There were few cars in the street where I lived with my Mother in 1964, at which time I had reached the age of 17. My father was dead, and he never possessed a car in his lifetime; in fact, no one in my family aspired to own a car, nor could anyone actually drive, and neither did any of my neighbours, on either side of the street.
As soon as I turned seventeen, I signed up for driving lessons without delay. When the driving instructor arrived at our house for my first lesson, he was faced with a novice boy who had not been in a car, let alone knew the first thing about driving a car.
I took ten one hour lessons in a Ford Anglia, a car which has a new “heritage” status, with Harry Potter fans in particular, since it is apparently featured in the motion pictures in that series.
After the ten lessons, the instructor arranged a driving test with a local examiner. Unhelpfully, he did not bring with him the same car in which I was taught to drive. The examiner did not seem to mind my frequent stalling of the unfamiliar test car, and I passed my test at the first attempt.
1964 was an optimistic time. The Beatles had “conquered” America, and I had passed my driving test.
But I had no car, nor did anyone I know own a car. The arrival of My First Car, had to wait since I had no cash and in fact I had no idea just how much cash I would need in order to own a car. I would bide my time.
However, an elderly man in the neighbourhood who also did not own a car and had never driven a car, or knew anyone that had driven a car, got word of my ambitious uppity enterprise and surprised me one evening by presenting me with a brand new, second hand car. It was a black Austin with running boards, and prominent headlamps, and it was barely a “runner.”
He simply parked it outside our house, knocked on the door and handed me the keys, and as he did so he assured me that there was nothing for me to worry about and that the car was fully taxed and insured and that everything was taken care of. He knew our family was broke, but of course, so was he.
You might say that this was My First Car....... but not for long.
Within the seven days following the handing over of the Austin to my ownership, the kind old man collapsed and died of a cerebral haemorrhage. Three days after he died, I was in the Austin and was approached by a young policeman on a bicycle, because even policeman had no cars in 1964. I was asked to produce my licence and insurance, but I had a deficit of just one of those two items.
I actually liked the young policeman and he was quite kind and sympathetic when he heard my tale about the kind old man. “Don't worry”, he said,. “I can understand why you are unable to produce the insurance documents”.
A month later, I faced three magistrates who had their heads down scribbling notes or doing crosswords during the court proceedings. The same young policeman gave his evidence and I had the feeling that the three Magistrates were not paying attention. They certainly never looked at him once.
When I came to have my say, I was spoken to, harshly by the court usher who told me like a serjeant major to, “stand up.”
I looked up at the three Magistrates, and they continued to have their heads down, apparently not interested in my call of mitigation. This disturbed me. I started nevertheless to explain the circumstances of my crime, but all three of them, continued to ignore me. I decided to stop talking in mid sentence and to wait until I had their full attention. During the longest pause the Magistrates whispered to each other, but did not look in my direction. I continued to wait until one of them finally looked down at me from their elevated position. I took this as a signal to continue which I did, but as soon I spoke again, they renewed their whisperings with their heads down, discussing Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Princess Margaret, or Potted Plants and Harold Macmillan, and the new Chauffeur, and Leather, and Discipline, and Joe Orton, or whoever took their fancy; maybe John Profumo, or some other Tory role model for a seventeen year old boy from the other side of town. Don't think I’m bitter.
I was suspended from driving for 6 months and received a fine. The kind young policeman looked over at me across the floor of the court, apologetically. I had received my first taste of British justice.
I don’t recall what happened to the Austin, but in truth, I had no great love for her, perhaps because she came to me and I did not seek her out. It was also a pain to get her motor going for the short time that I was allowed to drive her, and let’s face it, she did not have enough back seat accommodation for the urgent demands of seventeen year old courting.