When you’re on your own and decide to travel it can be a daunting prospect. I mean it isn’t I’ve not travelled since Julie died, Tenerife in January last year then off to Gibraltar then Tenerife via Malaga again last year and of course back to Gran Canaria less than five weeks ago. The difference? Each of these times I was with people I knew. 2016 with Peter and Linda then last month Gran Canaria with my sister Eve.
Gran Canaria was a big step for me, going back after so many years to the island Julie and I knew so well together. I thought it was going to be so hard! Not a bit, Eve had lost her husband, Steve in a tragic accident in November 2016 and she had decided to go away for, well, a getaway. She told me she was going and I politely well offered my services as “tour guide” to her, son Tom, daughter Rosie and Tom’s lovely Lana. It never even occurred to me I may have been imposing, fortunately I wasn’t, it was meant to be.
Apart from sharing my knowledge of the island, I was able to get to know again Eve who, even though we are siblings is around nine years younger than me, so naturally we grew apart as we got older. I discovered far from being the little girl who I shot in the leg with my pellet gun when she was small then later our bridesmaid, she is a confident, strong capable woman. Of course she needs to be now, more than ever but I’m proud of her and the way she is coping and believe me, I know how hard it is.
I also got to know Tom and Rosie, now in their twenties, boy how they remind me of my own children. Independent, focused, family oriented and not afraid to vent their opinions. Their whole outlook mirrors my own three. Then Lana, Toms girlfriend, shy, coy but when she trusts you, she opens up and is a great conversationalist. All of you thank you for letting me tag along?
So what has this got to do with anything I hear you cry? Well I made a uncharacteristic “snap decision” on April 29th, to go to the Spanish Formula 1 Grand Prix! Now, believe me that was a decision after watching the previous race in Russia and thinking why not? So that evening I did a little research and come across motorsportstravel.co.uk. I received an acknowledgement email back from Holly who I then telephoned in to confirm the booking, polite easy to talk to and patient while I fumbled to find the info she wanted and make a decision. Well I made that decision then Holly confirmed after contacting the hotel and I paid my dues.
As my departure date drew closer I realised I was becoming more and more nervous. I never shared this with Leah, Hannah or Nathan for fear they might think, not that they’d worry, I was grieving too deeply still! (Of course I’m still grieving, I call it the Victoria and Albert syndrome!) I’m not afraid of neither driving, sailing, flying or dying, so why so nervous? Because this was the first time I’ve been away, on my own with people who I didn’t know! OUT OF MY COMFORT ZONE! Really? I hear you shout almost as one! You, Kevin Atkins, who got on stage and entertained either by music or comedy? You who is a master of comedic timing? Yes me!
I had a long, long day on departure Thursday, up at 2.30am, left home by 3.30am following a shower. Driving ninety minutes to Gatwick Airport, then getting the full search treatment from a UK border control officer who was Eastern European with a thick accent! Excuse me I’m a UK citizen for Christ sake, and a senior at that! What am I going to do? Smuggle explosives in my grey hair follicles??
I digress, still stressed, I finally boarded my EasyJet flight to Barcelona only to find I was sat close to a bunch of lads who were on a drinking jolly, uncouth, loud and what can I say? Yet another reason to speak another language other than English! Anyway I got my own back when a couple of them became frightened during some turbulence. ” Don’t worry fellas” I chided ” The way I see it, three minutes of terror while you drop then”…with a shrug….”you’re walking on one of those clouds out there,…providing you’ve been a good boys”. I smiled inwardly while these disruptive clowns fell suddenly silent.
We touched down in Barcelona during a fierce rainstorm, “oh shit!” I thought. “I’ve only packed for sun, bloody BBC weather app!” Anyway as soon as I stepped off the ‘plane the rain stopped. “Thank you Julie” I said silently, then set about finding the salida, (exit). I made my way out and of the terminal then set about finding the rep for the Motor Sports company. Surrounded by a few people I waited for my turn. The company rep was a polite Finnish man. “Hello sir, can I have your name please?” The man introduced himself as Leo, then went on to explain in perfect English the rest of the guests and I would have to wait a moment because our flight along with others had been delayed and the other reps were trying to track down the rest of the party.
While waiting, I was stood next to a couple who explained they were here as a surprise for a friends’ birthday and he had no idea he was to attend the Grand Prix. I exchanged pleasantries and we were told by Leo the transfer to our respective hotels was waiting in the parking lot. Once on the coach, it became more apparent I was probably the only single person on the trip. Now I was really starting to miss Julie!
I was the last drop off, I wheeled my suitcase into the lobby of the “Hotel Center de Barcelona” and told the receptionist in the best Spanish I could muster I had a reservation. Again, more perfect English. ” Ahh Senor Kevin Atkins” “Ce” I replied, then in English, “would you like my booking confirmation?” “Not at all we’ve been expecting you. Just your passport and a credit card.” Funnily enough, I wasn’t at all nervous about that part, I’ve booked in and out in many hotels across the globe, most times with Julie but on occasion alone.
The room was spacious, clean and had all the facilities expected from a four star hotel in mainland Europe, safe, enough wardrobe space, TV and a minibar. After unpacking, I made ready for the first part of the trip, a coach ride to the Circuit de Catalunya for a pit lane walk! I walked from my hotel to the pickup point which was about a block away at the HCC Regente Hotel the walk only took about five minutes so I was a little early, I decided to plant myself in one of the many street cafes for a coffee and contemplate this excursion. After my refreshment, and a cigarette, I wandered over to the Regente.
“Good a familiar face” I thought. “Hello Leo.” “Hello sir I’m glad you could make the pit walk, are looking forward to it?” ” Yes, I do believe I am thank you.” I replied, then feeling a little more at ease, I started talking to a couple who, a little older than me, explained their reason for being here was to celebrate the husband’s birthday. I enquired wether they would be catching the train to the circuit on Saturday to watch the practice sessions, no was the reply, they were going sightseeing around the city. In fact it seemed many people on that trip preferred to not take up the option of travelling by train in an unfamiliar country, I turned this over in my mind during the forty five minute journey to the race track.
Once at the track we disembarked the coach and Leo told us we would all meet back at this point to allow the coach to leave at six thirty pm. I got my bearings then started the tromp through the parked vehicles and towards the circuit entrance. Once at the top of the shallow hill I looked behind, it was then I realised everyone had been following my lead. “Were all following you because you seem to know where you’re going!” One of my temporary admirers piped up. “Well it’s lucky I never took a wrong turn then isn’t it?” I laughed, then, ” This looks like the way in.” I said with new found confidence.
Once in the pits I was surprised, although I shouldn’t have been, at just how busy it was and how many different nationalities and languages I saw and heard, again I shouldn’t have been. I also realised at five foot eight, I wasn’t much of a match for the six foot plus German, Dutch and Norwegian fans. After a struggle down the pit lane taking photos, then an equally difficult struggle back again I headed back to the coach to edit and post my pictures on Facebook.
The coach was alive with excited chatter during the return journey but one conversation caught my attention. I overheard one of the other race fans asking Leo about the railway journey to watch the practice sessions. Leo was explaining to the couple the journey was easy and was only seven stops away. I logged this information in the notebook I carry everywhere when I’m away.
That evening of 11th of May I phoned Leah, Hannah and Nathan at different times and relayed my day, I also told Leah And Hannah I was nervous about travelling to the circuit on my own because of the journey. As usual they were supportive and worried about me and I told them I’d make the decision in the morning as by now I’d been awake for eighteen hours. I decided to eat in the hotel that evening and while sitting at my solo table, a thought popped into my exhausted mind. I’ve travelled to London by train and tube, while Julie was ill and I had to ride point all the time, I’ve travelled on the bus and subway in New York, by train and bus in Switzerland and Paris and driven in Europe, The Canary Islands and Australia! ” So what are you worried about Atkins, nothing, nothing! You’ve come all this way to watch a sport you love!” I finished my meal and returned to my room to finalise the details I needed to plan my excursion.
I left my hotel at around 8.30 the following morning and headed for the the Passeig de Gracia station as per the instructions provided by Motorsports Travel. I bought my return ticket and after handing over €5.00 I went to the platform. It was definitely the right one, apart from the local commuter population there were race fans everywhere! I walked along the crowded platform then, I recognised someone. “Did you both enjoy the pit walk yesterday?” I asked one of the two ladies who looked about the same age as my daughters. “Yes we did” one of them replied. A common interest always helps when striking up a conversation.
So that’s how I met Jerjen and Nicola and we talked all of the way to Montmelo station about Formula 1. Once off the train we walked for the half hour tromp together, Jerjen remarking every now and again how she wasn’t fit enough for all this walking, especially when we hit the hilly part, Nicola reminding her she needed to walk more instead of driving or catching the tube everywhere. I spent a lot of time smiling, at the constant good natured banter between the two girls and inwardly at myself because if I hadn’t made the decision to get on the train, I wouldn’t have met these two. Once inside the circuit we wished each other a good day and went our separate ways.
All of a sudden I realised this was what I’d needed, a break doing something for myself without feeling guilty and I was looking forward to the following three days. I set off around the track to locate my seat for the weekend and to settle in and watch the first practice for the Spanish Grand Prix. Practice over I walked around to the stadium section of the circuit took more photos, this time of the F2 practice to post on Facebook then made my way back to my seat in tribune A overlooking the first three corners. If anyone took a close look at me they would have seen this sixty one year old grey haired man sat with an almost permanent smile on his face, like a child who’d just been given a new toy.
I left the circuit late afternoon to make my way back to Montmelo station and who should I run into? Nicola and Jerjen, we walked back through that little Spanish town relaying our stories about our adventures during the past day. I have to say those two ladies brightened up my day because there is nothing worse than feeling alone. Once back in Barcelona, I thanked them for letting me tag along for the journey then we again went our separate ways with the words “see you on the coach tomorrow morning for the qualifying!”
Saturday was a busy and brilliant day, with a full race card it passed quickly then Sunday arrived and it was race day. Plenty of lower formula racing and then the main event, the Spanish Grand Prix. I know will have either watched on TV or read in the newspapers about the race so I won’t bore you with anymore details. The air conditioning was broken in the coach for the journey back to Barcelona so by the time we arrived back in the city after our final full day I was hot, sweaty and thirsty, so I announced the first thing I was going to do once we were dropped at the Regente was to go and get a cold beer. “Sounds like a plan!” Agreed my two new friends so after I thanked Holly and Scott, our company reps we went to one of the open air cafes for much needed refreshment. A single beer, final conversations about racing, life in general and Julie. I thanked my two fellow F1 fans for putting up with a old bloke like me and we wished each other safe journeys and parted company, contented with our weekends work.
So as I sit here writing on the roof terrace of The Barcelona Center Hotel enjoying the afternoon sun and breeze there is one word which keeps coming to mind. Synchronicity, everything happens for a reason and there’s a reason for everything. I head back to the UK more at peace with myself, thank you Motorsports Travel, thank you to everyone I had the pleasure of meeting especially Jerjen and Nicola.
Thank you for reading ?