I’m the first to admit I’m not the best driver on God’s planet. When, after living and ‘Working as a Waitress in a Cocktail Bar’ in London, (there must be a song in that somewhere) I returned to Yorkshire to take my driving test, it didn’t really hit me that I was now driving in the Pennines, and hills need hill-starts or you roll back and crash into the car behind. Which is what I did.
On my first driving test, I went down a dual-carriageway the wrong way – the examiner said turn right, so I did – and cried all the way home. On my second test I actually did OK, I thought, but still failed and cried all the way home. By the third test I was feeling rather more confident but still failed. I stuck two fingers up at the examiner and kicked everything in sight on the walk home. Luckily for me, the fourth test was on a morning in January when it was lashing down with rain. The rain was so heavy that, on completing my round-the-corner-reversal thingy, the examiner was unable to open his door and see how far I was from the pavement. I was probably a taxi-ride away but I fooled him: he never knew, and I passed. My boyfriend of the time drove me home in my little white mini (bought from the loot earned W as a W in a C Bar) and I was so shocked at actually being allowed out on the highway alone I had to lie down and recover before daring to venture out by myself.
Over the years there have been a series of, shall we call them, incidents. My second mini (orange) collapsed in Chiswick High Street narrowly missing going under the wheels of a London Transport double-decker, but I was gaining in confidence and would merrily drive off to see said boyfriend in Cheltenham and London.
Now living in New Zealand and travelling round the South Island with a bunch of fellow teachers, I was finally allowed to take the wheel of the hired car and, after an hour at the helm, it was suggested we stop for coffee. Imagine a one-horse town in rural South island, NZ. There wasn’t anyone – man nor beast nor car – along the town’s main road apart from one other car parked while its occupants stood around it, map strategically placed on the roof from which they could work out where to drive next. Now imagine the music from some Spaghetti-Western as we drive into town looking for a bar. Why I felt the need to park right behind the one other car I’ll never know (unless it was down to a feeling that we should get to know others on the road after not seeing a soul for miles) and I can still see their amazed faces as I bumped into them, their map fluttering into the air as they dived for safety.
More recently, my husband caused me to need a whole new panel on my little silver BMW. He’d very kindly put my car into the garage for me but it wasn’t at the angle I normally drive it in. Consequently, when reversing out at my usual angle, I knocked the wing mirror. This would have been alright – a new wing mirror was all that was needed – but for some reason, before I could get it to the BMW garage, the wing mirror decided to totally give up the ghost and die and sort of collapsed, wires hanging out, onto the door causing a bit of a dent. OK, still not too bad – only a new door needed. I’m still not convinced as to why, eventually, I had to have a whole new side in order to match the door. But, as I say, not my fault.
Driving my husband’s brand-new new car down the M62 while planning my daughter’s birthday party was the nearest I’ve come to my own demise (that I am aware of, anyway.) I accept full responsibility for pulling out into the fast lane without looking and fully concede that the poor man coming up behind me needed to frighten me half to death with his horn, but I don’t accept that it was my fault when, now shaken and terrified, I lost my nerve at the next roundabout and, instead of going out into the roundabout traffic, I hesitated, hit the brakes and the man behind went up my rear. When someone hits you from behind, I was always told, it must necessarily be them to blame. My husband was very kind to said driver on the phone that night. He wasn’t very kind to me.
In my own garden I have reversed into a builder’s skip (again, not my fault, I most indignantly told my husband – the reversing bleeper thingy didn’t bleep. He did point out that the skip was of huge proportions, lumimous yellow and anybody reversing into that must be blind – or daft – or both) and my cleaning lady’s huge farm land-rover. She needed a whole new wing; there was not a dent to mine. Which must prove something.
My last car lost its left side when, avoiding a double-decker bus (a Yorkshire one this time) I went into a wall, its back side in Harrogate when the guy behind me at the traffic lights drove into me (what is it with men and my rear?) and its right side when, with the low winter-afternoon sun in my eyes, I mounted a bollard hidden by roadworks.
Which brings me neatly to bollards. My present car (for anyone who might be thinking of buying it if I ever put it up for sale) has really behaved itself and managed to skirt round all double-decker buses, skips, bollards and ladies armed with dusters and polish.
Until last Friday night that is.
I was trying to get to a friend’s house where she was hosting a pink-ladies do for breast cancer. I missed the turn off for her road but knew all I had to do was execute (driving-test-examiner-speak) a u-turn at the bollard in the road and be back on the main road before taking the first left onto her road. If I could draw a picture on here I would, but unfortunately my ability to draw ranks lower than my ability to avoid bollards. The next thing I knew I was stranded on a concrete plinth in the middle of the road. I honestly could not work out what had happened. The bollard I’d gone round was still sitting smugly in the road – intact.
‘The second bollard’s been nicked,’ said the nice young man who drew up at the side of me on his motorbike.
‘Well that is helpful,’ I said, my car now balancing very much in manner of a see-saw. Not quite The Italian Job but well on its way. Quite a crowd gathered as we tried to work out the best way forward – or backward depending on whose advice would best get me off the bollocking bollard! Thanks to three strong young men who flexed their Friday evening muscles and, with a one, two, three, lifted the car clear of the concrete plinth, I was able to carry on my way.
‘You can see, it wasn’t my fault,’ I said to the gathered crowd. ‘Someone nicked the bollard.’
The more-muscled of the nice young men handed me the bits of broken plastic from underneath my car, shook his head and said, ‘You’re a blonde.’