THE DRIVING TEST
By Bill Staunton
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Doherty stamped so hard on the pedal that even the ABS brakes of his
father's new car couldn't prevent it skidding the last few yards before
coming to a sudden halt.
"What d'you think you're doing you lunatic!?" shouted
his father from the passenger side. He had to catch his breath after
being flung into the dash from the force of the stop.
"You nearly had us within in the ditch!"
Myles was past caring. He had already thrown off his seat belt and was
out of the car.
"Never!! Never will I sit in a car with you again!" he screamed back. "It's you that's the lunatic! I can't do a
thing right can I? You don't like my take-off, you don't like my
braking, I'm going too fast, I'm going too slow, pull out from the
ditch, keep in to the left. You're never happy, you madman!"
paused momentarily, more for thought than breath. He dug deep within his
anger for something that would hurt. But his outburst had hit his father
like a damp sponge off an elephant's back.
"Ah sure it's not my fault yer stupid," he sneered.
"Now cut out
this nonsense and get in. We'll take a spin round the
stared at him, amazed at his powers of indifference.
"You were put on this earth just to torment me, I think. Or
I was put here to be tormented by you. Either way. Never
again. I must have been mad to think you could teach me to
drive. You couldn't teach a duck to lay eggs! Goodbye!"
slammed the door of the blue saloon and took off back down the road,
pausing only to rip the L plate from the back bumper and glide it like a
frisbee into the next field.
had stopped the car about two miles from town. It was a warm June day
and his route home was a pleasant one. But Myles paid no heed today to
the clarity of the mountains or the cattle grazing in the fields. Rather
he kept his red head bent, his hands in his pockets and his long frame
shuffling along, taking his anger out on every stone and tin can on the
long walk home.
entered the living room his father was seated beside the empty grate
studying the deaths in the Irish Press. Seamus Doherty was a man of late
middle years. The hair on his head was now confined to a little over the
ears and a fast retreating patch above the back of his neck. This near
baldness added to the rotund nature of his features. His small grey
green eyes were set deep behind fat red cheeks and below an expansive
forehead. He was a heavily built man who was invariably seen in a white
grey striped shirt and dark trousers hoisted to his belly by elastic
black braces. Myles ignored him pointedly as he passed through to the
kitchen. But his father ignored his ignorance and spoke anyway.
"You want to put this nonsense behind you now son," he
called out to the kitchen. "You've only ten or twelve weeks to go
before your test. You'll never get it without me teaching you."
clicked on the kettle for tea and said nothing.
"And if you don't get it now you'll be doing the Leaving
next year and you won't have time to learn then."
Seamus still got no reply he added more forcefully,
"You'd want to cop yourself on soon boy or t'will be too
emerged from the kitchen, a mug of tea in one hand and a cut of bread in
"I don't need your help to pass the test. There's plenty of
fellas round the town giving lessons. And they're fellas who know how to teach driving. I'm better going to them
than depending on an auld chancer like you!"
smiled as he took out his pipe and tobacco.
"Well this auld chancer never needed any lessons. Thirteen years old I was when I jumped into that auld Sunbeam and drove five miles into town to fetch the doctor for Timmy.
And all the....."
"Ah! I've heard all this before," interrupted Myles.
out now to find an instructor."
rob yer!" Seamus shouted after him as he went out
the door. "Anyway, mark my words, you'll still never pass
without my help!"
Myles walked into
town. It was busy with Saturday afternoon shoppers and browsing
tourists. His first stop was the Post Office where he withdrew a hundred
pounds, almost all he had, from his savings account. He next made his
way to the house of Danny O'Sullivan. His dual controlled Fiesta was
parked outside the gate. Myles parted with his hundred pounds in
exchange for ten lessons, one per week, starting the following day.
wasn't five minutes into his first lesson when he knew he'd made the
right decision. Danny was so laid back, so easy going. He didn't mind
his bunny hops, he didn't worry about crashing gears. In fact nothing
seemed to shake him. He was a true professional. All he asked Myles to
do was make more use of his mirrors and learn the Highway Code. His
clutch control would improve with practice. When he considered the abuse
he'd taken from his father he was only sorry he hadn't gone to Danny
sooner. Danny left him off home after the hour. His father was in his
usual seat beside the fireplace when he came in.
"Well? How did your lesson go?" he sneered from the
corner of his mouth.
"Great," replied Myles. "Best lesson I've ever
had. I learned more in that hour than I ever learned before.
There's nothing like going to a professional."
"Is that so?" grinned Seamus, squinting at him over the
Sunday Press. "Well it may interest you to know that it was me who taught Danny Sullivan how to drive, and Lord knows he
it wasn't easy, for he was no better a student than
yourself. And I did it all out of the goodness of my heart,
not for the seven or eight pounds an hour he's charging you."
replied Myles, already chewing his cut of bread. "He's fully recovered from your influence since, 'cause he's a
brilliant teacher now."
summer weeks slipped away quickly. Myles spent most days working on
uncle Timmy's farm at his father's homeplace, for which he got a few
pound now and again. Every Sunday he had his lesson and his driving
improved. Every evening he'd learn a little more of the Highway Code
until he could rhyme it off like the Rosary. But his father never
relented. After every lesson he growled some comment about the waste of
money, the fine car outside the gate, "and you insured on it
too," he'd say. And he always maintained that Myles would never
pass the test without his help.
morning a letter in a brown envelope with no stamp arrived. It wasn't a
bill. Myles opened it at the breakfast table.
"September fourteenth." he said reading aloud.
"Is that your test date, Myles?" inquired his mother.
"Yes. It's a Monday, eleven o'clock."
father made no comment. He just continued reading his Press. Myles was
glad to finally have a date but was worried it was only four weeks away.
I'll never be ready in time, he thought. I need more practice. His next
lesson was the last of the ten. He decided he needed more. That day he
withdrew another hundred pounds which he had saved during the summer.
The following Sunday he paid for eight more lessons, two per week until
the test date, and also for the use of the car during the test.
the time the day of the test arrived Myles was back at school. But he
got the morning off and Danny picked him up at ten o'clock. He drove
around the town relaxed and quite confident. Danny knew all the test
routes and he'd been over every one of them. Then Danny directed him to
the test centre and they arrived with ten minutes to spare. The examiner
was a small thin man in his late fifties. Myles thought he'd seen him
around before but couldn't put a name on him. He was polite but formal,
and first directed Myles out of the test centre and back into town.
Myles coped with the midday town traffic well, the one way system was
second nature to him now. He was sent to Ardmore estate to do a three
point turn which he executed perfectly. He reversed around a corner in
Knockmoyne and performed an emergency stop outside the Regional
Hospital. Everything was flowing smoothly and he grew in confidence as
the test went on. Then while driving up the main street, outside the
A.I.B. bank ,a Securicor van stopped suddenly in front of him. Myles
braked and waited expecting it to move on. But instead it's hazard
lights went on and a man in a blue uniform and a crash helmet got out.
He was making a delivery. Myles was tight up against the van and
couldn't see what traffic was coming against him. Then cars behind him
started to overtake. He was trapped. He was only there a couple of
minutes but it felt like hours. He began to sweat trying to decide
whether he could overtake or not. Finally when there was no one left
behind him he found the courage to chance it .He was lucky, there was
nothing coming, but he noticed the examiner writing something down in
his book. Shortly afterwards he was directed back to the test centre. He
drove back dejectedly. He was sure he had failed. He imagined the
comments written in the examiner's book. Hesitancy, lack of confidence,
too close to the car in front. He thought of all the time and money he'd
spent. And worst of all he could see his father's face grinning at him
"I told you you'd never pass without my help!"
he parked the car the examiner took out a question sheet. Myles
immediately cheered up. If he'd failed the practical then he'd hardly be
asked questions on the Highway Code. In all he was asked four, which he
answered easily, and he could have answered forty four as by now he'd
nearly swallowed the book.
"Well I'm pleased to inform you," the small thin man
said eventually, "that you've passed your driving test."
slumped in the seat with relief. He took the precious certificate
gratefully and waved it above his head as he walked across to the test
centre where Danny was waiting. Danny shook his hand warmly.
"Congratulations Myles! Well done! You'll have to frame
that. It was hard earned."
"Hard earned?" said Myles with mock contempt.
"This wasn't hard earned. This was fought for. Battled for. You wouldn't
believe the hassle I've had getting this."
drove him home and all the way Myles couldn't but imagine his father's
face when he told him. By the time he arrived he'd decided to be
magnanimous. He wasn't going to make much of it. But he knew he wouldn't
"This'll kill th'auld fella anyway," he smiled.
Doherty was in the kitchen having his lunch when he came in. Myles went
over to the fireplace and flopped down into his father's chair. He held
out his certificate in front of him and admired it.
"Well, how'd you do?" inquired his mother from the
"I passed Mam!"
"Oh! Congratulations Myles!" She came into the sitting
room and gave him a big hug.
"D'yer hear that Seamus? Myles is after passing his driving
test. First time. Isn't he great?"
said nothing for a moment, then replied,
"Sure why wouldn't he?"
had been waiting for some disparaging remark but he didn't understand
"What d'you mean by that?" he asked.
was another short silence from the kitchen as Seamus chewed on a pork
"Wasn't it Dony Corcoran who took you?"
looked at the name on the
bottom of the certificate -
D. CORCORAN - EXAMINER.
"It was. So what?"
drained his mug of tea and placed it down on the table.
man, Dony," he said eventually. "We were at school together you know. In the same class for years. I put a word
in for you last night. Sure I knew you wouldn't have a hope
otherwise. He said he wouldn't let me down."
stared at the precious certificate and saw it tarnish before his eyes.
All at once the pain and anguish of the last few months went through his
head. Could this have been had for a quiet word? A nod and a wink? He
felt like the crusader who had returned from Palestine to find the Holy
Grail hanging in his kitchen.
"You could have drove into the ditch today," continued
Seamus, "and you'd have still passed. But sure, didn't I say you wouldn't pass without my help."