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.