I got the shock of my life the other day when I spotted my daughter at the wheel of a car. Obviously, I knew she was having driving lessons, but she’s usually picked up and dropped off at school, so to see her motoring down the street was very odd. It seems like only yesterday that I was lurching along as a learner in my dad’s Mini Cooper estate.
The father-daughter/teacher-pupil relationship was not made in heaven. With a very short fuse, my dad would seethe when I ground the gears or scraped the pavement, and explode when I made the same error repeatedly. Very few of my friends had driving-school lessons: most of us were taught by our parents. Quite a few people, who had driven throughout their childhood on the family farm, passed just days after their 17th birthday.
My dad would insist I drove with him the 40 miles to his office. The heavy commuter traffic offered good experience, but by the time we returned he would be red in the face from shouting and I would be in a terrible mood.
I still recall where I went wrong – I was terrified of roundabouts and would want to change to a lower gear about half a mile beforehand, I hated being in a middle lane surrounded by other traffic where I couldn’t easily pull over if need be, and my heart would race on hill starts.
One journey, to a nearby village, involved a hill start on a crossroads with a gradient like the North Face of the Eiger. I once had a Porsche behind and prayed as I loosened my grip on the hand brake and stuck my foot hard down on the accelerator. I sped off like an F1 driver, sending gravel everywhere.
To help out with the stressful lessons, my dad’s friend kindly offered to take me. He was calm and humorous and would have made a great driving instructor. I failed my first test, messing up parking in reverse and roundabouts among other things. My emergency stop was a disaster, with tins of cat food flying forward from the back seat.
The second went like a dream – I was in a stationary queue of traffic for most of it.
Thinking back, my dad and friends were brave people. I don’t think my nerves could stand a trip with my daughter, or indeed any learner, however good they are. I’ll chance it when she’s held a full licence for a couple of years.