George Cheyne: Glasgow, May 2021
There were a couple of urban myths knocking about in the mid-Seventies involving our local driving test centre.
The first was a widespread belief that Friday afternoons should be avoided if you wanted to lose those L plates and the second was you were doomed to fail if you came up against an examiner known as “No-pass Cass”.
There was a fair bit of anecdotal evidence to support both theories, of course, but the Fridays thing was backed up by cold, hard analytical data.
All right, it came via somebody’s second cousin who worked beside a wee woman whose son delivered milk to a driving examiner in the west end and he’d heard it from the horse’s mouth.
But it arrived with more than a whiff of truth about it.
Legend had it that the test centre at Anniesland in Glasgow – like a lot of others, presumably – had a set number of passes they were allowed to put through every week.
So if the quota was reached by Friday morning, then it was curtains for anyone sitting their test that afternoon.
No-pass Cass, on the other hand, was a fearsome zealot who could find fault with even the best of drivers…no matter what day it was.
Armed with this knowledge, it was a bitter-sweet moment when the date for my driving test dropped through the letter box and I found out it was a Friday at high noon.
That sinking feeling would have plummeted as low as the earth’s core if the letter had informed me the test examiner was to be Mr Cassidy, aka No-pass Cass.
But I was spared a double whammy because you were appointed an examiner on the day of the test. Still in the game, then.
And on the morning of the test my dad put me ahead of the game with a clever piece of reverse psychology.
“This Friday thing can work both ways,” he told me, “If they haven’t got enough passes in the book by this morning, then it’s got to be good for those sitting the test in the afternoon, right?”
With my glass-half-empty approach, I hadn’t even considered this possibility – but it helped me feel slightly more confident as I hit the road with my instructor Graham for the hour before the test.
By now I was driving a red Classic Mini 1000 after my parents put me on their insurance for a few months to help get me over the line.
I made the decision to sit the test in the Mini because I’d racked up more miles in it than I had in Graham’s Morris Marina.
Using the intel he’d gathered from his debriefs with clients, Graham plotted the route he thought I’d be taking.
“Mirror, signal, manoeuvre”, he’d say at every opportunity until the mantra was locked firmly inside my head.
His other favourite was: “You seem to have lost track of the time” – which was a gentle hint if your hands ever slipped down from the 10 to 2 position on the steering wheel.
The practice run went well except when I got carried away doing a three-point turn and, because it was a small Mini on a big road, managed to do it in one go.
A quick reminder from Graham that the object of the exercise is to use forward and reverse gears and I was back on track.
We went through all the drills until I was as ready as I was ever going to be.
Graham’s final pep talk was pretty straight-forward: “Remember…mirror, signal, manoeuvre.” And with that, I walked in to the test centre with as much self-belief as I could muster.
Which wasn’t hellish much, that’s for sure. I reckon my knees would have buckled if the examiner who called out my name had introduced himself as Mr Cassidy.
As it turned out, I never caught his name. I just knew he hadn’t said Cassidy and that was good enough for me.
After the obligatory eyesight test we were off and running…well, off and driving anyway.
Fair play to Graham’s intel, the route we took was almost identical to the one he and I had been on an hour earlier.
And that helped big time as we went through the drills – emergency stop, making an exit from a roundabout and parking at the kerb.
I was even asked to do the three-point turn at exactly the same spot as I’d done before and this time remembered to put the Mini into reverse.
Next up was reversing round a corner. I’d always been fairly good at this but nerves got the better of me as I lined up the car all wrong and was clearly going to clip the kerb if I carried on.
I stopped, asked the examiner if it was okay to move forward again to straighten up and was told: “I can only repeat the instruction…reverse round the corner on the left-hand side.”
“Yeah, but can I move forward again after starting the manoeuvre,” I pleaded.
“I can only repeat the instruction…”
I took the unilateral decision to slam the car into first, move forward a few feet to straighten up – and then executed the most perfect reverse I’d ever done.
If I thought I’d blown it with my impetuosity, then there was even worse to come at the hill start.
The examiner directed me to a fairly steep incline opposite a secondary school and I prepared to find the bite point, release the hand-brake and move off.
“Mirror, signal…man overboard”. Suddenly a sea of faces were flowing down the hill towards us as a swarm of school kids filled the road.
It’s lunchtime, the school bell had just rung and nothing was going to stand between them and the chip van parked down the hill behind us – not even a poor sod sitting his driving test.
What to do? There didn’t seem much point in asking my examiner after the last fiasco so I did precisely nothing.
Not an option, apparently. He leaned over towards the steering wheel, sounded the horn and uttered the words: “Let’s go.”
Mr Play-it-by-the-book had just gone rogue. And while he didn’t go full-on David Carradine in the movie Death Race 2000, there was a definite glint in his eye.
I somehow managed to steer unerringly through the throng without hitting anyone and circled back towards the test centre for the Highway Code questions.
By this point I was frazzled.
I’m pretty sure I failed to identify at least one of the road signs and definitely got a stopping-distance question wrong.
And when you add the reversing and hill start indiscretions into the mix, there was no reason to think I’d passed.
Yet Mr Play-it-by-the-book congratulated me, handed over a certificate, wished me good luck and headed off into the sunset…presumably looking for some pesky schoolkids to mow down.
Had No-pass Cass failed all his candidates and given us a free hit that Friday afternoon or had the examiner seen enough to figure I was at least an all-round competent driver?
Don’t know the answer to that one…and I don’t really care.