She had all the gears – but no idea

John Ward
John Ward
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WARD’S WORLD: By John Ward

It was while driving into a car park recently and seeing how the fine old, but basic, art of reversing into a space was seemingly beyond quite a few motorists as they drove in forwards and their antics of reversing out that was so entertaining that brought back memories of my early driving days.

This brings me to this week’s offering of culture as we delve into the world of the motorist or to be precise, the initial start out that is learning to drive in the first instance. Years ago when I first started out, I chose the route of buying a ‘cheap and cheerful’ car (they are still made I believe but the colourful adverts seem to skim over that minor fact as they are advertised as the next best thing since bubbles in lemonade..) to learn to drive as opposed to taking lessons after I was somewhat disillusioned as I went along with friend Stan as he booked up his first batch of driving lessons from a local driving school with a good/ wonderful/ marvellous/ glorious reputation in the town and bearing in mind it was the only one in town, they couldn’t go far wrong in that assumption.

In we went as we were welcomed with open cash drawers as Stan showed his provisional driving licence to the school’s secretary, booking clerk, head of sales and wife of the principle as in all one person and could go into a hideous smiling mode at given times, seeing Stan sign up for the first ten lessons on the dotted line was one. The lessons were – wait for it, wait for it – five pounds an hour or ‘per lesson’ then but if you signed up for ten to start with, you got a lesson ‘free’ (bit like they sell fish fingers today as in the ‘Buy twelve for the price of fourteen’ concept).

When Stan enquired as to the ‘success’ rate of the school, he was assured thus: “Why some of our pupils have passed their driving test after only forty lessons” she said in a matter of fact, almost proud, voice that left Stan in total silence and with a sort of glazed look upon his face, as in deep shock sprung to mind, so I thanked the lady on his behalf and levered/guided him towards the door and on getting outside, he enquired if his ears were playing up as did he really hear her say f-o-r-t-y lessons?!

Yes indeedy I confirmed. He said then had he knew that to start, he might have followed his brother’s approach to the driving lark and brought a ‘cheap and cheerful’ car as indeed I did, and do it that way. In my case, I utilised the services of Stan’s cousin Tony to go out driving with as he had a full driving licence and as such was my legal supervisory driver and all went well – I passed my test after a few months driving about in the evenings and weekends and Stan eventually passed after many wallet emptying moments that I think was about twenty seven or so lessons but for all that, we both gained our driving licences but in different ways, so job sorted as they say. Perhaps on another occasion, if you feel up to it, I will relate the adventures of Tony and my car.

Some years into the future from then and some in the not so distant past, mum’s friend Marion decided she should learn to drive as she had cracked knitting, jam making, basket weaving and brass rubbing so driving was the next minor thing to tackle and mum ever so keen to offer my services, usually before asking me first, told her I would give her a sort of introduction to the art of driving – it should be pointed out that her hubby, Eric, had a bit of a breakdown about the same time as she made her objective known and it was open to interpretation as to if it was a nervous breakdown as he had a full driving licence and could have given her driving lessons anyway - or was he just playing safe?

In fairness we used Eric’s car and I will never forget him looking out of their front bay window at the time and making sign of the cross on his chest as we left on that first, and only, occasion and perhaps was the same sort of scene as bystanders waved safe voyage as The Titanic left its berth all those years ago. I drove out of his view with Marion sitting in the passenger seat with a scarf and leather gloves on and it made me wonder: A - did the heater not work? Or B - she might be more cut out for horse riding or then again, did she know something I didn’t and perhaps Eric still had recurring nightmares about?

I drove to a nearby large, empty company car park and stopped. I got out the driver’s side as Marion climbed in and I got in the passenger side. I ran through all the controls and the next thing she asked was where the light switch was kept and I pointed out it as it was a Sunday morning, and hopefully, we would be back before sundown or before the petrol ran out, whichever came first. I explained the pedal arrangement on the floor as in the clutch, brake and the go-go pedal and she asked if she could change them around as she was not that happy with the way they were, because had she known she would have put her ‘other shoes’ on (?!) and short of getting the cutting gear out, I said if it was good enough for millions of others, it should be okay for her as well.

Explaining the pressing of the clutch pedal enabled the ‘gearstick thing’ to engage with the gearbox and by slowly letting the pressure off, applying soft pressure to the go-go pedal we would proceed forward, assuming it was in a forward gear of course. After about nine tries at trying to engage said ‘gearstick thing’ without using the clutch with loud metal screaming noises, I made a mental note to get her signed up as Lead Gearbox player in Albert Murrin’s Syncopated Rhythm Movers Dance Band who performed at local clubs at odd weekends, with odd being the operative word.

As we are getting to the end of the page now, assuming you have kept up so far, I will give you a swift run down as to the ongoing saga: After an hour or so we managed to keep up a steady pace by going through the gears, did that ‘reversing thing’ a few times although I had to explain to her it was exactly the same as going backwards but spelt differently, then ‘three point turn things’ although she said she could just swing the steering wheel round and go in a circle to turn around but I tactfully pointed out they don’t like that sort of showing off in assorted High Streets and similar in real traffic situations. We got home before sunset or twenty past one in old money and Eric heaved a sigh of relief and a similar noise came from the gearbox I tend to think.