I looked nervously at my examiner who was unsmiling. Not a vestige. He simply said a formal ‘Good Morning’ and remained utterly po-faced while gazing at me intently with small piercing eyes: intelligent and calculating – cold. He was bordering on short and the wrong side of fifty. The unwavering gaze brought the name Hannibal Lecter to mind.
He checked paperwork on his desk and asked me for my driver’s licence. I handed it over and attempted a disarming smile. Not a word. This bloke was by the book. No extras, no smiles, just clinically precise. My tension escalated from nervous to terrified. I wanted a big warm welcoming ‘Hi,’ and a ‘Don’t worry, you’re sure to pass!’, followed by an arm around the shoulder reassurance. Instead it was Hannibal Lecter handing me a radio-linked headset. I half expected him to ask me if I’d like some raw chopped liver before we started!
He spoke in a clipped tone: ‘The test will take approximately forty minutes. Afterwards I will ask you some questions.’ Then he walked straight over to a small mirror strategically placed on top of a filing cabinet. He produced a comb from his top pocket and proceeded to carefully arrange about ten tendrils of limp locks across the top of his balding head. That done he donned his helmet and turned to me. I was obviously meant to don mine too. I did so, fumbling to keep the headset in place. He came over and checked the wires and a crystal clear and clipped ‘OK?’ reverberated through the system. I nodded dumbly as he continued explaining what he would ask me to do and how I should do it. He would be following a short distance behind (watching my every move). The intercom system was one-way: he could speak to me but I couldn’t speak to him. Just as well – he wouldn’t hear the profanities when I suddenly realised I had left my indicator on for the last three miles.
He checked his watch, pulled on his gloves and marched out of the office. I followed, heart pounding clutching my keys in a sweaty palm. I pulled on my gloves, straddled my bike, pushed the ignition key in and pressed the start button. Nothing! What? I pressed again, still nothing. Cold sweat and confusion coursed through me. What the hell was wrong? And then out of nowhere a little voice whispered Side-stand! Fool! Of course! If the side-stand was down the bike wouldn’t start, it was a safety feature. I flicked it up with my foot and pressed again. The bike burst into life and relief flooded through me. Had Hannibal noticed? I imagined the first line on my test sheet: Ability to start her motorcycle? Followed by a big red X.
‘I would like you to leave the test station and turn left,’ he was saying. This was it! I took a big breath, made an obvious point of checking my mirrors and pulled smoothly away. He followed. Soon we were out in the traffic and negotiating roundabouts, junctions, and every other obstacle including numerous Japanese students wobbling erratically on bicycles. I started to feel OK, warmed up, my mind razor-sharp, cancelling indicators, checking mirrors, doing life-savers. He took me to a lovely wide quiet road to do my emergency stop. No problem. And then my dreaded ‘U’ turn. I did it! No dabbing of feet! Then we headed out of the city into country roads, passing through villages and along a section of dual-carriageway.
In no time at all it was over and we were back parked outside the test station. He got off his bike and walked into the office. I followed, racking my brain to try and think of anything I could have got wrong. I perched on the corner of the chair in front of his desk and took off my helmet. Hannibal took his off too and pawed at the grey strands which had escaped and were now dangling over his forehead. There’s no doubt about it crash helmets wreck a comb-over. He sat down opposite me and I waited for the questions that I knew were coming as the last part of the test. Chris had been right, they were all on riding with a pillion. I had the answers down pat.
Heart in mouth I waited and watched while he bent over my test paper making marks here and there. The anticipation was agonising, my whole world focused on this moment, like some criminal waiting for the judge to past sentence. Was he going to put on his black cap? Not a word was spoken. It was so quiet in the room all I could hear was the scratch of his pen across the paper and the sound of my own heart beating. Suddenly he got up, walked over to the filing cabinet, picked up a note-pad and on the way back said absently: ‘I am going to pass you.’
I HEARD IT… I DID! HE SAID PASS! The blessed ‘P’ word! Bells rang, trumpets sounded! I danced around the room yelling and squealing, did a polka across his desk, turned three cartwheels and let out a huge ‘WHOOOPEEE’ … all without moving a muscle. I didn’t even speak. He wasn’t the sort of chap you leapt over the desk and hugged. While the enormity of what he’d said was still sinking into my brain he started speaking again.
‘You were a borderline pass,’ he said in a monotone. ‘There were three instances where you could have got up to sixty miles an hour but you didn’t.’
‘Oh!’ I gabbled, ‘Well I think I was a bit nervous because I’ve only ridden the five-hundred once, before today that is … yesterday in fact … and I think I’d … I’d be much faster with more practise …’
He frowned at me over his glasses. I panicked. No! Please God don’t change your mind. He couldn’t change his mind – could he? He wouldn’t be allowed to – would he? Just give me the piece of paper and let me go! Silent prayer as I held my breath.
He suddenly seemed to thaw. No more comments about the sixty-mile-an hour thing. He started chatting amiably about this and that while he made out official bits of paperwork and told me what to send to DVLA. He had become quite a different person. Jekyll and Hyde maybe rather than Hannibal? Paperwork finished, he got up, went to his mirror and carefully combed his tendrils back into place ready for his next victim