8.07am. What a time for a driving test. It meant we had to be at the test centre in Banbury by 8am, so into the office at the training centre by 7am, time for a quick cuppa before heading off for one last mock test. During that final mock I felt my riding was the smoothest and most competent that it had been all week and too be honest I was really concerned that it was the best I could offer and anything that came later, ie the actual test, would be to a lower standard.
After my introduction to Barry, the examiner, I saddled up and made to leave. First problem - the key to the bike was buried in my pocket and I had to dig around, taking off my gloves to find it. He did reassure me that he was not assessing me for numptyness!
So we set off. The actual route was not a challenge for it was one we had covered several times yesterday in various configurations - start in one direction, then the other. Re-do a bit, etc etc. So that was not an issue, but as I had feared my riding was. Lurching around, taking a turn in neutral, forgetting my much practised "Life saver" look, all these were errors that I should not have been making and I was immensely annoyed with myself. Not long after we set off, we passed a group of ladies setting off for Royal Ascot, complete with general finery and splendid hats. It seemed from my brief glance (concentrating on the road you see) that they were waiting for a coach in front of a small group of shops, but Barry remarked over the radio something about "people getting married at the chip shop" which was very funny (you had to be there). Sadly he then forgot my name, calling me James, which then unsettled me far more than it should have done for some reason.
The other issue was my previous concern, addressed to the instructor, that I needed some practice on hill starts. We had tried one or two, and I felt pretty confident, but during the test it seemed nearly every junction was a hill start so by the end of the test I was well and truly practised. Just not the best time to get that practice perhaps!
On my return to the test centre I was convinced I had failed. I had already started thinking that if I had failed, I would probably not bother to retake the test at least for a few months, if ever. After all, this week was only embarked on as a bit of fun - I don't need to ride a bike, I have 1, 2, err 3 vehicles that I can call on (2 Land Rovers and a van) so I am hardly desperate for transport. I embarked on the course because I wanted a challenge and a bit of fun and a contrast to my day to day life. At the beginning of the week failure was not an issue, this morning pre-test it became a definite no-no, but by the end of the actual test I was happy to accept that I had not passed. But..........
I passed! I nearly fell off my chair in shock. (Luckily I was off the bike by then). There were three minor faults (you are allowed 10 per test, 11 being a fail), maximum 3 in each of 6/7 categories such as handling, progress, steering, observation etc. What a feeling - it didn't really sink in until after I was back at the training centre, Nik the instructor had to remind me to look a bit happier when I was sitting in the test centre. I was also really pleased for Kate who had come yesterday to redo her training after failing once before in Gloucester. Her Godfather passed away last night and she received the news when she arrived back at the training centre. It seems they had been really close and this was totally unexpected, but she didn't let it hold her back and also passed.
The rest of today has been made extra pleasant by that little voice in my head that pops in every so often to say "you passed your test". I have visited Stratford and was pleasantly surprised by how clean and tidy it is, throngs of tourists enjoying the sight of Shakespeare's birthplace, and prices even on the main street that were reasonable. Salisbury take note, especially about the cleanliness! After lunch by the river I visited a Triumph/Honda dealer on the outskirts where I was sorely tempted to walk out with a new bike under my arm - luckily I remembered in time that I don't have a spare £8K about me.
I also went up to another Honda dealership in Coventry, revisiting favourite haunts from another blog post back in September 2010. The Ford Dealership that repaired the van, the garage where I first stopped after being rescued from the motorway. So a happy homecoming...not. You will have to look back to the post.
At both dealerships I have been looked after brilliantly - far too tempting not to buy something although to rush into a purchase at this stage would obviously be very foolish. I still have to buy most of my own kit - borrowing a jacket, high-viz, helmet and gloves from the training school has meant that I have been spoilt all week. I need to budget a considerable amount for these items - I cannot afford to be skimpy on something as important as a helmet, never mind other protective clothing such as a decent jacket and gloves. I bought a good pair of trousers prior to starting my course, but thinking about it I will also need boots. So basically my cash reserves will be eaten up very quickly on gear, but I still won't have a bike to use it all on. Doh.
To round off a generally excellent day, I have wondered down to the local pub in the village of Hornton - the Dun Cow. Nice owners, real cider and perry on the bar, good food, what more do you want? Highly recommended if you are in this neck of the woods. And still that little voice is saying "you passed your test!", even after a couple of pints of cloudy Welsh cider. I must have done something right this morning!