Peter Cracknell – not shy but retiring

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Journalists on the motoring writers’ ‘circuit’ are encouraged to pair up for launch events, and this inevitably leads to career-spanning partnerships and friendships developing. One of the most familiar and enduring within SGMW has been that between Dave Randle and Peter Cracknell.

With Peter deciding to retire – for more time on the golf course and his expert classical guitar-playing – Dave reflects on great times with his old driving ‘mucker’.

Peter CracknellWhen a young hopeful launches himself upon the world of motoring journalism, many potential ramifications and tacit understandings of those already within the inner circle are unimagined and unsuspected.

You’d think that being able to write and knowing something about cars would be enough; it had done for me, for the best part of ten years. Cars were delivered and collected and I wrote about them. I usually only met motoring colleagues at shows, SMMT or rare functions relating to the Guild and other professional bodies.

Then I began to be invited to driving and launch events. At an early one, I found myself in a Daihatsu Cuore with the great Stuart Marshall of the FT. “You look a bit like Setright,” he observed. “I hope to God you don’t drive like him.”

I had assumed Setright drove like he wrote. I had also assumed in those days that all journalists wrote their copy as it appeared in print. Like sitting with the unwashed in airport waiting areas, while my savvy colleagues were in the club lounge, these were signs of ignorance of which I was only gradually disabused.

One day I was invited to visit the Skoda museum and works in Mlada Boleslav. Arriving at Prague airport, I was asked if I had anyone to drive with. Behind me in the queue was Peter Cracknell. From the moment we edged our assigned Octavia out into the Bohemian sunshine, we talked and joked easily, neither of us expressing alarm or trying to work the brakes through the passenger floor.

At our destination, we observed the consummate ease with which Lord David Strathcarron slept through the presentation, awaking perfectly on cue to propose a vote of thanks, before we toured the factory and the museum, little knowing that, on my return, I would be commissioned to write The True Story of Skoda.

The evening proved that we also had a similar appreciation for fine food and drink. Among many other things, Peter and I shared a keen interest in photography. Peter regularly provided trannies to Japan – they couldn’t touch you for it in those pre-digital days – and I had attempted a long exposure to Claudia Schiffer that turned out to be all cloud and no Schiffer.

At a later launch, Peter and his wife Debbie invited me to stay overnight beforehand at their more conveniently situated home in Berkhamsted – mine being in deepest Kent at Lydd. This kind offer set a pattern for future events.

Debbie literally wrote the book on classical guitar, of which both she and Peter are serious adepts. I have enjoyed many evenings of laughter and discussion at their house and come to know their lovely and talented daughter Tanya – another musical whizz, specialising in the violin and much in demand in pop and jazz as well as classical circles.

Over the next 15 years, Peter and I shared numerous adventures. We once drove a hundred miles in the direction of the Austrian border in a Suzuki when we should have been heading the opposite way toward Munich, thanks in part to a sulkily silent sat-nav.

We crossed a rope bridge in Ireland, saw Dervishes whirling in Istanbul, drove a monster truck in Sussex, knocked the sump-plug off a Nissan in Yorkshire, played with a steel band in Ascot, shared breakfast with Alan McNish at le Castellet, made pots, blew glass, tried log-rolling and caber tossing, drove Jaguars at the Nürburgring, piloted Jeeps down waterfalls, and flew aeroplanes over Gloucestershire.

We had both passed the IAM and various other advanced driving evaluations in the past, including the Caravan Club towing course, so when Graham Fryer made his magnanimous retirement offer to subsidise SGMW members’ Driving Instructors’ Association tests, we took and passed ours – we now both know how to back the wrong way round a corner, if not why.

Also, for the best part of a decade, we were MPG Marathon stalwarts, on one occasion winning our class. As a rally man from the prehistoric days of rear wheel drive, Peter knows how to get the most out of a car and how to tell when he’s got it.

Where he and I differ is that he seems to have a plan, in that he knew when to stop this motoring lark; something he has done for so long that he has given and taken the best of it. It’s not all his life is about.

He has been a squash player of some reputation. He can tell a putter from a mashie on the links, don’t you know. And, above all, he owes the guitar some of his time and talent. I wish above all that he and Debbie fulfil their unique musical potentials and share their artistry with the discerning, if cheapskate, punter.

Even if you are no longer there to vaguely indicate directions and point out gear ratios that might have eluded me, you will remain a lifetime friend, Pete.

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