Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Learning To Drive, Lorries and First Cars

I was learning to drive at the time I went off to work as a Student A.S.M. at the Everyman Theatre in 1969 (details of which are described fairly fully in an earlier blog post.) During the season break I returned home and did my driving test in Bedford but failed miserably. Not keeping up with the traffic and failing to turn either right or left when I should have done were the reasons for the failure. On returning to Cheltenham I continued with some more driving lessons and then passed successfully. My parents bought me my first car, a Ford Anglia which came in two shades of green and cost the princely sum of £75. Amazing when you think about it, but I suppose in 1969 with amount people earned per week, that was probably quite a lot of money. I think my first proper wage was somewhere in the region of £10 per week. The cost of a gallon of petrol would probably have been in the region of 30p. That little Anglia, christened Henrietta, got me about quite successfully. It had one peculiarity. When it rained and you needed to use the windscreen wipers, they went fast when you drove slowly and slowed down whenever you drove fast. Don't ask me why. Just the way the car operated. So, if it was raining and you were driving up a hill and in a low gear, the wipers sped up. Going down the other side of the hill and you went a good deal faster, they slowed down. 

It took me a good deal of time to pluck up courage to go off and drive on my own, probably because when you learn to drive you always have someone in the driving seat next to you. When you first learn to drive on the public highway, it takes some time to get used to having cars coming towards you, even if they are on he opposite side of the road. When I did eventually get used to driving myself then there was no problem. That little car lasted a few years. I had it when I worked at Colchester Rep, then Midlands Arts Centre and drove me up to Liverpool. I think that was the first time I'd driven on a motorway. At that time you had to drive through Birmingham because Spaghetti Junction hadn't been opened then so to get from the M1 to the M6 you had to negotiate the centre of Birmingham. It seems so simple now when driving north. When I went to work at Greenwich I had to drive into the centre of London, after one of the shows we did, because I had my own car, it was decided that I could use it to return some props to the suppliers around Covent Garden. I'd never driven into the centre of London before and had to go round Marble Arch during rush-hour which was not something I had ever contemplated doing before (and, frankly, don't really want to do now, as it happens.) I think I just more or less shut my eyes and just went for it (metaphorically, not really, you understand.) I do remember once when I worked at the theatre in Watford having to drive a large lorry into central London with a load of furniture on the back, including a piano. Unfortunately this lorry had a fault. You could only turn off the engine by stalling it. I went with another A.S.M. in pouring rain and we got lost in Covent Garden and went the wrong way down a one-way street and ended up having to reverse out, which wasn't something I wouldn't wish to repeat.
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