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The Driving Test

In 1951 I took my first driving test but things didn't go as planned

Most things I've done in life I've taught meself to do. I taught meself farming, I taught meself training and I taught meself how to drive. I even taught meself how to cook. I've always been a good cook, it's just common sense, any fool can do it.

Teaching yourself is the best way to learn most things in life but when you're self-taught you learn bad habits and them habits can be hard to shake. With farming and training it didn't matter so much, you learn from your mistakes and then you don't make them mistakes again, but with driving it was different. I had to pass a driving test.

All the driving I'd done so far had been in the country. I'd actually been driving me car on the country roads for a long while without a license. They weren't so picky back then, everyone did it, but if I were to travel further afield I needed the papers.

Back in the '50s you didn't see many cars in the countryside, so driving was straightforward. You just steered the thing, as long as you avoided the hedgerows and the odd tractor you'd be fine. Problem was they didn't let you take your test in the countryside, they made you take it in town. At the time I'd never even been in a town let alone driven a car in one. I didn't know what to expect.

It was 1951 and I was 20 when me sister Jean took me to take me test in York. Me car was an old two door Ford, and it's better days were a long time gone. It was a small car and I'd paid £30 for it, which was all I could afford. I'd been driving the car about for years, the dogs had been just about living in it and the old car had its quirks. In particular the passenger seat wasn't bolted in and moved about at will.

Me sister drove me to York that day, and the fact that I was going to take me test in that wreck of a car seemed to amuse her for the whole journey. I had no idea what it would be like driving in a town but being familiar with towns she was fully aware of what might lie in store for me.

We got to the testing centre and a little man with glasses came out of the office. 'Good morning, are you Mr Easterby?' he chirped, shook my hand and introduced himself as the examiner. He then proceeded to inform me that the first task of the day was going to be an eye test.

'Can you read that number?' he asked, pointing to a nearby vehicle. I reached for me hanky and I mopped me brow, I was sweatin' already and we hadn't even started up the damned car yet. I buried me hanky back in me pocket and I took a deep breath and looked over yonder to where he had pointed. 'YBN 956', I replied to what seemed an easy question as I could read it clear as day. 'No its not', scorned the examiner, look again. 'Bugger me it is', I thought to meself. If I trusted one thing in life then I trusted me eyes, there were no problems with me sight. Turned out the car whose plates he'd asked me to read, well the bloody thing had had driven off, and I was reading the plates of the car that was parked in the next space. It wasn't a good start but once we'd sorted out the misunderstanding and eye test finally completed it was time for the proper test, the practical they call it nowadays.

I got in the car and the little bespectacled chap got in next to me and sat down in the passenger seat, blissfully unaware of its un-nerving tendency to sometimes travel in a different direction to the rest of the car. I was nervous, I was really sweatin' now, me heart was beating hard. Bump bump bump. The examiner had a look of displeasure on his face, I don't think he had ever seen, or for that matter smelled, a car quite like this one before. I don't think many people had.

We drove for a minute or so and he asked me to take a turn, so I did. 'Whoah' came the voice from the passenger seat, 'Stop!' I pulled the car up. It was a 'no entry', a one way street. 'What are you doing?' came the disgruntled voice from me left, 'One way street, no entry, you can't drive down here. Turn the car round'. So I turned the car around, and at that point the passenger seat gave way and the examiner slid across and ended up with his head on me knee. I don't know who was the most nervous from this point on.

Me sister had warned me that if I got stuck at a red light not to roll back. I could see the first traffic lights were now coming up and just as we got near the things turned red. I sat there revving the engine. 'Don't roll back Michael,' I told meself remembering the sisterly advice. Right then the lights turned green, I put my foot flat down and the car lurched forward. At that point the passenger seat was thrown backwards and the examiner ended up in the back seat of the car with his feet touching the roof.

We pulled over and we put the car seat back together. By now he'd had enough. I'd seen him etch a few black crosses on his sheets of paper and I think the outcome was inevitable.

'Get this car back to where we started from,' he instructed. 'Down here, no, turn left, LEFT'. I had no idea where we were, I'd never been to York before and it certainly wasn't a place where I felt comfortable. The examiner was holding on tight to the side of the car to make sure the seat didn't move. Next thing I heard was the little feller shouting at the top of his voice 'Stop!' I got the brake on just in time before we went head first into a bus.

Eventually we arrived back to where the whole episode had started. The examiner was as white as the sheets of paper that were by now scattered all over the car.

His pal came over from the office to greet us on our return. 'Did he pass?' he asked unaware of the drama that had preceded.

'Pass? Did he pass?' came the reply. 'He almost bloody killed me. I'm the luckiest man in this world just to still be alive'.

I became a regular visitor to the test place in the coming months but I never saw that little feller again and I heard later on that he'd resigned his job. I think I might have been the last straw for the poor man and I wouldn't have been surprised had he been on pills for his nerves after our eventful drive round the town that morning.

All in all it took me five attempts but I did finally pass me test, after putting the nerves of what must've been every driving examiner in York through the shredder. By the time I was done I knew the roads in York like the back of me hand. I gather now they have a written test as well, I'm just bloody glad they hadn't thought of that back then.

Posted: Friday 28 April 2017

Back to the writing pad and the tape recorder

I'm self taught at everything I've ever done

Cars have changed a lot since I taught meself to drive

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