I'm not sure of the exact date (it might have been the 23rd), but it was in February 1971 that I passed my driving test. I passed my bike test the following year. So I have now been driving (legally) for 40 years.
In that time, I reckon I have driven about 650,000 miles on four wheels, and about 150,000 on two wheels. The difference is down to the usual reasons - newly married and only able to run one vehicle, young children ditto - and a ten-year gap when illness prevented me from riding at all. But if you add it all up, it's almost to the Moon and back, twice. Or 32 times round the world.
In that time, I have owned 20 cars, from a Citroen 2CV to a 4.6 V8 Range Rover, and 17 bikes, from a wrecked Triumph Tina scooter that I ran in the fields at age 15 to a Honda Pan European ST1300. The worst car I ever drove was a Moskvitch (it wasn't mine, just a loaner while one of mine was in for service), which was truly horrible. There have been no bad bikes. Even the Jawa 350 that I owned in the early 70s was fun at times, and I don't regret having it, although it did perform the greatest service to me by making everything since feel like a luxury.
I've had a few minor swaps of paint, but only one serious accident, when a car turned across my path on a dual carriageway and we met head-on. Luckily it was wet and wintry and I wasn't going fast. My passenger had whiplash which has troubled her all her life since then, whereas I walked away with nothing more than a permanent twitch of the braking muscles whenever I see a car waiting on a central reservation. The 2CV was repaired and back on the road in a week. The Triumph Dolomite that wandered into its path was a write-off.
I've had a few close calls on the bike, but have only fallen off three times, each time due to my own over-enthusiasm and lack of self-restraint. I like to think each one was a learning experience that I will not repeat. I hope I am right. Scrapes and bruises, but no broken bones or worse. Have I been lucky, or just careful? Who knows.
My Dad always enjoyed driving, and he was happy for me to learn because he knew I would enjoy it too. Neither he nor my Mum were very keen on motorbikes, but to their credit they never stopped me once I was 18, and never made me feel guilty or wrong about what I did. (They did utterly forbid me from having a bike when I was 16 and was hankering after a black Honda CB72 which a mate was selling. I moaned at the time, but looking back it was absolutely the right thing to do. I had no sense at all.)
So, 40 years and the best part of a million miles. A few moments of anger and stress. A few hours of boredom in traffic jams. But in all, hugely life-enhancing. I dread to think of the cost of it all, if you put it together into one sum, but mobility has let me do things that previous generations could only dream of: find work that suited me, even though it wasn't within walking distance of my home; meet people and do things on a whim that would have been impossible without personal transport; just go out and drive or ride because I wanted to.
I'm often rude about cars in this blog, but in all honesty I still get a kick out of driving and would set off on a thousand-mile journey at the drop of a hat, with the same sense of adventure I had when I was 17 (but with a much better chance of getting there in one piece). Bikes, though, are something else. I can never swing a leg over a two-wheeler without a faint memory of that first thrilling ride on a mate's Lambretta when I was about 14, wobbling helmetless down the road trying to juggle clutch and brakes, and wondering why my cigarette had torched down to the filter in half a mile, while the paper was still intact.
Happy days, all of them.