Sunday, 9 January 2022

Drive Safely

Have you seen this man? He was found guilty whilst trying to renew his driving license. The crime? Smiling. The computer took one look at the photo I uploaded and said, ‘No’. I took another with a glum expression. The computer accepted that one and prompted me to check the categories of vehicles I was allowed to drive. I was shocked to discover that I can drive seven ton lorries and minibuses with trailers. But the computer told me that these entitlements would be removed if my license was renewed online. So if you see a lorry or a minibus roaring up behind you, it won’t be me in the driving seat.

I didn’t buy my first car, a Ford Fiesta, until I was 30. I couldn’t afford one before that. I was a mature student who did a Masters and PhD part-time at Manchester University. I needed to work in all sorts of part-time jobs to pay my way. So I was pretty poor for most of my twenties. Hence, I had a succession of motorbikes, from a Honda 50 to a MZ 250 to a BSA 500cc with a sidecar. I loved these bikes and had some adventures with them.

Immediately before going to Manchester to study, I was working in Cambridge. I’d just become interested in hillwalking and was reading a book about the mountains of Scotland. The book was full of praise for Knoydart as the remotest and most beautiful part of the Highlands. So I decided to go there for a week’s holiday. I strapped my rucksack and tent on the back of my MZ and set off. I hadn’t realized quite how far away it was (about 500 miles). It took me two days to get there. The final stretch was 20 miles along a narrow track beside a loch that finished in a dead end. And all the way along it I was being followed by another motorbike.

I got to the end of the track and parked. I was at the mouth of a great glen with high mountains all around. The other bike stopped beside me. I was apprehensive as the other rider approached me. But he turned out to be the stalker who was responsible for Glen Dessary. He lived alone in a cottage a little way down the glen. He showed me where to camp, beside a grove of trees not far from his cottage. That evening, he invited me in for a drink, whisky of course. I had a great holiday, going for hillwalks and chatting with the stalker in the evenings. It was also my first introduction to the Scottish Midge.

I actually began to drive at sixteen. I bought a scooter from money I’d saved working for a local farmer. With my green parka, Ben Sherman shirt and jeans, I felt very cool on my Vespa Sportique. It was also very handy, as the village I lived in was six miles from my school. I had some adventures on that scooter too. I remember being chased by four lads in a Ford Zodiac, who were throwing empty cider bottles at me. They were drunk, so their aim was bad and I escaped. Today I drive and old Ford Focus. My teenage self would be horrified.

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