There are certain events and people in a young man’s life that will never be forgotten. Three of the big ones for a teenage boy are: first car, first girlfriend and the day you pass your driving test. For me, these three were all connected with disastrous consequences.
If I ever get invited on to BBC TV’s Top Gear, I’ll have one hell of a story for Jeremy Clarkson’s ‘car history’ line of questioning. I see it going something like this.
Clarkson: So Nick...First car?
Me: *claps hands together smugly* 1972 VW Beetle.
Clarkson: Oooh something for the cool wall, very nice....Top speed?
Me: About 69mph...I never got caught speeding.
Clarkson: *laughs out loud and asks me to present the next series with him*
For a 17 year old boy a VW Beetle was uber cool. I saved all the money I’d earned doing my gardening round and bought it for £150 when I was just 16. Even all those years ago this was still a good price; needless to say it needed some work.
I spent the next six months bashing out dents, welding on new parts and generally making it roadworthy. I took my driving lessons in it. I passed my test in it. I loved it. The other boys were green with envy. The summer of 1988 was one of the best for me, I used to swivel the windscreen washer points around so that when I drove past cyclists I could squirt them with water. I was 17 and not only had I passed my driving test but I had a car ready to go. As is often the way in life, just when you think you’ve got it sorted...you know the rest.
I wonder what the Guiness world record is for ‘the fastest time between passing your driving test and being involved in a road traffic accident’. I think I might be a contender for the title. I took my test at 9.00am in the morning. By 9.50am I was listening to the words every young man wants to hear “That’s the end of the test; you’ve passed”. By the time the rest of the school was out on their morning break; my car had crashed into a concrete post. Not just any concrete post, but the post that held up the school gates and what’s worse...I wasn’t driving it.
We’ll call her Claire, shall we! She had been on my radar for a while; all I had to do was ask her out; something that would be infinitely easier, if I was driving my super cool car. As soon as I passed the test I drove straight up to school to ceremoniously remove the ‘L’ plates from the car bumper and lap up the praise. A small crowd gathered and a few of the girls climbed inside. Claire pleaded with me “Oh let me take it out for a spin; I’m a really good driver”. “I didn’t realise you’d passed your test”. I said. “I haven’t yet but I’ve had loads of lessons; I’m really good”. I can’t believe I fell for such an unsubstantiated claim.
So off we went, a small convoy of the chosen few who had cars went out to ‘hit the town’. It wasn’t a good decision. However in my defence, it was made by my ‘other’ brain and they’re not as good at decision making are they. I was sat in the passenger seat and contrary to her claims of ‘I’m a really good driver’, I found I had to change gear for her as she ‘hadn’t mastered that bit yet’. This was alarming.
After what seemed like an eternity of driving around the local high street, squirting cyclists and beeping horns we headed back to school. The school was on a busy main road which meant a right turn.
I can still see it today. We approached the turn too fast, swerved across the other side of the road, up onto the pavement *loud scream from Claire* and straight into the school gate post...which we knocked down. All this happened while the rest of the school was out enjoying their morning break; far too many spectators for my liking.
Luckily no-one was hurt. There was of course the trifling matter of: she hadn’t passed her test, she wasn’t insured and we didn’t have ‘L’ plates on the car. I did what any other 17 year old upstanding member of the community would have done...I sped off as quickly as I could. If I remember correctly, there was some cursing on the way home.
It took all my powers of persuasion to calm the situation down. The worst bit for me however was not having to face the music with the headmaster or the police but having to walk back to school.