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Photograph by Eric Carlson

Notes From the Underbelly

A Scamp Experience

By Eric A. Carlson

"If you can see the hills--it's gonna rain; if you can't see 'em--it's already raining."

--Scottish saying

WHILE ON SPECIAL ASSIGNMENT IN SCOTLAND to research historic British motorcars for Metro, it struck me that an ancillary study of Scottish pubs might be opportune, the information gleaned possibly useful to San Jose tavern keepers and those interested in the culture of our pale, malt-swilling brothers and sisters dwelling in the land of misty lochs.

Carol, proprietor of the Clevedon Hotel in Cove, was giving me a hard time: "Now Eric, I know you're not a man of decision, so I'm gonna decide for ya. Yer havin' the sticky taffy puddin' for dessert." I was held in thrall to Blackpool Englanders--Carol and Ray and sundry other family members own and run the Cleveland Hotel--and I was the only guest for the length of my stay. There would be no low profiling into anonymity. After determining the family to be quite mad, and they in turn making the same reckoning about me, we got along famously. I spent every evening in the hotel pub--researching--and appreciating "from the inside out" the function of a pub as a neighborhood gathering spot. A fire around which to gather and gossip.

Recently, at Faz Restaurant & Bar, in Sunnyvale, I purchased a small, mediocre glass of red wine for $9 from a toplofty bartender who looked at me as if I was wearing bib overalls and had just arrived by cow. By comparison, an ample shot of Glavar at the Clevedon Hotel Pub is affordable at around two pounds, and is lovingly decanted by Suzanne of the soft Scottish brogue. Unlike the fancy Faz lad, she smiles and speaks.

Bloedy luvly. On Karaoke Night at the Clevedon, Blackpool Barrie--a boon companion--instructed me on the proper Lancaster delivery of "bloody lovely." A phrase that should crawl out of your mouth with sardonic contempt and at-rope's-end exasperation. Many in the pub took an interest in the project, seeking the perfect pitch and intonation, and we almost drowned out Phil Teese singing "Ruuuuby . . . don't take your love to town" in the adjoining karaoke room--almost.

But I was being paid good money to seek out odd British motor vehicles. And that I did. At the Argyll Motor Works Museum in Alexandria, Scotland, I hit pay dirt. There it stood--in diminutive splendor--the most ill-conceived electric motor vehicle in the history of mankind--the 1965 Scamp, all 3hp of it (credit Scottish Aviation). Only 12 were made, and it never went into production. Usually words can't describe something this horrible. Not so in this case. The following excerpts from a 1,000-mile test run say it all: "When running in wet conditions the driver's floor became flooded to a depth of one inch. Water was swilling under the saturated seat cushion. In all conditions the driver complained that his knee was being bruised by the door handle and that the safety harness persistently slipped off his shoulders."--"After the speedometer had stopped working, the controller cut in and out at random until the car stopped altogether with a burning smell."--"The steering suddenly became dangerously indefinite."--"The rear compartment door flew open and the spare wheel fell out."--"On more than one occasion, the driver found it necessary to take evasive action when suddenly seeing an animate or inanimate object on the road surface; the steering characteristics were such that he was unable to cope with the resultant behavior of the vehicle." I was privileged to see an actual Scamp, and touched it with awe--visions of FMC's Bradley Fighting Machine floating in my head.

Final note: Beautiful Jen and Blackpool Barrie pose for photo, in the warm confines of the Cleveland Hotel Pub.

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From the March 22-28, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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