Festival of the Unexceptional; it’s the way we were
We do miss the good old days, when there wasn’t so much nostalgia…
Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be, goes the excellent joke.
But it is only a joke, after all: because nostalgia has never had it so good. You can’t move for nostalgia these days.
Every time I open Facebook, it’s wall-to-wall nostalgia: videos of what it was like to grow up in the 1980s, posted by women who friendzoned me in the 1990s. I can take it or leave it, to be honest. Sigh, I miss the good old days, when there wasn’t so much nostalgia.
It’s not that those times don’t interest me. I guess life was pretty good if the most frustrating thing in my day was not being able to tap a ZX Spectrum’s ‘M’ and ‘N’ keys fast enough to win gold on Daley Thompson’s Decathlon. Oh, for today’s angsts to be so straightforward. It’s just that today, being reminded of having liver for dinner or being picked on by a kid called Gareth is no more fun than it was then. But here come cars, eager to please, too. Boy, are there car events designed to tickle your nostalgia nodes.
Never a summer weekend passes without an invitation to take a ‘magical step back in time’ (© the Goodwood Revival billboard on the M25) by looking at some old cars and remembering how great it all was; what with polio, rickets and the ever-present threat of a nuclear apocalypse. Good times. Top bantz.
But hark, here’s one with a twist: the Hagerty Festival of the Unexceptional, a concours d’ordinaire from the other weekend. It’s a car show like no other, a show for forgotten ordinary cars, a show where you’ll see four grown adults sheltering from the rain in a kind of bluey-beige Rover 213 S automatic.
Never before has a car show reminded me so much of being eight years old, sitting outside a country pub in the back of a brown Hillman Hunter, with a bottle of Coke and a packet of salt and vinegar crisps. But the more I think about it, the more I think that ‘FotU’ gets the tone about right.
For a start, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. No car show with an award for ‘best picnic’, or that hands the big prize to a ‘pleasant’ Datsun Sunny, is trying to challenge the Pebble Beach concours for seriousness.
Which is good. Our level of car enthusiasm is – and let’s be honest with ourselves here – a niche groove. Despite how many people watch Top Gear, most people don’t care about vehicle engineering. But cars do occupy, in a deep-seated way, a huge part in all our lives, whether we realise it, or want it, or not.
And it isn’t the special stuff – the Ferrari 250 GTOs, every one of which is cared for – that sit there. It is the ordinary; the disposable; the forgettable. When, in two millennia, our descendants are looking for V&A Museum exhibits to show what standard second-millennial life was like, they won’t want a Le Manswinning Jaguar D-Type. They’ll want the Nissan Bluebird we taxied home from the pub in; the Austin Metro we shopped in; the Vauxhall Corsa we cried in, and kissed in, and fell in love in.
So the people who look after these cars are curators of some of the world’s least interesting, but most important, vehicles. The Festival of the Unexceptional is all the better for taking itself un-seriously. But it’s actually the world’s most important car show.