on driving

Driving was my dream from about age 4. Neither of my parents drove and so any vehicular journeys tended to be by ‘bus. Standing beside the road waiting for said transport I revelled in the sight of everything that drove by. At that age I had my first ambition for adult life; to be a coach driver. It seemed such a great job to take people off on adventures that gave them pleasure.

It would be another nine years before I got behind the wheel and actually drove something, and I did start at the top. My first time in control of a motor vehicle was in a Rolls Royce Silver Cloud series 2, reversing it out of the garage under the supervision of the chauffeur to wash it. From that I moved through the estate’s other cars; a Vauxhall Viscount, Triumph 2000, Alvis and on to the Land Rover. From there it was a short step to Massey Ferguson 135 and Fordson Major tractors. Aged 13 I could not physically do what a farmhand could do, but I could drive the tractors well enough to free up an able bodied adult. Sixpence an hour was my pay in school holidays for such endeavours and thus was my first foray into professional driving.

We had a motor club at school, run out of hours. During the Winter we would rebuild our Austin Sevens from the 1930s and then drive them during the better weather. We learned clutch control above all else and hill starts were never a problem for me after that. With all of that experience I should have passed my driving test first time, but I didn’t. Having failed I left it about 18 months before taking it again and this time passed. It embarrassed me at the time, but I’ve got over it.

I drove for a living many times over the next five years and then again a few times through the eighties and early nineties before becoming something of a full time road warrior between 1996 and 2008. I have driven in seven European countries (besides the UK) and in several parts of the USA. I even passed my driving test in Florida just for the hell of it. Going through some of my old records I have driven more than a million miles on the road since I started with vehicles from a 50cc moped to a 7.5 ton truck.

For most of my life to date I loved to get behind the wheel. There were odd days when the prospects of, say, Swindon to Newcastle and back on a Winter day appealed less than usual, especially if I knew that a shit meeting awaited me up North, but I usually had a decent car and was always prepared with a survival kit on board.

Over the last twenty years the road network has improved a lot, but roads have become more crowded and the standard of driving has declined at an appalling rate. As cars have become safer people take more risks perhaps, but I have no desire to get caught up in their accidents, especially if I have the Wokingham Wonder with me.

Not that I haven’t had my own accidents; I have, and I’ve been stopped for speeding a few times (including three in the USA). Following one of my accidents I opted for a driver improvement course in lieu of points on my licence (the cost of the course was higher than any fine I might have faced. It was over two days and I was paired up with a lad who had spun his Sierra into a fence. He, like me, was over 6 foot tall and, with our examiner, we crammed ourselves into a Ford Fiesta for our road work. The objective was to show a marked improvement on day two over day one or the original penalty might be applied. At the end of the course the examiner told me that I had been driving better on the first morning than anyone that he had seen on the course had managed by the end of day two.

These days I am no longer a road warrior, I drive less than 8000 miles a year now and, like any skill, if you don’t keep it up you risk losing it. My biggest problem is keeping up the concentration levels. I have always driven with the view that every other bastard out there is trying to kill me (and a couple have got close). Lockdown has curtailed our outings over the last couple of years and the days of banging in a 300 mile round trip on a Saturday to take the Berkshire Belle shopping in some metropolis or other are gone.

Modern cars are very comfortable, but are much less fun than the cars of my youth. Better tyre and suspension plus traction aids take away the pleasure of driving and negate the skills learned in car control. But I’ll trade that on today’s crowded roads for the comfort of a modern car.

My driving days will be over relatively soon, so is there anything else that I would like to have a go at before I stop? I have driven a single deck modern ‘bus in the depot doing the basics that candidates for a job go through before being allowed out on the road, but do quite fancy a go at a classic London bus, an RT or RM say. A modern artic might be fun too, assuming that I don’t get a nosebleed climbing up into the cab. My only attempt at reversing one, about 50 years ago, was not a great success, so another go might be worth trying. I have had a driving experience day with three 1960s classic cars; E Type, DB5 and Lotus-Cortina, but modern supercars have no appeal to me. I did get to sit in a 1967 Ferrari 375GTB once, but was not allowed to drive it. I suppose to drive a Ferrari would be an experience that I would enjoy, especially on a track where we could stretch its legs, but it would need to be from around that era.

For now I shall have to be content with my role as chauffeur to the Wokingham Wonder and transport her around in our Japanese mid-sized SUV.

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