I learned to drive on a field with my mother.
My dad, being a bit traditional, would have taken it but he had died a few years ago. I wonder what he would have been like, would he have made me race? Most probably. The thing is, because of his age, he never even took a test. My dad would have brought out the tomboy in me. (His sister, my aunt, became a rally driver), maybe that would have happened to me. I do like that outward bound type of stuff, mud and all. I suppose now I get that from mountain biking. Ah, maybe it was just as well I had my mother teaching me, though sometimes it got a bit frayed but she gave me lots of encouragement.
I remember using her dark green Austin Maestro (whatever happened to them>). They were so wide, parking was a nightmare.
I actually enjoyed driving on the fields, with nobody around and it was all quite bumpy because of the mole hills. Other people I knew were using airfields and the one they used was at West Malling. I thought that was pretty cool. Farm fields just weren’t ‘de rigour’, even now, they don’t seem to be cool. I don’t know why, I think they are now. It is a lot more fun than driving in surburbia.
Then we practiced driving to my college and back. I was pleased that I managed to get plenty of practice in. My mother always thought ‘it was a good thing for me to drive’, which is ironic because she always used to believe women should be women and be at the kitchen sink all the time. In the 60s, she still had a 50s attitude. I suppose driving a car was as progressive as she ever got. I now think it probably was because she liked to be chauffeured – she liked her ‘importance’, maybe it gave her status which she never seemed had.
It took me a whole year to pass my test, mainly because I had so many problems with the driving instructors. One of them was sacked ‘as he stole the money’ and the other had an affair with a student and left sharpish. Then I had a woman, which was a bit of a novelty and cool, who was very nice and easy to talk to. It started to become the norm that my instructors wouldn’t hang around. I was pleased that ‘it wasn’t because of me though’.
It took a while for us to get another driving instructor which caused delays. And also with a new driving instructor, I had to ‘start over again’ as they didn’t know what I was like. It was a bit annoying but it was ‘one of those things’. Having had several driving instructors – three in one year, you do learn different things from each one so I did benefit in the end. Just learning from one person isn’t particularly effective. One of them just spent most of the time looking out the window in deep thought, probably thinking about his other female student. He hardly taught me anything. The woman instructor I have to say was the best.
One the major things I learned from the driving instructor ‘who had an affair’, was ‘never to assume’. Just because a driver ‘flashes’ you to go on, it doesn’t meant of the junction, we could have been hit. This is something I use ‘in my bike life’ to this day, and I never assume that if a driver is signalling right, it means that he will. And never assume that kids and old ladies won’t appear from ‘nowhere’, they do. Never assume! Oh and every driver is an idiot. That’s another useful thing I learned. I use that motto every day.
I took my Driving Test on my 18th birthday. Others were having parties I was being watched like a hawk.
I took it in Sevenoaks ‘because it appeared to have a better pass rate’ and the road was easier. Most people failed in Tunbridge Wells.
I had a rather dour driving examiner – about 55-year-old but he looked 70. We trundled along through Sevenoaks, round the surburban roads until he said ‘go left’, but I couldn’t hear what he said so I went straight on and that was the road I had not used at all! I was in no mans land! I thought I would have been failed because I didn’t hear him.
Then I started going slow – I suppose it was because ‘I didn’t know the road’ but he told me to go faster and I did. He wanted to see if I was losing confidence but he realised I had the confidence but was just being ultra careful. I think also because when you are being watched you go slower anyway!
Anyway at the end he filled in the paperwork and was all quiet. Then he noticed my birthday was on the same day. Yep, I said I was 18 (That’s it, go an spoil it for me).
He passed me on my first attempt which was a thrill but I will never know whether he passed me because it was my 18th birthday and he had a bit of soft touch. I promptly had an accident the very next day about ten minutes away from the centre which I am not very proud about.
Afterwards we had a celebratory 18th birthday/passing driving test meal in an Indian restaurant. I particularly wanted to pass first time because I wanted to shock my younger brother as he was always putting me down because I ‘was a girl’.
From the Express newspaper, other people’s driving test experience:
Simon Weston (Falklands hero)
“When I took my test, in Pontypridd it was a freezing cold day. After I went out, all the other tests for the day were cancelled. Fortunately I passed first time but I’ve had a few scrapes and bumps since. Later I got involved in racing cars but I regard driving as a chore rather than a pleasure now because the roads are so busy’.
Paul Clark, Road Safety Minister
“I failed my first test in Gillingham because my examiner said I didn’t make enough use of my mirrors”.
“My dad taught me to drive on an airfield in Oxfordshire. He didn’t trust me with his own car, a rather cool Citroen, so we used my mum’s rubbish Hillman Avenger’.
“On my first test, I had to push-start my car, which didn’t go down very well”.
Carl Froch – WBC super middleweight world champion
“Just 20 days after I turned 17 I passed my driving test first time. I’d had only four lessons and the examiner told me I should take my advanced driving test because he thought I was so exceptional. I have to confess that I first drove a car at 14”.