Formula for the art of noise

17th September 2010 at 01:00

The noise, a Doppler-shifted scream rather than a roar, was like nothing I'd heard before. It seemed to overload my hearing and spill into the other senses too, almost blinding as well as deafening me. Reaching into my backpack, I took out the earplugs I'd brought with me and quickly fitted them. The noise was still twice as loud as on TV, but at least it was below the pain threshold.

Looking to my son, I saw he was on his feet. Lewis Hamilton had gone from fourth on the grid to second in the race by the first corner. This ignited the friendly but partisan Silverstone crowd, many of whom felt it was just a little too quiet and fired off a barrage of air horns. And so it was for 90 minutes.

The Silverstone expedition was my 15-year-old son's idea. He has been a Formula One fan for a number of years and, some time ago, began to wonder about the feasibility of making a dream trip to the British Grand Prix. His spot as the resident keyboard player in a local cafe helped make it financially possible, and a father willing to do the driving if his offspring could cope with the logistical planning of the adventure clinched it.

We opted for three-day tickets, to take in practice and qualifying too. When they arrived, my son suddenly became Charlie, turning over in his hands, again and again, a golden invitation to the automotive equivalent of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory.

This was to be a heart-warming facet of the trip. Steele Junior is worldly-wise and adult enough to do things such as suggest that a local clergyman, who was involved in a mild scandal involving the purchase of a house, should have his own TV show called Vocation, Vocation, Vocation. It was a genuine pleasure to see the clock wind itself back a bit and release again unashamed excitement: "Look, there's the McLaren garage! That's Jenson Button!"

For my part, I had chiefly gone along as driver and credit-card holder. Though my son had offered to pay for everything, it seemed unfair to charge meals to him that he would have eaten at home anyway.

I was not really a Formula One fan. This was partly down to my inability to sit still on a Sunday afternoon: but more so because I had dismissed it as a lot of near-identical cars going round and round a track, not doing very much.

My son bought me a McLaren hat, ostensibly to get me in the mood, but he probably secretly hoped it would stop me from wearing something embarrassing. In the end, I could not help but be caught up in it all and, while I don't spend my weekends glued to programmes about motor racing, I have now been known to time my Sunday lunch to coincide with the Grand Prix.

How much does something lose when filtered through TV or radio? I find my thoughts turning now to English lessons. There are countless film versions of plays, but surely only hearing the words in the setting for which they were crafted lends them their true meaning? Having said that, my school experience of going to a Shakespearean play was not that great. I couldn't hear it properly.

Gregor Steele apologises publicly to his son for going on about the Doppler Effect again.

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