A Moment of Simple Bliss

Like many young men in 1960 my Dad taught me how to drive in his old Standard 45 car. I was sixteen at the time and in those first few lessons I thought it very complicated. It was the first time I had to coordinate my arms and hands, legs and feet, at the same time as looking and evaluating road conditions. I had been saving a few shillings each week from the ten shillings I was earning as a boiler stoker (filling the coke bunker with coke to last through the week). This was a good habit for buying a car.

After one driving lesson Dad said he thought I was good enough to pass my test. At home he’d grill me with questions from the tatty old “Highway Code” book. It was decided that although I could drive competently, it might be in my own best interests, to take some finishing off lessons from a driving instructor. An instructor was quickly found in the small ads in the paper and as he lived nearby, we arranged to meet at 3 pm the next Saturday. It seemed strange with this man sitting next to me. “OK” he said, after going through the cars unfamiliar controls. “Let’s drive round a few streets, I’ll tell you where to go, and don’t forget to use your mirror and signal so that other drivers know what you intend to do”. He began by telling me to take the first turning on the right second turning on the left, which happened to be quite a steep hill, indicate, pull over and stop. He was bemused and asked “what are you doing flapping your right arm out of the window”?  “I’m telling others behind me that I’m slowing down “I explained and he just smiled.

I passed the driving test at my first attempt but the months slipped past, and soon became years. My savings grew. So I decided that now was the time to look to buy my first car. Believing that all second hand car dealers were crooks and sharks, I ask my Dad if he would help me find the right car. I can’t remember how many dealers we visited, but it was many . Eventually, somewhere in south London we were looking at the cars on the front lot when the owner came forward and introduced himself. He obviously thought Dad was the potential buyer, and was pitching all his sales patter at Dad. Dad quickly explained that he was only helping me to choose a decent, reliable car, as it would be my first! I must admit that as salesmen go, he was quite slick and he turned all the charm onto me. Finally, he said he did have a recently acquired car but it had not yet been valeted or serviced yet, but if I was interested I could look it over. Knowing that my Dad was more than capable of servicing a car engine we nodded. Whilst going to the rear of the property among other vehicles stood out a large, very large, yellow estate car. The car was just perfect for me and my young growing family. Not only could we all fit in but also my tools could be easily accommodated in the back. I was ecstatic with joy when Dad agreed to stand as a guarantor  to the price of three hundred pounds and the dealer was happy to take my one hundred pounds as deposit. The paperwork completed we shook hands and the deal was done.

As I drove across Blackfriars Bridge that day, following Dad – I don’t think I could ever be happier. That very same day the car was washed and polished till it gleamed. I took it to work on the following Monday and the depot manager said “Cortina’s are notoriously easy to steal”- he advised that I should fit a secret switch between the ignition and the coil, so that every time I leave the car I engage the switch and nobody could steal the car. I asked if he could do the work for me as he clearly knew what he was talking about. He agreed, and that very afternoon the switch was fitted under the dashboard just to one side of the steering column.

That car lasted me for about eight years  and it was only when the garage advised me that the seals under doors were so rusted through that it was doubtful it would pass the MOT again. I was sorry to send it to the scrap yard.


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