I rounded off the Monday after the Missed Apex Live event by indulging in pizza and ice-cream having previously been on a panic diet for the karting. It was washed down with a cold lager on a boiling hot day, in the company of my friend and co-conspirator Matt Trumpets and my wonderfully supportive wife and kids, overlooking a choppy river Thames.
The hour journey to the Southbank to spend the day hanging out with a long-time online collaborator in the flesh away from the hustle and excitement of the previous weekend’s event was the correct decision. My body wanted me to spend the day on the sofa. My day job also loomed large. But I didn’t go to work or sit in a chair. Instead we packed up and headed for a day of touristy goodness. We looked at industrial off cuts in the Tate modern, rode a carousel, drank beer in a park, and even went on a boat. All this confirmed that Matt is exactly the person in real life that I had built a friendship with internationally online over the past 4 years. We disagree about many many things and we have a completely different approach to problems, but there’s a shared core set of values just under the surface which has always meant we could respectfully disagree.
Having met up with internet friends many times now there’s a familiar pattern. The awkwardness is usually one short exchange long before you settle down and realise it’s not really the first time you’re meeting. A lot of our online interactions are as real and significant as the interactions with people who happen to be physically near you. Online we seek out people who share common interests. In real life we hang out with whoever happens to have the same job as you or whose kids go to the same school. Every time I’ve met one of the panel, our online dynamic has clicked after the first few minutes. Matt was no different. This effect is now so common to me that I didn’t even realise that this was the first time I’d met quizmaster Chris ‘Catman’ Turner!!! I’ve spoken to Chris loads and messaged him a lot. My mind didn’t place that we’d never actually met. He’s given my wife advice on pet nutrition and medical care. He’s lent me equipment. It’s only in writing this that the fact we’ve never met has sunk in. I called him a W**&*r… in front of his mum after I beat him for the 2nd time. The point is, I felt very comfortable in his company and in my defence he wore his own gear to a rental kart event and didn’t win so...
On Friday night we settled in for several drinks that would have been worth the trip on it’s own. My Wife finally met all these people I talk about all the time and people flew in from Ireland, Sweden and the USA to join us. I had so much fun I forgot how nervous I was about the live recording. Until I woke up then suddenly I absolutely remembered. It’s an odd thing really I suppose as I am someone who puts myself out there so people (including my wife) assume I wouldn’t be nervous.
Sometime last year I finally broke my Karaoke duck. I’ve always been jealous of the people who can jump up and have fun singing a song. They give it everything. They are usually fine or surprisingly good but there is a kudos to having had the guts to get up and do it. My whole life I’ve bottled opportunities to do it. Lots of times I’ve mustered together a plan and intention only to allow the moment to drift. But last summer at a large garden party I finally did it. My wife is a singer and had been performing so we set up the karaoke on her PA and a laptop. I was stood there with the mic and the laptop. No one had jumped up so there was no tough act to follow. On this occasion I pounced. This was my Bungee jump, my skydive. I threw myself off the platform at last and it was glorious. I performed my version of Shakira’s “try everything” with some wonderful backing from my 5 year old. No one specifically said it but the general impression was that my version was actually better than Shakira could do.
The next day still glowing in my glory I said to my wife, “Hey come on aren’t you a little proud of me jumping up and doing a song”?
“No”, She said, confused. “ You’re always doing that sort of thing.
I’ve literally never done that sort of thing.
Yet my wife of 12 years assumes that I do. I must simply give off that impression. So to clear things up, I was absolutely bricking it before the live show. Having people listening at home feels cool but there is a temporal detachment. The live stream does give the show an energy but I can always turn that off if I want or switch the camera to the panel. This was 90 minutes of content to be delivered to a full room of people who had travelled to sit in a room for 90 minutes and listen to you. I desperately didn’t want to let them down. Also my Wife was seeing me in Spanners mode for the first time. I wanted her to be proud of me. As it turns out she thought it was all perfectly normal as I always do this kind of thing..
The pressure on the content is different as well. If a regular show turns out to be a bit more serious or technical than normal it doesn’t really matter as people are absorbing it while doing something else. At a live event there’s more an expectation that it will be fun and we have their full attention. Fun is harder. I’m not a comedian and never could be. I generally tell the guys to have fun and sometimes that will be funny. You can’t try to be funny. Well, certainly we can’t. So that was a source of nerves. Would people have fun? As it happened we did have fun in an organic sort of way but I’m a planner. An organiser. That element was out of my control.
The MAP team descended on the venue like a swarm of ants and set up a full 5 mic studio setup. We had 4 guys on the panel, 2 subject matter experts waiting to jump on, a quizmaster, one Thunderbeast with a mic talking to the audience, a sound guy, a cameraman and live stream operator, and even a live piano for bumpers. It was a real team effort. With all that crew and equipment we might have looked a bit daft if no one had turned up to watch. Instinctively I had felt like there was enough interest to have some people turn up but when we organised it I didn’t imagine that it would be standing room only towards the end of the show. I suppose the karting was a big factor in people turning up because karting is ace but they still had to turn up 4 hours early if they wanted to catch the pod. But I’m not going to give the karting all the credit though. The records books will show that we did a live show and the room was full.
I’d planned the show to be a buffet of what we do on the internet. We have a varied series of shows so I wanted to be able to showcase what we do. Matt and I argued and debated before handing off to Chris to lead some news stories which led to more debates. Then Brad brought up driver guest Alex Brundle to talk driving styles and Brundle showed us that he is just a delight to have on a panel by being warm, generous and fun. I then gave up my chair to one of the best blokes in motorsport, SomersF1. Somers and Trumpets talked tech for 20 minutes before being dismayed that I called time after their allotted and pre-agreed time had passed. They could have gone on for 6 hours. You guys owe me one. Then we risked calamity by having Chris ‘Catman’ Turner deliver one of his famously chaotic quizzes which was a rotten fix as you can clearly hear. All throughout we had The Thunderbeast monitoring the livestream chat room and handing the mic to audience members for comment. As the cherry on the cake I had my lovely wife watching on and playing some live bumpers for us. Later she would wow us with some piano and vocal entertainment but for now she was seeing me in an environment I had only told her about. She trusted me when I said Missed Apex was a real and cool thing but on this day she got to see for herself. It wasn’t so much that she was impressed by me. It was more that she was impressed by people telling her how much they enjoyed what we did and how much they loved the online community around the show. I wrapped up the show and sent everyone off to get a coffee and some food. The room emptied and I realised that I’d just played out a dream. I’d invited people to come to watch us live and they came and it was fine.
But it wasn’t over as far as nerves go. I still had 2 major nerves related challenges to overcome before the karting took over. The first one was meeting the guests that I’d invited that I admired from other media outlets. Meeting the people from the other podcasts was a thrill. I was delighted that they had agreed to come. The NRF1 boys were warm and came to win, The ForF1Sake crew were just as funny in real life. Jack Nicholls is from the real radio and someone who I’m a genuine fan of so I was nervous to meet him. I sensed from his two Missed Apex appearances that there would be no celebrity airs and graces in person and this proved to be correct. Jack was very easy to hang around with and I’m pleased we had a chance later in the evening to sit and chat F1 and podcasting.
The second hurdle was addressing the troops. As the host of the event I wanted to talk to everyone before the safety brief. I wanted to set the scene and point out the podcast wars teams and the other teams that had assembled. 48 karters and 11 teams were gathered for 12 races and I wanted to get people pumped for the event that was about to happen. I planned a few things to say and they seemed to go down well. The first 2 times I’d done this at karting events it was half-hearted and poorly thought out. This time I wanted to grasp it and make it a proper intro. This was very different to the live recording. This was just me in front of 50 people setting the scene and thanking them for accepting my invite.
But that was all the hard work done. From here on in the karting would do the work for me. The team moved the PA outside and set up for commentary. The registering and karting admin was handled by Hannah who set up as our karting mum and Chris Stevens led a team of Ryan Ferris and Catman to provide commentary throughout the event. Alex Brundle even provided comms for a race. Once we all got over the uncanny valley of his eerily familiar voice it was a lot of fun.
As for the karting itself it was frankly the best karting experience of my life. Every other event I’ve done we’ve gone for a straight endurance format. You jump in, have a few laps of battles then settle into an F1 style procession mostly on your own for 40 mins. This time I took the ambitious step of organising a sprint format. I suspected that having 4 separate races would be way more fun. Firstly, I thought that having 4 grid starts would mean more of your time was spent wheel to wheel. For me at least this worked out. I don’t think I was alone on track at any point. The second thing was that in-between races everyone had a chance to talk to each other and hang out. People talked about the battles that had come and how they could improve. I gave everyone a bib with their names on so that people could instantly tell who they were racing with. You’d think that 5 hours of an event would be a bit much but no one gave me that impression. I asked everyone if they’d choose this format again and everyone said they preferred it over a straight up 50 mins on track.
Somewhere deep down in my deluded soul a part of me truly believes that I was destined to be an F1 star. If it wasn’t for all those kids with more money…. And skill and talent then I’d have been a GP star for sure. My heroes as a kid were Peter Shilton, Graham Gooch but most of all Nigel Mansell. In reality I can count my outdoor karting experiences on my fingers without removing my socks. My target was to make the A final and finish in the top 16. In the end I finished 6th which felt awesome. I beat some fast guys who didn’t keep it pointing forwards and I held off a fast NRF1 Callum before setting off to catch the 4th and 5th place guys.
The event was won by Bradley Philpot who looked like he was on rails. On a wide open track no one was able to hold him back. To Brad’s credit he had spent all weekend giving people advice on how to go faster. Having had a couple of personal karting lessons from Brad I’m trying to convince him that he should provide premium 1 on 1 karting tuition. If you want to improve how you drive in a kart then paying Brad to watch you and advise you is priceless.
Tim Hughes from Jam Kart Racing Finished 2nd with some devastatingly fast laps making the journey from the southwest worthwhile. The podium was rounded off by the very fast Craig McAllister who recovered well after being taken out by the evil and untrustworthy Stephen Williams. Colin Jones finished just outside the top 3 and held off a charging Jack Nicholls who was desperate to steal 4th place and tried every angle to get past. I had a box seat to this battle. Both Jack and Colin were individually faster than me but I was able to stay in touch due to their battle slowing them down. I was unable to fully take advantage as I seemingly (and I quote Brad), “Lack basic racecraft”.
This observation is entirely fair.
Absolutely Exhausted we gathered in the bar to award the prizes. Most of the grid hung around for a drink as Matt Trumpets and Mrs Spanners fired up the Trumpet, piano and voice with the odd contribution from webmaster Felix. I looked around and had time to soak up the atmosphere of 50 tired excited people enjoying a drink and failing to come down off the high of an afternoon of racing. Drinks were had, pictures were taken and people drifted away. By 8pm we were down to a merry couple of dozen and the token Irishman broke out some fine hard liquor as the music continued to jam in the background. Surrounded by friends and the best online community ever I sank into a merry stupor completely satisfied by how the plan had come together.
I gather that at some point we went back to the hotel. Only a dirty dozen remained. There was more drink and a £9 sandwich. We laughed and swapped war stories and people staggered to rooms, were ferried to nearby hotels and fell asleep in chairs. Nicer company I couldn’t have wished for.
And then sometime close to 2am there were just three. My wife went to bed and left Matt and I to sip a final neat something in the hotel lobby. We toasted past successes and an event gone as planned but mostly we discussed the way of things and hatched the rough outline of a plan for world domination.
Sunday was for the Wife. We nursed hangovers in the spa and ate a leisurely breakfast before heading home and sluggishly embracing the children. Monday was a family day in London to do touristy things. We couldn’t not invite Matt to join us as all four of us were dying to hang out with Matt away from the manic environment of the weekend’s event. We went on a boat and had beers in the sun…wait I did this bit already. You get the idea.