Oh – I just heard on the news that Stirling Moss has died. “He must have been a million years old!” said Horst. Actually he was 90, and for many, many years his name had become a byword for driving … fast.
British policeman who stopped speeding drivers in the 1960s often said – as they jotted down the motorist’s details -“Who do you think you are – Stirling Moss?”
I failed my driving test the first time. That was absolutely normal in the UK at that time at least, and the reason I failed was that I was so nervous I couldn’t stop my leg from shaking. The examiner was kindly sad when he told me I hadn’t passed. “I’m surprised at a young lady like you, a teacher, being so nervous, Miss Stephens” he said.
Sure enough the next time I passed, but I was never a confident driver, never enjoyed driving and things went from bad to worse when we came to live in Germany.
Learning to drive in South Wales, I was super at hill-starts which is the one thing that I will never ever need here in Landkreis Verden. For many years I drove a right-hand drive car here, and what’s more one (Volvo estate car) which had next to no acceleration. The British test had never involved motorway, or night driving: joining the Autobahn was unthinkable. Not only could I not see or accelerate, I also – Britishly – waited for other cars to make way for me. I was bound to fail, enraging my fellow drivers as I did.
Over the years, this became a ‘thing’ with me.
I lost friends, because they moved away – ‘It’s not far,’ they said, ‘just 20 minutes on the motorway.’
Well, yes. It might as well have been on the moon.
I turned down jobs which would have involved motorway driving. I took horribly complicated train journeys – and told lies about why I was doing all this.
I was ashamed of my panic and fear.
Some years ago (the children had left home and the dog was dead, how many seats did I need in my vehicle?) I decided to buy myself a sports car. This was my first Mazda MX-5 and I called her Thelma. This made zipping around more fun, but it still didn’t get me onto the motorway.
In the course of his working life at Mercedes, Horst was the happy owner of a total of (about) 35 cars. No time for names! In 2007 he decided to order a 420Diesel (1000 Nm torque), which from the outside looked, well, normal, but was actually more than special.
By July 2008 he wasn’t driving anywhere, but lying in a bed in the neurological intensive care unit in Bremen. I visited him every day of course, mostly driving his car – something I would normally never had done – because it made me feel closer to him. After weeks counting the number of traffic lights between home and downtown Bremen, I decided to take the motorway. I felt sick, but put my foot down and felt that powerful car accelerating and it was one of the most wonderful feelings in my life.
Later on, he was moved to Rehab in Wilhelmshaven and in the evenings I drove back from my visits there along the empty Autobahn, and I drove very, very fast. Very.
Now, as you all know, I don’t drive that fast, but I do zip on and off the motorway when and whenever I want, and I am so glad to know that another barrier, of my own making, has been torn down.
The Cabin Fever part
European road signs: https://www.autoeurope.com/roadsigns/
Info about the UK driving test: https://www.gov.uk/driving-test