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Hello, my name is Rod and I’m an introvert.  I used to think this wasn’t a good thing.  Many people still think that extroversion is preferable to introversion.  They should read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by  Susan Cain

One of the characteristics typical of introverts is we are observant.  I have always been an observer.  I learn a lot from observation.

My New Car

My New Car

I began driving lessons before I was five.   My dad was the driving instructor, though I don’t think he knew it at the time.  Our car was not the latest model, being supplied by Dad’s firm. I learned that sometimes the starter wouldn’t be strong enough to start the car.  Dad would get a crank out of the boot, not Uncle Fred, a metal crank.  My memory has faded, but I think one person was in the car ready to press the accelerator while Dad crouched in front of the car, inserted the crank into the crank-hole and gave the engine a couple of turns.  This also required a bit of grunting from Dad.  Usually it would fire on the second or third attempt.

I also learned the positions of the gear lever and the order in which the gears were used. Dad was a good driver so he shifted the gears up and down a lot.   I knew you had to waggle it to make sure it was in neutral before starting the car and when you parked.

I learned you had to move the driving seat backwards and forwards about four times before you were in a comfortable position. Getting your coat straight under you was also time-consuming but critical.  If there was the slightest strange noise coming from the car – a rattle or ping or something, you must ask repeatedly “What’s that noise?”.  Sometimes it is necessary to get out and check under the bonnet and each of the tyres. Apparently it can help to open and slam the boot lid a couple of times.

There were many things about driving I learned from my place in the backseat.  Here are a few.

1. Driving Speeds Adjust with the Position of Mum’s Head.

This may seem like a strange rule.  Let me explain.  In those days in England, before motorways, there were about three speed limits. 1.  30 miles per hour (mph) in built-up (urban) areas; 2. The speed limit increased to 40 mph if there was a dual-carriageway (a four lane divided roadway); 3. Outside of urban areas there was a speed sign that was a white disk with a black stripe running diagonally across the circle.  This sign meant there was no speed limit.  That’s right, you could drive as fast as you wanted.  This wasn’t as bad as it seemed as most cars then on the road couldn’t go terribly fast anyway.

Dad was our driver, Mum hadn’t yet learned to drive.  Mum would sit in the captain’s seat. This is one of the things I learned during these early lessons, the left-hand passenger seat is where the captain sits when on board. The captain is the one in charge, not the driver.

When we were safely outside an urban area dad would increase speed.  Mum was able to see the speedometre from her captain’s seat and I could observe the speed from my seat in the back.  Dad would cruise at around 65-70 mph.

I noticed that after about 15 minutes or so Mum’s head would usually start to slump forward.  She would nod-off.  Her head muscles seemed attached to Dad’s right foot. Immediately her head started to go forward, so would Dad’s right foot.  He would depress the accelerator a little more and the car would accelerate to between 75 and 80 mph.

This action also seemed to be connected to dad’s mouth as he would usually start to whistle or hum a little tune (rather off-key most of the time).

Eventually, something would rouse Mum (it could have been the humming).  As her head lifted, so did Dad’s foot and the little car would slow down to normal cruising speed between 65 and 70.  This was a very interesting lesson. Cars go faster when women sleep.

2. One Good Turn Deserves Another

Never forget to indicate your intention to turn

Never forget to indicate your intention to turn

In those days flashing indicator lights had not yet been invented – or at least they weren’t part of any cars I had seen.  Instead the cars were fitted with little amber arms.  These were quite small.  There was one on each side of the car, situated on the door post behind the door.  Instead of having to make hand-signals when turning, the driver could click on a little switch on the steering wheel which would make the arm swing up and poke out of the side of the car.  Other drivers could see this signal and know that the driver intended to make a turn.  This negated the need to wind down the window and signal by hand.  Unfortunately these were mechanical contraptions and they didn’t always go down once the turn was made.  With today’s indicator lights, the driver, unless playing loud music or a little hard of hearing, should hear the click, click, click of the flashing lights.  The old signal arms didn’t make a sound.  Often they would get stuck in the out position and the driver wouldn’t know.

One day when I was still very young, dad pulled up at a red light.  A car pulled alongside and a young woman yelled out to my dad,

“Cooey, Mister, your thingy’s sticking out”.   My dad looked puzzled while my mother started to snicker and then hoot with laughter.  In my innocence I heartily joined in the laughter – ha ha, my dad’s left his indicator arm up all this way and didn’t notice, ha ha ha (it didn’t take much to get me laughing).  My mother really had the giggles and the young woman in the next car heard her and turned a delightful reddish colour and wound up her window.  Adults were sometimes hard to understand.  I didn’t think it was that funny.  Mum just kept gasping – “Mister, your thingy’s sticking out”  and collapsing in laughter.  Dad lit another cigarette and drove on as soon as the light turned amber.  Clearly the lesson is to always make sure your indicator turns off after you have made a turn, otherwise it can be embarrassing.

3. Take the Car for a Spin Once in a While

The third lesson I learned is of less use these days.  We were driving back from my uncle and aunts who lived way across London.  It was winter time, dark and raining.

Here we go again, in those days, London had trams.  These were powered by electricity and ran on small rails sunken into the roadway.  My grandfather (Pop) sometimes took us to the end of the tram route to watch the trams being turned around on a huge turntable.  This was a big treat.  Things were simpler then.

Unfortunately these tram-rails could be tricky for cyclists and at times car drivers. We were driving home across an area with some intersecting tram-lines.  The road in this area was quite uneven.  Car tyres were narrower then. Somehow dad was able to get one of the front tyres caught on the edge of the tram-rail.  The result was quite dramatic; with the momentum of the car the back end started to try to overtake the front end.  Sitting in the back seat it was strange to see the road turning sideways and dad and mum no longer in front.  The car skidded on the wet road and we did a complete 360 degree turn – ending up facing the way we had started and the tyre coming free and off we went.

“Weeeeeeeeeeeee, that was fun Dad, can we do it again?”  I asked.   “NO!” was the only reply I received. We drove on, everyone in the car was very quiet.   The lesson was an obvious one.  As all magicians know, you never repeat a trick, even if the audience begs you.

My Dad was an excellent, safe driver and I really did learn some very good driving habits from him.  However, it was Mum who gave me driving practice when I was learning officially.  Dad and I only lasted half a block the first time he took me out.  He was a rather nervous passenger.  Yelling “brake, brake” when I had just pulled away from the curb didn’t help my confidence.  Mum was very placid and we had some great adventures traveling the countryside – always meeting up with sheep or cows or horses in the road.

Once I had passed my test Dad was very good about letting me drive – but he never once nodded off. I am very conscientious about my turn indicators.

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