Luckily for our mother, our Auntie Joyce could drive a car, god knows how, but she had allegedly passed her driving test and she had free use of their Mini – we’re talking the 1960s here and so we’re talking the original Mini, the very original Mini, the Mini that had no door linings and you pulled on a piece of string (which often broke) to open the doors, or maybe that was just her Mini.
We can’t imagine that she had actually taken a Ministry of Transport approved driving test, it must have been a cheaper alternative, maybe she passed a test that allowed her to drive electric milk floats, those hand pulled ones that used to be ever-so poular, whatever, she decided that she was perfectly qualified to drive the family Mini.
Apart from the fact that she had never learned how to reverse it.
For all the time that she drove the Mini, and I’m talking of several years, she never learned how to reverse the car, you can understand my scepticism on how or whether she ever passed a driving test now can’t you, even Egypt with its title of “Easiest, piss-easy driving test to pass” title, even in Egypt you have to drive the car backwards for five yards – Joyce couldn’t do that, she would have failed her Egyptian driving test, probably the first person ever to fail it.
All of which made parking the Mini an interesting prospect, you could drive into an empty supermarket parking lot at 6am in the morning with Joyce at the wheel and she’d struggle to find a space that allowed her to simply drive straight into it and guarantee her to be able to drive straight forwards out of it when she’d done her shopping, if there was any more than five cars in the parking lot she’d probably be stuffed and we’d have to drive elsewhere to find a parking space with no other car within a two mile radius.
I don’t know how we ever did this but one summer she took us all to Bridlington in the Mini, by all I mean her, our mother, Ned and I, and her two daughters Bev and Tracy, thats six of us in a original Mini and even allowing for the fact that four of us were kids of around eight years of age thats still some Guinness Book of World Records, get Norris McWirter on the phone, its one thing for ten students to cram into a Mini but quite another for two families to do the same thing and then drive the bloody thing 70 miles to Brid.
Not only do I not know how we all fitted in the car but I haven’t the faintest idea how the two Joyces ever managed to navigate us to Bridlington, in fact I can’t recall us being in Bridlington together so maybe we didn’t make it all the way there, maybe we never managed to leave Leeds, it wouldn’t surprise me, I do know that we spent all day long in that car and it was very hot and very uncomfortable, some people look back with unrequited love for the old Mini’s, I think they were a pile of shit, I mean, doors that opened with string.
You could also open any Mini with any other Mini’s key, and start most of them as well, I know someone who could start his Mini with a filing cabinet key.
Anyway – driving with Joyce – there’s one story that underlines how impossible it must have been for Joyce to pass her driving test, it was the day that she and our mother, the two Joyces, went shopping to the Arndale Centre in Headingley.
The Arndale Centre in Headingley was brand new in the 1960’s in that 1960’s concrete edifice styling with supermarkets on the ground floor and a two storey car park above accessed by a steep ramp at the back.
Joyce must have thought it would be easy to drive up the ramp into the car park, its not like you had to reverse up the ramp after all, but what no-one told her until it was too late was that there was a car park barrier half way up the steep two storey ramp into which you had to drop ten pence to make it open.
“Oooh Joyce” said our mother to the other Joyce, “theres a barrier halfway up the ramp that you have to put ten pence in to make it open”
“Oooh yes, I can see it” said the other Joyce.
And they approached it and stopped with a stamp on the brake pedal, “Oooh!” said our Joyce, “Put ten pence in Joyce”
They both rummaged in their handbags for ten pence, all the while Joyce holding the car stationary on the foot brake, she put the ten pence in the barrier, it opened and she lifted her foot off the brake pedal but had forgotten to put the car in gear, and so it rolled back down the ramp for twenty yards or so while she held both hands on the steering wheel and revved the engine to see if that made any difference.
“Oooh Joyce, we’re going back down, Oooh!”
“Oooh yes I know, I don’t know why, I’m revving as hard as I can”
“Oooh put the brake back on and go back up”
And so she did but by the time they’d got to the barrier it had closed again, so they rummaged around in their handbags for another ten pence, dropped it in the barrier, and Joyce lifted her foot off the brake again,
“Ooooh Joyce we’re going back down again”
“Ooooh Joyce I know, and I’m revving as hard as I can”
“Ooooh put the brake on and go back up”
And so thats what they did but by the time they got to the barrier again it had come back down, so they rummaged in their handbags again for another ten pence and this time, before they dropped it in the barrier Joyce tried to remember what it was you did to start to drive a car when its on a slope, and then she remembered – you push the clutch down, put it in first gear and try and hold it on the clutch with skillful use of clutch and accelerator.
A skill that Joyce didn’t possess
“Oooh Joyce, I have to hold it on the clutch”
“Oooh go on then Joyce”
“Oooh I don’t think I can, we didn’t do that on our test”
“Oooh well I did it when I was driving my television set car, its easy”
“Oooh I’ll give it a go then, where’s the ten pence”
And she dropped the ten pence in the barrier, the barrier opened, she tried to hold the car on the clutch, stalled it, and it started to roll back down the ramp again.
“Oooh Joyce we’re going backwards again”
“Oooh yes I know, I can’t hold it on the clutch any more”
And they rolled all the way back down the ramp and straight across the road to stop with a “thump!” against the kerb on the other side whereupon they collapsed in hysteria with shrieks of laughter.
“Ooooh look, the bloody barrier’s closed again, thats thirty pence its cost us so far”
More shrieks of laughter.
She left the Mini parked there, sideways on to the kerb, blocking the road, and they went and did their shopping in the Arndale Centre and they were still laughing about it when they finally came back to our house hours later.