A Knight’s Tale (45: Far Less Traffic)

There were three weeks between my interview at Kingston and starting the job at Tolworth Tower. One question I had been asked was “How do you feel about driving?”. Not mentioning that I had never even sat in a driving seat, I replied that I felt it was just a way of getting from one place to another.

Jackie and I each had passed first time and each had made an error we thought would fail us, had another attempt, and got it right.  Jackie’s was a hill start.  Mine was reversing round a corner.  I still remember feeling the rear nearside wheel touching the kerb.  I stopped, came forward, straightened up, and then made a perfect turn.  I must have been advised that that was the thing to do.

Just in case anyone is thinking that I am feeling smug about having passed my test first time, especially after only three weeks at the wheel, please let me disillusion you.  Just days after I began life as an Assistant Child Care Officer in the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames  (I had passed my test on the day I started the job), I used the Borough mini to drive myself from Tolworth Tower in Chessington to the Guildhall in Kingston.  I had no idea where to park or what the various coloured lines outside the building meant.  It was as far back as December 1966, so I was actually able to take the car there.  ‘I won’t be long; I’ll leave it here’, I said to myself as I left the borrowed vehicle right outside the cast iron gates.  I entered the building and secured the loan cheque for which I had come that was the purchase price of my Hillman Imp.  So far, so good.  I left the building.  The unmolested little mini was still there.  Intact.  Getting away from the awkward position in which I had left the car required at least a three point turn.  Easy peasy.  I’d done it in my test.  Reversing perfectly, turning the steering wheel appropriately, I gently approached the gate to stop and make the next turn.  Then I made my fatal mistake.  Coming to a standstill requires the use of a brake.  So I applied it.  I thought.  Actually I hit the accelerator.  And the mini hit the gate.  And stayed on it.  Stuck.  The railings having given the bonnet a suitably serrated outline.

That took a certain amount of living down.

It was soon after this that I managed to run out of petrol on Piccadilly Circus alongside the statue of Eros. I carried off a spare can in search of a refill. When I returned my car was still there. More than 50 years ago there were no yellow lines, no clamping of cars; and far less traffic.


  1. I wish we still lived in the days when there was less traffic on the road. There is way too much around now.

  2. YIKES! 😮 and Oopy! 🙂
    Yes, we live and learn. And then we live some things down. Ha! 😀
    And! They make great stories for blogging! 😉 HA! 😛
    We used to do A LOT of driving in HUGE cities (like San Francisco, Los Angeles, etc.) and A LOT of busy freeway driving. I don’t miss that! These days I’m happy to live in a rural mountain town where three cars stopped at a stop sign is busy traffic! 😉 Okay, there are usually more than 3 cars, but you get the picture!
    My big challenge (when I learned to drive) was always parallel parking. 😮 🙂
    (((HUGS))) 🙂

  3. I’ve run out of gas just once. My mother was in the hospital, and I’d been running back and forth with things on my mind — except I’d not been minding the gas level. I remember where it happened, but somehow I’ve completely erased how I dealt with it. Clearly, I made it out alive!

  4. I can imagine how it felt, hitting the accelerator instead of the gas. I believe you when you say it was a lot less crowded back then and easier to get around.

  5. Early driving experiences are hilarious for most. Mastering manoeuvring in a small area used to give me the willies. Running out of petrol in the middle of the circus can be the worst of your nightmares come true.

  6. The first time I drove in Australia, after we moved from Canada, I had to cope with the ‘wrong’ side of the road and the car. I stalled at the busiest intersection in Adelaide. A skinny policeman appeared and pushed me across the intersection, bless him. That was also in 1966.

          1. Thank you for following me, but I haven’t blogged in ages. I used to go to Italy every year, and found so many fascinating bits of history to share. We’re heading into summer over here in Australia, while you’re looking forward (hah!) to another Regina winter.

  7. The confidence of youth and a belief that all will turn out well – this has got most of us out of many early driving scrapes. My late mother only learned to drive when she was sixty-three, after my father had died. I ‘kick-started’ started her once all the family had gone and we had returned to her farm from the nearby town. I put my then two-year-old son in one of the farm trailers with sides far too high for him to climb out of, moved my mother into the driver’s seat and said to her gently, “drive us around the farm”. She was so taken aback that she did – albeit in only first and second gear!

  8. My mother only learned to drive when we came to South Africa. She was 35 years old and she had a few experiences similar to what you’ve described including a brakes failure and going through a red light as a result. Fortunately, there was no traffic. I started driving at 17 when I got my learners but I am a very cautious “Miss Daisy” driver and prefer my husband to drive at night and long distances.

  9. Reversing around a corner filled me with dread panic. I was certain that I would fail my test but I was delighted when the examiner in Cardiff asked me to reverse into a narrow service road with a brick wall either side. It was piece of cake and I passed first time. I have never run out of petrol.

  10. Ah the early adventures of driving! We all have our stories 🙂 I learned on a stick shift VW Beetle. Once I drove while in neutral at an alarming speed around a steep curve in Maine with a steep drop-off. My friend and I were both relived to live to tell the tale.

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