Cars and Trucks

When I was 22 I got a Class 2 Heavy Goods Vehicle driving licence. This means I can drive any size of rigid truck (not artics though, that's a Class 1). I got it before I went to the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. At the drama audition I had to do for the London County Council, they didn't seem too impressed with my acting, but when they asked if I had "any other strings to your bow?", I told them I drove trucks. They looked at each other approvingly and I got my whole two year course paid for. This on top of paying for a three year degree course at UEA studying History of Art. Those were the days - this year both my sons are graduating with £20,000 overdrafts!

I was already an experienced driver. I'd learned to drive off-road as a child and from the age of 10 was allowed to back my father's VW Beetle out of the garage and turn it round, so my clutch control was ingrained. We went to a scrapyard when I was 12 and bought an old engine, and took the whole thing to bits to learn how it worked. I had two weeks of lessons with a Police Instructor, and I passed my test, barefoot, a month after my 17th birthday. I'd driven round Europe, bought a diesel Mercedes in Frankfurt and tried to sell it in Morrocco, and driven a minibus full of Australians and Kiwis coast to coast and back again in the USA.

When I left school I worked delivering material for shirts for my then brother-in-law to outworkers in the suburbs, driving a Hoda 50 moped. I earned enough to buy my first car - a Volkswagen 1500N stepback - the saloon version of the Variant. I set off to drive it to India, got as far as Italy and heard I'd got a B in English but failed my language A-levels and so decided to come back and take them again. That's when the car started going wrong. This was the real start of twenty years of tinkering with cars. Until very recently, when I finally bought a new one, all the cars I ever had have continued to go wrong, in new, malign and tormenting ways, ever since.

I lived in France and Germany for a bit and passed French and German in the autumn. Later, as a university student, I had the use of my father's old convertible Beetle and he eventually gave it to me. I spent more time underneath it than driving it. Judy and I stayed on in Bristol after drama school, and bought our first little house in Totterdown. I spent the time doing up the house, doing fringe theatre, the occasional voiceover in London, and the rest of the time being an agency driver for Manpower. It was brilliant. Every day I'd be on a new job with a different truck. Then over Christmas, Rowntree Macintosh in Avonmouth needed extra drivers to deliver to towns and villages in South Wales, and I became semi permanent. The trucks had a big Yorkie poster on the side, so I was 'The Yorkie Man' (think thick Welsh accent).

I had a few accidents, demolishing overhead strip lights in petrol station forecourts, and dragging empty skips down the road behind me, wiping out a couple of cars - oh and jettisoning 10 pallettes of yeast in the crawler lane of the M4. The one thing I didn't understand until the end of my time there was how the other drivers got back at three in the afternoon and I didn't finish until between eight and nine. It turned out out you didn't have to deliver EVERYTHING - all the others came back half full - I always came back late and empty - of diesel once as well, but that's another story.

From student days onwards my cars have been as follows:

VW 1500N Stepback. White. I took the hubcaps off to make it look cool. I got sideswiped by a maniac and tried to do the bodywork repairs myself, using plastic filler and an orbital sander. It just ended up looking like an aerial photo of the Somme. Scrapped.

VW Beetle Karmann Ghia Convertible. The engine blew up when I was in Liverpool with the car stuffed full of all my possessions from 3 years at university and my Pa was forced into buying a reconditioned one for it. This one was a twin carb conversion job. It was like driving a Porsche. Bliss. So Pa took it back.

Citroen Ami Super Club. Red. Free if I could get it going. Ran it down the longest hill in Bristol with a cliff at the bottom and the engine caught just at the same time that I found the brakes didn't work. Stuffed it into first and yanked the handbrake. Inches to spare. Like a wolf in sheep's clothing, looked like a Deux Chevaux but went like a rocket. Cornered like a boat but stayed on the road. Comfy seats. Drove it to southern France and back. A week after we got back we scrapped it because it was too rusty to pass its MOT. When the scrap lorry put a chain around its middle and lifted it up, the whole chassis snapped.

  • VW Beetle 1200. White. £20 from student friend. Worked. Scrapped.

  • Renault 4. Grey. Given to us by Judy's parents. Thank you, but dreadful. Scrapped.

  • Morris Marina. Blue. Given to us by Judy's Uncle Harry. An urban Wagen that was so smashed up, that no one messed with you. Given to best chum Jon. I think he scrapped it.

  • Peugeot 204 Convertible Coupé. White. My first proper car. I loved it. It's a girl's car really, Marianne Faithful in Paris with the wind in her hair, but I was sleeping in it in a wood in Wales when the Argeninians invaded the Falklands. The following night I stayed in 'The Village' in Portmeirion. A perfect match for the car. Eventually sold it.

    VW Scirocco. Metallic Brown. The Sky Rocket. A real sports car. Wickedly quick. Scary but fab! Sold to a young lad who fell in love at first acceleration.

    VW Type II Camper Van. Blue and White. LHD. The boys grew up in this, and I used to sleep in it when staying in Birmingham for the Archers. The heater didn't work so I had a butane gas heating system fitted, that sort of worked, sometimes, but there was often frost on the inside of the windscreen. I absolutely loved it. Sold it to an Aussie who took it off round Europe.

  • Honda Civic. Silver. When I went to buy it, the number plate read A925 MUM -
    'A nine-to-five mum'. I thought, 'this number plate is worth a fortune'. Bought it, got it back and found that the real registration was A952 MVM. The woman who sold it to me was French. Part-exchanged it. The engine actually completely died on the run-in to the Fiat garage.

  • Fiat Cinquecento. Grey. Hired one in Greece and thought it would be great for town. Yeah. Not up and down the motorway to Birmingham when the trains are on strike though. Sold it.

  • Renault Espace. Red. Getting more grown up. Long drives in Europe, but expensive and ultimately started to go very wrong. Part exchanged it for the Alhambra.

    Seat Arosa 16 valve Sport. Red. My first new car at the age of 47! I've still got it because I, and my son Will, are still in lerve! Like a rocket on rails. Tiny petrol tank though.

    Seat Alhambra. Diesel. Silver. Our current car. This was when I bought it. Like the shuttle from Voyager. Does everything and shifts a bit too. Hard ride though and we both want something softer, especially over the bloody speed humps in Islington! 142,000 miles - getting on a bit.

    Delorean. I saw this for sale at a motor show in Birmingham.

    Oh how I wish I had bought it.....!