‘Cup of Tea Tales’- My Adventures Learning to Drive, Taking the Driving Test and Working for WRAGGS Motorcycles. 1971 Leeds.

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.

After about twelve lessons, Mr Waites, the driving instructor, 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 practised along the test routes for the remainder 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 at Hillcrest House.

The time for the test was upon me . The driving examiner entered the passenger seat, and he barely said a word, apart from giving instructions about where to turn and what procedures he wanted me to do. It surprised me that he didn’t fasten his seat belt, something that would be compulsory nowadays. We set off from the test centre and I noted we were heading to the area that we had practised during the lessons. It was mainly Harehills and Chapeltown. This was a relief, and I was driving fine. We did the usual manoeuvres of three-point-turn, reverse parking and hill-starts. I knew that the emergency stop was coming, and he forewarned me he wanted me to stop when he tapped his newspaper on the dashboard. The moment came, and I was pleased with the speed and control I maintained. I relaxed a little, and this was a fatal mistake. He asked me to use hand signals for the next period until he told me to stop. I wound the window down and we carried on. After managing the signals for a few minutes, I returned to indicating. ‘I thought I asked you to use hand signals?’ he said in a stern voice. ‘I’m sorry,’ I replied. ‘Using the indicator is just instinct.’ He said nothing more, but my heart sank. “I’ve blown it,” I thought.

Harehills where I learnt to drive and took my test.

We were driving along Roundhay Road and approaching the Harehills Road Junction. It was late afternoon, and the sun was setting and the sunlight was dazzling. I had been told to be very careful with zebra crossings because if you drove over one and someone stepped on it, it was an instant fail. The light was blinding as we approached the zebra crossing, and just as I was about to drive over the black and white lines, I saw someone step onto the crossing. I slammed on my brakes and the examiner was thrown forward. His papers went flying and his glasses fell off as he hit the windscreen. If I had any doubt I would fail, that vanished. I almost cried, but carried on after the pedestrian walked across the road. It was nearing the end of the test and I continued in a dream-like state of misery and finally pulled into the driving test centre car park. The examiner was busy filling in his forms and then he turned to me, ‘We’re scraping the barrel here, Mr Cameron, but I congratulate you on passing your test.’ I couldn’t believe it. ‘Just one thing. Why did you stop like that at the crossing?’ I explained I had been told it was an instant failure. ‘Well, don’t do it again! You’ll have someone drive into the back of you.’

With that, he handed me the form to get a full licence, got out of the car and had a quick chat with Mr Waites, who was standing there. Mr Waites then walked over and told me to get in the passenger seat and he drove me home. My mother was still in the window waiting and she rushed out. I was beaming at this point and waved the pass papers in front of her. I think she had mixed emotions, pride that I had passed first time, but a bit of embarrassment that she had had so many lessons and tests before she finally passed. I had done it in 24 lessons and despite the belief I had blown it on the test, I was raring to drive on my own.

My mum had the Morris Minor at this point and she let me drive over to my older brother’s house in Crossgates. I must be honest, driving on your own was very nerve wracking. I was constantly waiting for someone to give me instructions and, of course, there was no one else there. I drove at night that first time and I hadn’t ever driven the car before and it was quite a scary ride. I wasn’t sure where I was going and got lost a bit, but eventually managed it.

It was a wonderful gift from my mother. I do think that it is so much easier to learn when you are young. I became a good driver and partly this is because my mum got me a job at Wraggs Motor Cycles on York Street as she was the wages clerk there. They wanted someone to drive the VW van to pick up and deliver motorbikes and scooters. They also had a shop on Lower Brigate and the workshop was on Brussels Street. I had to go in for an interview and they asked if I could drive the van and I said I thought I could. I was sent out for a test drive in Leeds centre on my own.

The Chesterfield Wraggs Store.

I was very nervous and headed out into the busy streets of Leeds on my own. I drove down York Street, Call Lane and Vickers Street. I felt quite pleased with myself and then turned right at the traffic lights back up York Street. It was only afterwards I realised that I had turned right where there was no right turn. No one else knew and so I got away with it. They seemed happy to employ me and as I was on school holidays, I had to start the next day. They wanted me every day apart from Sunday during the holidays and then just Saturdays when I was back at school. I believe I got eighteen pounds for my first week and I remember the joy of getting a pay-packet envelope with the corner missing so you could check your wage before you left.

A Triumph Bonneville

Before I left after the interview, they showed me how to get motorbikes up onto the back of the truck. There were two planks, with hooks that attached to the back when the back was down. I had to push the motorbike up one plank, whilst running up the other. I can tell you it was quite a feat, but practice helped, as did parking the van facing down any slope. The bike or bikes then had to be tied on with a thick rope, as the sides of the tray were only about ten inches and they would fall off if not secured properly. I took this all in, terrified I wouldn’t manage it, but they gave me a go and I managed to get a bike safely up. They offered me the job, and I was delighted, but there was just another shock to take on board. They wanted me to drive down to Meriden, near Birmingham, to collect a brand new Triumph Bonneville motorbike from the factory there. I had barely driven anywhere at this point and thought it good to take my friend David Goult along to act as navigator. At this point, you have to understand that I had passed my driving test after 24 lessons. I had only driven around Harehills, which was the test route, and since passing my test, only ventured a few places in my mother’s Morris Minor. Still, with the bravado and confidence of youth, I said it would be no problem.

The VW Van that was used to transfer the motorbikes

My mother was pleased I had the job, but worried about me driving so far on the M1 motorway on my own. I told her I had asked my friend David, from Roundhay School, if he would come with me. This seemed to calm my mother. They had given me the map book to help plot my route and so I checked that night where I was to go. This was to be an adventure, and I just hoped I was up to it.

The next morning, I arrived to collect the VW van, and the mechanic told me to check the water in the radiator. I couldn’t find the radiator and he fell around in fits of laughter as, of course, the VW had an air-cooled engine and no radiator. The workshop was across another street at the back of the salesroom on York Street and the van was full of petrol and, with my heart in my mouth, I drove away to collect my friend and face my first day at work. What could go wrong? I picked up Dave from his house and we set off down the M1 to Birmingham. I was nervous, especially as this was my first time on a motorway. Now I must add that the road was not as busy as it is today, but it was still very challenging. We took our time and, with some good map reading from my friend Dave, we arrived at the Meriden Triumph factory, near Birmingham, to collect a brand new Bonneville motorbike. I had the paperwork, and they were expecting me and so they directed me to the right section and the workers used a forklift to place the brand new bike on the tray of the van. They supervised the tying down of the bike and placed cloth where the ropes might rub and it all went smoothly, as did the return trip to Leeds. I dropped Dave off at his home before I drove to Wraggs. They were pleased to see the bike had arrived safely, and a little surprised to see me back so early. It was still only mid-afternoon. They unloaded the Bonneville, and I was given a more thorough tour of the workshops and provided with work overalls.

Book One of the Moondial fantasy series.

I worked for quite a long time and got quite used to driving around the North of England. The company was owned by partners at the time and one lived in a beautiful old house near Driffield. I would love the drive across the Vale of York and arrive at his large rural property, where there would be a collection of used motorbikes he had purchased, and they had to be taken to the Leeds workshop for preparation for sale. I would load up the van with a lot of motorbikes and occasional scooters and the machines would be hanging off the edges and the ropes criss-crossed to ensure they didn’t move. I am pretty sure that it would not be legal nowadays, but it was never an issue then. I would leave the idyllic house and countryside and drive back to Leeds. The Yorkshire Wolds is one of my favourite places and the countryside is truly beautiful.

The drive down Garrowby Hill was always interesting, and the brakes used to get very hot before I safely reached the bottom. The hill is a steep, winding climb down and many either fail to make the summit of the highest hill in the Wolds on the long climb up, or come to grief on the very steep descent. The view from the top is truly magnificent on a clear day as you look down on the vale that was a large glacial lake at the end of the last ice age. I always was relieved when I was safely at the bottom and the rest of the journey was straightforward. One mechanic, who used to do this trip before I started, was most displeased when I returned in the afternoon. He had apparently taken the full day for the same trip and I was making him look bad. He insisted I didn’t do it again. Another lesson that I took no notice of! The work became quite routine, but bit by bit various staff asked me to do things for them. Now, I have never really worked in businesses much in my life, apart from as a student, but there seemed to be a lot of underhand dealings going on. They asked me to deliver bikes to workers’ houses. One manager would have me do deliveries for them that were not actually work related, but private. They would instruct me to fill up jerry cans with petrol when I was filling the van and they would then take the cans and fill up their private cars with petrol that was meant for the van. There were a multitude of small fiddles going on that together must have cost the business a lot. None were major and no one actually explained that they weren’t work business, but several employees seemed on the fiddle in one way or another.

Wraggs had two shops in Leeds and one in Chesterfield. I had to do a lot of work between the shops and often on a small moped. I would shoot around, taking parts and documents from one shop to another.

Sometimes I had to go to stores for parts. This was one of the most amazing experiences. You would arrive at the service desk and a man would saunter over to you. They never hurried. “Yes?” he would say, and I would show him the written part I was to collect. He would look at the note and stroll out back into the warehouse. I would wait and wait. Five minutes later, he would return, look at the note again and saunter off into the back. Another five minutes and he would return. He would pull out a parts catalogue, flick through the pages, appear to find what he wanted and then he would turn around and disappear again. He never once spoke to me during this time, but he would occasionally mumble something to himself. Eventually, he would return like a successful bounty hunter with his prize, pass it over, get me to sign for it, and then I was allowed to leave. This experience has stayed with me, as it seemed to reflect the general attitude of many workers in the UK. Don’t hurry, don’t put yourself out! Unfortunately, it was the attitude that saw Britain lose its manufacturing industry to countries where people would do the work quicker, cheaper and in a fraction of the time.

I worked there for the whole of the summer and had to drive quite long distances and it really developed my driving skills and knowledge of Yorkshire roads.

Books of my tales are available as paperbacks from Amazon and as eBooks from Kindle.

2 Replies to “‘Cup of Tea Tales’- My Adventures Learning to Drive, Taking the Driving Test and Working for WRAGGS Motorcycles. 1971 Leeds.”

  1. Well done! It took me three attempts to pass my test and I was so nervous the first time I drove alone in my car – to a friend’s house in Adel – that I went miles out of my way to avoid having to do a three-point turn while she saw me off.

    Liked by 1 person

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