“It’s a show car,” says Nessie. His Scottish accent is so strong I hear “short car.” A what car? “A show car,” he repeats with emphasis. “It’d be stupid to bring a real one to an event like this. First reason is weight. This is just a load of carbon fibres. There’s no engine. There’s no anything. Even the wheels. They’re the heaviest bit but they’re not polymerised like they would be on a working car. They’re just basic. They look the same but they’re no use – they’d burst. Second reason is damage. Someone gets drunk, tries to get in, damages a mirror – that’s only about 300 euro and quick to replace. They damage a real mirror on a model like this, first of all Ferrari have to go into the archive, that’s three months. Then they get back to you and it’s 3,000 euro.”
Nessie clearly speaks from experience. He and Stu are changing the show wheels on the show car in a concrete sun trap. I know his name isn’t Nessie, but clearly he enjoys being the Scotsman abroad as it’s how he introduces himself. “It’s because I’m hard to find.” Stu is ex army, and the butt of all his jokes. He immediately decides to call me “Big Al,” which I suppose makes sense as I’m, notionally, a trucker.
We are in the National Museum of Science and Industry. There’s a submarine through the window, and next to it a 1959 fighter jet. There is also a human cannonball cannon, which looks absolutely lethal. I’m fascinated and terrified by it. How do you shoot someone out of a cannon without breaking their legs? I never want to find out in practice. It must be a combination of technology and technique. The thing is covered in filth and what looks like it might be crusted dried blood from someone’s exploding kneecap.
My little area is in an aircraft hangar that has been meticulously cleaned and painted and evidently plays host to numerous conferences on this scale. Right now there are lots of people walking busily back and forth in Shell uniforms. Some of them are tweaking projections of oil drops on the walls. Others are interviewing people in corners with TV cameras. “How has Shell changed since you’ve worked for them?”
I did a show about the oil industry in Nigeria some years ago. Speaking to people as part of my research I came across the phrase “Shell build shells.” I was told that, in exchange for oil pipelines they promise to build schools. They do build them. But they don’t staff them. So they sit there empty. It’s a curious thing now to be employed by Shell after some of the things I’ve heard. I’m going to have to spend the money well. I recently refused to audition for an advert for The Sun. But protest as I might, clearly I’m a gun for hire right now. Roll on that gig that means I can be more choosy. I’m blissfully happy in this company though. These vast monoliths – they employ lots of lovely humans.
I’ll be up in a few minutes. “It gives me great comfort to know that Shell Rimula Heavy Duty Diesel Engine Oil is tested to the highest standards on vehicles like my truck.” Tough gig… Nessie has found out where the free food is and he’s making it his business to disseminate the information. You can take the man out of Scotland… I’m immediately fond of him. Ack here they come. Work time.
I now know a great deal more than I ever thought I’d know about viscosity and fuel efficiency. I have watched a man called Frank passionately expound the fine details of real world engine oil testing. You pick up some strange little nuggets of learning in this job. Tomorrow I might be standing on a Jeep in Como. Let’s see…