Ever since I sat in my first (toy) car and practised parking in imaginary parking spaces in my back garden at the age of two, I knew a love of driving that would surely last a lifetime had begun.
After some driving lessons and excitement at passing my test as soon as I turned of age, I’ll never forget the day I went to buy a second-hand car at my local Renault garage. There were several small Clios, all in different colours, sitting proudly on the forecourt, but Gizmo (the name I gave my car when I first fell in love with him) stood out immediately with his shiny, limited-edition, two-tone silver paint. I remember how happy I felt sitting in the driver’s seat looking around at all the buttons. He even had a CD player! As I drove off the forecourt in my new little car, I felt like I would burst with pride.
And so began a wonderful life together, one that would span the next 11 years and throughout my 20s, full of incredible experiences and adventures all over the country.
The amazing feeling of independence I felt being able to get in the car and go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted, is one that never left me. My car was more than just a machine whose sole purpose was to take me from A to B, it was a familiar friend I looked forward to seeing again after a hard day at work, one that would take me on the long drive home in warmth and comfort whilst I listened to my favourite songs on the radio. Living alone in East London at the age of 19, I was too afraid to walk the 30 minutes to the local supermarket, but Gizmo provided reassurance and made me feel safe inside his little cocoon as I drove through the loud, chaotic streets of the big city.
As the years went by my knowledge and experience grew a little more each time I ventured out in Gizmo, and I learned how to be a calm, safe driver who was considerate of other road users and aware how to share the road space safely with them. Through daily interaction with other drivers I knew never to assume what they might do out on the road, and that I couldn’t control their driving, only my own. I experienced the odd breakdown, as well as adverse weather conditions and times of tiredness, and learnt how to deal with each in turn, slowly increasing my confidence. New friends, old friends, family members and work colleagues took turns to grace the passenger seats as I took them for drives - some on long journeys, some on short, sometimes to known places and sometimes just driving for the sheer pleasure of being out on the road, off on a new adventure.
The day I decided it was time to experience life further afield and move to Australia, was the day I realised the time had come for Gizmo and I to part ways. A little ad went up on Auto Trader and the first to view was an older man along with his well-built son, looking to buy a first car. I showed him around Gizmo, pointing out a small mark on the door and the cracked air vent I’d mentioned in the ad, the only flaws on an otherwise spotless car. He checked under the bonnet and ran the engine, and his son carefully squeezed into Gizmo’s front seat. Without even wanting a test drive, the father handed me a small wad of cash . . . and just like that, Gizmo was gone. I looked down at the notes in my hand and then at the empty car parking space which Gizmo had occupied for so long. This money was most of my ticket to Australia, the land I’d been longing to go to for years. I should’ve been over the moon, yet in the quiet evening air, as I watched them drive off into the distance, a strange sadness set in.
But life goes on, and there were fresh experiences that were soon to come my way. I had fun with new cars down under, although none of them ever occupied such a special place in my heart. Now, back on this side of the globe and in another stage of life, I have a new car companion in the form of Audrey, my trusty red Audi.
I’m keen to keep learning new things, and am more aware than ever just how much goes into and is required of, driving - so much so that I’m now planning to take the Advanced Driver course to improve my knowledge and skills, especially important since the roads in the UK are busier than I ever remembered them!
I look back on my time driving, particularly with Gizmo, fondly, full of some great experiences. Although our cars may change as we journey through life, the memories we make in them from the places we go and the people we meet, live on.
By Anjuli Cooper, from IAM RoadSmart's marketing team