I’d had twenty lessons and the company I worked for had only agreed to pay for twenty lessons and so ready or not, it was time to take my driving test.
Summer of 1975, Hilton Lodge, the second most nervous man in the world – yes his name really was Hilton – had been teaching me everything he knew about driving an Austin Allegro which with hindsight was probably the worst car in the world, ever.
I failed on the “reverse around a corner and come to a halt by the kerb” routine mainly because after I’d stopped my hilarious attempt to reverse around a corner we would have had to get a taxi to the kerb from where I stopped, the examiner simply opened his door and stared at the kerb which was several yards away rather then the anticipated two or three inches, he closed the door, said nothing, waved me forwards to continue the drive and wrote something on his notepad, I sneaked a look at it when we got around the corner, he’d written “fookin rubbish”.
I also failed for “driving too close to a parked car” but I plead mitigation on that one for it was on Horsforth Town Street when Horsforth Town Street was still a two-way street and with cars parked down both sides – you don’t have much choice but to drive too close to a parked car when there is another car coming in the opposite direction, I suppose I could have left more of a gap but then he would have failed me for “driving headlong into an approaching car” when he woke up in hospital several days later.
So I failed and the funding for driving lessons from the company dried up, but fortunately my constant reminding to my father that what I really wanted was a motorbike had persuaded him to buy an old banger of a car for my sole use – the Austin 1300 Vanden Plas, an old ladies car to be sure but it was my old ladies car and so I stuck L plates on it and as Andrew Purdy and Mick Gamble had already passed their driving tests they could authorise my driving use simply by sitting in the passenger seat and telling any passing police officer that they were teaching me, of course they were.
Finally after driving hundreds of miles all over the county in search of pubs and stuff to do of an evening I stumped up the cash for another driving test and one lesson before it with Hilton Lodge, to be taken in the Vanden Plas and not his crappy Allegro.
The lesson went well, Hilton Lodge was convinced that I wouldn’t have any problems this time around and so we waited at the test centre for my examiner, who perchance happened to be the exact same old bastard who’d failed me the first time. It started well enough, we turned into and out of side roads, at one point we turned off the main ring road and onto a housing estate that had just been resurfaced with loose grit, it didn’t take a genius to work out that this is where the emergency stop was going to be and sure enough he reminded me of the fact and I crawled the car along at 5mph with one foot on the brake waiting for him to tap the dashboard, he did, and I stopped the car within inches, mainly because we’d nearly stopped by now anyway.
It was after the emergency stop that the problems started though, the first of which was that the indicators failed, just stopped working, no flashing green light on the dashboard and no clicking noise to remind you but as I was wracking my brain trying to decide whether to tell him or not for in telling him he would certainly stop the test, I realised that he hadn’t seemed to have noticed so working on the principle that its always easier to cover something up than admit to it I just kept on driving, I did think for a while about making clicking noises with my tongue when indicating but decided against it, we completed the test without him ever knowing but with all the other road users knowing that I didn’t have any indicators as they swore and cursed at me for making all sorts of driving manoeuvres without indicating first.
The “reverse around a corner and come to a halt by the kerb” went better this time around but just as I thought it was a success the back wheel went up onto the kerb and there we parked, the car leaning sideways as if jacked up having a wheel changed – miraculously he didn’t seem to notice this either, seemed happy with my shit “reverse around a corner and come to a halt by the kerb” routine, seemed happy to amend the HM Government driving test to “reverse around a corner and park with one wheel on the kerb in a most unseemly fashion” and off we went.
We got back to the test centre , parked at the kerb behind four or five other poor bastards wh had just completed their driving tests, I bet none of them had to make clicking noises with their tongue to pretend that the indicators were still working – and then came the bit that we all dreaded, the quiz.
Back in those olden, much simpler days, you didn’t have to sit a theory test before you took your driving test, the theory test was five minutes of the examiner asking you some questions at the end of your driving test, five minutes in which he’d try to catch you out with questions like “You’re driving across a hump-back bridge only wide enough for your car and a sheep drover is coming the other way with 100 sheep in the road, how many can you legally squash under your tyres before he can claim on your insurance ?” to which the correct answer is “The daft bugger shouldn’t have his sheep in the road, therefore all of them”.
Seriously, a friend of a friends mother took her driving test in the 1960s and ran over a dog during the actual test, she asked the examiner if they should stop and he answered “Not a bloody chance, the bugger shouldn’t be on the road”, times were much simpler, and a little harder on dogs.
So we sat there for five minutes while I answered all of his questions and then we sat there for five more minutes while he asked me some more questions and then he got his book of traffic signs out and asked me some questions on traffic signs, and then he asked me some more questions like “If a thunderbolt hit your car while driving at 70mph on the motorway would you a) Indicate to the left and stop when safe on the hard shoulder b) Turn the radio up louder c) Not notice at all” I swear he was making up the questions at this stage and all of the other kids had either been passed or failed and were dancing little jigs on the pavement or sitting forlornly in their cars, weeping silently.
“If driving on a clifftop in stormy weather would you a) Fasten your seatbelt b) Unfasten your seatbelt c) Engage the “Grow wings like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” lever and hope for the best”.
“You’re making these questions up now aren’t you ?” I asked
“No” he replied with a hurt look on his face
“Have I passed or not, only I promised my mother I’d take her to Asda this afternoon and its nearly lunchtime already”
He put his trilby hat back on, opened the passenger door, put one foot out on the pavement, then turned back to me and handed me a piece of paper, “Congratulations” he said, “but honestly, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang wings or not ?”
“Definitely the wings” I replied
“Good lad” he said and walked off, leaving me now a legal driver and with a newly aquired knowledge of what to do when driving on clifftops in stormy weather, its information like that that can be life changing you know.