James Whitham Column - Dec 2007

The horror loos of Vallelunga

James recollects the horror loos of Vallelunga, and what it really takes to be a racing privateer with a Transit van and a willing mate...

Just got back from Vallelunga. This sinewy little circuit just north of Rome hosted Round 12 of the WSB series and I was out there doing my commentary bit with Jack Burnicle for Eurosport. Jack and I were having a poke round paddock “Z” (only the big teams get a garage) when we came across a bloke called Adam Jenkinson, a British superstock rider. Mancunian Adam had managed to get an entry in the European Superstock race. His entry had only been confirmed on the Monday, which meant he and his mate Sean had driven the 1,500 miles pretty much non-stop to sign on and put his GSX-R 1000 through technical inspection.

This to me was the essence of racing as a privateer.All they had was a Transit van, a tent, a race bike and two dozen tins of Heinz ‘Big Soup’. And you know what? They looked to be enjoying every minute of it. There was however, in Jacks opinion, given their diet, some danger of them developing scurvy before the weekend was out, so we took pity on them and brought them some fresh food the next day.

Looking at their set-up and listening to their tales of the trip down took me back over 20 years (dear God!) to a time I’d done the same thing.

It was 1986. In March of that year me and a couple of mates drove down to Vallelunga in a Merc van to contest the first round of that season’s 125cc European championship aboard my twin cylinder MBA. How the hell we even got there was a miracle. We set off without thinking about it at all, equipped only with an AA map of Europe, some Rich Tea biscuits and 400 quid’s worth of travellers’ cheques in my back pocket. By the time we got to the Italian side of the Mont Blanc tunnel the ferry ticket and road tolls in France had ravaged our meager resources. By Milan all the dosh, and the biscuits had run out and we’d resorted to ‘service station foraging’ (stealing diesel out of trucks) to keep the van going. We arrived at the track looking like a load of new age travellers and smelling like a damp sheep-dog.

But the bike ran like a dream all weekend, I clicked with the track and by some act of God I managed to finish fourth in the race winning enough prize money to get us back up the road to the next round of the championship in Belgium the following week.
This was my first trip outside the UK and several things were a shock to me. Having to pay to drive on a motorway, how far away Italy was, and how much fuel a Merc 407 used even though it would only do 55mph. But the biggest eye-opener of them all were the toilets in the Vallelunga paddock. Lord knows you take your dignity in your hands when you do your ablutions at any race circuit, but these took unhygienic to another level.
Instead of having a toilet that you sit on in the usual manner, the Italian latrines were equipped only with a pair of tiles that are shaped like footprints, with a hole in the floor nestling between the two. There were no instructions posted but it seemed fairly obvious the idea was to lower your trousers and squat down with your feet on the tiles. The problem with this technique (as I discovered) was that as you lower your pants, whatever you have in your pockets, in my case a wallet containing all the aforementioned prize money, has a tendency to fall straight down the aforementioned hole. I managed to get my hand down and grab it before it went round the U-bend, but I’ve never trusted the contraptions since.

When I eventually got home and told my dad about our adventures he said the Italian bogs sounded a good idea. At that time he ran a business and employed several staff, the squat-down loos would put a stop to “the bastards” disappearing in there to read the paper for an hour and a half every morning ! Bit Victorian in his attitudes towards his employees, was me Dad.

Oh, and regarding the giant rabbit. No wonder it was big and didn’t move a lot. It’s had five babies, all doing well. If you want one or fancy making yourself a Davey Crockett hat, write to the mag.

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