Testing times

Wouldn't you like to Drive Like a Rockstar?

The 15th October 1991 is a day that I’ll never forget. It was the day that I felt like I’d finally become a proper grown up as I heard those immortal words… ‘You’ve Passed!’

I was never really interested in school. GCSEs were something you had to do, and A Levels were what you did, if you couldn’t think of a viable life alternative to staying at school, which I couldn’t. Both involved the 50:50 prospect of pass or fail, but as long as I scraped through, I was quite content. Able but idle, were three words that could often be found on my academic school reports, but when it came to ‘driving school’, that was an entirely different matter.

From the age of about 2, I apparently displayed a talent behind the wheel, as I skilfully steered the ubiquitous and large (circa 1970s) round ashtray that would normally occupy two thirds of the coffee table in our house, around the carpet on the floor in the lounge. This was my steering wheel, and from that point onwards I was single minded in my desire to one day swap that ‘steering wheel’ for the real thing.

Learner cortina

In my teens a mate of mine was a farmer’s son, and his dad used to let us drive their P100 Cortina pick up around the farm, giving me the necessary understanding of the three pedals. The Cortina route continued as my dad had a 1981 X reg Cortina 2.0 S that I learnt to drive in when I turned 17. You didn’t see many Cortinas with L plates on, as it had the manoeuvrability and turning circle of a medium sized oil tanker, but that’s what I honed my roadcraft in, and what I prepared for my test in when I wasn’t having lessons in the very different surroundings of my driving instructor’s Nissan Micra.

Driving instructors were normally odd and dull people in my limited experience and in my pre conceived and overly clichéd mind. To be fair, the guy who taught me used to go down to Cornwall surfing, and I think had a camper van (unless I made that bit up) but for the most part, they were people that you would normally avoid unless you wanted to learn to drive, which at 17 and having waited at least 15 years for the opportunity, I did.

Anyway, when I came out of the test centre with that pass certificate, it felt amazing. Unreal even. Suddenly I was a driver, and my mate Anthony Davies who gave me a lift to the test, let me drive his Fiesta 1.1 popular plus back home, as I was now officially a fully qualified motorist. I’m not entirely sure how that worked from an insurance point of view, but that’s not important right now. What is important is the fact that it’s a magical feeling and one that’s as vivid to me today more than a quarter of a century on, as it was then. I think everybody can relate to the freedom that’s granted from those magical words and that invaluable piece of paper, and it’s surely the same today as it ever was. It affords you a freedom to go places you wouldn’t be able to otherwise go, to do jobs you wouldn’t be able to otherwise do, and in summary, driving makes you cool.

All of us like cars and bikes and stuff like that, but we all had L plates at some point, and so I wanted to make a film about the much underrated (in my opinion) role of the driving instructor in motoring society. Everybody needs one, especially us a few weeks ago with a commission to make a short film for influx about learning to drive, so we quickly set about finding the coolest, most interesting driving instructor we could, with availability to spend two days with us in mid to late April. As if by magic, we uncovered a total one off in the form of Andy Pearson who runs his own driving school in Derbyshire called ‘Drive Like A Rockstar’. I don’t want to tell you too much about Andy, otherwise you might not watch our film, and that’s the important bit here. Watching the film is probably 6 or 7 times more important than the entirety of this article, which is essentially just filler to give you a bit of background on the subject, which I’ve so far failed to do as I’ve been rambling on about ashtrays and Cortinas and other irrelevant detail, but in Andy Pearson we found ourselves the perfect subject for this short film. A maverick, a believer and a total professional, but most of all an absolute gentleman who couldn’t have done more for us and who we thoroughly enjoyed spending a couple of days with.

I’m unlikely to ever have to take my test again (unless something weird or really bad happens) but If I ever did, I’d choose Andy Pearson, who is considerably cooler than the driving instructor that I had back in 1991, who I don’t think actually surfed. I reckon he just told people that as a way of filling any awkward silences during those hour long lessons, and so that people didn’t think he was a dullard.