With cars, as with motherhood, I was a late starter!
November has long been a month of significant happenings for me: In 1977, I finally surrendered my maidenhead in that month; twenty years on, to the day, I hatched my beloved son – and, in between those two dates, on November 15th 1988, I managed, after two failures, to pass my Driving Test.
Now, back a bit…
In January 1976, when I turned eighteen, my parents gave me driving lessons as a birthday present. At the time, we had a Renault Four (0r, ‘Biscuit Tin on Wheels’, as my father referred to it) and so, after my tuition with a somewhat over-familiar male instructor, I would have to undergo Trial by Irascible Parent – and, to be fair, they had to draw lots to see who would have to go through Trial by Inept Daughter.
Ghastly, the whole thing. Some people take to driving naturally and quickly. I was not of their number. For me, the whole thing was all too reminiscent of Maths lessons at school: I did not understand what I was being told and, as one of Nature’s Clumsy Buggers, struggled mightily with the physical demands of the simple gear change, at which I was cretinous.
I really came into my cack-handed own, however, when it came to reversing round corners – and still wake up screaming at the memory of the many kerb-mounting, near misses I perpetrated.
I took my test twice that year – hoping to be all wheeled-up before I went to university. Not a bloody chance, frankly! I failed both times – basically because I was not safe to be on the road.
And there things rested for another twelve years. At university, I couldn’t afford to drive – and my boyfriend had a car anyway, so there was no need for me to try again.
To be honest, my confidence was so low that I kept putting the whole thing off. Year after year went by and driving was put on the back burner, became part of my ‘One Day…’ list.
Then, on September 1st 1988, I was attacked. Loathsome though the whole experience was, I do have one thing to thank my unknown assailant for: He gave me the impetus I needed to contact a driving instructor and get back behind the wheel…at the age of thirty!
I booked a short course of lessons – ten? can’t now remember the exact number – and, with grim determination, started afresh. This time, I had no one to practise with – and so my only forays onto the highways and byways of the South West’s transport system came during my once-weekly lessons.
So determined was I that I even bought a car before taking the test: A lovely pale blue Renault Five (picture above – not my car, but one very like it). For a couple of weeks, it sat on the drive outside my flat – because, of course, I couldn’t drive it on the road – and, from time to time, I’d get into it and turn on the ignition and pretend I was driving!
The day came. I was so nervous that I actually shook. I am sure I made several mistakes – but, Oh glory, Oh wonder, I passed! God, that was so exciting!
My instructor drove me home – and, trembling with joy and excitement, I put my school things – and Jake, the border collie before Jumble – in back and boot respectively (it being a school day, I’d taken the morning off for my test and needed to go back in and teach in the afternoon) and turned the ignition, slipped into reverse and, for the first time in my life, was alone in a car and ready to rev and rock and roll.
As I drove down the track and onto the main road, my heart was beating very fast and I was so happy I was singing and almost crying with the pleasure of it all.
I felt so proud as I drove along in MY car. It felt like such a massive achievement!
I adored that Renault Five – and we had many adventures together: A month after passing my test, my car and I drove the five hour journey to Cambridge (to visit one of my siblings), a scary motorway marathon which included a couple of millennia on the infamous M.25!
It represented liberation – from fear, from walking everywhere, from depending upon others for lifts – and I came to love driving, even, in those far-off days, handling motorways with barely a qualm.
Sad to relate, I crashed the renault a couple of years later. No one was injured seriously, but the car was destroyed. I was devastated.
Since then, I have had many cars – but, with the exception of my beloved Polo (the car I have at present), none of them have been a patch on that first car, that lovely sky-blue Renault Five.