Life – changeable

The life of the self-employed freelancer can be quite ridiculous. It’s been a quiet year at times – some months I’ve barely had enough income to cover the bills. It’s one reason the fleet has reduced in size.

For the moment, things are looking incredibly positive and I’m thrilled to be returning to the pages of Classic Car Weekly from January. After all, this was the title I joined as a fresh-faced features writer almost six years ago.

That was a monumental moment that changed our lives dramatically. I’d been trying to make a go of it as a freelance writer (with no contacts, this didn’t go too well) and was trying to supplement that income by setting up my own vehicle delivery business – which taught me that people who do that for a living are absolutely incredible. Easy money it certainly is not.

So, in March 2007, I embarked on a job which paid peanuts, but gave massive satisfaction. It wasn’t just me though. My wife had to quit her job teaching at Oxford Brookes university so we could move house and be closer to my new place of work. She became a research manager for a local charity and I while I bid to spread the word via the world of newspaper, she began appearing on telly to tell people how bad alcohol is for you. I did once appear on Radio 4 to talk about the scrappage scheme (still makes me very grrrr!) but preferred to do my communication via print.

This was the first time in my life that I had a job that I felt I should be doing. It came very naturally to me, but it’s worth knowing that researching the world of classic cars began for me at a very early age.

As a primary school-aged child, I would love going to visit my aunt. I’d read her classic car magazines with relish, getting very annoyed with dealers who put POA next to cars they had for sale. I wanted to know what they were worth! The stories of how rusty wrecks were turned into shining beauties fascinated me, as did the stories behind the people who built them in the first place. I began to lust after information and would spend hours reading reference books (such as the excellent A-Z CARS 1945-1970) so I could fill my head with figures. Her partner would give me brochures (usually Vauxhall) for new cars which I would equally devour. That’s why I know the difference between a Chevette L and GL. Door mirrors mainly if I recall correctly. The brochure was from 1982, in which year I was four! I’m pretty sure that even I couldn’t have read that thoroughly and remembered the fact that long, but I do recall still owning the brochure in 1988 when we moved house. In fact, I’ve had to cease blogging temporarily because I managed to find the brochure on Ebay and had to purchase it…

Here’s a book I was given by my classic-loving aunt in 1988. I was ten.

Essential reading for any 10 year old

Essential reading for any 10 year old

I quite literally spent hours looking at this book. It wasn’t just a picture-fest, there was a lot of information about cars and the companies that built them. Some, like Duryea, I’d never heard of. This was a pioneering automobile manufacturer from the USA that by 1895 was beating Benz in races. Others, I knew plenty about and a certain page had a very strong impact on a young me.

It was this one.

This page may have had a profound impact on me. I own both cars today, though sadly not these exact ones.

This page may have had a profound impact on me. I own both cars today, though sadly not these exact ones.

Yes, it’s the Citroën page. You can just see where I’ve updated the information box myself, pointing out quite wrongly that the XM came in during 1990. Well, I suppose it did for the UK market and I must have known that as I’d already seen an XM when we went to France on holiday in 1989. It was quite a moment!

The shot of the 2CV was taken at Raddlebarn School, which we would pass every time we went to see my aunt and nan. The 2CV itself was then part of the mighty Patrick Collection – a lot of the cars from that collection were used in this book, including an SM on the previous page. I’m very familiar with this page as that shot of the 2CV just filled me with a massive desire to own one. Funnily enough, the SM shot didn’t have the same affect on me, though I love both cars today.

I was astonished to meet this 2CV at a rally some years ago, though I think it had been subjected to a re-shell, as I know it was involved in a major accident while part of the collection. I spotted that the wipers were parked on the opposite side of the windscreen…

It was that geeky love of detail that led me to create such a reference work in my own mind. Little did I know that all that childish reading would pay off one day, when I could put it to good use by writing about old cars.

I find it ridiculous that I didn’t stumble upon this way of making a living earlier. All the hallmarks were there. I had a massive love of cars and a deep joy from the written word – whether I was reading or writing. I still do and yesterday afternoon I read a 480 page novel by the excellent Karin Slaughter for a bit of downtime. Instead, my careers advisor suggested I studied for an engineering diploma, which is a bit like asking Audley Harrison to ballet dance. It didn’t go well.

Instead, I worked as a shop assistant (Kwik Save and Texas Homecare), a mechanic (four days, Mr Clutch), an admin assistant (about 4 times), a sales rep, a solicitor’s clerk, a van driver, a gas meter reader (4 days), an expert photocopier, an IT project administrator (twice), an IT support teccy (twice – I still know sod all about computers!) and a vehicle logistics technician (transported cars on a truck) on my way to finding the right job.

I got there in the end but am now all too aware that the good times don’t necessarily last. I’m feeling very positive about my work at the moment, thoroughly looking forward to new challenges in 2013, but to work freelance is to realise that the good times can end very abruptly. Quite a few of my friends are self-employed, so it’s a feeling we all have to live with. Here’s hoping to a successful 2013 for all of us!


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