The ‘L’ Plate Days

One of the things that I anticipated the most as a teenager was learning how to drive.  I used to spend a lot of time in the car with my dad, going on day trips, short journeys, or even for ‘drives’, just for fun.

During my time of sitting in the front seat of the car with dad, I picked up many of his pearls of driving wisdom.  The rules of the road, the importance of checking blind spots, when and how to use your indicator – indeed actually using your indicator!  He would point out examples of bad driving and why they were bad.  Short story: I learnt a lot.

I had gained a thirst to drive before I had a licence, so when I turned 17, I applied for my provisional licence and began lessons.

I’d acquired a tax rebate as I’d been working part-time in B&Q since I was 16, and had a few hundred quid spare.  So I decided to buy an ‘old banger’ to learn to drive in.  I bought a copy of Auto Trader Surrey (dad always advised me to buy the Surrey version because he reckoned that cars outside London were less likely to be dodgy!).

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Here I am, circa 1999 (age 18), sporting a lot of hair, some stylish sportswear and caring for my first car. It looks brown in this photo. Perhaps it was brown, and not burgundy after all.

I found a 1985 C-reg Ford Fiesta, Mark 2, in burgundy.  It was a 4-speed manual with a very distinctive-sounding petrol engine.  If you’re ever lucky enough to encounter one, you’ll be able to identify it by the sound of its engine.  It had a manual choke – the hallmark of an ancient car – which you’d have to pull when you first fired up the engine, in order for the car to actually start.  I remember this being particularly crucial in cold weather.

It was a basic as you can imagine, but I loved it.  Dad taught me how to drive in that car.  We stuck some ‘L’ plates on the bumpers and we’d carry out many of the family errands, such as shopping, with my dad as the driving instructor.  The longest journeys I would make were the drives over to Erith, where my nan lived.  It was a 60-mile round-trip via Purley (avoiding the more straightforward motorway route, as learners aren’t allowed on the motorway).

I’d clocked up a lot of learning miles in my car with my dad before I decided to take some professional lessons in preparation for my driving test.  I had two instructors.  The first was a guy who was recommended to me by a friend.  I had a few lessons with him before I got really annoyed at him and his work-ethic.

He was forever overly-nervous, constantly grabbing the steering-wheel and insisting that I wasn’t quite ready to take my driving test.  I (rather cockily) begged to differ.  After too many a few lessons with him, I found a different instructor called ‘Murray’ (I got the impression that this wasn’t his real name).

During my first lesson with Murray, he confirmed that I was indeed ready for my driving test.  He wanted to go over everything with me, so I had a couple more lessons with him before my test.  He was calm, he had confidence in me and he wasn’t out to rip me off with excessive lessons that I didn’t need.

I passed my driving test first time with minimal minor faults.

This meant that I was now able to bin the ‘L’ plates and get into my car solo and unsupervised.  I was momentarily phased by this, but decided that the best way to remedy my nerves was to just jump into my little old Fiesta and take a drive.  So I did.

And the rest is history.

I was a confident new driver, and I knew that I had a good, natural ability to drive.  I’m not sure if I’d have been as confident or able had I not had that amount of practice in my own car.  I was never limited to a one-hour slot in my car with dad.  I could have several drives in one day, sometimes short, sometimes longer.  I had the opportunity to drive at all times of the day.  Rush-hour, night-time, weekends – come rain, snow or wind.

All of these ‘road-miles’ as a learner helped in preparing me for my life behind the wheel.  If you have the opportunity to learn in your own car with a competent and trusted driver you know, I highly recommend it.

My dad was meticulous with his knowledge of the Highway Code.  He maintained the importance of adopting correct driving techniques such as not crossing your hands over on the steering wheel, checking your mirrors before manoeuvres etc.  If you choose to learn in this manner, it is vital that the instructor has an excellent knowledge, or you’re going to learn the wrong things.

I also highly recommend taking professional lessons to supplement your personal lessons.  A professional driving instructor will nip any bad habits in the bud, and will be able to guide you on the best time to take your test.

If you have nobody at home who can teach you how to drive, make sure you find the right instructor for you.  I can’t remember which of my driving instructors was the cheapest, but I do remember that my first instructor was no good for me.  He would have continued to give me lessons despite me being ready to take (and pass) my test.  If you find an instructor, and they aren’t right for you, don’t be afraid to change.

I’m not sure if I’ll be confident enough to take on the role of driving instructor with my kids.  I’ll re-evaluate that when the time comes.  My husband is as good a driver as me, but a much better teacher, so he may be the man for the job.  I’ll keep you posted on that one.

In the meantime, I’d be thrilled to hear about your learner-driver tales.

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7 thoughts on “The ‘L’ Plate Days

  1. I haven’t got many regrets, but not learning how to drive is definitely one of the few I do have. Yay for your dad 🙂 I’ve been looking into intensive driving courses, but it’s a massive investment and we don’t need to drive where we are… One day 😉 love the hair btw!

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    1. My dad was an awesome teacher (hence, I’m such an awesome driver!). I do battle between the great thrill and enjoyment I get from driving and the environmental cost of owning a car. If I could live (and of course I could if I HAD to) without my car, I would do so. But I’ve grown so used to the convenience of having my car, plus I do love them.

      I take my hat off to you for not driving, and if you get about fine on public transport, then that’s fantastic. I applaud that.

      Oh, the hair. There was certainly a lot of it! xx

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  2. You’re far too kind and flattering! But I’m glad all that stuff you reckon I taught you stuck. Actually, I’ve always known it’s stuck – you drive like a professional – but it’s really nice to be credited for it! 😉

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    1. PS – forgot to say, I was only thinking about that photo the other day; like whether it still existed somewhere, and how much you hated me sneaking up on you with my old 35mm camera! (still got it, BTW…)

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      1. Driving like a ‘professional’?! Hehe, thanks dad. Yes, I discovered that I have a lot of the family photos here – lots of you and mum in your 20s. I possibly did hate you for taking that photo at the time (when I was painfully shy in front of the camera), but I’m very glad for it now, as it is the only photo I have of that car! xx

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  3. I learned to drive in an intensive summer before my 18th birthday. I was awful at first – nervous, tentative, lacking in confidence (normal me, in other words) – but gradually got to grips with it and passed first time a couple of months later. I remember the first time I drove on a motorway distinctly – it was a rainy, windy night and I was terrified, and I had not done anything more than a 40mph dual carriageway at that point. But the best lesson is definitely experience and if you have a patient driver alongside you – something I lacked – that really helps.

    Nowadays I love my cars. I do 15-20,000 miles a year and pretty confident. I’m going to try and do an advanced driving course next year, though – I could do with unlearning some bad habits and finding a few new handy tips. Since the kids came along, I’m certainly much more aware of safety and my own mortality, even though I still love the thrill of speed.

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