Thursday 19 February 2004

Testing times

Jenny Hjul remembers her driving test in North London
I remember mine (plural) as if they were yesterday, the one I passed particularly. It was late on a dismal December afternoon when I eventually returned to base with the examiner, the north London rush-hour having scuppered his timetable.
I had my first experience of driving when my mother took me to a friend's house that had a long driveway. I was able to drive the maternal car forwards five feet and then backwards five feet without having a license as this complex operation didn't necessitate the use of the public highway. I then started driving lessons. At the time I was working in the West End of London and Lesson One was during my lunch hour. The school was in Charing Cross Road. "First we shall drive round Trafalgar Square," said the instructor! Traffic was a little lighter in the seventies. A few lessons later and I was learning to perform hill starts in Hampstead.

At this time I shared a flat with a workmate who had already passed his test but had never been to Scotland. We went for a weeklong trip and I was able to get in some useful driving practice in the Highlands. Nevertheless, Trafalgar Square hadn't prepared me for reversing 200 yards along one of those single-track roads with a lorry coming the other way.

I then took the test - in South London. Big mistake. I'm really more of a North London guy and, apparently, I didn't pay enough attention at the approach to a crossing.

After some more lessons, I booked for another test but told nobody about it. I just needed a day's holiday from work. This test was in Southgate - North London. All went well until I got back to the test centre and switched off the engine. A huge column of steam emerged from the front of the car.

"Do you want the good news or the bad news," the inspector enquired.

"OK, what's the bad news?"

"Your car is totally f.....d"

"And the good news?"

"You've passed the test, but if the car had broken down before we had finished, I would have had to have failed you."

"That's OK - it belongs to the driving school!"

After the driving instructor added some water, the car restarted and I was able to drive back in triumph.

Well, actually it was a Ford Cortina.