Bits and Pieces, by Prince Birabongse of Thailand. (Fonlis, 7/6.)
The first book ever written by “Bira” is something of an event. It runs to 192 pages and 20 chapters, each chapter having a single word caption, for the book is just what the title suggests, i.e., random recollections by “Bira” of his racing career. Indeed, it goes rather beyond that, describing a visit to the speedway and his State visit to Thailand, where his E.R.A. “Romulus” was displayed at a garden party for all to see. There is, of course, a Foreword by H.R.H. Prince Chula Chakabongse of Thailand. “Bira” devotes chapters to Seaman, Fairfield and Mays. Of Seaman: “Before I realised what had happened, Dick drew alongside me at the end of Starkey Straight. We both went into the corner at about the same speed. Actually being on the inside of the road and in front I had the right to swing out in order to take the corner, but if I had done so I would have collided with Dick’s car. I took a quick glance at his face and saw that he was determined to have that corner, so I pulled up to let him cut in…. If some stubborn person had been driving my car there might have been a crash, because Dick’s way of getting round that corner was somewhat rough … I thought Dick was rather a tough guy in this respect.” You learn much more of “Biro” from this book than from watching him race, and some of it is quite dramatic. Of the reason for his accident at Cork in 1937 he writes: “I usually had a nightcap, a glass of hot milk, which was to send me to sleep. Everything went off as usual and, having drunk up a whole glass, I turned out the light to go to sleep…. In a short time I began to have violent bad dreams. Then I was conscious I was comfortable in bed instead of fighting lions and tigers. I realised that I had not been asleep very long, as the people in the bar downstairs were still enjoying themselves. At that same moment I had a violent pain. It made me double up with agony and as Chula was still talking at the bar I had no one to call for help. I managed to ring for a waiter and asked him to fetch Chula up…. He wanted to call a doctor, but I said that I would stick it out awhile and if it got worse then I would see a doctor…. After a careful checking up on the food eaten by me that day we came to the conclusion that nothing could have put my stomach out except the last glass of milk…. Anyway, whatever it was it was being a nuisance, I do not remember having slept until six o’clock in the morning….”
Chula, too, seems to have had his bad motor-racing experiences, for, describing how he tried the course at Le Mans during the night practising spell, when visiting the race in his 3 1/2-litre Rolls Bentley in 1935, “Bira” writes: “Chula was slightly put off by the unusual exhaust note of the Bentley, but he soon got used to the noise” (the cut-out had been opened). “I hardly had done three short curves when Chula became very silent and I knew at once that he was not feeling so comfortable. In fact, he admitted to me afterwards that he had never been so frightened in all his life…. we could see the lights of the pits quite a distance off and we approached them slowly. Chula asked me to stop the car, then he promptly jumped out, saying he could not stand the pace. He would rather watch from the firm ground.” One gets, too, fresh and unexpected pen-pictures of famous drivers: ” I just caught a glimpse of his (Nuvolari’s) hair, which was well plastered down with Anzora, or its equivalent, which one could buy in Italy. He was not old to look at, yet he had a sprinkle of grey hair an his temples. His chin was very prominent, and when one saw him in a racing car be looked like a determined dragon.” “It was funny to think that the first time I saw him (Charlie Martin) was at Eton, where he was three years my senior. I used to see him coming past the school library nearly every day and somehow he always managed to have more books under his arm than anybody else. Of course, I did not dare to speak to him then….” “Obviously he (Rudolf Caracciola) was a very shy person and with a slight limp, owing to a bad crash at Monaco one year, he looked almost pathetic, but I am sure this was not the case.”
“Bira” also gives his personal impression of many famous officials, and of Percy Bradley we learn that going to see him in his office at the Track was like an interview with the headmaster, until Bradley’s charming manner put the Prince quite at ease. Of Fred Cratier: “When I first met him he seemed rather abrupt and fierce, but after getting to know him I found that this was just his mannerism and it was due to a slight nervousness, which made him curt at times…. During a meeting one could usually pick out the Clerk of the Course at Donington by his cream-coloured loose jacket and he usually wore a pair of dark grey flannels. He spoke little, but when he spoke his voice was so piercing and strong that he could be heard from the other side of the track quite plainly.” Apart from these sketches of the more passive side of the game, there is plenty of action. Thus: “I remember completely soaking my blue overalls with sweat when I had a slight tendency to skid in a B.M.W.” “The morning of the race was not bright; in fact, it showed signs of being ‘sticky-wicky.’ … I had made up my mind that I would be content just to follow him (Mays) for a bit longer, but now there was a chance in a million for me to take the lead, so I patted ‘Romulus’ sides and told him that now he was actually in the lead!” “Prang-prang-prang-prang-five-four-three-two-one – the flag began to flicker and I had caught my peak revs.’ beautifully; I was off like a flash!” “Bira” certainly gets the spirit of the thing and his next effort might well be a motor-racing thriller for school boys. “Bits and Pieces” is well illustrated with a coloured frontis-piece and 33 excellent photographs, many of which were taken by “Bira” himself or by Chula and not previously published; ardent collectors of racing pictures may well buy this book on that count alone.