‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Cars, Learning to Drive, Drivotrainer and My Mother’s Driving Adventures.

David’s Bookshelf Issue 2 Cup of Tea Tales

This episode is also available as a blog post: https://davidmcameronauthormusician.com/2022/10/02/davids-bookshelf-issue-2/ — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/david-m-cameron/message
  1. David’s Bookshelf Issue 2
  2. David’s Bookshelf – Issue One
  3. ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – A Lifetime of Global Successes, Disasters and Wonders! Space the Final Frontier.
  4. ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Hetchell Woods (Bardsey) and Crags – A Special Piece of God’s Own Country or County! One of my Favourite Places to Visit.
  5. ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – The Wonderful Yorkshire Dales. Trollers Gill, a Place with a Mysterious Legend and the Hell Hole where I Diced with Death.

I have spoken about the early cars that my family had, the Austin, and the Ford Prefect, and these were followed by an Anglia, Cortina, Mini and various Escorts. My mother started to learn to drive in 1969 and when she eventually passed, additional models appeared: the Fiat 500, Morris Minor, Hillman Imp and finally her Mini. Cars were such wonders in their time, they saved the need to wait for buses or to use trains and opened up Leeds, the countryside and the coast to families in a way that would have been impossible, or much more difficult before. Of course, people did travel, but with cars, day trips and holidays further afield became the norm.

One major difference between cars then and today was the safety features. Seat belts did not exist in the early models and the interiors of cars were hard, unforgiving metal. Indicators were quite charming, with little wing flags that stuck out of the side to signal that you wanted to turn, but these were quickly replaced with lights to show the intention of turning. The first couple of cars we had had starting handles and required strength to get them going. Bit-by-bit, they developed in comfort, safety, and reliability. Heaters were introduced and car radios soon became the norm, but they were mediumwave and needed regular adjustment to maintain the tuning. Probably the biggest difference at the time was the lack of cars on the roads. As a child, I could play out in the streets and seldom see a car, but now the same streets are full of cars parked on the pavements and there is a constant stream of traffic up and down the road. Gipton Wood Crescent, which was the second house we lived in, was originally cobbled and I remember council workmen laying tarmac down the middle to provide a smooth ride for the cars, but leaving the gutters still cobbled.

For those who like a fast-paced thriller, this is worth a read. The next Gordon Bennet book, ‘A Trembling of Finches’ will be available soon and the story is set in Leeds.

None of the houses were built with garages on the street and none had driveways. I remember my dad working like a slave to remove the trees along the edge of the neighbours’ property and digging out the drive. My mother always felt it was one cause of his early heart attack at just 37 years. Once he had cleared it, workmen came to lay gravel as the foundation and then they laid marble chip asphalt and we had a driveway for dad’s car, even though it had a steep rise. A concrete prefab form garage was then built and it still stands today. As seems to be the case with most English garages, it rarely, if ever, housed the car and was full of tools, pieces of wood, tins of paint, the lawnmower and our toys and bikes.

One thing that the garage and drive provided was a place for us to play cricket. The doors became the wickets and the means of stopping the ball disappearing behind. This was particularly handy when there were only two of us and it was more fun than the road. As I have mentioned before, it wasn’t the traffic that was the problem, it was the old lady, Miss Ellis, who lived opposite. She seemed to hate children having fun, or at least that’s how we saw it. If we hit a ball into her garden, that was the end of the game. She wouldn’t ever give them back and the fear of sneaking in to fetch the ball and being caught by her was too much for my older brother or me. Once caught was one too many times. So the driveway was a godsend and Mr and Mrs Wynn, the neighbours, were a totally different kettle of fish. They were pleasant and didn’t seem to mind us just jumping the fence to fetch the tennis ball. They didn’t even complain when the ball hit their back door and must have been annoying. If we drove the ball out of the garden on the full, it was six and out, but it was still match over if it sailed across the road into Miss Ellis’ garden.

My father worked at Catton’s foundry on Black Bull Street and he was doing well. He was the Chief Inspector of Steel Castings and was a young man going places, and he could afford to buy good family cars. I even remember him looking at buying a brand new house at East Keswick. We went to visit the show house, and the move was almost decided when he suffered his heart attack. Other workers were hungry for his position and it put an end to his progress.

The cars were great, though, and enabled us to go to the cinema with dad on a Saturday, whilst Mum had time on her own or with Grandma, who would come and visit. We went all over Leeds to the Shaftsbury, the Clock, the Dominion, the Cottage Road, the Hyde Park, the Harehills and the Lounge. He would check the newspapers after doing the pools and find a film that would be suitable: a cowboy, swashbuckler or war film, and off we would go. He never seemed worried about when films started and we would usually arrive mid-film, watch the second half and then stay and watch the beginning. Crazy, but I think it was quite common then. My wife had similar experiences in Stoke-on-Trent, but they had more of an excuse as they didn’t have a car. Often there would be two movies, an A and B movie, and we would stay late. I remember falling asleep lying down on the back seat of the car. Of course, there was the added benefit of maybe a Kiaora drink, ice-cream tub or perhaps popcorn (Butterkist) but only in tiny amounts compared to the giant bags and sizes of today. Occasionally we would stop to get fish and chips, with scraps, wrapped in newspaper to take home. I can still smell the distinct aroma of hot grease, newspaper and the astringent vinegar that filled the car.

My mother worked during most of my childhood, and in the late sixties, she started having driving lessons. I love my mother, but a natural driver, she wasn’t. She started at a very modern driving school called Drivotrainer, run by a man called Mr Waites. I think it was near the Queen’s Hall or the Majestic and it had very modern driving simulators for you to begin to learn on. My mother looked forward to the lessons on the simulators, but when she moved into the actual cars, she found it much more challenging.

For anyone not from this time, driving lessons were much simpler than they are today. There was a practical test and then a test on the Highway Code. It wasn’t unusual for people to have a dozen or so lessons and pass the test. Unfortunately, my mother wasn’t one of those. I think she had two lessons a week, and they were quite expensive. My mother had various instructors, but none felt she was ready for her test, but finally, she was entered, more out of desperation, I feel, than because she was ready. The day was a massive one for her. She suffered terrible anxiety on test day and we all knew to avoid her until it was over. Anyway, she returned after the test and, unfortunately for her but not the motoring public, she had failed. Somehow she thought it was all my father’s fault, but he suffered stoically. The next week, she was back at the lessons. I believe she took her test again and again she failed. In the end, Mr Waites, the owner, took her on as a challenge to his growing reputation for getting everyone successfully through the test. His business was based on the belief that they could teach anyone to drive. Clearly, they had not met anyone of my mother’s calibre.

Mr Waites was a middle-aged man with Brylcreemed hair, and he was not an astute businessman. I believe he had to shut down the large school eventually and just work for himself again. He had the patience of a saint and he worked hard with my mother until she became a reasonable driver. The problem for her was that she got in such a state before a test and this got worse with each additional test she took.

On one occasion she had half a quart bottle of brandy to calm her nerves, but that, for obvious reasons, did not do the trick and she still failed. One time there was a mechanical problem with the car. I seem to remember that the gear stick came out in her hand, but she wasn’t to blame for that. Finally, after several years of lessons and a small fortune in lesson fees, she passed. The stars must have been aligned that day and she came back home delighted. I don’t think dad ever allowed her to drive his car, but she had saved up enough to buy a secondhand one from her wages. Mr Waites, the instructor, was so well respected by the family that he went with her to buy one and she returned with a Morris Minor. It was a grey one and had proper indicators rather than the little flag ones. I loved it.

I was just coming up to seventeen, when mum passed and she paid for lessons for my birthday. Of course, the instructor of choice was Stan Waites, and she arranged for me to have two lessons a week. I can still remember the excitement of my first lesson. I had got my learner’s permit and the afternoon of that day I was waiting in the front room for Mr Waites to turn up. He arrived and pulled up on the road outside and I went out to meet him. It seemed so strange to be sitting in the driver’s seat. I was shown how to adjust it so that my feet could reach the pedals and push the clutch sufficiently to reach the floor. He then showed me how to adjust the mirror and told me to do this every time I got in the car as the examiner would look out for it. The seat belt was fastened and then I was introduced to the basics of the gear stick. With the car in neutral, I was told to turn the key and start the engine. I can still remember the thrill. Hands at ‘Ten to Two’, I checked the mirrors, pushed down the clutch, put the gear stick into first, started to accelerate, released the clutch and the hand brake and then came to a shuddering stop. I had stalled. I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, my mother watching from the front room window. Mr Waites calmly took me back through the process and this time the car slowly, if not smoothly, pulled off.

Learner cars were dual control and I am not sure how much Stan Waites controlled the gear changes, but almost as soon as we started moving along the road, he had me changing to second. We drove to the end of the street and turned left, and then right again, onto Arlington Road. We then drove up to Easterley Road and turned left, heading towards the Ring Road. Easterley Road is a dual carriageway and I think the speed limit is forty miles an hour. He got me up to fourth gear, and the speed seemed incredible. We hurtled along the road and I had the mixed emotions of exhilaration and fear. We went up Wellington Hill and, in many ways, this part was quite easy as there weren’t many gear changes required, but I couldn’t believe it when we turned left onto the Ring Road towards Roundhay Park and Moortown.

I must say that I had no difficulties with the steering. Maybe that was because of the time spent riding my bike, but getting the clutch changing smooth was much more of a challenge. I seem to remember that we headed up by Roundhay golf course and back along Park Lane and Princess Avenue to Oakwood and then onto the streets near my home. We stopped in a side street and he explained the mechanics of gear changing, positioning in the road for turns and basic road rules. After that, we started off again, and we arrived back at our house. My mother was still in the window and she rushed to find out how we had done. Mr Waites said I had done very well but was not overly gushing.

The next lesson followed a similar pattern, but this time he took me through Harehills and the streets around Chapeltown and Spencer Place, as he told me that was the usual area that the examiners would use. I was more confident on the second lesson. It went well, and I looked forward to the next one. Each lesson after that we went to more challenging areas, and he told me less and less and allowed me to drive. He had a quick way to remind you if you were doing something wrong. A swift slap on the hand if you rested it on the gear stick, or a curt comment to let you know you had made a mistake, gave you the impetus to improve and learn. It was always done with patience and good humour, and he was an excellent instructor. I never drove with either of my parents and so the lessons were my total experience. After about twelve lessons, he told me he was putting me in for my test. I beamed with delight, but then the anxiety hit. How would I face everyone if I failed?

We did practise along the test routes for the rest of the lessons and Mr Waites would quiz me on my road knowledge and Highway Code. I also did some practice at home and then came the dreaded day of the test. You still had to do hand signals then, even though every car had indicators, but I hadn’t practised them with Mr Waites until the lesson before the test.

2 Replies to “‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Cars, Learning to Drive, Drivotrainer and My Mother’s Driving Adventures.”

  1. Stan Waites and my dad were great friends and had planned to run a driving school together until Dad’s ill health put paid to that. I remember ‘Uncle Stan’ very well, though, as a frequent visitor to our home with his Alsatian, Zelda.

    Liked by 1 person

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