Thursday 11 April 2019

Oliver Winterbottom's Diary – March Bulletin

1 March Kevin Atkins of Veloce Publishing tells me that his great idea of promotional bookmarks, have arrived. They look great to me, and I look forward to getting some delivered. 

2 March I’m contacted by PJS Sports Cars, giving me the hotel booking for my overnight accommodation, the evening of their Air Ambulance and book event in May. Very impressed with their ‘up front’ project management.

5 March On my way to give a talk to Club Lotus Avon, my new Citroën Cactus reached exactly 1000 miles from new, as I passed through the hamlet of Petty France on the A46 Stroud to Bath main road in Gloucestershire. If it had been a mile sooner, I would have been in the hamlet of Dunkirk. I thought it rather apt being a French car.

5 March I give Club Lotus Avon a talk at the Bull at Hinton, entitled LOTUS DNA Some views on Colin Chapman’s philosophies. There was a full-house crowd and I signed one copy of my book which a guest had brought. 

My talk ended on the comment that “the car which did ‘donuts’ in clouds of rubber smoke at the Lotus 70th Anniversary last September would have created a new form of job dismissal by Chapman”. 

I suggested something quicker than instant dismissal. An interesting comment from an ex-employee present who once spun the rear wheels of a Lotus when starting off on a Lotus Open Day demonstration in the 1970s. He told us that Colin Chapman criticised him quite severely. It was good to have a supporting story.

7 March Kevin Atkins' superb bookmarks featuring the book A Life in Car Design arrive in the morning post. I am so pleased with them – now to get them to work!

8 March Take bookmarks to the Barnham Broom Bell, and present to loyal regulars. They are warmly received to positive acclaim.

PJS Sports Cars order the new bookmarks for their charity evening on May 1st. Hopefully they can accompany the event invitations, which may help increase book sales!

10 March Start total revision of the talk to PJS Sports cars due May 1st. It will explain why I wrote the book, the events in creating it and some information on its contents.

12 March It is good to see Amazon UK have sold 2 more books since I last looked. However they now have a price of £31.46, reduced from the publishers posted price.

13 March I present a bookmark to my podiatrist, and she was delighted with it. Further presentations in the Hethersett Queens Head; all were received with positive comment. It looks like Kevin had a good idea.

14 March Completed the revisions to my talk on my book, for PJS Sports Cars.

16 March Now Amazon UK have a price of £35.99!

19 March Took some bookmarks to the Hethersett Queens Head. Gave one to a regular customer, who admitted he had not bought the book yet – but wanted a couple more to pass on. Perhaps that will get some trade drummed up!

22 March My younger daughter and granddaughter went to Norwich Theatre Royal. They met the cast, one of whom was very interested in my book, after my daughter did her ‘salesmanship’ bit.

25 March Amazon UK now have a price of £37.50.

26 March Had a delightful lunch with 4 ex-colleagues. Much discussion on some of the beleaguered members of the motor industry. I circulated my bookmarks!

27 March I learn of the new legal requirement of vehicle speed control. Mine and my sister’s vehicles already have speed limit information displayed. Mine is wrong in two locations, despite being only one month old. My sister’s also has inaccurate locations. 

I therefore write to my Member of Parliament, enquiring if the driver or the computer will be liable if the speed is wrong. If it’s the driver then what’s the point? I also stress the ridiculous ‘political’ statements comparing the systems contribution to safety with the absolutely vital use of seat belts (except on buses, which don’t have them).

28 March Steve Cropley, Editor-in-Chief at Autocar, writes a good opinion article on the speed control subject. He thanks me for some of the inspiration. There is now a suggestion that cars will also have speed recorders as well, so the authorities can trace your speed history. My view is “thank goodness I am well into my pension!”

30 March After much difficulty with the website crashing half way through, a number of times when entering details; I am now listed in Amazon Author Central Team, as suggested by Veloce. I am slightly disappointed to find it is based at Amazon USA but then again, it gives access to a huge potential market.

French Pavement Café – A Van Fit for Java

Have you noticed that when you buy coffee outside, it’s very often not from an ordinary catering van? Everything about the way you get to experience good coffee has taken a twist to entice you to further enjoy the experience.

And it’s not limited coffee. Bakery, pizza, and antiques all appear for sale on the street from the back of an unusual van. Not a Transit, a Sprinter or Transporter (although the Volkswagen Transporter has become a popular vehicle for cafeterias, something that’s travelled over from the Surfie Movement.) No, what we are talking about here is the very cute, strange, old chicken coop on wheels, the Citroën ‘H’ Van.

Far from modern, the 'H Van' was designed during the war, in Paris, and in inimitable French style, made something utilitarian look positively ugly, but with no allowance made for impracticality, the machine became loveable because it was so good at what it did. In some ways a bit like the Land Rover Defender (I’ve seen coffee vans on them too), its go-anywhere, bash-anything bodywork endeared it to farmers, delivery workers and those with a taste for exploration. I don’t think the 'H Van' did much exploration, but it was sold in some very inhospitable environments. 

Largely, the 'H Van' was designed by André Lefebvre, who also designed the famous Traction Avant and Citroën DS (I suppose he should be allowed one ugly one!) It replaced what the French called the TUB, which was a hard act to follow.

Lefebvre kept the weight very low and the hard parts in unobtrusive places. This left more room for payload. He used the drive line from the Traction-Avant – which did not impose into the driver's compartment too much – you effectively sat on it, with the gearbox and water cooling out front, beyond the screen. The designer matched strength with lightness, two features that are usually mutually exclusive. He had seen a German Junker's transport plane landing, and marvelled out how 'corrugated' panels made wobbly sheets strong.

Once peace had been declared in Europe, the 'H' Van was on French roads in droves. Citroën continued making them into the Seventies, showing that the French didn’t care what a product looked like, as long as it did its job. They became ubiquitous.

The strange thing is, they are now bought precisely for their looks! Our local Tesco’s has one outside, a bright red, left-hand drive one, run by On The Hoof CoffeeChristian and Zeta do fabulous coffee from their espresso machine, and great snacks too (Dorset Sea Salt Caramel Brownies, anyone?) The interior kitchen, decorated by the owners, is well laid out and nicely fitted, obviously a working space of some substantial pride.

Maurice the Van

'Maurice', as the van is affectionately known, is somewhat different from the way he started life. Co-owner Zeta said of their regular pitch, outside a large supermarket in Dorchester "it's lovely to have a spot year-round." Automotive lover Christian shared that "[Maurice] used to be awfully slow and heavy to drive, so a Ford Pinto 1600 engine was swapped into it. Now it's happy at about 40-45mph." 

The coffee is fantastic, and if you give it a go, tag yourself using #OnTheHoofCoffee and #VeloceBooks!

Send us a picture when you see a vending van with a difference! We have been told of a Peugeot Pizza van, that has so far evaded photos... so let's see some of the trendy cute mobile vending vans near you!

Tim Nevinson for Veloce Publishing