If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Sunday 20 February 2011

Happy Birthday, Driving Licence

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.

Bloody hell.

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.


  1. Some sort of congratulation is probably in order!

    And yes, although I can't claim the same level of experience (I was only 5 in 1971, and haven't ever had a good car), how very true about bikes. That's why my stock answer, even in the wet, freezing midwinter, is: "It's always a good day for biking".

  2. Hey, my first was a Triumph Tina, too! It was only a scooter, and a feeble one at that, but the freedom! Intoxicating. A Panther 200 was next, nowt special, but it was proper bike-shaped, and then a 125 Honda... Happy days. :-)

  3. I think my Tina cost me a fiver. No bodywork, just a frame and engine, but I got it going and used it on waste ground. It never went on the road (except to get to the waste ground, of course). It was a curious battleship-grey colour. I wonder if there are any on eBay ...

  4. "...but mobility has let me do things that previous generations could only dream of..."

    Probably one of the main reasons for the progressives to have such a loathing of motor vehicles.

  5. Bang on, Julia. Personal mobility empowers ordinary people and gives them freedom - exactly why the left hate anything but 'public' transport. People think all the anti-motorist stuff is to do with safety or the environment. It's not - it's trying to make us think that we don't want all that messy self-determination when there are so many good and idealistic people standing ready to determine things for us. Plus it's fun, and the neo-Puritans can't stand that.

  6. I'm a couple of years short of that. I think I've done getting on for 500,000 miles in an assortment of cars and company vans, and closer to 200,000 on 2 wheels. I wonder if 10,000 miles in one year on a Puch Maxi counts as a record? I was intimately familiar with every pothole in the area afterwards!

    The CZ was severely modified quite early on when a car turned in front of me late one evening, and I continued across the junction in mid air. I don't remember anything more than cuts and bruises, and the bike was subsequently repaired and served for many more years.

    I do remember coming off the Puch when father wanted to sell it - I had taken it for a MOT, and returning home forgot to lift the inside pedal as I threw it into a corner....

    I put mums Mini in a ditch one icy night, and had a few minor bumps in other cars, but they were all a long time ago.

    I was fortunate that father was manager of a local concrete plant, and I started driving off-road at 15. I was already happily doing 3 point turns and hill starts on gravel before I took to the roads legally. My driving instructor said I was too confident, and forced me to slow down!

    The BMW R65 is probably the fastest and best vehicle I've owned - I took a mates tuned Laverda Jota round the block and scared the c*** out of myself! The only new 4 wheelers have all been someone else's...

    I'm afraid I get little pleasure out of travelling these days - the roads round here are dreadful, and there is just too much traffic. I guess the wilds of Wales are less hazardous?

  7. 10k on a Puch Maxi is definitely a record, and probably also a medical one if you check the proctology textbooks.

    I had a similar experience to yours. From about 15, if I missed the school bus I would walk down to where my Dad worked and he would give me the keys to 'get the car ready' about 10 minutes before he was due to leave. This involved backing it out of a narrow garage and then manoeuvring it round a car park with a steep slope to the exit. By the time I started driving lessons I was very confident in car control and, like you, my instructor warned me about over-confidence. But the upshot is that I have never, ever, been nervous about driving anywhere over any distance - to me it is relaxing and enjoyable, and I think that early confidence has kept me fairly safe over the years.

    Yes, the roads round here can be amazing, but the vast majority of my mileage is commuting on main roads, and it's still a pleasure, on the bike at least. But it's not central London, for sure.

  8. Oh the reminiscences.

    At least you were enclosed by bodywork when 'your' prat turned right, across your path.

    I was on prized Velo 500 Clubman when 'my' idiot turned right. He got T-boned; I went flying, literally. With concussion I just remember waking up in hospital. Fortunately, it was a cold evening, & I was well protected - leather jacket, two pairs of jeans, 'flying' boots, Everoak helmet, leather face-mask (this was before Bell invented/marketed the full-face helmet for road use.

    Fortunately, no broken bones; gashed knee, and a gash all the way through one of the lined flying boots.

    Velo frame twisted, forks knackered: written off.

    My greatest regret is letting the untouched engine go for £35. [With all the mangled bits.]

    With hindsight, I didn't realise the value of its number plate DVG 1D.

    I still scour the Sunday Times rich list to see if a Mr G1D bought it.

  9. @ Joe Public that's a Norfolk registration - I wonder which dealer originally sold it?

    According to this site it has been un-written off! https://www.mycarcheck.com/check/DVG1D/

    Vehicle Check for DVG1D

    The vehicle DVG1D, a Velocette Venom (Motorcycle), is on our database. To discover its history please continue.

  10. Wow thanks (about the 'un-written-off info) MicroD.

    Probably 1st sold by R O Clarkes of Norwich. It was a 1966 registration, I bought it late 1960s from R O Clarke ( I lived in Norfolk at the time).

    As you can imagine, I had a badly bent Venom in the back garden; I'd only been out of hospital a few days (so biking ambitions were dented in more ways than one); a guy turned up unnanounced & offered to buy it; I was at the time a naive student; and, didn't realise the non-tangible value.

    The restored beast would probably be worth £8k - £10k today. That's a fair rate of return on £35 + restoration costs.

  11. Are you sure that info means the bike is still on the road, as opposed to just being 'on the database'? Several of my old cars appear on the DVLA database (so there is a record of them, in effect) but they haven't been taxed for 20-30 years, so are probably defunct.

    Sad story on the Venom, Joe. As you say, if only ...

  12. Apologies - I have checked a few numbers on that site that DVLA says are untaxed, and they don't appear. So it looks like the bike is still on the road.

    I recently checked my old Moto Guzzi (1979 model, sold in about 1987) and it is still taxed. Part of me is thrilled the old girl is still around, but at the same time it's an odd feeling. That's my bike, after all.

  13. I thought it probably would have been RO Clark. I bought my first bike - a Suzuki A100 (I think it was)- from them in 1973. And they sold my father the first "proper" crash hat in Norfolk just after the war.

    I can still picture that poky little shop with worn floorboards, and the long entrance paved with thousands of small tiles. A real death trap if it had a covering of oil which, lets face it, was pretty well all the time back in those days!

    The CZ came from Tinklers, but that might be a story for another time!

  14. MD

    Bloody hell - Tinklers, that's a name from the past.

    IIRC they had a small showroom & workshop on Oak St (I think).

    I bought an old 250 Greeves street-legal 'trials' bike from them. Rising link forks, and its only claim to fame was a compression ratio of about 15:1.

    My memory's fading - summat to do with old age - well that's my legitimate excuse, but I don't think it had any lights. I seem to recall if a bike had lights but they didn't work, it was illegal; but if it had no lights, well there was nothing 'wrong' with it. Except the night-time curfew meant I had to plan my days out carefully.

    You were right about R O Clarks' slippery, tiled entrance in Tombland. (or was it Upper King St?)

    It was like a Victorian shop with display windows both sides of a long 10 yard-long hallway.

    When I chose the Velo, I remember being taken on a test ride (they wouldn't trust punters riding the bikes themselves) up the long, windy, rising Gurney Rs through Mousehold Heath.


    [And thanks Richard for letting me use your BlogSpace to share the 40 year old memories.]

  15. Guys, it's a pleasure!

    My first bike was from Watson Cairns, Lower Briggate, Leeds - the same kind of shop, with a tiled floor and proper woodwork.

    Now, carry on ...

  16. Heh, Google ... Watson Cairns here:


    Extreme left, you can just see the BSA advert. Not a good one of the shop, but you get the idea. From 1936, but no different in 1972.

  17. Clarks is now an estate agent:
    I think the door is a bit closer to the pavement, but otherwise the shop front looks the same.

    Tinklers is in Northumberland St: http://tinyurl.com/64gz2mx
    This isn't how you will remember the place - it used to be a tiny showroom with the (separate) workshops round the back. On a Saturday morning punters would be queuing outside...As far as I know Max (the founders son) is still there.

    The dealer in Oak St was Denis Slaughter:
    He sold the business many years ago. The Street View camera seems to have done strange things to the unfortunate car outside!

  18. @ JP - Denis Slaughter was heavily involved with the local trials/scrambling scene, so you probably got your Greeves from him?

    I remember getting roped into marshalling at Cadders Hill, Lyng. Googling that brought up the Norwich Vikings club:
    Which I remember being a member of - Lo & behold, look which name appears at the bottom of the page!

  19. Hi MD

    You're correct, and my mind/memory was playing tricks.

    The Greeves came from Oak St, so it would have been Slaughter's.

    "As far as I know Max (the founders son) is still there." - that wouldn't be Mr Farquar would it?????????

    No, honestly, I don't want to know.


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