Twenty-five years ago today I passed my driving test at the first attempt (thus making good the prophecy made by my great uncle whilst I was living in New Zealand).
It was a very odd event. I thought I was not going to sleep well the night before, but I somehow managed to drift off after convincing myself that my mattress was a cloud and that I was sinking deeper and deeper into it. I rarely have trouble sleeping, but on the very few occasions that I have had a problem that particular trick has never again worked.
I had a driving lesson booked for the hour before the test. This meant cycling the six miles or so from where we were living into Leamington to meet up with my driving instructor, Alan Carter. He had seen several of my friends through their tests and I was confident that he would do the same for me. It is fair to say that he didn’t have the same confidence in me and that I hardly did anything to increase that by being so jittery during the lesson that he stopped it early.
The test centre itself was in an old building, converted from offices I would guess. I remember sitting in the spartan waiting room with about six other anxious trainee drivers, each awaiting the arrival of the examiner who would decide their fate, at least for that day. None of us spoke.
My examiner was a large, balding, middle-aged man. I believe that the male ones are mostly like that. It is, after all, a largely sedentary job. We walked out to the car and he checked that it was roadworthy, then checked my eyesight by having me read a number plate from a car parked nearby. Then it was into the car and away.
There were a number of pre-ordained routes which we could have taken from that test centre. From speaking to friends, the ones you didn’t want all involved turning left out of the centre. We turned left. My heart sank.
Turning left brought you to a junction on an incline. The good part of this was that it meant you got the hill start element of the test out of the way right away, but this did not make me feel any more confident. What did relax me, though, was what happened next. We came to a roundabout. I was told to take the second exit, i.e. to go straight on. As we came off the roundabout I forgot to indicate left. I realised immediately what I had done, but too late to correct the problem. In my head, I knew that I had failed. I had never been told that you didn’t have to indicate when going straight on at a roundabout.
Immediately I relaxed and concentrated on doing the best that I could. It was the best thing that could have happened to me, as the test just kept getting stranger.
First of all, the examiner decided that he was going to test my emergency stop as we were driving past the local technical college. He gave me the usual warning that he was going to hit the dashboard and that when he did so I must stop…whereupon student after student came pouring out of the college as it was lunchtime. The examiner had to guide me in to a parking space – thereby making me possibly the only person to get a parallel parking lesson on their driving test – so that we could wait until the road was clear enough to do the emergency stop.
Then, on our way back to the test centre, I was following another car through a traffic light when it suddenly stalled, stranding both cars as the light turned red. To this day I am sure I passed because I didn’t panic at being stuck in the middle of a busy junction as traffic bore down on me from all sides.
Pass I did, though I was so surprised that I had to go and have a coffee in McDonald’s before cycling home. That afternoon I went for my first solo drive, to my friend Marc’s house. He wasn’t in.