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Eric heard them before he saw them. A crackling thunder, gathering a scrabbling, screeching accompaniment as it grew nearer. The tension and apprehension increasing unbearably in his mind, he took a step closer to the grass verge on the blind side of the curve. Then they appeared over the crest, like two baited sharks, their flashing silver tails thrashing wildly from side to side. Out of control. Eric was standing directly in their path as the monsters slid obliquely across the track, the tall, narrow tyres spinning and smoking with no apparent effect on the grey tarmac beneath them. The first driver sat forward in his fighter-plane cockpit, his arms tensed on the huge steering wheel, and a rictus of concentrated effort on his face. Eric could see his eyes staring widely behind his aviator's goggles, and for a split second thought that it might be the last thing he ever saw. Then the driver gave a correcting heave on the wheel, and at the same time the choking bark of the bank of stubby exhaust pipes changed in pitch, and the car slewed away from Eric and across the apex of the turn, the slipstream and the flashing silver bodywork combining with the effect of a broadside slap across his face, chest and stomach. His whole being vibrated, from the shaking ground beneath his feet to the saturated noise in his eardrums, and the tingling in his scalp that felt as if his brain was exposed to the rushing air. A split second later, it happened all over again, as the second Auto Union screamed past him.
The scene replayed itself in Eric W Fisher's mind as he struck a match beneath the streetlamp. Fourteen years ago he had been at Donington. Fourteen years filled with the drama of adolescence, war, love and jealousy, but the scene that came back to him almost unceasingly was that of the drivers heroically manhandling their monstrous grand prix cars round and round that narrow English race track. De-mobbed, lonely and virtually penniless, Eric made his way from the cold boarding house room he presently occupied and along the canal road towards the comparative warmth of the pub, shielding the faint glow in the bowl of his pipe from the bitter wind. He staggered involuntarily as he again imagined the tornado of tyres, driver, spitting exhausts and flashing bodywork again, as vividly as life. But tearing through the cobbled streets of this damp, wintry grey Welsh pit-village? Eric's inner life had totally overwhelmed the depressing facts of his real existence. He had nothing. A poor job as an electrical engineer - a desk job at the local pit. No family, no girl friend, just the itchy suit he'd been given when he left the army. He lived entirely in a dream, a dream of racing, of drama, of limitless engineering and design, of courageous drivers and loyal mechanics- noise, concentration and commitment. He entered the low porch of the pub, ducked his head beneath the low beams and leaned on the bar. 'A pint of Doningtons, please, Dai'.

'Haven't got time for your leg-pulls, Eric my lad. What's it to be? I.P.A., stout, porter? Or milk for your soft English digestion? Donington's? What's that then, some fancy London brew?'
'Sorry, Dai. My mind was elsewhere. The usual. Pint, if I may.'
'You'd better have the money this time too. No more on the slate, Eric boy. Doningtons! I ask you. Brenda! Eric's rambling again. Have we got any Donington's he wants to know? Have a look in the wash-tub for me Brenda, there's a good girl!'
'Aye, Dai. Mebbe it's something that these la-di-da Englishmen boil their stuffed shirts in!'
The few patrons of the pub looked up from their dark tankards, stirred by the chance of some brief entertainment at Eric's expense. The surly pit-men flashed pink gums and beady white eyes through their coal black faces, looking from each to another in hopes of more witty repartee to stir the dank evening. 'Bloody Englishman', said one, to a rowdy chorus of cheers and stamping boots. But no more jokes were forthcoming, and the noise subsided again into the usual quiet hostility. Eric thought he might be able to slink away quietly with his pint, but then he saw a man get up from a solitary table in the far corner and advance towards him. One hand held a slopping glass, the other was fumbling in the pocket of his donkey jacket. Eric gripped the bar and braced himself for further abuse, possibly physical this time. The man stood directly in front of him now, face to face. There was nowhere for Eric to go. The man blocked all light from the tiny windows and the guttering fireplace, but Eric could see him draw something from his pocket. Something metallic looking, truncheon shaped. Eric pulled his head as far away as he could, but the stranger lifted his hand high, close to his face. And in the flickering light from the gas lantern in the snug bar, Eric finally saw what it was. A perfect replica of Nuvolari's D-type Auto-Union V12. He felt giddy- giddy with simultaneous relief and joy- the closest he'd got to the feeling he'd had at Donington all that time ago.
'Donington, you said? I was there,' said the stranger. 'With my uncle Daffyd. Fourteen years since, it's haunted me. Four years as an apprentice joiner. Five years in the merchant navy dodging U-boats in the North Sea, and the last five years sawing pit-props here. The only thing that's kept me going is carving these. I've done every car that was there that day; Merc 154s, Maserati 8CTF, E.R.A.s, Delahayes, even the Riley, Alta and MG. But I saved up the best to last, and now it's nearly done. Those louvres have taken me six months so far. Idris is the name.'
Eric staggered slightly and jumped when Dai slammed his pint down on the bar. He collected himself, took a huge gulp from the beer to clear his head, and said reverently 'That's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. Let me get you another pint, Idris.'
The two men sat at the corner table, watched suspiciously by the other drinkers until the novelty wore off, and talked long and hard, pouring out their mutual reminiscences of that great day in 1938, and how it had overshadowed their entire lives ever since. 'I've been trying to put those memories into reality all this time myself,' said Eric. 'But I can't afford a car, even without the petrol rationing- I can't afford to travel to races- I've dreamed of trying to recreate those cars, those feelings. Teach me how you make them, please.' 'Yes, well, it's easy enough. But it's still not enough for me. They're static. They sit there on my shelf, silent, immobile. I put all my feelings into the making, but when they're done, they leave me still cold. I want them to move, to race, to run hot'. 'But that can't be hard to fix', said Eric. 'Clockwork… rubber bands… there's all sorts of possibilities. Why, a trip to an army surplus store and you could come away with any number of cheap electric motors'. 'Aye, sure. I've thought about that. But these boys need to race. Not pootle along like a toy train. They need a circuit, they need speed, competition- car against car, power balanced against traction, skill and daring! You can't just let them roll along the floor, aimless like.' 'What about railway tracks, you know, run cars on the tracks instead of trains?' 'No, no, no. That's no good at all. You can't have these things going round on rails. It's not right. They've got to be alive- snaking round in power slides, balanced on the throttle like the real thing. Having them go round on rail tracks would be an insult to Nuvolari.' Eric stood up and negotiated another couple of pints out of Dai, and set them down again on the table, next to the shining miniature Auto Union. Eric and Idris sat the rest of the night, swapping reminiscences of the British Grand Prix, discussing the Mercedes, the Auto Unions, the sad and outclassed British machinery, but mostly the soul-shuddering effect of seeing the silver arrows in full flight. And how they might best recapture that magic for themselves.
Eric passed many of his subsequent working days idly sketching ideas out on his drawing board. He should have been refining the safety systems of the pit machinery, but now his mind was focussed on how to make Idris' models race. The power had to be electrical. That way the speed could be regulated by resistors. And cars could race each other. But how to control them? How to guide them realistically around a scale circuit, in four-wheel drifts and tyre-smoking slides?
'Stop your day-dreaming now Eric, bach. The inspector's on his way round. He wants to see the drawings for the pit railway. We have to indent for materials by Monday look you.' Iuan's baritone voice shook Eric out of his reverie, and he quickly pulled the relevant plans from his drawer. The pit railway. A narrow gauge railway that took the men from the pithead shafts through the many underground galleries to the coal face underground. Eric was in charge of a project to automate the points and crossings, using powerful switching solenoids instead of the old manual levers. There were two hundred and fifty twelve-volt five-pole motors arriving at the stores tomorrow, and the wiring had to be ready. He sat staring at the drawings for a few moments, ostensibly checking for mistakes, but suddenly realised he had unconsciously drawn the shape of an Auto-Union over the chassis of the electric tractor on the plans. 'Blimey' he thought. 'Pull yourself together Eric'. He looked again at the diagram of the section where an underground slippage had ripped away one half the track, which now needed relaying. 'I'd like to see Ivor the Driver negotiating that turn into number fourteen gallery on only one rail. I wonder if he could hold that loco on two wheels and power round on the throttle… Wait a minute! That's it! Miniature Grand Prix racing on a single track! We make one rail to guide the car and supply current. Then there's room for the tail to slide and the attitude through the corners can be controlled. And the speed through the straight and in the approach to the corner too! The return polarity can be through a tape, flush on the track so as not to catch the tyres. Tiny Mercs and Auto Unions power sliding round a model race track- real racing! Idris and I could rig this up so easily! One of those electric motors inside the cars, worm gear to the back axle, and a dial resistor for each driver to control the speed! Our very own Donnington! Good grief! Four cars running against each other- speed, control, overtaking; don't hit the corner too fast or you'll spill! Keep the drift in check or you'll hit the rail and spin off. Oversteer through the turn right and you'll be on the power for the straight…..'
`Sounds good, Eric bach. But what about the pit-railway?' 'Sorry, was I speaking aloud? I didn't mean…' 'Yes you were, Eric man. But you've got the whole office hanging on your every word!' Eric looked up, and saw all his workmates staring back at him, and smiles on every face. `When do we start then?' asked Ralph. 'There's a big empty shed behind the bath-house. Seems like the place to do it!'
As soon as the siren sounded the end of the shift, all the maintenance shop men headed out for the back of the bath-house, with Eric in tow. 'Here we are. What do you think, Eric' said Iuan. 'Think you can do it?' 'Blimey, guv. It's perfect! But there's someone I have to talk to.' Eric rushed out, desperately looking for Idris amongst the hordes of miners making their way to the gates. 'Hey! Hey! Idris! Come with me a minute. I think we've got it!'
The two men spent the whole evening on hands and knees sketching out Donnington's track on the floor of the shed. Lumps of chalk traced the line of Starkey's straight, the Melbourne loop, Redgate, Hollywood, McLean's and Coppice, snaking back towards Starkey's Hill again. The whole thing formed itself straight from Eric's memory. Few words were spoken, but Eric and Idris took a natural command over the gang of willing helpers. Materials appeared out of no-where. All the men were well experienced with the pit, it's workings and it's supplies. 'We're going to need about forty feet of quarter inch ply here', muttered Eric, shortly before it arrived. 'Hmmm. At least two hundred yards of brazing rod for the rails.' Barely had he spoken the words when four burly miners from the engineering section elbowed their way through the doors with the rod, bound up in bundles with Llamenmad Pit Depot labels stuck fast to each. At two o'clock in the morning, a dozen lads from the electrical department were wiring up resistors, transformers and the like.

By three o'clock, the night shift had joined in. A little later, a gaggle of high pitched voices at the doors heralded the arrival of wives, daughters and mothers, all in shawls and headscarves, carrying ewers of ale, and bundles of bread and cakes. They'd been waiting for their husbands at home, then at the pub, but were happy to find them safe and occupied. Eric stopped his work, looked around and slowly took in what was going on. 'What- who- why?' Was all he managed to say as he tore hungrily into a leek and potato pie. A shy voice whispered in his ear. 'We heard something was going on at the pit. That someone had had an idea. Ideas are few and far between in this neck of the woods. When someone comes up with an idea, something other than drinking, working and singing, there's usually a lot of support in the village. Now I don't know a lot about racing cars and these foreign drivers who we've all been fighting against those last six years, but the men told us you had a good idea. A good idea and a different idea that sounded like it might make a change from chapel. And we all want to help you Eric. Me more than most. My elder brother Barry- he couldn't face following the rest of the family down the pit. He had pictures; magazines- he followed those Grand Prix races on his home-made wireless. I used to follow them too. More exciting than choir and laundry it was. Then Barry ran away to Birmingham to work in a garage. He couldn't face life down the pit. I miss him, Eric bach. I've been that lonely since he went away. I want to help you instead'. Eric looked up from the track into the eyes of a flame-haired girl whose green eyes flashed in the light of the Davey lamps hung around the track. Her pale skin shadowed the deep dimples either side of her moist and smiling lips. She offered him a jug of dark brown ale. Eric wiped the pie crumbs from his chin with his sleeve and drank deeply without shifting his gaze from those flashing eyes. He handed back the jug, and put a hand out tentatively onto the old woollen shawl wrapped around the girl's shoulders. 'You're most kind, miss…' 'Gwladys, I am. And you're Eric. I know. All the village is talking about you. So masterful, so clever, so… Let me wipe your brow. You've been working hard.' She reached up to touch Eric's head with a beer towel, and Eric spontaneously grabbed her wrist. 'Oh Mr. Eric, don't beat me, not like all the others…' 'Beat you Gwladys? But that was the last thing on my mind… you're… you're beautiful!' 'That's what all the lads say, Mr. Eric. Then they beat me. The backside of the hand for not having the pickle on the table at tea-time. The thick end of the belt for dallying too long in the valley. The fry-pan to wake me up from my day-dreams…' 'And what do you dream of, Gwladys dear?' 'Oh, Mr Eric. You wouldn't want to hear.' 'But I do, I do.' 'Well, I dream of leaving this place. I dream of travelling somewhere. Travelling with a man with imagination, a man with plans and ingenuity. Finding our Barry and helping him build up a successful garage, maybe a racing team. Building cars- beautiful, sleek, powerful, exciting racing cars. Thrills, like this…' Gwladys fumbled beneath her apron, a distant and blissful smile on her plump, coal-dust smeared face. Eric grew hot, felt his face hot and red with…what? Passion? Or just the close atmosphere in the shed, the intensity of his work over the last few hours? Gwladys' face dropped, as her arm slowly withdrew from her petticoats. Eric thought he might faint. Was anyone watching? Could anyone see? At last Gwladys looked up again, holding a pale blue object in her hand. 'I made it myself. Barry left some drawings in his drawers. I whittled it from an old chair leg, the way he showed me. I keep it close by me to remind me of my dear brother.' 'Great heavens, Gwladys! A Delahaye! It's wonderful! And look….' Eric seized the model racing car from Gwladys' hot hand, and tossed it over in his own, surprised at the warmth still in the wooden shell. 'Look, Gwladys. One of our five-pole motors would fit perfectly in there! Take it over to Idris- he'll put a little shoe and wiper on the underside to take the current. Your Delahaye shall lead the opening lap on our own little Donnington Grand Prix!' 'Oh, Eric! You're brilliant!' Before Eric could back away, Gwladys had risen onto the tips of her leather boots and planted a gritty kiss on his pulsating cheek. Her hand was on his breast, and when she spun away and ran toward Idris, working in the far corner at a bench piled high with model racing cars, Eric looked down to see the perfect imprint of her delicate, female hand marked on his shirt in soot. 'I'll never wash this again' he said to himself.
The work went on in the shed for many evenings after that, and so did the furtive meetings between Eric and Gwladys. As soon as the last shift finished, all the surface men came over and bent to work again on the track, the cars, and the plan for the inaugural race meeting. The track grew upward from the floor, the vast sheets of ply lifted on pit props, a gradient formed in the long back straight, and a backdrop of sky and outbuildings draped around the shed walls. Shifts of men worked at drilling the evenly spaced holes to take the screws that supported the snaking brass rails around the whole track in four parallel lanes.Idris worked tirelessly on the cars, adding the mechanisms to his own collection of Grand Prix models, and helping out others who had never whittled a piece of balsa before, or wielded a miniature paint brush. The rising and falling whizz of electric motors charged the atmosphere like a beehive in high summer. The electrical department was busy working out motor revs and torque, gear ratios, car weights and wheel sizes. As each section of track was finished, Idris hooked one of his cars over the rail and let it buzz along under it's own power. Often times the rails needed refastening or a tiny obstruction would halt progress, and the car would thrash about with wheels spinning, pinned to a projecting nail head or splinter.
'What about the workers then?' asked Idris out of the blue one evening. 'What do you mean? We're all here,' responded Eric. 'No they're not boyo. All you desk jockeys are, all you designers, electricians, draftsmen- but what about the coal face? All the lads that are sweating their guts out half a mile below ground with me.' 'They're all at the pub, aren't they? When they're not working I mean. Or at Choir, or Chapel? Anyway, they're your pals, aren't they?' 'Not me chum. I keep my own counsel when I'm down there. Nobody minds old Idris, carving his toy cars, and I don't mind them. But don't you think they're going to smell a rat when the Llamenmad Colliery opens its miniature Grand Prix circuit, and they weren't invited?' 'I suppose you're right, Idris. We'd better go down to the old Goat and Gooseberry and spread the word. They might want to form a team!'
Idris and Eric sloped off down the hill towards the murky light of the cramped Inn. 'Ahh! It's His Royal Highness after another pint of Donnington's is it?' snorted Dai the landlord. 'No no, well yes. But I was after telling the lads about the new club we've got going up at the pit…wondered if you might like to all come along.' 'What? Trying to steal my customers now are you, Lord La-di-dah?' Dai looked up from washing the pintpots to get some affirmation from the few exhausted miners who were cast around the damp bar-room like tar barrels on a beach. 'Hmmp. What you saying, Dai?' muttered one of them. 'What I'm sayin' is, is Lord Donningtons here is after starting up a gentlemen's club at the pit, and is any of you lot kindly wanting to join him for a glass of Pimm's?' 'No, no, please don't misunderstand, I….' But all Eric could see in the gloom were scowling faces. 'Bloody Englishman' grunted a vaguely familiar voice, as he and Idris bent their heads and left.
Only a couple of nights later, Eric and Idris together soldered on the final length of brass rail, while the rest of the men toasted them with raised tankards. Gwladys slipped her arm under Eric's, and gave him a squeeze. 'Mind the soldering iron love!' 'Oh, I'll keep it warm for you, don't worry…' A few moments later, Eric's W154, Idris' Auto Union and Gwladys' Delahaye were poised on the start line for the first ceremonial parade lap of Llamanmad's own mniature Grand prix circuit. Tenetatively they rolled off the line together. Through Hollywood, Idris began to get the feel of the track and turned the dial of his resistor slowly up, watching the car pull smoothly up the incline towards McLeans. On the next lane, Eric hung back, wanting to keep sation with Gwladys, but came to a fizzing stop at the hairpin. Once past the beached Mercedes, Gwladys too began to speed up, and through Coppice, the Delahaye and the Auto Union were racing for position. 'Hold on, this is supposed to be a parade lap!' Eric shouted, but there was too much cheering going on. 'Keep going you two!' 'Come on Nuvolari!' 'Faster!' Ralph had lifted Eric's Merc off the rail, and was filling down the joint. Eric felt his pulse rising, his scalp tingling. 'Get it back on, Ralph. I'll show those two!' On the next lap all pretence had gone. This was a serious challenge. Then something began to short intermittently on Idris' car, and it jerked fitfully from section to section. Gwladys cruised her blue car past, but her enthusiasm had the best of her; into Coppice for the second time, the inside rear wheel bit at the raised contact rail and rode up it. The car somersaulted off the track, to be caught by one of the lads 'Owzat!' he called. 'Do I get to keep it? You can have it back for a kiss though, Gwladys'. Eric frowned briefly, but looking around at the smiling faces around the track, and at Gwladys' green eyes, he knew he had nothing to worry about. One of the other Auto Unions had joined them on the track, and was buzzing round at a starling speed. 'That's one of the new motors that just arrived at the stores,' said Idris. Eric's Merc was back on track too, and for the first time, Llamenmad race track was full of thrashing, wheel spinning racing cars, dicing for position. The smell of rubber and hot electric motors, and the buzz and whine of gears and tyres filled the old shed, as the colliery men and their girls watched intently, whooping encouragement. 'I'll have a bob on the blue one' yelled Iuan. 'You're on- I'll take the Merc' replied Evan. Soon a tote board had been chalked up on the wall, and still the cars were buzzing round, the four drivers unwilling to stop. 'Who's counting the laps?' muttered Idris. 'No idea' said Eric, 'but this is the best fun I've had since…' 'Since what, Eric?' Gwladys was leaning on his arm, still working the resistor dial and spinning her Delahaye round the track. 'Oh that would be telling, my duckie'.
The Grand Opening Night came around quickly after that. Teams had been formed, heats and finals had been drafted on sheets of squared paper. Twenty five cars were entered, somewhat more than had been at the 1938 Grand Prix, as Eric pedantically pointed out. A well-organised book was running, with bets flooding in from all over the village and beyond. The surprise favourite was Gwladys and her Delahaye. The men had been keeping an eye on her during practice, and had noted that not only was her car the best prepared- there was no shortage of help offered in overcoming running-in faults, but her temperament was well-suited to driving a steady race. Whenever a male driver came near, he was inclined to show-off a little, and usually spun off into the wall very soon after.
It seemed like not only the whole village, but a few outlying parishes were present in the shed when the chaplain flagged off the first heat. It was not an easy one, and the drivers that had been drawn first were under a great weight of expectation. Soon cars were sliding into the scenery, colliding, rolling slowly to a halt, and generally fizzing, seizing up and billowing wispy smoke. It seemed as if the heat would never finish, but eventually an E.R.A. and a Maserati completed the requisite number of laps, and the meeting was under way. The bookies away to the side were kept busy with the
Then the pitmen arrive. Reluctantly join in. Then Pit inspector and owner arrive. All the materials are stolen, all hell broke out. The pit threatened with closure. The men Strike.
Eric and Gwladys run off to Southport. The rest is History. Rail racing was never mentioned in Wales again until.......................................................................
 
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