I would be lying if I said that this was my first car. I wish it had been. But my car was a Ford Escort Mark 2 and, for a time, it was my stallion of the roads.
Coming from a non-car owning family meant that I was not accustomed to the ease and freedom four wheels could provide. As a family, we would only have days out if a bus-route passed somewhere near there. In actual fact, we rarely had family days out; well, not the full family.
I was the first person in my immediate family to learn to drive. My father gained his licence some years later. I was the pioneer of this new found freedom. I took my driving lessons with a company called Impact. It didn’t bode well and I did need two goes to pass, but when I did, the world opened up. London was my place of learning to drive and its roads provided a steady stream of traffic and potential mishaps, but I was never involved in an accident on those roads. Indeed, I have only ever been involved in one collision in my life and that was when a bus shunted me up the rear. I got whiplash and the car needed to have the back-end looked at. A public vehicle up one’s rear is not a pleasant experience, but I survived.
“Once I was afraid
I was petrified
Believing I could never live
Without a bus inside.”
My wife, who is now auto-correcting me from over my shoulder, has had plenty of experience in the realms of accidents. She is reading my blog now and accusing me of telling her a lie for over twenty-five years. The ‘little white lie’ is concerning my recent admission that it took my two attempts to pass the test. Nit-picking, I call that. I had forgotten that I had uttered a minor mistruth all those years ago.
Back to my first ‘motor’. I bought it off another copper while in London. He was upgrading to a Ford Granada, a dream of a car. I remember it as if it was yesterday. It was a burnished gold colour and was part of the top of the range Ghia models that Ford were so very proud of at the time. He had been driving for some time and considered himself an expert in this field of pleasure along with other fields of pleasure that his dashing vehicle permitted him to indulge in. Cheap hotels and their nightly rooms were not in abundance then, so one’s mode of transport had to suffice. Granada’s had more leg-room than Escorts and the burnished-gold paintwork was suggestive of opulence and sophistication. It had leather seats.
My Escort had been purchased before I gained my right to drive. I sat it in the communal carpark of the section-house where I lived and took the opportunity to drive it slowly around that area when others were not there to see. Reversing became my thing. When I did pass my test, it was no time before the Escort was on the roads of Brentford and Chiswick, transporting me in the style and confidence of my latest achievement. It had a leather covered steering-wheel.
In latter years, I have bought automatic cars. They make sense and demand less. Back then, every single vehicle seemed to be manual. Those in the states must have marvelled at how us Brits were able to drive using a gear shift (Gear Stick in English). The very fact that we saw this as normal must have planted seeds of doubt in our capacity to be seen as the other partner in a ‘Special Relationship’. I would go so far as saying that some may have gone so far as to believe that such approaches to personal transportation smacked seriously of socialist tendencies. That and driving on the left. The Cold War was at a particularly precarious impasse.
It took me a number of weeks to get-up the nerve to take to the motorways. The M1 was the fastest route home. I was about to leave the relative safety of the capital where the number of cars on the road make driving oddly safer. The reasoning behind this is that moving about London, in persistently heavy traffic, is akin to putting one’s car on a conveyor belt; you just get into a space and keep a safe distance from those fellow road-users in front and behind. Also, the traffic creeps along at such a sedate pace that it’s difficult to work up the enthusiasm to drive recklessly. I was a graduate of the Impact School of Driving, but not an advocate. I could not wait to arrive back in my hometown, back up in The North, and show off my acquisition, leather steering-wheel et al.
Motorway driving is a very different proposition from driving on crowded roads. It was a different age and traffic was much less; meaning that average speeds could be more. My approach to driving was one in which I wanted to remain safe. I wanted to avoid accidents. I wanted a long and happy life at the wheel. Unfortunately, lorry (truck) drivers did not share my enthusiasm enlightened travel. The big bastards just sat on the arse-end (tailgate) of my precious Escort in a continued attempt to shunt some more speed out of her. When that didn’t work, the tag-team approach came into play. One in front and one behind. I was the sardine in the middle. It didn’t take long for me to discover the thrill of a foot-down approach to the whole business. That was the beginning of my speedy years which were accompanied by my equally speedy gear changes. A rally-driver was born. The leather steering wheel came into its own.
Back home, I hoped to be the talk of the town. Back home was a two and a half hour journey.
Now it is a lifetime away. But I can still smell the leather.