth sound and sheer pace of his car that I'd managed to ease some extra speed out of his favourite car, and he didn't want the others to know bout it …yet. 'Hey guys! We've got a show to do. Let's rock and roll!' Stew punched the air, and that famous cheeky cockney chappie grin broadened even further across his expensively-tended teeth. He turned and gave me that high five. 'Good job, fella. Anything I can do for you?' 'Yeah', I said, in the heat of my excitement. 'Don't do any of your crappy 80s disco songs.' For a nasty moment, I thought I'd pushed it too far as Stew's grin faltered for a split second. Then it flashed back again, and he bounded off after his band.
Well, they didn't play any of their crappy 80s disco songs. It was a high-pressure set of bar-room rockers that hit West Hamley that night, with me listening from the wings, laughing like a fool and trying a few of those old dance moves I thought I'd forgotten. Then I felt an arm sneak under my greatcoat, and turned to see Badger staring into my eyes, hips swaying provocatively, and reeking of patchouli oil. 'I ain't seen the old man so fired up for years, guy' she said. 'Maybe you could do the same for me?' She looked great. But I'd been thinking.
The band came to the end of their set, played a tight fistful of roof raising encores and stormed off stage. I was hustled along in the rush back to the dressing room, where corks were popped, cans ripped, and hand throttles plugged in. Things couldn't get any better than this, I thought. But they do, and they did. 'Great show guys' rasped Stew, his voice all but gone. 'But no-one touches my Williams except Clint here. Usual rules. C'mon, let's race!'
It went on long into the night. Apparently this was the usual post-gig wind-down for the band- a full session of heats and a 100 lap final before boarding the coach and riding the blackstuff to the next venue. Well, I was getting pretty excited. The buzz was mighty. I necked several Tangos, and my glucose levels went off the scale. In the finals I inherited Vleeg's McLaren- he'd disappeared off somewhere to help one of those poor under-dressed girls warm up. Anyway, me and Stew had an epic dice. He had a good thumb, and good reactions. I kept with him pretty easily after I had a chance to set up my car a little better, but even though I nosed ahead now and again to keep the tension going, I was wise to staying behind him over the line. He gave me a huge, bony bear-hug afterwards. 'You're the man, man' he said. I felt like all my premium bonds had cashed in at once. But then I noticed Badger beside us, anxiously looking from me to him, tugging nervously at the silver ring looped through her lower lip. 'Stew', I said, 'I need to tell you something. Your car. It was sabotaged'. 'Whaddayah mean, man?' 'Someone sabotaged your Williams. Someone who knew precisely the right screwdriver to take out the body screws. Someone who had the right tools to cut a guitar string cleanly and thread it neatly through the brush springs and short out the motor. Someone who wants you to spend less time with your Scalextric, and more time with your…' 'My woman? My woman did this to me?' Stew was outraged. He reeled towards Badger. 'Badger! Man! How could you do this to me? No-one gets between me and my Scalextric. No-one! You're outta here. As of now. You're off the tour.' He turned back to me. 'Clint. You want a job? You can be our Slot roadie. You've got a place on the bus right now.' 'Wow, Stew. That would be great. But what about the guitars? I know about cars, but don't you need someone who can keep your instruments going? Aren't they more important?- you are a band, after all.' 'Listen, man. I've seen what you can do with a slot car. You can cope with a few Stratocasters, no problem. Here. Take my credit card and order up all the spares and gizmos you need from the best slot shops you know. No limit. Fill up another cabinet like that one. But with cars this time. Hey guys...' Stew turned around and addressed the band. 'Clint's our new guitar-and-car roadie. Treat him nice. He's coming with us. Clint, we've got a meet with the Joe Belgium Rhythym and Blues Orchestra in the Rock and Roll slot car league at the end of this tour. We're going to cream them, right?'
And so we did. I left my quiet existence in West Hamley for life on the road, and I've never looked back. These rockers are heavy into the slots. Stateless Crow are the guys to beat- they spend more time practicing their driving than they do learning chords. Mind you, there are plenty of others- that Stag guy, who insists on racing cars hand-carved out of tropical rainforest timber by Amerindian tribesman. Hopeless. Then we did a tour recently with Tellyhead- they're into all the latest high-tech gear, but none of them can drive. All far too laid-back. Anyway. Next time you go to a gig, take your pit-box with you and knock on the stage door afterwards. Mention my name; Clint Finger, Slot car tuner to the Stars.

4,593 Posts
Take care, Diff... As is well known in our household, Hell hath no fury like a woman's corns- or something- anyway, Shelsey Walsh tells me that Badger has become a sworn enemy of slot racing and has dedicted her life to sabotage. So next time your car sinks into the track in a cloud of smoke, the tell-tale scent of patchouli oil will tell you....Badger's about! Not a woman to trifle with though. Inspector Thumb already has a file on her. Bad things could happen. Meanwhile Clint's life on the road continues, and not without incident.
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