Category Archives: Driving

Road To Nowhere

John Allan: Bridgetown WA, June 2021

After the 1821 census, Glasgow’s population was greater than Edinburgh and so it appointed itself the moniker “Second City of the Empire”.
Statements of it’s great power, wealth and confidence could be seen all over the city in it’s fine Georgian and Victorian architecture. No more so than at Charing Cross, about a mile from the city centre.

In the 1960s the wise men of the Glasgow City Council and/or the Roads department thought it would be prudent to obliterate the Grand Hotel to the left and all the buildings to the right to dig a gigantic pit so that a major roadway could plough it’s way through the centre of the city. Thankfully Charing Cross Mansions (circa 1891) and the fountain were spared and are still standing today (below).

Fools to the left of me, jokers to the right…
Thank Christ they left this untouched!

In the mid 1970s, I would stroll up Sauchiehall Street from my workplace at Cuthbertsons in Cambridge Street to visit a school chum of mine, Colin, who worked in a hi-fi shop. This wasn’t your cheap and cheery discount warehouse sort of place. This was a top end salon for the discerning of supreme sound quality who had big spondulix to throw around. All woofers and tweeters and I’m not talking nature lovers. Think Bang & Olufsen and the like. This meant that Colin only saw one or two customers a day and welcomed my visits and wee chats. We might even slip out for a pint of real ale at the Bon Accord along the road. A warm and cosy little hostelry until you staggered outside to look down into the abyss as six lanes of motorway trundled by under your feet.

What were the planners thinking ?
Surely some sort of ring road around the city centre like other UK towns and cities would be preferable to the near destruction of an architectural gem a mere mile from the city’s heart ! “All those in favour of changing the motto from ‘dear green place’ to ‘trust in tarmac’ say aye.”

They even constructed an overpass which just halted mid air in front of some tenement buildings. Decades later ‘The Bridge to Nowhere’ was converted into offices but it still doesn’t disguise the folly.

Now you see it…
Now you don’t!

Compare that to another of my 70s haunts about 10 miles away (and less than 5 from the family home) on the A809 to Drymen.
The Carbeth Inn stood alone by the road in what I suppose was the gateway to rural Scotland even being that close to the city. Opened in 1816 and mentioned in Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Rob Roy’ in 1817 it was a favourite with both bikers and hill walkers.

Every weekend it was wall to wall leathers or cagoules. Abercrombie and Kent versus Harley Davidson. A juke box tussle between ‘Get your motor runnin’….’ and ‘I love to go a wandering….’. I think I fitted into the latter category – I certainly wasn’t a biker as I couldn’t drive back then.

When I say bikers, it wasn’t gangs of tattooed knuckle dragging mouth breathers with matching sleeveless denim jackets…. no, it was more quantity surveyors and tax accountants called Torquil and Farquhar who squeezed themselves into tight leathers and revved up for the weekend. As some sort of right of passage motorbikes would scream pass the pub, some doing wheelies, before back tracking to the car park. There would be a lot of engine envy going on. I remember one poser running alongside his bike, hands on handle bar about to jump on when the bike stalled and he flipped over his machine much to the cheers and laughs of those congregated. He ‘tummled his wilkies’ as they may say in these parts.

Many years later as a student nurse in orthopaedics, I looked after a lad who took the bike bravado a bit too far and mistimed a corner near Carbeth. He carried a macabre folder of photographs and x-rays taken whilst in casualty. If you think part of a femur can’t pierce leather and stick out at 90° from the hip then I can assure you I’ve seen the grizzly evidence. And that was the leg the doctors managed to save. The other was amputated just below the knee.

I think I was part of the Venture Scouts although I don’t remember any initiation ceremony or sewing patches onto any uniforms. We did various activities including hill walking and sailing but inevitably ended up 6 to 8 of us crushed into the back of expedition leader Alan’s Jaguar XJ screaming along the A809 at breakneck speed (maybe that was the initiation ceremony). I remember the nervous laughter as I watched the trail of sparks as Alan launched his Jag over yet another bump in the road and the feeling of relief as we cruised into the Carbeth to take our place among the throng.

There were another group who mainly kept to themselves. The Hutters. After WW1 the local landowner Allan Barnes Graham permitted campers to set up on his land. Huts were developed after WW2 mainly for displaced people after the Clydebank Blitz and these were passed down to family members. Although very basic without electricity or running water these must have been havens for the working people of Glasgow and surrounds. I wonder what they thought of this intrusion to their local.

Meet the Hutters…

I hear now that the Carbeth Inn is no longer and has been replaced by a drive thru coffee shop. What with a clamp down on drink driving it was inevitable that such an iconic country pub would be a casualty.

I continued my walking into the 80s and would often traverse close to Carbeth. I’d like to think my love for the countryside (and real ale) was fostered on some of those walks now that I’ve got my own little bit of acreage far from the madding crowd – and a lifetime away from any motorway !

Born to be mild

An ‘L’ Of A Journey (part 2)

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.

An ‘L’ of a Journey (part 1)

George Cheyne: Glasgow, May 2021

The day my son waltzed into the house after passing his driving test goes down as one of the proudest of proud dad moments.

Well, when I say waltzed…it was more of a slow shuffle as he went all Bob de Niro-style method actor on me with a fairly-convincing performance that he’d failed.

It took far too many angst-ridden seconds before his poker face finally folded to reveal a beaming smile.

Cue some manly hugging and back-slapping along with some girlie whooping and hollering thrown in for good measure.

And why not? It had been, literally and metaphorically, an amazing journey for him ever since he’d first slapped the L plates on the car and sat in the driver’s seat.

The feeling of pride didn’t come from any sense of reflected glory on my part. I’d helped him – or at least I think I did – steer his way through all the trials and tribulations of being a learner driver.

I’d sat alongside him for hours on end and felt his pain and pent-up frustration during all those “kangaroo petrol” moments, the crunching gear changes, the stalling at traffic lights with a queue of cars behind us and the teenage tantrums. Oh, yes, the tantrums.

So, yeah, I was proud he’d come out the other side.

And in keeping with the ways of the 21st Century, there was a picture to be taken with his pass certificate so it could be circulated to the immediate family.

It turned out to be his second photo shoot of the day as the driving instructor had snaffled him at the test centre straight after he’d passed to take a picture of him and the car.

First-time pass, nice cheesy smile and the driving school logo front and central…that’s your ringing endorsement right there.

It was probably up on the driving school website before my son had the chance to rehearse his Bob de Niro act.

If you ever needed a snapshot of how things have changed since the 1970s then this was it.

As my son’s phone started pinging with several messages responding to the news that he’d passed his test, I took a moment to think back to when I’d passed mine.

This was in 1976, so I sat the test, came home, told my mum, dad and brothers the news and, err, that was it.

No photo shoots, no ringing endorsements, no phone calls, faxes, telegrams or whatever sent out to a waiting world.
It took weeks before all my family and friends found out.

Just because there was no big song and dance about passing your test back then, it doesn’t lessen the achievement.

It was still teenager versus machine, a nerve-shredding World Cup final of a contest which often went to extra time and penalties.

Like a lot of Seventies kids coming up to their 17th birthday, I’d asked my mum and dad for driving lessons as a present.

And presumably because they were looking for a chauffeur in the future, I was handed an L plate birthday card with a note inside.

No bells and whistles, no gold-embossed business card, this was a hand-written blue biro message scribbled on a page torn out a lined notebook.

It read: “The bearer of this note shall be entitled to 7 x 1hour driving lessons. Graham GYSOM”

The tone seemed a bit pompous given it was scrawled on a bit of torn-out paper and I figured Graham must have had a background in banking or something.

No matter, the important part of this scrawl was “7 x 1hr driving lessons” and I was entitled to them. Why 7? Turns out Graham had an introductory offer of buy-six-get-one-free.

It also turned out that the Graham Young School of Motoring – the GYSOM at the foot of the note – was more of a solitary classroom than a school.

And the domino effect of him being a one-man band, his introductory offer taking off in a big way and so many teenagers clamouring to drive meant my seven lessons were spread over 14 weeks.

A fortnight was too long in between and progress was pretty slow as I spent the first 20 minutes of each lesson going over what we’d done in the previous one.

I tried to persuade my mum and dad to put me on their insurance for the family car so I could get some extra hours in, but the exorbitant cost of adding a 17-year-old male to the policy made that a non-starter.

So I diverted most of my hard-earned wages – originally earmarked for such necessities as alcohol and music – to invest in more lessons with Graham.

I managed to swing the introductory offer again – which was probably a reflection on how little progress I’d made – and got back behind the wheel of his Morris Marina 1.3 saloon.

We traipsed up and down the streets near the Anniesland test centre in Glasgow trying to keep the car straight and avoid crashing into my fellow learner drivers.

Anniesland Test Centre

And after four lessons of this second batch something finally clicked. The gear changes were smoother, the driving got easier, the traffic awareness heightened and the confidence flowed.

No-one was more surprised than me. Well, apart from my instructor, that is.

Graham, a man in his early thirties who wore a shirt and tie like he meant it, sat across from me after that lesson ended looking slightly incredulous.

“When did you learn to drive like that?”, he asked.

The question seemed to suggest that he didn’t have much faith in (a) my driving ability or (b) his instructing skills. But I let that slide as he began talking about sending away for a test date.

Now it was my turn to be incredulous as I realised there was to be no turning back. Well, not unless I was carrying out a textbook three-point turn, of course.

To be continued…