Tuesday 22 January 2019

How did I pass my driving test at age 50?

I must be the only man who sat his driving test with the ghost of his late father in the car with him. (Stock picture)
I must be the only man who sat his driving test with the ghost of his late father in the car with him. (Stock picture)
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

My earliest childhood memory was probably sitting on my father's lap as he let me hold the steering wheel of the family car - a brown Hillman Hunter - which was doing 15mph up the road to our home in Churchtown.

I was three-and-a-half.

I was, of course, something of a late starter, compared to Kim Jong-un... The supreme leader of North Korea has claimed that he first learned to drive a car expertly when he was, ahem, three years old.

Far be it for me to accuse the tubby custard dictator with his finger on the nuclear button of fibbing - but Kim Jong-un also claims he climbed his country's highest and most sacred mountain wearing slacks and formal dress shoes, found a unicorn's lair, personally discovered a cure for Aids, Ebola and cancer, and can control the weather if he wishes.

So maybe I actually did set the world record for the youngest "driver" of a car - albeit on my daddy's lap.

Last Thursday afternoon, as a man of 50, I drove up that same road once more, this time to take my driving test.

The tester would have been rightly horrified to discover that 46 years ago I drove up that same Churchtown Road on my father's knee.

What might have lessened the shock, and possibly brought a smile to his face, was that my father (who worked in the truck and car business all his career) was something of a celebrated driving instructor in the last few years of his life.

That said, Peter Egan, who didn't, as a rule, do irony very well or at all, must have been turning in his grave that his son waited until he was half a century old to sit his driving test.

Back to the test. I had failed it twice before and I was nervous.

In fact, I barely slept the night before (nor the night before that) as I catastrophised about failing it the third, then the fourth and the fifth time.

Indeed, I imagined that it would be far easier to find a unicorn's lair or climb a mountain in a top hat and spats than to negotiate a reverse turn around a corner or a three-point turn without bouncing off the kerb.

I was in the very outer darkness of despair: I would never drive a car in my lifetime without an L-plate as a badge of mortal shame and someone sitting beside me.

I watched dozens of videos on YouTube about what not to do on a driving test. I read books. I read useless article after article.

An old Spectator magazine recalled that some of the advice given to candidates on a Pathe newsreel 80 years ago included: "Don't flick your cigarette ash outside. It's very confusing." [The driver behind would have been looking for hand signals.]

I searched my trembling heart for inspiration - and found it.

I don't want you to think me completely mad but I found my spur thinking that my dad, not the driving tester, was sitting beside me during the test.

I must be the only man who sat his driving test with the ghost of his late father in the car with him. This has to be up there with Daniel Day-Lewis seeing his late father's ghost standing at the side of the stage staring at him when Daniel played Hamlet at London's National Theatre in 1989. So, on we went - me, my dead dad and the tester - at 4pm on a windy Thursday, past the lanes and fields I used to play on as a kid.

The tester had what you might call a nice face which I found strangely calming. Before we left the test centre and I was giving him the necessary documents for identification, etc, I asked him if he needed my passport, which I had on me. He smiled and said that the passport wasn't necessary as we weren't leaving the country.

I resisted the urge to joke that if I drive like Gene Hackman in The French Connection, we might leave the ground, and said nothing. Still, the tester's warm comment had the effect of relaxing me.

I felt here was a person with the soul of a poet beneath the exterior of a driving tester out to monitor, analyse, judge and mark my every movement for the next 25 minutes.

Be that as it may, that 25 minutes felt like an eternity of anxiety on the roads of my childhood.

I tried to keep my mind from wandering to memories from those roads.

I gave a girl I fancied a copy of Depeche Mode's I Just Can't Get Enough on the corner by the Russian Embassy one wintry night in 1981 (she looked at me, not unusually, like I had two heads, or could control the weather - I can't remember which). Further down the road, I remember almost drowning in the Dodder as a kid on a canoe trying to be Burt Reynolds in Deliverance.

Back to the test. I concentrated on every manoeuvre. I gave it my best shot.

When we finally went back to the test centre to find out my fate, I had steeled myself against hearing the dreaded: "I am sorry to have to tell you that you have not reached the standard required to qualify you to drive."

I was actually praying that the result would go in my favour.

Someone must have been looking down on me, because my prayers were answered.

Thank you, Dad.

I will be forever on your knee when I drive anywhere in the world.

Sunday Independent

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