My grandfather is versatile. He’s managed a taxi firm, been a mechanic, owned his own business married my grandma, is mum’s dad and in 2009 he was my driving instructor. He was 62 and I was 10.
I had avidly watched Top Gear and driving shows instead of CBBC and CITV, had worked on real cars with my grandfather having very little interest in toys and as a 10-year-old felt righteously aggrieved. Why wait until 17 to learn to drive when I could do it now?
I knew my mum wouldn’t be thrilled at her elder son getting behind the wheel at 10. But what she didn’t know couldn’t hurt her! I found out later she had been peeking from behind the curtains. She knew I was in safe hands and at that age I thought I was made of magic and elastic and that I would always bounce. On the public highway I have far more fear now.
Fortunately for me my Grandfather has a bit of land and he lives in a bungalow with a long drive looping round the back so I had a ready-made track, not quite Silverstone but pretty good for Calverleigh in Devon.
Of course there are some inherent problems in being 10-years-old and learning to drive. My legs wouldn’t reach the pedals no matter how far forward the seat went. But then, I do have a versatile grandfather. He whipped out the driving seat of his Mondeo Mark 2 X reg., found a stool and riveted it to the floor. Simple.
I know I was lucky.
I didn’t really have many prangs; certainly no accidents – a couple of moments where I sucked in my breath and one time when my adrenalin just went seismic. It was a manoeuvre I’d done countless times; just had to approach the open gate and not go through it. But, I got my feet in a muddle and ended up with the clutch in and my right foot on the accelerator and not the brake. The car revved like the engine was going to blow and I thought we were going to burst onto the road. We didn’t. I was drenched in sweat and my shirt just clung to me, but I wasn’t put off.
I know I was lucky. Not everyone has a petrolhead for a grandfather. He’s owned so many classic and old cars over the years and there’s not much he doesn’t know about automobiles. I got to drive six different cars before turning 17 and taking my test. But I also spent hours and hours as I grew up working with my grandfather on his cars inside and out; so I think I earned my opportunity to drive.
Sometimes I get asked ‘how long it took me to drive competently’ and the answer is ‘a month’. I suppose that was a combination of really wanting it, not having the same fears as an adult and of course having my grandfather as my instructor. He’s a wise man and despite having had a leisurely seven year ‘apprenticeship’ insisted I should get some driving lessons – just to cover some of the niceties of test passing. Four driving lessons later I past my test – first time.
Words by Elizabeth Ann Smith