by Robert Williams
Des was surprised to receive a telephone call from Mike the Manic Mechanic one afternoon.
"Good morning Des, I've got some exciting news for you!" said Mike. "I want you to pop round and have a look at my latest invention."
"What is it?" asked Des.
"I'll tell you when you get here," said Mike. "Except to say it means you'll be able to do your shopping without leaving your sofa!"
"I've got the internet, I can already do that," said Des.
"It's much more hi-tech than the internet!" said Mike. "Come over!"
So Des ambled down to Mike's Manic Motors. To his surprise, Mike was sitting on a settee in his workshop, drinking a cup of tea. But although it was an ordinary cup of tea, and a fairly ordinary workshop, it was certainly no ordinary settee.
"Morning Mike, where's this invention then?" asked Des.
"I'm sitting on it!" said Mike.
"What's that?" asked Des.
"This, my friend, is my latest invention. It's a settee that goes! I've fitted a chassis, four wheels, and a motorcycle engine to it!"
"Why?" asked Des.
"It's the perfect sofa for lazy people! It's just your kind of thing, Des. It means that now you don't even have to get up to answer the telephone, open the window or put the washing on the line!"
"Put my name down for it."
"You can even drive it on the road! That's why you can do the shopping without getting out of your seat! It's completely road-legal, it's got lights, mirrors, seat belts, number plates, tax and MOT!"
"Hmmm," said Des. "I've got one serious reservation."
"What's wrong?" said Mike. He hoped Des wouldn't mention the fact that you wouldn't actually be able to take it shopping as you wouldn't be able to get drive it through your front door.
"I'm not that keen on the upholstery," said Des to Mike's relief.
"My mum bought it in a sale at MFI," said Mike.
"How much for it then?" asked Des.
"To you Des, as a friend, five grand," said Mike.
"Five grand?! For a sofa on wheels?" said Des.
"I've got to cover my costs!" said Mike. "I had to build it completely from scratch! I had to find a donor car to get the wheels, then a motorcycle for the engine! Then there's the lights, seatbelt and number plates! And I've got to buy an identical replacement sofa for my mum, of course! Otherwise there'll be nothing left of her three-piece suite!"
"And all that costs five thousand pounds?" said Des.
"Then there's labour, of course," said Mike. "I had to spend many many man-hours meticulously building these things to the highest possible standard."
"Well I suppose it's quite reasonable," said Des. "Here's the money."
Des handed over five thousand pounds in bank notes to Mike.
"You carry that kind of money around with you?!" said Mike.
"Yes, so what?" said Des.
"Oh, nothing, nothing," said Mike, taking the money. "Right, I'll show you how to drive it."
Mike took the settee for a drive along the side of the road, with Des walking alongside, along to Mrs Greasy's cafe.
Meanwhile, at the cafe, the others had already started their morning meeting. Mick, Dickie, Wayne, Clive and Mrs G were all present.
"This is the year 2000," said Clive.
"Well spotted Clive!" exclaimed Mick, clapping his hands.
"Is it?!" said Wayne, counting on his fingers, then giving up and counting on his calculator.
"Yes it is," said Clive. "So why do you all drive cars that are over twenty years old?!"
"Don't tar us all with the same brush!" said Mick. "I haven't even got a car!"
"Neither have I!" said Wayne. "I've got a van..."
At that moment they all lost interest, as they heard a loud bang and a cloud of smoke appear outside the window.
"That'll be Des then," sighed Mick.
"Hey you lot!" said Des, walking in. "Come and look at what I've bought!"
"Uh-oh," said Clive. He was having visions of the last few times Des walked into the cafe saying that.
"What on earth is that?" said Mick as they went outside.
"It's my new vehicle," said Des, admiring his new settee on wheels.
"Trading up from your present car, then?" said Clive.
"How much did it cost?" asked Mick.
"It's a snip at five thousand pounds," said Des.
"Five thousand pounds??!!" exclaimed Mick. "For that heap of junk? Des, that is a settee with four wheels attached to it."
"And a motorcycle engine," said Mike. "And a steering wheel, lights, and number plates. Anyone else want one?"
He had no enquiries, not surprisingly.
"So Mike," said Des. "Are you sure this is definitely safe to drive?"
Des never received an answer, as Mrs Greasy interrupted them.
"Co-eee!!" she called from the cafe. "Lunchtime!!"
"Oh no," groaned Des, Mick, Clive, Dickie and Mike simultaneously.
"So what were you saying earlier, Clive?" said Mrs G as everyone tried to avoid eating their lunch.
"I was saying," said Clive, "and this applies particularly to you Des, is that you all drive old bangers!"
"Yes, I'm trying to drive this banger off my plate and into the bin without Mrs Greasy noticing," said Des as he played with his sausages.
"There's Wayne's Ford Escort van, P-reg, registered 1975," said Clive. "Farmer Files's Land Rover, J-reg, registered 1969. Dickie's Montego churchmobile, B-reg, registered 1985."
"It's not how old your car is," said Dickie. "It's what you do with it. And with my churchmobile I can pop round to your house at any time to give you an instant sermon! I've even added a confessional box, in place of the glovebox!"
"No advertising in my cafe please," said Mrs Greasy.
"Then there's Mike's Cortina, registered 1978," continued Clive. "And Des's comedy car, S-reg, registered 1977. And to make things worse, there's that heap of junk Mike's just built! In fact, your cars are all so old, you could probably enter them into the London to Brighton veteran car run next week!!" he joked.
"That's a good idea," said Mike.
"I was about to say that!" said Des. "I fancy taking part in that!"
"Oh no," sighed Clive. "I should have learnt by now not to say things like that."
"I know exactly where I can get hold of some veteran cars!" said Mike.
"Come on," said Clive. "Your definition of a veteran car is a 1971 Ford Capri!"
"Well..." said Mike. "That actually was what I was thinking of..."
"That isn't a veteran car!!" said Clive. "Only cars built before 1st January 1905 are eligible!"
"He always has to pour cold water onto everything," sighed Des. "I've got a better idea. Why don't we take my new sofa-mobile?!"
"Yes, I could easily fix another settee onto the back!" said Mike. "(As long as my mum doesn't mind standing up). Then we could all take part together! Why not?!"
"Because I'd like to carry on living?" said Mick. "And it's still not a veteran car!"
"If they get suspicious, we could always just lie," said Mike. "Now we have to be at Hyde Park at 7.30 otherwise we'll miss the start. So let's get there nice and early to make sure we're at the front! Then we're bound to win!!"
"It's not a race!" exclaimed Mick.
"Half past seven does seem very late, it'll be dark by then!" said Des.
"Half past seven in the morning!" said Mike. Des fainted.
Nevertheless, very early that Sunday morning, the crew of Des, Mick, Clive and Wayne met Mike at his garage.
"Did you really have to dress up, Des?" sighed Mick.
"Come on Mick, you've got to look the part!" said Des. He had come dressed in a big old-fashioned coat, hat, goggles and driving gloves. He had even stuck a false handlebar moustache on.
"Okay chaps, let's get the show on the road, what!" he exclaimed.
"What?" said Wayne.
Mike drove the sofa-mobile, with a rear seat newly attached, up to Hyde Park, while the others decided to travel up in Des's bus. When they arrived, they parked the bus, and reluctantly boarded the sofa-mobile. Des took the wheel, it being his vehicle, Mike sat next to him, and Clive, Mick and Wayne sat on the back seat.
They gathered at the start with all the other veteran cars taking part. The new arrival attracted quite a bit of attention.
"What's going on here?!" exclaimed an official looking man.
"We've come to take part in the London to Brighton veteran car run!" said Des.
"In that contraption?!" said the official man. "That isn't a veteran car!"
"Yes it is," said Mike. "It was built in 1892 by my great-great-grandfather!"
"What's this label on the side of the seat?!" said the man. "It says MFI!"
"That was the name of the car company! MFI - Mike's, well Michael's, Fantastic...er...Inventions! They went bust shortly afterwards."
"And then moved into the furniture business..." said Mick quietly.
"Well, I suppose I can let you in," said the man. "Here's a copy of the route map and the rules."
He slapped a 'London to Brighton Veteran Car Run' sticker to the side of the back settee.
"But since you're a late entry," said the man ,"you'll have to go at the back."
"Doesn't matter," said Mike as they drove to the back. "We'll overtake these old bangers with no problem! We'll win this race easily!"
"It's not actually a race," said Mick, but no one heard him as it was 7.30 and the run was under way!
"Hey, we're off!" exclaimed Mike. "Step on the gas!!"
"I'd rather put my foot on the accelerator, if it's all the same with you," said Des. So he did, and the sofa-mobile raced off, weaving through all the genuine veteran vehicles which had all set off at about half the speed. Before long they had reached the front.
"Told you!" exclaimed Mike. "We've got this race sewn up!"
"This is one hair-raising experience!!" exclaimed Mick, who was clinging onto the settee.
"And you haven't got that much hair left to raise!" said Clive.
"So which way are we actually going then?!" asked Des.
"Umm..." said Wayne, turning the map round and round.
"Oh no, you didn't give the map to Wayne did you?!" said Des. "We could end up anywhere!"
Mick grabbed the map off Wayne.
"Across Westminster bridge and down the A23!" he said.
"We've left all the other cars way behind!" said Des, glancing behind.
"Probably because," said Mick, reading the instructions, "the speed limit for all entrants is 20mph."
"BORING!!" exclaimed Mike.
"You're joking!!!" exclaimed Des. "We'll never get to Brighton at that rate!"
"The first cars are due to arrive at Brighton at 10.40," said Mick. "It'll look very suspicious if we get there before then!"
So they tried driving across Westminster bridge at 20mph as crowds of onlookers cheered them on.
"Hey hey!!" exclaimed Des. He stopped the car in the middle of the road.
"What are you doing?!" said Mick.
"Just going to sign some autographs!" said Des. "Won't be long..."
"I don't believe this," groaned Clive.
Des spent several minutes mingling with the onlookers before getting back it into the driver's settee.
"They thought I was Des O'Connor," sighed Des. He started up the engine, and as he did so he was appalled to see some of the other veteran cars drive past. "Oh no!!!"
"Come on Des!!" exclaimed Mike. They got going again, and Des decided to drive at slightly more than 20mph, well more like twice that, in order to get back in front.
"I can't be bothered with this 20mph rule," said Des. "We'll go at a proper speed, then when we get half way we can stop off for some breakfast!"
They drove down the A23 through South London, waving at all the onlookers who had gathered at the roadside.
"This is interesting," said Mick, reading the leaflet. "Apparently the first London to Brighton run was in 1896, but one of the cars cheated and was taken by train, then it was covered in mud as it crossed the finishing line! Well what do you think about that?"
"Is it lunchtime yet?!" said Wayne.
When they arrived at Redhill, they decided to stop off for refreshments. They were now several miles ahead of the rest of the cars.
"It isn't actually a race, you know," said Mick.
"Don't be so boring," said Des.
They spent a good half an hour in a local cafe, but when they came to resume their journey there was a problem. The engine wouldn't start.
"Why do you seem to attract vehicles that break down all the time," moaned Clive.
"Let me have a look," said Mike. He spent what seemed like ages fiddling about with the engine, but without success.
Then, to their disgust, a whole convoy of veteran cars drove past.
"They're overtaking us!!!" exclaimed Des. "Hurry up Mike! Why haven't you fixed it yet? You're supposed to be a manic mechanic, after all!!"
"I'm not really up on motorcycle engines," said Mike. "Give me a Granada 2.0 litre any day!"
The veteran cars had long gone, and Mike still hadn't managed to get the sofa-mobile going.
"Looks like we can kiss the prize money goodbye," sighed Des.
"Whoever said there was prize money?..." said Mick.
"What was that you were droning on about earlier?" said Des. "About the first race?"
"One car was taken by train and then covered in mud as it crossed the finishing line," said Mick.
"That's the answer then," said Des. "Well, we can skip the bit about covering it in mud."
"You're being ridiculous now!" said Clive. "We couldn't get this onto a train!"
"I don't know," said Mike. "We could always dismantle it, take in onto the train and then reassemble it when we get to Brighton!"
So Mike carried the chassis, Clive and Mick carried one settee and Des and Wayne carried the other.
"Do we get a discount for bringing our own seating arrangements?" asked Des at the ticket office. He didn't.
"I'm sorry," said the guard as the train arrived. "You can't take those things onto the train."
"Oh botherations," said Des. "Hang on...if we can't take the sofa-mobile on the train...then why don't we get a rope, tie it to the back of the train and let it tow us all the way there..."
"No, Des, no," said Mick. "Don't even think about it."
"I'll just have to try to fix the engine," said Mike. They carried the components out of the station and reassembled the vehicle on the road. He carried on tinkering with the engine until it finally started.
"Well let's get a move on then!" exclaimed Des. They whizzed off down the road.
"Err Des, can we stop a minute?" said Wayne.
"What is it Wayne?!" said Des tiresomely as they stopped by the side of the road.
"Can I come and sit in the front with you and Mike?"
They all groaned as Wayne moved from the back settee to the front.
"Right!" exclaimed Des. "Now I want no more interruptions before we get to Brighton!" Luckily the vehicle started first time, and they shot off down the road.
"We still haven't caught up with the other cars," said Mick as they drove through the countryside.
"Let's go faster then!" exclaimed Mike.
By now the route had left the main A23 and was taking them along some smaller roads.
"I really think you ought to take care down these roads!" exclaimed Mick. "I think this seat is coming a bit loose."
"Sorry, we've got no time to take care, we've got a race to win!!" said Mike.
"It's not a race!!" yelled Mick.
Before long they were approaching Brighton.
"'Ere Des," said Wayne who was looking after the map. "I think we're goin' the wrong way."
"You're joking!" said Des.
"No, he's right," said Mike, looking at the map. "We're going in completely the wrong direction! We're supposed to be going towards London!"
"That's strange!" said Des. "Why do they call it a London to Brighton race when it's actually the other way round?!"
He did a sudden u-turn and started to drive back up the road towards London. But the back settee didn't make it - it fell off the back of the vehicle and shot off down the road towards Brighton.
"Aaaarghhhh!!!" yelled Mick and Clive.
"At least we're going the right way!!" exclaimed Mick.
"Oh look," said Mike on the sofa-mobile, as he looked behind them. "The back seat's gone. And so have Clive and Mick."
"Who cares?" said Des. "As long as we win this race, what else matters!!"
They drove back towards London, along all the roads they had already been on.
"Um, Mike," said Des. "Are you sure we're supposed to be this way? Look, here come a few old cars going the other way! Give me the map, Wayne."
Des looked at the map.
"WAYNE!!!!" exclaimed Des. "You've got it upside down!!! We'll never win now!"
They did another u-turn and carried on back to Brighton again.
Meanwhile, the out-of-control settee carrying Clive and Mike was whizzing down the hill towards Brighton. They were amazed to find that they had built up so much speed they were catching up with all the other old cars.
By the time they reached Brighton they had actually overtaken all the other entrants. Amazingly they managed to freewheel all the way through Brighton and make it to the finishing line. As they crossed the line, the settee finally ground to a halt.
"Congratulations!" said an official man. "You're the first to arrive!"
"How did you know we were in the veteran car run?" said a very bedraggled Mick.
"You've got a London to Brighton Veteran Car Run sticker on the side of your settee," said the man. "Here's your bronze medal. Everyone who completes the run is awarded one!"
A couple of hours later, Des, Wayne and Mike finally turned up in the sofa-mobile.
"We got a bronze medal!" said Mick, showing it off.
"How come we didn't get one?!" said Des, who was not a happy man.
"No London to Brighton Veteran Car Run sticker!" said Mick.
"I suppose you got the prize money," said Des.
"Des, there wasn't any prize money!" said Mick. "It wasn't a race!!"
"It wasn't?!" exclaimed Des. "Why didn't you say? Wasn't much point taking part then was there?!"
Copyright © Robert Williams