I passed my driving test five months after my 17th birthday having had 13 lessons and a few practices with my mum and dad. I got a minor fault in every category (and two in quite a lot of them) but I passed on the first attempt and it is one of the most useful things I have ever done.
I can’t imagine now not being able to drive – life would be so much harder without a car and being able to go wherever I want whenever I want.
Although I passed my test when I was 17, it was another 7 years before I got my own car. At first I drove my mum’s little Corsa, asking to borrow the car when I wanted to go to see my friends and (occasionally) topping up the tank with £5 of petrol for the privilege.
In between my first and second years at university I worked for the company my dad was a director of, and that was when I drove a van for the first time. It stood me in good stead two years later when I was working in France for the summer and had to drive a minibus and a van as a part of my job.
A ski season in the French Alps followed and I had my first (often terrifying) experiences of driving in snow. Sliding sideways towards the edge of a mountain in a blizzard is not the most fun I’ve ever had! During that winter I also drove a 15 year old Renault 19 estate up a mountain with 1000 litres of orange juice in the boot!
Another two summers of driving vans around France followed. I loved driving a van – being higher than most of the other vehicles on the road is so much fun, and I loved the freedom that my job gave me. I drove thousands of miles on my own and I could never have done that if I hadn’t taken those lessons and learnt to drive when I was a teenager.
And that brings us until the winter of 2001. I was 23 years old and I had never had my own car. But I got a job working at an industrial laundry near Nantes in north west France (I know, the glamour right?). The job came with accommodation – a shared house in the countryside about 40 minutes drive from the place we worked.
It was brilliant fun living and working with loads of my friends but I decided a car was essential if I was going to survive the winter. So I bought a J reg Vauxhall Nova for £150! It was actually for sale for £300 but my dad’s car had just died and was an economical write off – the garage that took his car was the one selling the Nova so they gave me the value of his car off my new one.
So here it is. My first car.
And those are the keys, which I still have for reasons I’ll explain in a minute. There were four keys, one for each door, one for the boot and one for the ignition! It had a manual choke if any of you are old enough to remember those, and you had to do a complicated simultaneous choke/accelerator/clutch manoeuvre to get it to start.
It may have only cost £150 but that little car got me to Nantes and back (twice) in the winter of 2001/2. I then drove it to the south of France and used it there for the whole summer (although once the brakes got stuck on because it was so hot and I hadn’t driven it for a few weeks!). The winter of 2002/3 I came home to Blackpool with my trusty little car. For the 2003 summer season I was heading back to France as an Area Manager for Canvas Holidays, which meant more driving vans and a company car.
So my brother took the little Nova and it spent the summer with him in Brittany. At the end of that summer we moved to Scotland and the car came with us. We rented a flat next to a pub and parked the car in a public car park between the two. On New Year’s Eve 2003 we went to a party at a friend’s house. We came home in the early hours and went straight to bed. January 1st was a write off and we didn’t leave the house. We decided though on the 2nd of January that we needed to blow away the cobwebs and decided to get in the car and go to the country for a walk.
So we got dressed, got all our stuff together and went outside. But the car was gone.
By this point it was on its last legs. The driver’s side door lock would regularly just fall out of the door. The windows didn’t shut properly. If you didn’t start it within two goes you would have to leave it half an hour before trying again. And someone had managed to steal it!
I called the police and it had actually already been found abandoned in a local village the day before (with all the registration documents in the glove box!) but because I hadn’t reported it stolen they were attempting to get in touch with me at my parents’ house in Blackpool because that was where the car was registered.
When the police went back to get my car it wasn’t there! It had been stolen again (or possible taken again by the same people) and was found written off in a field. It was towed to a recovery yard, then taken from their by my insurance company to a garage where it was confirmed it was a write off. Because I had no other means of transport other than the bus (which didn’t seem to go anywhere near the garage) I never saw the car again. Which is why I still have the keys!
I’m not really sentimental about material things but that little 150 quid car did me proud. And even though it was on its last legs and probably wouldn’t have got through another MOT I was sad to see it go.
What was your first car? Or do you not drive and manage fine without one?