The moment, after a journey of not 100-yards, when I’d crashed my mum’s Triumph 2000 into a tree next to a garage behind my Balham flats, I knew I was destined never to become a driving examiner.
I failed my first car driving test in Sutton and aside from having far too few lessons, it was an incredibly bright day and I realised how Saul of Tarsus must have felt on his way to Damascus (he probably wouldn’t have gone via Sutton).
On the notice board inside the test centre, there were posters encouraging people to become examiners; the ones I’d met weren’t the happiest: dicing with death several times a day and getting no reward were key reasons. Ironically, the test centre was close to the local hospital where I’d once been given Pethidine (if Jimi Hendrix had been a driving examiner, he’d have worked there).
When I was 14 in 1971 my mum was keen for me to learn to drive. The garages behind our flats were quiet and an alternative as the open fields in SW17 were long gone.
It was an automatic car but took me no time to get the two pedals mixed up as we hurtled towards a tree. I didn’t drive for a decade – deeply scarred, although not as scarred as the Triumph 2000!
I had more success with a motorbike and passed first time. Nowadays, the instructor follows behind giving instructions via a walkie-talkie; in 1978, when I passed, you were sent off and told to return in fifteen minutes; as long as you made a hand signal leaving the test centre and returned with a limited amount of blood on your bike, you passed.
I’m still not a good driver; it is inherent. My father took 12 tests to pass. It took me two and was glad to rid myself of L-plates, which for me meant liability, rather than learner. It still does.