OK, it’s confession time. Here’s my experience in full of offloading Chattie for the first time ON MY OWN. It was at the Royal International Air Tattoo . Read carefully if you want to learn how NOT to do it, and avoid the most basic mistake.
After my two-hour drive to Fairford, I had arrived in the Sprinter, with Chattie strapped on the back, to the place on the airfield allocated by RIAT for trade vehicles. I was the only person there, among a few parked trucks; so with a bit of relief that there was no one to watch me, I put my swede gardening gloves on to protect my hands, and tackled the businsess of unloading the car.
I was being so careful about the webbing straps, which had taken us (Ground Control and I) so very long to do up and get right the night before, that I concentrated on getting them undone in the right order, leaving Chattie’s left front wheel to the last, as it was towards the highest point on the flatbed, nearest the cab. I had forgotten the most important bit of all, which was to attach the winch before unstrapping ANYTHING. I thought I was doing really well. But when I loosened the last webbing strap, it started paying out and the car itself moved backwards, beginning a roll down the flatbed. I had put on the handbrake, but obviously not enough to hold it on the slope. Talk about panic feeling! I immediately felt the webbing paying out through my left hand; meanwhile my right hand, which had just opened the ‘spindle’ out to ‘unlock’ it, wasn’t strong enough to pull the lever to re-cock it again. With my left hand I was pulling with all my might to try and stop the strapping from paying out further. Inch by inch I was losing, and I just couldn’t get the handle to go back to the ratchet point. I’d like you just to imagine the situation. One 1935 vintage car on a flatbed trailer about 2.5 feet off the ground, heading inexorably towards the two narrow tracking planks, but not necessarily properly lined up. If I couldn’t stop the car going backwards, it was going to plunge off the treads and fall damaged amongst them. My only hope was to let go of the webbing with my left hand and use both hands as quickly as I could to get the webbing ‘spindle’ (I don’t know what it’s called) to lock. Even then, would one web-strapping hold the whole car?
At this point, a friendly voice behind me said cheerfully, ‘Do you want any help?’ Without turning round I instantly recognised the voice of Christian, a RIAT volunteer who had shown me to my place. ‘Yes!’ I shouted. ‘Please can you put that chock there under that wheel!’ He did so, and immediately I was able to put both hands to the spindle and ratchet the thing back a little, then lock it. ‘Thank you!’ I said, with great feeling. ‘Perhaps it would be a good idea to put it on the winch?’ said Christian in as tactful a way as it would be possible for anyone do say so under the circumstances. That young man knew absolutely it would be a good idea, but showed what I consider to be the most exceptional tact and diplomacy I have come across in a long time. ‘Absolutely it would!’ I said, ‘I was just about to do it!’ Christian, I think you saved my life that day. I’ve thanked you several times, but here’s another for the road. You were an angel in disguise, sent to rescue me from total disaster, and I’ll never forget it.
I truly believe I will never forget this lesson, either. I will NEVER loosen up the strappings on the car UNTIL I’VE ATTACHED IT TO THE WINCH FIRST.
I know some of you men out there will be chuckling at tutting at me, but I don’t care – I’ve come clean now so that some poor soul following me won’t make the same mistake.