Claude’s latest post has brought back childhood memories of cars for me.
My grandfather was a motor mechanic and when the family moved from London to Norwich in about 1948 he owned one of the few motor cars around – an Austin Seven.
I remember when I started school and he came to pick me up on rainy afternoons, there was one little boy who stared in disbelief and asked me if I was a filmstar.
Of course, the car had no modern conveniences – such as heating – and a trip to London was a major event. While my mum and grandmother planned and prepared the food and other necessities for the journey I would watch grandad take the engine to pieces and clean the parts carefully before putting it all back together again.
We would set off early in the morning with blankets wrapped round our legs. It took an eternity to reach our destination as in those days, 30m.p.h. was an adventure. The visit was often to combine a hospital appointment for Nanna with a chance to go and see Uncle Ernie, Mum’s brother.
He had followed in his father’s footsteps and become a mechanic, owning a small garage in east London. Grandad would take us there and we’d all get out and stretch our legs while Uncle Ernie administered something called RedX. It used to frighten the life out of me because it involved revving up the engine – goodness knows why.
We’d go and have tea at Ernie’s flat where my cousin and I would play nicely for a while before fighting like cat and dog and then it would be time to set off for the return to Norwich – usually in the dark and well wrapped up under our blankets.
Maybe it was the suspension – or lack of it – in those days, but I was often carsick and mum got used to reading the signs and calling for a halt so I could throw up outside the car rather than all over her.
When I was about 7 I was allowed to start the engine, after carefully checking it wasn’t in gear – and as soon as I could reach the pedals grandad would let me drive from the gate to the garage. Then he would reverse the car and let me do it again, several times.
At that age I was convinced I wanted to be a motor mechanic too. That idea didn’t last but I was always eager to drive.
When I was about 12 and out in the country with mum and nanna (grandad had died by then) I persuaded mum to let me take the wheel. It all went fine until she said,
“What would you do if another car came towards us?” (we were in a narrow lane).
Before I could answer another car appeared and I jammed on the brakes. Nanna wasn’t paying attention and nearly fell off the back seat. Mum and I changed places sharpish and I wasn’t allowed to drive again until I was 17.
But I had my provisional licence ready and waiting for my birthday and pestered mum till she tied L plates to her car and took me out.
I think I was a bit over confident because my driving made her rather nervous and she decided the best bet was to pay for me to have lessons.
I fell in love with my driving instructor and pretended I couldn’t find the gears so that he would put his hand over mine for guidance. Eventually he told me off and said it was time I did it myself. The driving school car was a Triumph Herald but I also managed some extra practice in the Ford van which belonged to the shop my step-dad ran.
The test was one day straight after school so I turned up in school uniform. The first problem was reading a number plate because I’ve always been terribly shortsighted. After two attempts the examiner went to get a tape measure to stand me exactly 25 yards form the car in question. Thankfully I just managed it – and passed first time.
From then on I drove anything I could get my hands on until my parents bought me a secondhand Triumph Herald when I finished college.
And to think that nowadays I have lost all confidence in myself to drive. It’s time I pulled myself together and got back behind the wheel again.