Claudia Winkleman: Take It From Me

'Sure, I made vroom-vroom noises when I was three, but driving is not something I've ever really been very good at'
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Dear Thames Valley Police,

Before we get started, let me just say how handsome you all look in your smart shiny uniforms. Plus, may I add that I think you're doing an excellent job when I see you walking around looking stern. Well done on that keeping the peace thing - our little village hasn't had a scrap of trouble for ages. Lucy from the hairdressers wants me to say that Billy (or Bobby; she can't totally remember) from the Banbury office was extremely helpful when she thought she'd had her handbag stolen. It wasn't actually nicked, it was just behind the counter, but the point was that he turned up and asked the right questions anyway.

Now, down to business. This letter is about my driving. Let me explain. I've never really been very good at it. Sure, I made vroom-vroom noises when I was three and yes, I've been known to go with a boy after seeing his fancy key-ring, but driving is not something I was made to do. I don't own a map of any kind and I've never understood people who actually use their glove compartment for gloves. However, I like getting from A to B in my little hatchback.

My driving history is as follows. On my 18th birthday, I got 50 quid to spend on driving lessons. That would have bought me five from BSM or 12 from Tony (a man who lived round the corner and was between jobs). Well, only an idiot would have chosen the established, renowned driving school route. Tony and I shared a love of Adam and the Ants and sitting in lay-bys. It's not what you think. He thought I could learn more about driving by watching drivers rather than by actually doing it. So, I gave him some money and we listened to "Stand and Deliver" while watching people get on and off the A40. Not a fantastic driving start, but you can test me on the lyrics to "Antmusic".

Then my stepdad offered to take me behind the wheel. Less keen on lay-bys, he thought I should throw myself in and not worry about the details. We took my mum's brand new Ford Orion to Trafalgar Square. It came back on a tow truck after I tried to find a coffee sweet under the seat while changing lanes.

It took me two years to "get back on the horse" and this time I asked a boyfriend to teach me. I was 21, giggly and keen. He was just as eager and his dad had a Volvo. Nice. The lessons were going OK until he snogged one of my friends from college. The Volvo was good but not that good. I had to dump him. The next boy didn't have a dad who would let us zoom around Chalk Farm in his company car. Still, this boy played saxophone and he could curl one of his lips till it touched his nose.

Next time I got behind the wheel was with Trevor from a good driving school. He had an Astra and braces. We went through five tests together. I failed the first because I couldn't read the number plates before getting into the car (I'm minus 15 in my left eye, but glasses made me look bookish). The second ended in tears after I backed into a wall on my way out of the test centre (I swear, the R on the gearstick looks like a 1). The third ended in mayhem after I thought he said "emergency stop" when in fact he said "turn left". I decided that nerves weren't helping, so I took a Valium before my fourth test. Well, that was a mistake; I fell asleep in the waiting area and never made it to the car.

At this point, Trevor had to admit that I had a "driving issue" and was probably better suited to an automatic rather than concentrating on the 1, 2, 3, 4 thing, otherwise known as gears. He swapped the Astra for a Corsa and I much preferred the dodgem stop-and-go way of driving. The fifth and final test was a triumph. I licked the examiner's face when I passed and I have driven happily ever since.

Another person who drives happily is PC Mark Milton, a police officer from Shropshire. He's been in the news as he was caught driving at 159mph at 3am in a Vectra. He says he was going fast because he was "testing out the car". You guys have said he's the "crème de la crème" of police drivers and that you don't really mind that he was also doing 131mph on a nearby A road. He was "experimenting with the car", his solicitor says, and she also explained to the court that he needed to drive. Well, good for him. Last week, the judge let him off saying he's suffered enough.

And now we turn to the little black things on my licence - the "points", the opposite of gold stars, if you will. Well, I've got nine and since the last batch I've been driving very carefully. I stop at red lights, I don't listen to loud Pet Shop Boys (makes me drive much too fast) and the bag of Twiglets, which makes me look down, has been shunned.

This is the thing. Yesterday, you sent me a letter saying that I'd earned myself three more. We all know what that means. I've hit 12, and won't be allowed to drive anywhere. So here's my defence. I was experimenting with the car. I wanted to see what would happen if I went 34mph on a road where I'm supposed to do 30. Oh, the excitement. I'm sure I'm the crème de la crème of something and I know I need to drive. Since your note, I haven't been able to think about anything other than my future ban.

Surely, like PC Milton, I've suffered enough? Please, boys and girls in blue, play nice? See you in the magistrates' court (I'm the one with the enormous glasses, nodding off from the Valium).

Yours pleafully,

Claudia

c.winkleman@independent.co.uk

Comments