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Saturday, 7 September 2013

An 'L' of a Time


In Spring a young man's fancy turns to …well, quite often, getting his driving licence so that he can get out and start doing all those things that Spring is supposed to encourage.  I was no exception to this rule, but regular readers will not expect me to reveal that I passed my Driving Test on the day after my 17th birthday following one lesson during which the Instructor wept openly at my prowess and said there was nothing he could teach me.  Regular readers will not be disappointed; my route to the open road was, as with everything else, somewhat more tortuous.

I suppose that I could blame my upbringing.  Things have changed remarkably, from an automotive point of view, since my childhood.  My grandparents, on both sides, could not drive, did not own a car and, to the best of my knowledge, never had any interest in doing so.  My dad was a late-comer to driving by today's standards, starting toward the end of the 1950s when he must have been in his mid-thirties.   Although in later years he purported to be one of the 'put me behind the wheel of anything and I'll drive it' brigade, his route to driving proficiency was at least as tortuous as mine.

Dad learned with one of the few driving schools in Burton at that time, which I think was called either Select or Premier.  I know that it had offices on the corner of Station Street and Milton Street, as I remember going there with him.  His Driving Instructor was a chap called Tim, who lived further down Anglesey Road from us and whom dad knew socially (for which read 'down the pub').  Dad's learning experience was restricted by the fact that he did not have a car of his own in which to practice and relied solely on his weekly lessons and the occasional stint sharing the driving on holiday with Uncle Jim.  I went on one or two of his later lessons, as a passenger, and I can't say I found it a relaxing experience.  Usually my dad oozed confidence, but behind the wheel was a different matter.  Oaths would be uttered as gears crashed and engines stalled, both of which were remarkably easy to achieve in cars of that vintage.  Dad developed a habit, which was still with him to the end, of pulling his socks up with great ceremony before the process of checking that the car was in neutral and starting the engine.  It was a bit of a ritual with him and I'll swear that he was using the opportunity to issue a small prayer to whoever protects not hugely confident drivers.

A Black Standard Eight - not ours I'm afraid, we couldn't afford to run a car and have pictures developed in the 1950s!

After quite some time, which I think stretched into years, and two failed attempts at the Driving Test, dad finally won through and celebrated with the purchase of a black Standard Eight (MNR 879.  Now why can I remember that but not more useful things like my mobile phone number?)  Even having passed his test, dad tended to travel hopefully rather than confidently and mum and I kept a tense but determinedly cheerful demeanour through all the dark oaths and fearful mutterings.

Mum never showed any interest at all in learning to drive.  It was just not something that women did then.  As I've said before, my Auntie Liz was definitely ahead of her time in that she could drive and drive very well (certainly better than my dad).  Because of the fact that a woman driver was so unusual, I always felt ill at ease, as a child, with her in the car, despite the fact that she drove as part of her job and was considerably more competent than anyone else I ever travelled with. 

My Auntie Vera apparently had a number of lessons (which she never told anyone about), failed her first Test and then abandoned the project.  I only found out about this in her twilight years when she regretted not having pursued this as, without Uncle Jim, she was dependent upon us, the bus service or taxis.  I think a lot of women of her generation found themselves in similar circumstances in later life.

Continued in It's Not What You Know...