There are various unwritten motoring rules, and one of them is that teaching your nearest and dearest to drive is a bad idea.
How many parent/child relations have been given a severe battering, possibly along with the parental car, when L-plates have been stuck to it and inter-generational discord has resulted?
Back in the dark ages – well, the early 1980s – when I learned to drive, my dad’s approach was brutally pragmatic, and, I now see, entirely sensible.
‘I’m not teaching you to drive, but I will pay for half your lessons, if you can raise the money for the rest,’ he said, adding, ‘if you pass, you can’t borrow my car.’
This was annoying at the time, but my dad and I are still speaking, so it was probably a good idea. However, I did not learn from experience, when, a few years later, I agreed to teach my girlfriend to drive. We were both in our early 20s, and she was not a road user in any sense of the word. She didn’t even ride a bicycle. Indeed her father had tried to teach her when she was little, and the experience of propping up her low, wobbly bike nearly gave him a hernia.
“What do the pedals on the floor do?” she asked, having climbed into the scruffy old Morris Marina saloon I was driving at the time. Whole generations have been blessed by not knowing what a Marina is, but let’s just say that it was one of the most dismal cars of the 1970s, and had the style and handling poise of a cardboard box Sellotaped to some roller-skates.
We were parked on an unmade track in the middle of rural Essex, which seemed a safe place for my beloved to unravel the mysteries of the clutch, brake and accelerator, changing gear and steering the car.
Having started the Marina the girl of my dreams planted her foot on the clutch and banged the car into first gear. At this point I discovered that she treated it and the accelerator like a pair of switches, that were either ‘on’ or ‘off.’ Down went the other foot on to the throttle pedal, mashing it into the carpet, and making the Marina’s tired 1,300cc engine hit about 18,000 revs. She them brought the clutch up with a jerk.
It was the perfect racing start. The rear wheels span, the Marina’s fat bottom fishtailed and we shot forward. At this point I noticed two things. One was that my beloved was hanging on to the steering wheel rather than using it to direct the car, the other was that we were rampaging towards some derelict farm machinery that featured rows of rusty talons, on which we would shortly be impaled. At this point I spoke.
“Get your… GET YOUR…. GET YOUR FOOT OFF THE ACCELERATOR!!!!”
She did, then slammed her foot down onto the brake pedal, but didn’t touch the clutch. When the engine finally stalled and we juddered to a halt 20 yards from the talons, I was lost for words. My girlfriend wasn’t.
“That was fun,” she said. “Can we do it again?”
The succeeding months were a blur of reversing round corners, stopping distances and the words ‘mirror/signal/manoeuvre swirling round our heads. Despite looking left and turning right at a junction, and the Marina’s indicator stalk dropping off as my girlfriend negotiated Chiswick roundabout in the rush hour, we not only survived but she passed her driving test at the first go, although when she’d finished and parked up, the examiner asked whether she expected him to walk to the kerb.
As if to prove that some rules are meant to be broken, we eventually married – I’m talking about my girlfriend, not the examiner, although after the farm track incident, it could have been a close run thing.