We have been happy to welcome a visitor to our community in Bishopbriggs in recent times. He is a Passionist priest from India who is at present stationed at Highgate in London. He has to do his UK driving test and, for all kinds of good and practical reasons, he is going to do it here. He has already passed his theory test, and now he is undertaking driving lessons, almost on a daily basis, sometimes twice a day, to get him ready for the test, which I have no doubt he will pass. Father Gareth and Father John have also been taking him out regularly for practice sessions. When I ask him how things are going, his response makes me very aware that the driving test now is so much different than from when I took my own test. In those days the theory exam was carried out by a series of oral questions at the end of the test itself. If the examiner started asking you the theory questions, then you at least knew that you had passed the practical test as, if you had failed, he wouldn’t even bother asking you the theory questions. There is now also something called independent driving, where the examiner can just ask you to follow signs to a particular destination, or else to follow directions on a Satnav. Those aspects of the test certainly didn’t exist back then either. Neither did bay parking, if I remember correctly, a sign of changing times. Having been an experienced driver at home in India, my colleague had interesting accounts of how the instructor was helping him rid himself of certain driving habits that were not the accepted way of doing things here, which gave me the opportunity to reflect on my own driving habits acquired down through the years – whether bad habits or experienced habits may be debatable.
I didn’t take my driving test until I was almost 30. Growing up in Partick, and then moving to Drumchapel, nobody ever had a car in the family and so, learning to drive was something I never had the opportunity to do. My familiar modes of transport were the tram, the bus, the Underground, the Govan Ferry and Shanks’s pony. When I joined the Passionists in 1975, my primary concern was to learn how to ride a bike, another skill I had never acquired. My student days would be all about cycling to and from the Milltown Institute of Philosophy and Theology, about a 4-mile journey from our student house in Mount Argus. How I survived those journeys in the crazy Dublin traffic, and with my own erratic cycling, I will never know. It had to be divine providence or, as I reflected recently, my guardian angel.
When I went to the Novitiate in 1979, just after Pope John Paul II’s visit to Ireland, I was advised that I should learn to drive. At first, I was given lessons by one of my classmates. The Novitiate was then, and still is, at Crossgar in County Down, so I was learning to drive around a relatively rural setting, with the biggest town being Downpatrick, about 5-miles away. I seemed to take to driving without much difficulty, except for one manoeuvre, and that was reversing round a corner. Emergency stop, hill start, 3-point turn, none of these was ever an issue, but reversing round a corner became a mental block for me. As it got nearer the time of my test, my classmate gave way to a professional driving instructor. He would always bring me to this one place, and tell me that this was where they would bring me during the test. But always, I ended up on the pavement, or in the middle of the road, either of which would be sure to fail me. The driving test centre was in a quaintly named place called the Flying Horse. Everything went relatively smoothly but, in the back of my mind, I knew my jinxed manoeuvre was still to come. However, when we reached the dreaded corner, a delivery truck was taking up the whole space, and so we needed to go somewhere else. The mental block disappeared, and I reversed round the corner perfectly. Again, it could only be divine providence, or my guardian angel. Either way, with a huge feeling of relief and delight, back at the centre, I was asked the theory questions, and I passed, first time. Whether I would pass first time now, I’m not so sure, but, no doubt, eventually I would get there.
As ever, protect yourself, your loved ones and others, and protect Christ in your lives.