When I first moved from Ireland to UK, I was 23 years of age. I had been driving my parents’ car without major mishap for 5 years. I considered myself an exceptional driver. I may not have been up to the rigours of the advanced driving test, but I was certainly more than competent. Any device powered by the internal combustion engine could hardly have been in safer hands. An aficionado of the three-point turn, a master reverser around corners, my arms were permanently set at ten minutes to two. Believe me, the travelling public had nothing to fear from me.
I may have been – indeed, I probably was – a trifle overcautious, my eagle eye always alert for the vicissitudes of other drivers, the unpredictable dash or suicidal lunge of lunatic pedestrians. My awareness of the potential hazards of the road bordered on OCD, I will admit that, and there were those who said that I was a tad trigger-happy on the horn. But in my defence, I only ever used it when I could see a chain of events about to unfold that could lead to an accident.
There was the incident with the tortoise, for instance. I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice to say that I used my horn to avert an anticipated accident. The chain reaction that followed necessitated the application of my brakes in an emergency stop (one of my specialities). The damage to the rear of my Morris Minor was substantial, as was the damage to the front – and the rear – of the car that hit mine and the two behind his.
Anyway, the first time I took my driving test in UK, I failed.
Everything went swimmingly for a while. We were more than half-way through the test, when the test examiner asked me to park the car on a hill. Our flat was situated on a hill, and I had been practicing hill starts for a couple of weeks before the test. I was confident that I could do this.
“Right,” said the examiner, “I want you to do a hill start – using hand signals.”
I put one hand on the hand brake, one arm out the window – and ran out of hands for the steering wheel.