Dig Out Royal

Examining mud, blood and the green field beyond: Ex Joan of Arc 2017

For many, Time Team was one of those few win-win programs. Kids loved watching, adults loved watching, and it was educational, so there was no remorse in skipping your homework to watch Tony Robinson and his team excavate the UK. Apart from an hour of entertainment in the evening, I am sure for the majority archaeology has not always been an obvious path to follow, neither as a career or pastime. The guys over at Breaking Ground Heritage are seeking to change this, making archaeology an accessible thing to both serving and former service personnel. The organisation is a charity run by veterans for veterans, facilitating a path way into an involvement in archaeology, whether someone has an interest in heritage or wants to be hands on with the excavation, these guys make it happen.

Magwich 2017 (Photo credit Harvey Mills www.harveymills.com)

After being medically discharged in 2011, Richard Bennett of 40 Commando, and Breaking Ground Heritage’s founder, initially sought work in security, though quickly realised the job was not a career he wanted to pursue. He explains that although he had always held an interest in heritage and archaeology, it was only after taking his daughter on an excavation site here they uncovered an Anglo-Saxon skeleton, jewellery and a sword that his passion really began to develop. He went on to work with the military initiative Operation Nightingale, undertook a degree in archaeology at Exeter University, and is currently finishing up a Masters.

Beginning as a low-level participation organisation, Breaking Ground Heritage is now internationally recognised, particularly for their training programs, and features on archaeological TV programs such as ‘Digging for Britain’.

Uncovering a skeleton at Magwich in 2017 (Photo credit Harvey Mills www.Harveymills.com)

Richard explains that there is a shortage of archaeologists to excavate and analyse the abundance of heritage that lies beneath the UK. In fact, if we were to take every archaeologist from Europe and put them into the UK, we would still need more. For this reason, the last few years have seen a huge increase in the demand for Archaeologists. As well as organisations like Breaking Ground Heritage, Universities are also able to facilitate pathways into archaeology, such as Winchester University, which now offers 5 fee waivered places per year for injured service personnel to study an undergraduate degree in Archaeology. Though studying at a degree level will generally only offer around 3 weeks of hands-on work, Breaking Ground Heritage is then able to supplement the training by enabling the extra experience. The Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIFA) are also looking into paid apprenticeship schemes, and Breaking Ground Heritage have linked with several organisations that also provide paid traineeships in commercial archaeology.

Photo Credit Harvey Mills (www.harveymills.com)

However, you do not need a degree or specific qualification to become an archaeologist, thorough and sufficient training and guidance is offered through Breaking Ground Heritage, all of which is funded. Richard explains that along with an increase in archaeologist’s wages in the UK, there are an abundance of jobs requiring archaeological skills. So whether you feel like pursuing an interest in heritage and archaeology, want to show your kids what excavation is all about, or would like to find out if archaeology holds a career for you, then here has never been a better time to involved.

You can find more information on www.breakinggroundheritage.org.uk


Fortune Dealing



  1. the entity or power believed by some to bring good or bad luck to people; luck; chance; fate: often personified
  2. [also pl.] what happens or is going to happen to one; one’s lot, good or bad, esp. one’s future lot
  3. good luck; success; prosperity
  4. a large quantity of money or possessions; wealth; riches


To say that you are ‘seeking your fortune’ many people would assume number 4 from Miriam’s wise words. This is the definition that Chris was referring to when he boarded a one-way flight to Hong Kong, and the start of the international bestselling book Eating Smoke.

‘Don’t do the drug Quiss!’ – a phrase Chris Thrall heard throughout his time in Hong Kong, but it was too late for the most part. Upon leaving the Royal Marines in 1992, Chris travelled to Hong Kong in seek of his fortune, though ultimately ended up in a state of psychosis addicted to Meth. Perhaps your initial thought is that the story ends here, and the fortune was not sought. Though I’d like to beg a question, if you are truly happy in the present, can you truly regret any part of your life which brought you to the moment you are in now? I don’t mean this in a condescending or even assuming way, it is one of those ‘life questions’ perhaps philosophical, something to ponder. A note from the offset, this is not a ‘book review’, as a bestselling author, you can read many, almost certainly better written ones on the internet so I shall steer clear of that. Back to my point, if you do continue to read Eating Smoke, which I genuinely recommend you do, the ending may lead you to believe as though the fortune was not sought. After speaking to Chris some twenty years on I found the reality open to a different interpretation.

My first impression of Chris was actually not at all much different from what I had expected. The book is his work, there is no doubt about that. Everything from the Bootneck terminology, to the significance of small traits in his personality which his brings across in moments almost pointlessly mentioned amongst the drama and chaos of the rest of the story. My second thought was that this man is not just content, he’s happy, and quite literally about to burst with love for his family.

Since leaving Hong Kong, Chris has achieved everything he set out to do, from adventures to publishing his books. Yes, the time scale is long, and writing a best-selling book is not something that happened shortly after leaving Hong Kong, but he achieved it. At the end of the book, the last sentence reads ‘I knew I would return to the Fragrant Harbour as soon as I could… I’ve never been back’. However, since the story was published, Chris returned for the book launch, this time to be treated as a VIP, and to see his work showcased on the shelves of Hong Kong’s biggest bookshops.

No, writing a book will not guarantee you have endless amounts of royalties filling your pockets until you die, but the achievement of writing a book, having it published, and people bloody loving it, surely that is fortune for some? The ending may suggest that Chris hadn’t achieved what he set out to in Hong Kong, but perhaps that is not where the story really ended, and it was his amazingly unique experience in this unbelievable city which was his fortune.

Ultimately it was Chris’s resilience both mentally and physically which not only kept him alive, but is what kept him persevering. Without doubt 99.9% of people would have brought a return flight back, perhaps as soon as they realised their initial business had taken a downward spiral, or at the very least after they had lost several jobs and realised they were addicted to one of the most dangerous drugs ever known (arguably a good story alone). Perseverance and resilience are undoubtedly characteristics that every Marine holds, and along with a deep love for Hong Kong, is what held Chris there pursuing his dream and eventually leading him to live the unique story and create the memories that he did.

Perhaps trying to tell this young Marine when he boarded his flight to London that he had not failed at finding his fortune in Hong Kong, but that it would just take many years to realise this, he would have laughed. Just because a plan may veer off course, or take an alternative route all together, it does not mean that you won’t achieve what you set out to, and the end may not be where it seems. To ask Chris now which fortune he would prefer, the love for his family and a career he adores, or money, I have no doubt which one he would choose.

To find out more about what Chris is up to these days, and his other books visit www.christhrall.com.

You can purchase Chris’s book here..


Investing in Dreams

Time, money, knowledge. All are forms of investment and arguably equally important depending on the quality of each. Some seek monetary investment for personal wealth, whereas others may invest time in someone merely as an act of altruism. An investment opportunity can be blindingly obvious, or it can be sought through professional means, though at times it’s a spontaneous gamble driven from an instinct.

Back in 2012, mother and son, Oliver and Jacqueline had been travelling around the south of India for several weeks when they decided to detour to the small town of Marikulum in Kerala. At the time Marikulum had very little mention in any guide books, which are generally a staple accessory for the majority of backpackers, and ironically often remove an element of spontaneity. Though in good spirit and keen for adventure, with the limited information available the travellers discovered a small homestay (a typical means of accommodation in India) called Marari Dreamz. The lack of information, and in particular no reviews made them slightly apprehensive, though at the same time curious and excited. However they needn’t have been nervous in the slightest, as they were immediately greeted by the warm welcome of the homestay’s owners, Allwyn and Jency. At this point neither Oliver or Jacqueline had a clue that they were in fact the couples first guests, hence the lack of reviews. At a later date, Allwyn explained that after taking his first booking only the night before, he had been up all night with family and friends frantically readying the homestay having not expected guests so soon, and were still painting moments before they walked through the gate. Needless to say, neither party were anticipating this to be the unravelling of a truly great and beneficial friendship.

Over dinner the hosts and travellers really hit thing’s off, and as the conversation deepened, it became apparent that Allwyn and Jency’s journey that lead to the opening of Marari Dreamz was far from straight forward. The couple explained how they met in 2006 whilst still studying at University in Cochin, and only after 2 years of friendship moved in together and became official. Initially this begins as a typical love story, however the couple faced an uphill struggle from the offset due to family opposition as the couple were from different casts. Jency is from a fisherman family, and Allwyn was born into a family of landlords, which to a traditional family in India can be problematic. The majority of pressure on the couple to split came from Allwny’s family, peaking in 2008 when they strongly supported an opportunity for Allwyn to fly to Italy with the hopes of building a career over there. He explains that this appeared an appealing path at the time, and with Jency’s support and understanding he made the move, though always with the intention for his wife to join him once he had settled. The rosy façade did not last long, and Allwyn became suspicious of his family’s once seemingly good intentions over him moving to Italy and leaving Jency in their care. The final straw came when he realised Jency would never be able to live there due to political circumstances at the time, and so swiftly returned to India, and to Jency who had never given up hope or support for him during their year apart.

Allwyn and Jency.

Upon his return to India, Allwyn became aware of the increasing tourism in Marikulum, and noted with only one homestay in the village there was a shortage of accommodation. He had returned straight back to working long hours in a bank, though began to visualise the benefits if he were to open a homestay with Jency. Finding the initial funding and time was hard, but eventually their first room called ‘Coconut Villa’ was built just in time for their guests.

Jacqueline saw something special in Allwyn and Jency, adoring their kind hearts and fierce work ethic, and so suggested that Oliver and herself, along with several other family members invest in the couple. They offered the funds to build an extra room onto their homestay, and agreed on a percentage of the revenue each month which would give them a return, but in no way halt Allwyn and Jency’s development. Delighted by the offer the couple agreed, and in no time they had built a second beautiful room. From there the business gained serious momentum, with consistent 5* Trip Advisor reviews attracting more bookings than they could have hoped for, they were able to save enough money within a year to build a third room.

Jacqueline explains that initially the money was more of a gesture to help out the couple she had become so close with, but in fact it proved to be a great investment, and at the time were receiving much more than they would have from investing their money with a bank. Trust has been key throughout the investment, there was no security through signing contracts, they relied upon each others word, and 6 years later this trust is yet to fault.

Allwyn has numerous stories of times which simply would have failed without sheer persistence, hard work and adaptability. One story that sticks in my mind is another all nighter before their second booking, fashioning a hot water system with absolutely no experience as his guests had promised to cancel their reservation if they could not have a hot shower. He explains it was a long and stressful night, but his perseverance paid off.

Jency showing off some bananas, one of the many fruits which grow in their stunning garden.

Potentially the biggest hurdle for Allwny and Jency was when they did something unimaginable within the deeply religious village of Marikulum, and fought against the church. The daily church services are cherished by most that live in the small village, though over time the music was unnecessarily increased. Allwyn believes this was because of the influence from other business people in Marikulum, though these direct details are not for us to speculate. However, what we can say is that Allwyn and Jency persisted for a long period of time to have the noise reduced in order to protect the business they had worked so hard to build a flawless reputation for. They explain that to have achieved any lasting effect they had to write numerous letters to every minister in India, and eventually the influence they created from the top forced the local authorities to take action. A little-known law uncovered by Allwyn is that it is in fact illegal in India to make noise above 50 decibels, and it is this law which the local church must now abide.

Local fishermen bringing in the early morning catches on Marikulum Beach.

Nothing is too much trouble for the couple who endeavour to make each guests stay memorable, reflected in their Trip Advisor ranking which now sees them at number 7 in the whole of India. Taking into account the tens of thousands of homestays in this huge country, this is a seriously impressive achievement!

Jacqueline believed in the couple, which I why she invested. Of course the money allowed the business to initially grow so quickly, but the belief and encouragement that investment instilled in the couple cannot be undermined. They worked together, sharing ideas and knowledge on every aspect of the business, from website designing to the personalised décor of each room, ultimately creating the truly unique experience of Marari Dreamz.

Yes the business is flourishing, and the investment benefited both parties monetarily, but fundamentally the success of Marari Dreamz demonstrates what can be achieved through trust, great friendship and an awful lot of perseverance. Allwyn and Jency now have a total of four villas, and even manage to find time for the occasional well deserved holiday. They are an inspiration, and we wish them nothing but the success they deserve.

Marikulum Beach, a stones throw from the villas.

For more information head over to their website www.mararidreamz.com

The Trans-Siberian Railway: Quit Putin it off and just go!

In the late 19th century it became apparent that the limited transport links in Russia were hindering the development of Siberia, and so by command of Tsar Alexander III the initial building stages of the Trans-Siberian railway were put into action.

Nowadays with various other transport options linking Russia to Asia, the Trans-Siberian Railway, which crosses an incredible 8 time zones and considered the longest rail journey in the world has become a popular adventure for tourists. Though it does remain as Russia’s most important transport route, accounting for 30% of the country’s exports, and despite the increasing popularity amongst foreigners, the vast majority of passengers are still Russian.

With a personal fascination with Russia I have always dreamed of making the journey myself, though unfortunately it is still placing on the bucket list. However, a friend of mine who currently studies Russian language at university, made the journey with four friends over the summer, and has kindly offered us an insight into his fascinating trip. Here is his story.

‘Why one earth would you want to do that?’ When I first proposed the idea of traveling across Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway to my friends and family, their reactions were mixed, to say the least. They tended to be either amazed or horrified. When people think of Russia, they tend to either imagine the classical Russia of Pushkin, Tolstoy, and Dostoyevsky, or the Russia of Putin, political conflict, and people queuing up for bread. The contrasts in this vast country are immense, yet (or rather, because of this) it had been a dream of mine since childhood to travel across it. The beautiful landscapes, vibrant cultures, and interesting people of this country so close to us, yet simultaneously so far from us, have always fascinated me. So, I persuaded four friends to come with me and we set off on this 9,500 kilometer journey across Russia.

Technically, the Trans-Siberian Railway begins in Moscow, and can either be taken to Beijing or Vladivostok (we took the second route). However, we decided to add a few days to the start of our journey to visit Saint Petersburg, too. Thinking it would be a shame to cross such a vast distance and only see the country from the window of a train, we also opted to stop off in a few cities on the way, staying in hostels of varying degrees of quality. When it comes to the train itself, you can pay thousands of pounds to travel in luxury on board a private train designed for tourists, or you can squeeze yourself in to a packed carriage of bunks, mainly used by elderly babushki and soldiers for a fraction of the price. Being poor students, we opted for the latter – a type of carriage known as platzkart.

Telling Russians that you’re planning to travel ‘v platzkarte’, will usually merit one of two responses: (a) a horrified gasp, followed by some concerning message about the threat of ‘hooliganism’, or (b) a solemn nod, followed by ‘Good Luck’. Although part of their concern does seem to stem from a certain protectiveness felt towards foreigners in Russia, in a ‘we can handle it, but we’re Russian and you’re not’ sort of way, it’s certainly true that platzkart is not for everyone. It seems to have been designed during some sort of ‘How many bunks can you fit in a single carriage?’ competition. And yet, travelling in platzkart you get to see Russians doing what they do best – telling stories, sharing food, and drinking vodka. There is a strong feeling of conviviality, as if people automatically become friends simply because on such long journeys there is nothing else to do. People shared food with us, were eager to talk to us in both Russian and English, and were always interested in seeing what we thought of their country.

One of the more bizarre instances of this hospitality was our second night on the train, traveling from Moscow to Kazan. Having left Russia’s capital in the evening, eaten a sandwich that I’d bought at the station and made my way into my bunk to go to sleep, I felt something poking me repeatedly in the leg. By this time it was past midnight, the provodnitsa (the woman in charge of each carriage – someone whose bad side you would not want to end up on) had turned off the lights, and the train was quietly rolling through the Russian countryside under the cover of darkness. I slowly turned my body around in the cramped space and tried to sit up to see what was going on, only to be greeted by an elderly man with his arm outstretched, staring up at me and nodding his head. It took me a moment to realize that in his outstretched arm he was holding a hard-boiled egg, gesturing in my direction.

I was confused, until I looked around to see my friends all sitting up holding their own hard-boiled eggs. The old man, traveling by himself, seemed to have just happened to be carrying six hard-boiled eggs in his bag, and had decided to share them with us. He then proceeded to fetch us some small pieces of sausage for us, before silently returning back to his seat and not talking to us for the rest of the journey. The whole thing took place in silence, and even when I went to thank him he just gave me nod. As day broke, he quietly left the train without a word to us. Yet, by the end of the trip, this type of hospitality had become almost normal for us. And the further away we got from the capital, the more excited people were to meet foreigners.

On our longest leg of the journey, more than 70 hours from Irkutsk to Vladivostok, we found ourselves placed next to a jolly (drunk) group of middle aged men, traveling back to see their families in small towns in the Russian Far East after having spent that last 3 months working at the nearby space centre. They quickly noticed that we were speaking in English, and started to talk to us, with my only other Russian speaking friend and I having to interpret the conversation, which at this point was taking place between about 10 people. One of the men told us that this was the first time he’d ever met anybody from the West. This shocked me until I realized that Europe was many thousands of miles away, even if the people this far into Russia mostly looked European and spoke a European language. They then reminisced about the time they had met an Indonesian man on the train three years before, and all nodded and agreed that that had been an exciting train journey indeed.

The whole experience was not only an insight into Russian society, but a brilliant chance to learn the Russian language as it is actually spoken. For example, while sitting with these drunken (yet, I must add, ultimately kind-hearted) workers from the space centre in the dining car, I noticed one of them looking at me and tapping his neck repeatedly with his fingers. After this, he nodded at me, and not really knowing why he was nodding I simply nodded back. This led him to jump up and run to the bar and return with beer for the both of us, which is how I learnt the great Russian gesture known as ‘shchelchok po shee’, most commonly known in English as ‘the Drunk’s Neck Tap’. Another instance of this, once again involving alcohol and the same space centre workers was when they tried to get us more drinks and we tried to explain to them that we wanted to go to bed. This led the largest of them to stand up in front of me and shake me by the shoulders and shout ‘Ty muzhik?! Ty muzhik?!’. At this point, I understood that he was saying ‘are you something?’, but I didn’t have a clue what on earth the word muzhik meant. It was at this point, staring this huge, drunk Russian man in the face as he shook me from side to side, that I thought to myself ‘If I give him the wrong answer, I could die’. Deciding that 50% odds weren’t that bad, I decided to answer ‘yes’. His eyes lit up, he slapped me on the back and then declared that in that case we must have another drink. (I later found out that the closest English equivalent to muzhik is ‘bloke’ – God knows what would have happened if I’d replied with nyet).

It wasn’t only the people that were fascinating – the Siberian landscape was outstandingly beautiful. Most people imagine Siberia to be a desolate wasteland, but in summer dense, dark green forests cover the hills, and the views of Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world, were enough to take your breath away. We were incredibly lucky when it came to Baikal, I think. Most people spend all of their time by the lake in Listvyanka, a tacky resort town on the road from Irkutsk, where the view of the lake is obscured by boats and buildings. We were lucky enough to be sharing a hostel room with a Biology professor from Yale, who recommended to us a series of beautiful hiking trails around the lake. These had been constructed by a group of local students in order to ensure the lake remains clean and untouched. The hike which we went on took many hours, with the rocky path climbing steeply up the mountainside. However, the view that we got of the stunning lake from the top of the trail was reward enough for the hours spent walking in the heat.

Getting such an amazing view of Baikal was hard work, but it was worth it. This experience sums up many aspects of traveling in Russia. It is a hassle to get there, with a ridiculously complicated visa process and a difficult language. You can’t actually book your train tickets until a month beforehand, and our own news doesn’t always show Russia in the best light. But in spite of all this, when you get there it’s fantastic. There is such rich culture, such beautiful scenery and such exciting people, and it is definitely worth going. You can spend ages sitting around, researching things and worrying about whether it will all work out okay, or you can just go. The experiences that await are worth it.

Robert Hume

Master Baker


When passion is combined with an eager business mind, great things happen. For Simon Town and his wife Victoria, this is the underpinning of their successful venture ‘Flake n’ Bake’. Together they transformed her passion for making remarkable cakes into a viable business which they have developed the branding for and taken over to Australia. The company began as a hobby whilst Victoria was working as a nurse and Si was still in the Marines, though they quickly realised the business potential as her cakes continuously grew in popularity, and decided to take strategic steps towards making it a real money earner.  

One of Flake n’ Bake’s stunning bespoke creations.

After leaving the marines Si worked in various jobs from close protection to the specialist fire service before they sold up everything and made the move to the Gold Coast. Over the years he devoted substantial time to learning about Victoria’s business, and assisting her in any way he could. He explains that they both have their own strengths and weaknesses. For example, he is competent with a sketch pad and will do a lot of the designing, whereas Victoria as a perfectionist, is the overall creator of these masterpieces and has learnt the technicalities involved in baking truly delicious cakes.

An example of Simon’s skills with a sketch-pad.

The impressive array of professional photos showcasing their creations on Instagram speak for themselves https://www.instagram.com/originalflakenbake/?hl=en. However, with the rise in social media, and the value of it on businesses today, photography was another small obstacle for the couple to work around with neither having any previous experience in taking professional looking photos. This was another area where Si could assist, and without extensive funds for professionally run courses, he took it upon himself to learn the basics through videos and information available on the internet.

One of Flake n’ Bake’s famous alcoholic cupcakes.

For any regular Instagram user, many ‘foodie’ pages from Australia will crop up, showcasing the countries impressive artisan food and coffee industry, and we were intrigued to learn what sets ‘Flake and Bake’ apart from the fierce competition. One of their most original and renowned products is their unique alcoholic cupcakes, consisting of perfectly baked, and decorated to perfection cupcakes, supplemented with pipettes of a popular spirit, such as Tequila or Jack Daniels. The idea is to either drink the alcohol separately, or inject it into the already boozy cake. These were a huge hit from the off set, and they were soon contacted by numerous Australian radio shows intrigued by their creation. They are also conscious of the rise in demand for speciality cakes that are gluten free and vegan, and so created ‘cake jars’ which cater for both dietary requirements. These are also highly sought after by customers at the ‘NightQuarter’ night market, where they trade from their converted 1973 Dodge camper stall which they had shipped over from the UK. 

Shipped all the way from the UK, their converted camper.
Trading at the NightQuarter on the Gold Coast, Australia.
Another of their Jack Daniel’s cupcakes, but on a much larger scale.

Flake n’ Bakes future is bright, with plans to open a shop, and possible franchise. Neither Si or Victoria had experience or training in setting up a business, but they have taken everything in their stride, working together offering their own strengths, and supporting the other. 

Find out more…. https://www.facebook.com/FlakeNBake

Motorsport Marshalling

Motorsport – replacing the sex life of middle aged men since the mid 1900’s.

An annual motor racing trip with old mates is a highlight that many look forward to. But hey, if your going all that way and spending all that money, which we both and your wife know should be going towards replacing that horrific art deco wall paper in your spare room, why not get the best seat in the house? Ever thought about marshalling? It’s free, which keeps the missus happy, and unless you were in the drivers seat you couldn’t be closer to the action.

To save you trawling through various online articles to find out what it’s all about, we have asked our good friend Peter to give us the lowdown on marshalling, including plenty of his personal highlights. His stories rewind back to the 70’s from when he first began marshalling and the red tape was a fair bit thinner, to re-entering the sport in 2015. Here’s what he had to say.

“Marshalling is a great way to get into motorsport – and you get the best view in the house for free! There are lots of jobs to choose between, from a paddock or pit marshal through to on-track jobs or race control. All have plenty to offer and are equally rewarding.

So what made me want to try marshalling? It started with a love of cars and a love of motor racing that began when I spectated at some meetings at the old Crystal Palace circuit in the 1960s. My first stint marshalling began in 1972 and ended in 1993, when a demanding job and a young family needed my full attention. Fast forward to 2015, plenty of time on my hands so I made a return – and fell in love with marshalling all over again. As you might expect, it’s all moved on a long way in the past 20+ years, more professional, more regulations, more safety precautions but the basics remain – great sport, great atmosphere and a great bunch of enthusiasts to work with.

Back to the early days. I started out as a course marshal (we used to be called Luggers & Tuggers) and spent a lot of time pulling drivers and cars out of the catch fencing that was common on racing circuits in those days. Having had my grading card signed off by enough ‘Examining Post Chiefs’ – the most senior on-circuit officials – I then spent time as a flag marshal, fire marshal (including some pretty hair raising training sessions), assistant Post Chief, Post Chief and finally Examining Post Chief.

During my first stint marshalling I put in over 500 days on-circuit and loved every single one of them. Most of my marshalling was done at my local circuit, Brands Hatch, but I also visited other U.K. Circuits for everything from club meetings to Grand Prix, and also marshalled at Grand Prix in Europe – around 20 in all. As I’m writing this the memories come flooding back – great racing with a great crowd of people. I was very lucky that in those days access to teams and drivers was far less restricted, and memories include chats with team owners such as Frank Williams and Ken Tyrell and drivers like Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell. These days things are, naturally, more restricted in the world of F1 but at other meetings things are much more relaxed.

Things that spring to mind from the early days…. Senna and Prost both stopping at our marshals post at Spa (Belgium) at the end of practice and Senna getting cross when we got dirt on his qualifying tyres when we pushed him clear (he was very friendly and chatty when he realised we were English!). Belgium again, the last GP at Zolder and I made the BBC TV broadcast when Alain Prost stopped with his turbo on fire and I put the fire out. Other memories are of the Le Mans racers trailing flames from the turbos on the overrun into Paddock Bend at Brands Hatch as dusk fell on the 1,000 kms race, chatting with Nigel Mansell while he was lounging in a deck chair outside his parents caravan in the marshals camp site at Silverstone a few hours after he had won the British Grand Prix (modern F1 drivers would have been far away in their executive jets by that time), chatting with Murray Walker during his frequent visits to our marshals posts….. The list goes on and on…

Ayrton Senna pulling off at Spa in Belgium after his turbo let go.
Senna walking away from the incident pictured above.
Senna and Alain Prost stopping at our post during the same race.
Prost back in his McLaren after a frosty conversation with Senna as pictured above.

I can’t pretend that we didn’t live in exciting times when I started marshalling in the early 70s. I had the hat flipped off my head by a flying car, had another car go clean over my head while I was bending down to speak to a driver caught in the catch fencing, and had a spinning car knock the fire extinguisher from my hand while I was running to an incident. We took it all in our stride and never thought twice about it. I also attended several fatalities and saw things that I still can’t forget.

There were lots of fun times, though. Many of which would get us into big trouble these days. For example we used to camp overnight for the big meetings and the evenings tended to go on quite late. Turning up on post for the start of practice was never nice with a banging headache but the St John Ambulance guys would always come to our rescue. A few slugs of O2 normally sorted us out but, in extreme circumstances, a deep breath or two of Entonox (gas & air) did the trick. That would involve a lot of form-filling these days…

Ricardo Patrese and Eddie Cheever in their Benetton days. I think this is Zolder in Belgium in 1984.

Spa in Belgium for the Grand Prix in 1986 was fun. The night before the race we went for a few quiet beers. Then a few less quiet ones. When we left the club it was bright daylight which wasn’t a great start to our day. We were staying at a military barracks, complete with gate guard. Most of us had been in the ACF or TA so we decided to show the soldier on the gate how good the English were at drill. Ten minutes later he gave us a round of applause and that turned out to be the highlight of the day when the Belgian medics refused to help us out with Entonox.

Andrea de Cesaris was a F1 driver with a bit of a reputation as a wild man (we called him de Crasharis). So there I was for a Brands Hatch GP on the exit of Westfield, a very fast bend. It was so dodgy in the days of big turbos and qualifying tyres that we cut back the undergrowth behind our post to give us an escape route. Come the end of qualifying Andrea got it all wrong at high speed. We hit the ground and heard *clang*… *clang*……… *CLANG*. When we got our heads back above the Armco there was what was left of Andrea’s Alfa up against the Armco further down the track. The crash wagon with a crane turned up (no posh loading beds in those days) and hoisted up the car. “Careful, don’t damage it!” Shouted Andrea. The truck driver turned to him and said “You’ve done a f***ing good job of that yourself mate!”  Andrea looked so shocked….

BBC commentator Murray Walker talking to ex-F1 driver John Watson.


Jokes apart, marshalling is a great way to be involved in this exciting and evolving sport. Marshals play a critical role at every motoring event, working tirelessly to ensure the safety, enjoyment and well being of everyone involved. The safety and training is thorough, and evidently there is more red tape and form-filling today, but you will take away endless memories and experiences whilst playing an invaluable role in motorsport. Plus, you don’t really have to be middle-aged. Peter would like to point out that he was 19 when he first stepped into those glorious orange overalls.

Interested? The British Motorsport Marshals Club is an excellent place to start.

The British Motorsports Marshals Club