The worlds of motoring and caravanning both have their quirks. I suppose writing about cars for a caravanning magazine gives me a foot in both camps and, every year, the test week for the Tow Car Awards makes the contrast between the two readily apparent.
Writing about cars has all the glamour, at least on the surface. Journalists jet off somewhere sunny, play around in shiny new cars all day, then stay in five-star hotels where they eat Michelin-star food and drink a different wine with each course. Motoring journos live like kings, so long as there’s a PR person with their credit card behind the bar.
At the Tow Car Awards, we don’t stay in a 17th century castle or a 100-storey temple to modernity somewhere in the desert. We rest our heads at the kind of hotel you or I would pay for with our own money if we fancied a weekend away and there wasn’t a convenient campsite nearby. It’s clean, it’s tidy and it’s comfortable. But if there’s a credit card behind the bar, it’s our own.
The people are different, too. Most of my colleagues enjoy car launches, but they’re self-aware enough to keep their feet firmly on the ground. Some, though, develop an inflated view of their own importance. On one press event a few years ago, after two days of wall-to-wall sunshine by the Med, we were boarding a private jet to come home. One of my colleagues complained loudly to our hosts that the seats on the plane were ‘like torture racks’.
You don’t get these kinds of egos at the Tow Car Awards, or if anyone does outgrow their shoes they are soon cut back down to size.
On car launches, PRs greet you like a close friend while glancing at your name badge to check who you are. At the Tow Car Awards, I see many of the same volunteers from The Camping and Caravanning Club time and time again, and they always remember my name. In fact, some of the volunteers even remember the names of my children even though I only see them once a year.
Motoring events are staffed by hard-working people, but they are at work, paid to do a job. The Tow Car Awards has a handful of staff, but most of the graft is done by volunteers from the club. They stay nearby in their caravans, and turn out year after year for a week, just to benefit other club members and the readers of Practical Caravan.
I find the Tow Car Awards test week hard work, but all I really have to do is sit on my backside and tow with lots of new cars. It’s not physically difficult. Many of the volunteers are loading and unloading ballast from the caravans, lugging big containers full of water. It’s tough work, and they do it in all weathers.
It would be a demanding week for a youngster, but many volunteers are old enough to be my father. And I’m not exactly wet behind the ears myself.
If you’ve been road testing cars for a few years, it’s easy to get blasé about the luxury surroundings on car launches, and to forget just how lucky you are to drive cars and write about them for a living. But the club volunteers never cease to be cheerful and enthusiastic about their work. There’s time for banter, but the job always gets done.
I’m very lucky to have such a rewarding profession, and I wouldn’t want to give up my trips to Venice, Iceland or Montenegro. But for one week of the year I’m very content to spend my time at a test track just outside of Nuneaton in the company of such fine, dedicated people.
The Tow Car Awards volunteers never cease to be cheerful and enthusiastic about their work