It was off to North Norfolk last weekend for two nights in a quaint old cottage in the quiet little village of Docking. However, our first port of call was Sandringham, the Queen’s country house and estate. When we arrived, it was raining so we did something very British. All five of us (wife, daughter, son, son’s girlfriend and me) sat in the car to eat our picnic. While munching our sausage rolls, cold pizza, chicken and pasta salad, my daughter let on to the others that Dad (on my last return from Le Mans), had bought a cup of tea in one service station then driven to another service station to drink it. For some reason, everyone thought this was hysterically funny. I think we were overcome by cabin fever. Tip: if you buy a cup of tea at Thurrock Services on the M25 and find it has been superheated to 200°C, then drive to South Mimms and drink it; by that time the tea will be a drinkable (assuming you are driving anti-clockwise round the M25 otherwise it will be stone cold). This saves time and is much safer than drinking scalding tea whilst driving.
By the time the hilarity had died down and we had finished scattering cold food over ourselves and the car’s interior, the rain had stopped. So, we did another very British thing and headed straight to the Sandringham estate café for ….. a cup of tea (I suggested buying the tea there and driving to nearby Castle Rising to drink it but was out-voted).
Eventually, we handed over some hard-earned and entered the gardens, museum and house – seventeen years on from our last visit of which our kids have no memory as they were only about 2 and 4 years old at the time. The gardens are immaculately kept (as you would expect) with well trimmed expanses of grass, many beautiful trees and the odd statue and lake here and there. If you don’t fancy parting with any cash, then 240 hectares of the Queen’s private estate have been designated a Country Park and you are free to explore its nature trails, woodland paths, sculpture trail, adventure playground (remember to take an adult with you) and visitor centre with its shop, restaurant/café and all-important toilets. There are also campsites on the estate should you have a tent, caravan or yurt to hand.
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Sandringham Gardens
The house itself was built in 1870 by the then Prince and Princess of Wales, (later Edward VII and Queen Alexandra) as their country retreat. We have visited many stately homes and, to be honest, the interiors get to look a bit samey (impressive but samey). Sandringham is a bit different because it is still a real home for the Royal Family and this is obvious from the pictures and photos dotted around the place. The knowledgeable and friendly staff in each room also promote this feeling with little insights into Royal life at Sandringham. For example, showing us where the Christmas tree is placed every year and where the family gather to open presents. Like other stately homes, it is grand but not excessively ornate or opulent and even has a certain informal feel to it.
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Sandringham House
The tour of the house only affords access to the ground floor and the main living, reception and dining rooms. A tour of upstairs and the bedrooms would be too intimate – after all, no-one wants to see Royal underwear scattered on the floor and dirty coffee cups lying around.
After the house, we went to the museum in the old coach house and stable block which over the years have also been used as a police post, fire brigade station, carving school(?! that’s explained in the museum) and Royal garages. On show are various gifts given to the Royal Family over the years from around the world but the larger part of the museum is given over to a collection of Royal cars, including some interesting child-sized ones! One of these is a miniature replica of the James Bond DB5 built by Aston Martin engineers in about 1965 for the young Prince Andrew. It sports concealed dummy machine guns, a bulletproof shield which could rise out of the boot, electrically operated water jets in the rear light reflectors, a smoke discharger and more!
There were too many cars too feature here but here is a selection….
Prince Andrew’s Aston Martin DB5. Battery-powered, 10mph and gadgets.
Prince Charles’s toy – does 40mph! Confusingly, the blurb said it was electric powered but went on to say it had a 2-stroke engine. An early hybrid?!
King George V’s 1929 Daimler Double-Six 30 Brougham
R-R Phantom
Very regal. 1961 Rolls-Royce Phantom V used until 2002 for state and official occasions.
Ford Pilot
1951 Ford V8 Pilot Shooting Brake (“Woody”) ordered by King George VI just a year before he died. The bespoke trailer was for picnics.
The Queen Mum’s racing buggy. She qualified on the back row of the grid for the 1972 British Grand Prix (it was wet and she happened to be on the right tyres). In the race itself, she only lasted two laps before the battery ran out, having been lapped twenty-three times.


Fancy a Triumph TR2 for £425, a Lotus Elan S2 for £450 or a Supercar for £90? Is there a catch? Well, yes a small one. The small catch is, they are very small. And with the Supercar, its small and a fake!

A couple of weekends ago, my wife and I went to a toy collectors fair at the NEC in Birmingham. We are not toy collectors and have no serious interest other than being big kids and liking a bit of childhood nostalgia. It was a wonderful opportunity to say repeatedly “I used to have one of those” or “I always wanted one of those but only ever got a satsuma and a lump of coal for Christmas”. The latter was said more often than the former (maybe without the bit about satsumas and coal) but it was toy nostalgia heaven. Model railways, Airfix kits, Star Wars toys, the whole gamut of Gerry Anderson related toys (Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, Stingray etc), Lego, Action Man, tin toys, boxed games and plenty of random stuff. However, the biggest category by far was diecast model cars. Thousands upon thousands of them.

Some of the prices were staggering – generally inversely proportional to their size. Take the Lotus Elan for £450. Apparently, the average weight of a small matchbox-sized toy car is 35g. If real Lotus Elan S2s were sold by weight at the same rate (i.e. £450 per 35g) they would cost around £8.8 million. Ultimate proof for your sceptical spouse that, pound for pound, a real classic car is an absolute must-have bargain compared to a toy car. The Supercar I referred to is an early Gerry Anderson TV creation. The model and box in the photo below are both reproductions and were selling for £90. The stallholder said that a genuine boxed original would go for about £500.

Supercar piloted by Mike Mercury. Thirty nine episodes of Supercar were made between 1961 and 1962. Slightly before my time.
Here are a few more highlights and photos:-

Most Expensive (that I noticed!): This was a model car but not as glamorous as those mentioned above. It was a very small Corgi Ford Zephyr Motorway Patrol Car going for £495. I strongly suspect there were far more expensive things at the fair. You could pay extra to get in early and the big ticket items were probably snapped up by serious collectors before the hoi polloi like us arrived. We saw one bloke walking back to the car park before normal opening time with a massive Millennium Falcon under his arm.

£495 Ford Zephyr extreme left. £450 Lotus Elan S2 fifth from left in white.
Personal Nostalgia Trip: As a kid, Lego and Airfix kits occupied most of my time spent indoors. Lego back then consisted of standard bricks and you designed your own models. To younger readers that may sound strange. I only saw one stall at the fair selling old boxes of those standard bricks together with an old electric motor set (a big blue block that you could plug four wheels into) which I also had. Did anyone else frequently try building the biggest tower possible with all their bricks? Move on a few years and I became addicted to Airfix model kits – mainly World War II aircraft. I built loads. As well as building the models, I love the artwork on the boxes. Many new Airfix kits sold today still use the artwork from donkeys years ago but with gun flashes and explosions air brushed out. Bit pathetic. The really nostalgic bit for me was seeing the old series 1 Airfix kits (the smallest and easiest) which were sold in clear plastic bags stapled shut at the top with the folded instructions. I used to buy those for 19p each. No, I am not quite old enough to have paid in old money.

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Real Lego. Electric motor kit is top right.


Airfix kits … wanted to buy them all. Except the Heinkel H177 Greif because I’ve still got one in its box, part built in the attic.
Most Unexpected. Reproduction boxes for model cars appear to be big business! Never knew that before. There were at least two large stalls selling them. To be honest, you could tell the difference. The artwork is scanned from an original so it has a sort of photocopied look close up. A reproduction box complete with inner cardboard structure for a Dinky Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle cost £19. Just so you know.

This was part of a huge display of reproduction boxes. Loads of films and TV series represented here – even The Herbs!! See how many you remember.
Most Bizarre/Random: This is a tie between a boxed Jerry Garcia action figure and a Paint Your Own Dalek set. No hang, the Jerry Garcia figure wins. At least there is something obvious to do with two small white plaster Daleks and collection of paints. But a Jerry Garcia action figure? (In case you’re not aware he was the leader of American rock group, The Grateful Dead. And yes, Ben and Jerry’s borrowed most of his name for their popular Cherry Garcia flavour). So could you get a whole series of rock legend action figures? Maybe you could combine them to make your own super group. Buy Jimmy Page as well and you could have Led Dead (or Grateful Zeppelin).

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No photo of Jerry Garcia I’m afraid but here’s a brilliant Stingray toy. Stingray: “Anything can happen in the next half hour”. Except Aqua Marina singing “Oh I do like to be beside the seaside”.

Rarest: Children.  It was a toy fair and there were no children. Well, maybe one or two who were there under sufferance or to humour their sad parents.

Only big kids like us at the fair.
So, the big question you are all dying to ask! Was I tempted into buying anything? Well I would love to have bought loads of old Airfix kits just to look at the boxes. But of course I wasn’t allowed (and, I admit, space-wise it would be a bit impractical). So, as a compromise, I bought a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle featuring a display of Airfix kits of different eras for a modest £3. Normally, the only time we do jigsaw puzzles is when we stay in a holiday cottage and it’s raining (so we have done quite a few over the years). Holiday cottages in the UK invariably have a selection of old 999 piece puzzles (one piece is always missing) – usually of Polperro or Mousehole, even if you’re on holiday in Scotland. That evening, we started the Airfix puzzle about fifteen minutes before we were going to watch something on telly. About an hour later, we were repeating at regular intervals: “We really should stop now…”. Addictive!

Airfix Through The Ages – my modest purchase.