HALF a century has passed since I took my driving test but I still remember it clearly, in stark contrast to what I might or might not have done in the last five minutes.
It was September 1972 and I was extremely nervous, mainly because my slightly older friends had already passed first time and I knew I would be in for ridicule should I be first to blot the escutcheon.
Within five minutes of setting out, I knew it was a lost cause. A straightforward left turn and I went over a pretty substantial pavement corner. Jolt! ‘OK then,’ I told myself, ‘you might as well stop worrying because you’ve failed already.’
Thus relaxed, I proceeded without incident for the next few miles until we came up behind an old bloke in a maroon Rover 95 wearing a hat – the man, not the car.
We followed him as he broke every rule in the Highway Code. He turned left, he turned right, nary a signal. Pedestrians dived for safety as he veered off the road. Eventually we parted company at a T-junction where he failed to stop and sailed off into the distance. The examiner shook his head and tutted. I thought it best not to tell him that the old geezer was my grandfather.
Finally we arrived at the test centre and the examiner, bless him, told me to my astonishment that I’d passed, adding: ‘It was a bit of a bumpy ride but I think you’ll be a decent driver.’ How wrong could he be?
Some three years later my friend John and I booked a squash court in Burnley for a Saturday afternoon and decided that the ideal preparation would be a pint or two in the Pack Horse at Widdop, in the wilds near Hebden Bridge.
The beer was on fine form that day and it seemed churlish not to down a few. By closing time (3pm in those days as all-day opening was still a distant hope) we were feeling very nicely thank you.
Until that point in my life, I had believed that alcohol actually enhanced my driving skills. Getting behind the wheel and experiencing slight double vision, I began to have second thoughts.
It was slowly and very carefully that I began to negotiate the twists and turns of a narrow country road. It didn’t do me any good. Avoiding a warning bollard on a tight bend I over-corrected and my Vauxhall Viva plunged into a ravine, turning over twice before coming to a halt in a swamp.
Luckily neither of us was mortally injured. I had a gash on my right hand and John a broken nose. We were both covered in blood, however, as we scrambled up the steep incline back to the road.
As luck would have it, a car came along and the driver insisted on taking us to hospital where we were patched up while someone rang my parents who came to fetch us. Thankfully the police were not involved or I would have faced a lengthy driving ban.
The following day my father took me back to the scene of the crash and went white when he saw how far the car had plummeted. It had to be craned out by a scrap-metal merchant and was of course a write-off.
‘Let that be a lesson to you,’ said Dad. And it was. I’ve never again been tempted to drink and drive. Now, about that game of squash . . .
The Life of Pie
FOR many thousands of football fans, a match day wouldn’t be complete without a Holland’s pie. This robust delicacy is sold, I am told, at clubs including Burnley, Blackburn Rovers, Blackpool, Bolton Wanderers, Bradford City, Huddersfield Town, Manchester City and Stockport County. There is an East Anglian outpost too. Norwich City director Delia Smith was apparently so impressed during a visit up North that, in 2000, she introduced the brand to Carrow Road.
My own favourite Holland’s product is the steak-and-kidney pudding, or baby’s head as it’s known around here. (Babby’s yed in Wigan.) This is sold at 85 per cent of chip shops in the North West, as are the meat, potato-and-meat, cheese-and-onion and steak-and-kidney pies.
So deeply is Holland’s woven into the fabric of Northern life that songs have been written about it including this, performed by Bob Williamson whom I mentioned a few months ago. Another singer and folk-club comedian, Brian Dewhurst, used the tune of Mull of Kintyre to croon: ‘Holland’s meat pies, when drunk rolling in from the pub, I desire, no more than to scoff you, O Holland’s meat pies.’
It all began back in 1851, when John Whittaker opened a baker’s shop in Haslingden, Lancashire, helped by his stepdaughter, Sarah. A young chap named Richard Holland arrived as an apprentice and in 1869 he married Sarah. When Whittaker retired Richard took over and Holland’s was born.
As well as pies, the business supplied bread and cakes to the neighbourhood and by 1907 was delivering to surrounding villages by horse and cart. In 1929, Holland’s bought a redundant cotton mill at nearby Baxenden and replaced the looms with ovens. This remains the HQ today.
By 1963 Holland’s had ceased to produce bread and cakes, with the focus now fully on pies and steak puddings. Since then it has been taken over several times and is now part of the huge Northern Foods empire. Its products, found mainly in the freezer cabinets, are familiar to supermarket shoppers nationwide. A far cry from Mr Whittaker’s little shop in Haslingden.
This brings me to the Old Jokes’ Home, and a gag popular in our area many years ago.
An Englishman, Irishman and a Scotsman arrive at Amsterdam Airport to be greeted by a Dutch Tourist Board official. ‘Good morning, gents,’ he says, ‘and what may I ask brings you to our lovely country?’
The Englishman replies: ‘Actually I’m a keen horticulturist and I am looking forward to touring your tulip fields.’
The Scotsman says: ‘Och, I want to try some of that there cannabis they sell in cafes over here.’
Turning to the Irishman, the flunkey asks: ‘And what brings you to our lovely country of Holland?’
‘Sure, I like your pies.’
A PS from PG
It is no use telling me there are bad aunts and good aunts. At the core, they are all alike. Sooner or later, out pops the cloven hoof.
PG Wodehouse: The Code of the Woosters