Every year I volunteer to help out at an art show for four days; every year I think I’m losing four days’ writing time. One of my more pernicious self-deceptions. None of the best stories come from the keyboard. Some come from reading, some pop on like little light bulbs while you’re out walking or stripping paint, but the best play out in front of you.
So there I was, an attendant in the sculpture tent with my view blocked by the boot of a Bentley. I realize that for most men on this planet, that is on a par with gazing at a very beautiful bottom for several meditative hours. So what’s the problem? But to me it was just the boot of a car. The men coming to it like wasps to a honey trap were more amusing, their bug-eyed envy and wistful stares, their hands hovering over the ‘Do Not Touch’ sign like those of a faith healer. Just a car, I thought. So what?
It was only on the third day that I asked its owner the story of the car. It is a 4.5 lr engine, built in 1930. In the earliest days, you would buy the engine and chassis only from Bentley, and would have the body built to your own specification elsewhere. In 1919 an artist called F. Gordon Crosby made a speculative illustration of how a Bentley might look. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy and dictated the look of the car from that date forward. He even designed the winged mascot. And that was why cars had mascots, so that you knew what the engine was no matter what the body.
Worthy of Kipling or Aesop, that tale, and there it was, staring me in the face.