I’ve rarely, if ever, felt so guilty for accepting an invitation. As my Twitter timeline became awash with AUTOtweetUP hashtags, I was also finding a steady stream of emails, Direct Messages and enquiring tweets from people asking what it was and what had I done to get invited. When some of those people asking are established and respected motoring writers, I did begin to wonder if I’d been invited erroneously.
However, an invite I had and as I’m still barely one rung off the ground on the ladder of automotive writing, I intended to make the most of the opportunity.
The first I knew of the #AUTOtweetUP was about a month ago when I was approached via Twitter (where else but there, these days, do us cool kids hang out?) by a friendly person at Auto Trader to see if I’d be interested in attending an event they were running. Of course I would! The instruction was that I’d be emailed with an invite a few days later and sure enough, one evening my inbox pinged with an RSVP request.
Have you ever had that sensation where you answer a question too quickly and look overly keen when you’re trying to play it cool, or pretend to be ambivalent? Well, that was me with my reply. The danger of being able to check emails on your phone is the ease of which a quick reply can be mustered, so mid-meal, still chomping on what was in my mouth, I ferociously thumbed out a reply on my iPhone in record time, confirming my attendance. A few days later, confirmation of my place arrived. Despite being in a lesson at the time, I did let out a whoop of excitement, much to the chagrin of my Sixth Formers who are used to a conservative and expressionless demeanour from me when I’m expecting work out of them.
Much of the intervening weeks was spent trying to ascertain a few of the other names who were going and with each one a swelling tide of bewilderment washed over me. These were all people I followed due to them being in the industry working hard for manufacturers’ PR or were established writers and bloggers. I looked to these guys for inspiration and so that I might strive to enjoy something of the success that they have experienced.
Combining this with the understanding that I’m actually terribly shy (not a flaw in my personality that comes across online, granted) I knew I was going to have to overcome personal awkwardness if I was to get anything positive out of the evening.
The day of the #AUTOtweetUP arrived and an email confirming the venue and timings was a welcome mid-morning distraction. I’d booked myself the afternoon off work to avoid a rush trying to get to Newark Northgate station, which worked well. So well in fact, I was sat on the platform for half an hour before there was even a sniff of my train.
I’ve always prided myself on adapting to new technology and being reasonably savvy with most user interfaces on machinery that fills our daily lives. But automatic ticket machines, which I’m sure must be straightforward and simple, really stump me. The two at Newark station clearly knew I was coming and had decided to play on my fears. The first one I tried had a defective touch screen. Even pressing my extended index finger against the plastic so hard my fingertip went white produced no joy. Its companion had another trick. This one did work but I could only tell it worked by virtue of beeps that accompanied my touches. The screen itself was nigh on impossible to read as the brightness setting had been tampered with. Eventually, fearing a queue of disgruntled ticket machine experts chuntering behind me, I decided to see what would happen if I put my card into the slot. Seconds later and it started spitting out the tickets I’d bought online. I felt pleased with myself but the joy was short-lived when I remembered I’d be faced with a similar situation on the Tube.
On the journey to London I’d reminded myself of a line from Alan Henry in a mid-90s edition of Autocar where Damon Hill, during his time at Williams, had been likened by some as a tea-boy who’d somehow found himself in the executive dining room. It was an analogy I could easily relate to this evening.
The train journey itself was unremarkable in its dullness and the pouring out of passengers at King’s Cross seemed remarkably efficient as everyone paraded forwards to the main internal screen viewing area. There was nothing on the big telly I wanted to watch (just train times) so I grabbed a quick bite to eat and people watched for 10 minutes.
Most intriguing was a stall outside offering free samples of cigarettes which were advertised as having the benefit of no staining on teeth or fingers. I guess lung cancer and associated illnesses are secondary issues compared to the sheer personal trauma that are browny-yellow fingers and teeth. (I come across rather holier than thou there – suffice to say I eat and drink too much, so treat it as an observation rather than a prissy judgement from a do-gooder). No, more of interest was the guy’s sales, erm, technique I suppose you’d call it. Jangling all his gold finery (yes, this is 100% genuine 9 carat (plated)) he’d approach people with the engaging line of “Excuse me sir/madam, you look like a smoker(?)” Was he able to spot their fingers and teeth for tell-tale stains at 100 paces? Or was there some other sign? Looking somewhat haggered, I feared I might be next but as I walked by I decided to stage a bubonicesque coughing fit (if you’re that old lady that looked at me all worried, I was fine, honestly, but thanks for your concern) until I ventured downwards into the subterranean world.
I’m sure Londoners who have to use the Tube day in day out detest it when visitors bang on about how great the Underground is, but I have to say, I think the Underground’s great in London. Brimming with confidence, I strode towards the machine, tapped in details and slotted in my card and hey presto, out it popped – a Zone 1 Return and I’d managed it all by myself. At 35 such things shouldn’t give me so much joy, but it did. As did being able to use my iPhone app to see which line and stations I’d need to visit to get to Covent Garden, where the event was happening.
I’ve been to Covent Garden a few times and feeling its buzz and busyness is something I never tire of. There’s a genuine vitality in the air, helped on this day by the fine, sunny weather. Using the Google Map feature on my phone, I negotiated my way to The Hospital Club, the venue of the get together, trying to look infinitely cooler than I was, hoping people might think I was someone important who just had to check my emails/tweets as I walked. I doubt I convinced anyone, especially as I went past the building twice without realising what it was.
By the way, if you’ve never been to The Hospital Club in Covent Garden and you get an opportunity to attend an event there, then do so. Excellent facility with brilliant staff.
The #AUTOtweetUP was on the top floor, the Games Room of the club although having arrived fashionably 32 minutes early, I was asked to sit in the reception area where photographs of Johnny Rotten and Sharon Osbourne looked over my shoulders to see what I was tweeting about. Which was mainly “where is everyone else?” After what didn’t feel like too long a wait, someone hollered over the growing throng of patrons that those there for the tweetUP could now go up in the lift. And so the putting names, voices, faces and personalities to Twitter handles began as I was one of an initial quartet going skywards.
Within minutes of entering the room itself, saying our hellos to the hosts and grabbing the first of many drinks at the (free) bar, fellow tweeters arrived. It’s a strange experience, meeting people in the flesh who you feel you know well from online chats, but such is the way of the world these days so why not embrace it? It did feel a little like a speed dating exercise where cars formed the basis of every chat but it was also a pleasure to discover everyone was even more engaging than they appear online.
It was also very positive to hear positive comments about this website, the Banger Does Britain drive and about the first of my books. Humbling too that people take the time to read through it and seem genuinely interested. But equally, it was a great opportunity to meet others and tell them how much I admired their work. Hopefully without coming across like a star-struck fanboy as I undoubtedly was when I got to say ‘hello’ to Jenson Button at last year’s Autosoport Show.
The evening progressed well, shyness was banished (for that night at least), miniature food, that almost looked too cute to eat, was devoured, and both drink and chat flowed. I even managed to lose at table football as spectacularly as I tend to on the rare occasion I try the game for real.
Auto Trader’s staff proved to be fine hosts and showed us all their latest TV advert which you can also watch here, promoting their new car choosing facility.
Similarly, a very slick Auto Trader iPad app was also showcased, providing a great way of browsing through cars, akin to that of the magazine itself but with infinite flexibility through its ease of use. Just need to get myself an iPad to play with it on now, seeing as I didn’t win the one that was being given away that night.
11pm approached and I’d managed to catch almost everyone who was there, making useful contacts and finding out much more about others’ experiences in the world of motoring writing and multi-platform approaches. But I had to get back to King’s Cross for my 11:30pm train – a feat I eventually managed with a minute to spare.
Goody bag collected (contents below), hands shook and friendships fostered, I left starting to feel part (albeit a small one) of this motoring fraternity.
If you tweet and you’d like to get to know others involved in the #AUTOtweetUP, then follow:
Auto Trader, Lem Bingley, Sam Burnett, Ed Callow, Clare Carney, Gareth Dean, Phil Feather, Alex Goy, Adrian Higgins, CJ Hubbard, Tim Hutton, Ian MacDonald, @MajorGav, Rob Montrose, Mike Orford, Chris Pollitt, Jon Quirk, Owen Ready, Tom Webster and @zuffle