When I was in my very early thirties I decided to learn to drive.
My first instructor was a chauvinist pig.
“That’s the trouble with women drivers” he would sigh, “If something drops on the floor they cant leave it alone. They have to bend down to pick it up, they stop concentrating and blah blah blah.”
The dreadful truth is he was right, well with me certainly.
So I changed to a female instructress.
“Drive as if you have a glass of water on the bonnet.” She would say as we drove through Waterloo and she stroked the back of my neck and cooed into my left ear. I had no idea she was gay I just thought she was being supportive.
I took my test and failed, not sure on what but the failure hit me badly. We had a little mustard Mini that was waiting for me to drive through the streets of London Town.
We lived in Wapping at the time, all cobbled streets and river views. Sixteen quid a week for a housing association flat that was on an estate where we all knew each other, and our politics were mostly co-ordinated. When we moved out in 1984 we handed the flat back to the organisation not knowing that all the other inmates were buying theirs. They are all worth somewhere in the region of half a million.
After my failed attempt the old git offered to teach me to drive. When we got to a T-Junction he told me to look left and right and left again. I could do that easily.
“LOOK at what’s cooming ” he would scream. “Don’t just go through the fooking motions, for fooks sake ( remember he’s from Leeds) LOOK at the fooking road.”
So I learned how to properly look at the fooking road. And we argued. Of course we argued. We’ve always argued. Not a day goes by that we don’t argue about something; how to boil an egg, how to mow the lawn, how to put the cutlery back in the drawer. Whether Trump is a twat or an arsehole, should we have a gradual revolution or a proper ruck and just take the fuckers down. We don’t trade insults just literary put downs like ‘Well, well, well, well. If it isn’t fat, stinking billygoat Billy-Boy in poison. How art thou, thy globby bottle of cheap, stinking chip-oil? Come and get one in the garbles, if you have any garbles, you eunuch jelly thou’, or “The simplicity of your character makes you exquisitely incomprehensible to me.” We do still hold hands in bed – that’s if we are in bed together given my insomnia and his wearisome need for sleep, and we sit real close to each other whilst watching the telly. Although living with somebody for forty four years does have its drawbacks. What once were delightful idiosyncrasies are now irritatingly irritating, what once were charming peculiarities are now just peculiar. Still he taught me how to drive with precision and care.
Whilst teaching me I had the temerity to criticise him. Sitting at our little table by the window watching the Thames go by I accused him of being a bad teacher.
He accused me of being a bad pupil.
“How long have you thought that I asked?”
“Three years.” he said.
I was mortified that for the whole of our relationship he had thought so ill of me. He told me I was allowed to be angry so I didn’t talk to him for three days, smashed my favourite plate on the floor and went off to Rickmansworth to take my second test.
My instructress decided to send me where there was little traffic, some roundabouts and a squadron of slow drivers. I passed. When I said to the examiner “You’re joking” he turned to me sternly and said
“I’m not in the habit of making jokes.”
I climbed into the little mustard Mini – all alone – and perspiring profusely drove up Wapping High Street to the ‘Town of Ramsgate’. Did a nifty three point turn and drove back to the flat.
I progressed to my very own car it was a Toyota Starlet. Given to me by an artist friend. It was used in a LWT telly programme where our cars were a reflection of who we were. I had to park it outside ‘Stringfellows’ in Covent Garden . The interviewer told me that the car would die before I did and that it had about as much status as a ‘Stannah Stairlift.’ In fact so square was my little grey car that the bouncers asked me to remove it from outside club as it wasn’t doing their reputation any favours.
I gave it away to a bass playing friend.
When I bought and paid for my very own little red Mazda. I had arrived. For fifteen years I drove around with its fancy stereo and a selection or red lipsticks in the glove department.
My brother bought me the Z3 BMW I now drive. She’s scratched to buggery, has a multifunctional knob that raises the seat, so I can see out of the window, moves the seat forward, so I can reach the pedals, as well as a lever to make the back straight. I don’t drive fast in the rain and have to hold onto the door frame when I fall in. It’s lower than is healthy. White van men shout at me, the last one said it was a sporty little number as I slid into it. I have a selection of caps behind the drivers seat. One red one says ‘Piss Off’, which I wear when the going gets tough.
Since my little mustard Mini I have driven to most of my gigs. Clocking up thousands of miles over years of location work. One of my researchers told me I drove like a man, which I took as compliment, and when I started on my Advanced Driving lessons, the young female instructress told me I was surprisingly confident but could I ever adhere to the speeding limit? I did think that was just a little bit sexist.
I am confident in my driving although the old git would argue with that. He holds the dash board when he’s my passenger and I make mistakes because he sits to the left of me judging my manoeuvres.
I share the car now with the dawter who drives the car like the Londoner she has become. She has to raise the seat, move the chair for more leg space and drops the back down so she looks like she’s driving a getaway car in Hackney.
Now I play the lottery so I can buy a hybrid two seater for a mere twenty four thousand pounds. What a liberty.
I keep wondering whether I’m going to have to take another test now that I’m over the age of consent, I guarantee I will fail because my knowledge of the Highway Code is limited. When I had to go on a speed awareness course in Brighton I ended up sucking the end of my pencil and doodling at the back of the class. When asked what had I learnt I said that sitting for a whole day rediscovering the need to adhere to speed limits without them offering us biscuits was a disgrace. And that since I drove like a man with the confidence of a rally driver they could at least have given us the choice of ‘Bourbons’ or ‘Custard Creams.’
The old git argued with me and said I should have asked for ‘Eccles cakes’ or ‘Bakewell tarts.’ I pulled out my little red cap and pissed off.
When I was in my very early thirties I decided to learn to drive.