I can recall vividly, the day I earned my drivers licence in the winter of 1952, as a fifteen-year-old. Man, it was cold that morning. There had been a real bobby dazzler of a frost in Fairlie and by mid-morning, it was threatening to snow.
I had been practising my driving skills, thanks to my employer letting me park the work truck in the garage at the end of each day and reverse it out again each morning. After a few weeks, he shoved me in the driver’s seat, to take my workmates onto the job, several miles out into the country.
This carried on for several weeks until the boss said it was about time I got my bum into gear and obtained my licence.
In those days, the traffic cop arrived in the village; I think it was every Thursday morning, to show the flag for the traffic department. Funny how everyone remembered their road rules on the day the cop came to town. All drivers, without exception, passed along the village roads at quite a sedate pace. Like good drivers, all showed their hand signals through the open driver’s window, even on those freezing days throughout the winter months. On those other days, most had a memory malfunction.
On those cold days of the cops visit, he could be found warming his posterior in front of the fire in the council offices and probably cursed when a prospective customer arrived.
As I said before, the day was cold and the boss thought it was a good day for me to go for my licence, as things were a little quiet. In those days, one never had to make an appointment weeks in advance you just had to turn up.
That Thursday morning I backed the little 15cwt ex-army Chev truck out of the yard onto the main street and headed south about 100 yards.
The Council Office was beside the old
and a little bookshop run by a delightful lady, whose name I can’t recall. My employer’s yard was along the same street as the Council Office. Aorangi Town Hall
Parking outside the office, I was shaking like a leaf and threatening to turn tail and scarper.
Climbing the entrance steps, pushing my way through the entry doors; my attention was taken by a traffic cop leaning against the wall in the corridor, talking casually to one of the council staff.
He seemed a friendly sort of geezer, of average height and build, yet the most remarkable thing about him, was his smile, along with his attitude. As I soon found out, he had a knack for putting a person at ease immediately.
“You’re early,” he said to me. “Are you sure you want to go out in this miserable weather today. Don’t want to leave it for a warmer day, do you?”
Silently crapping myself, I just smiled.
Seeing the look on my face, “to tell you the truth lad,” he said to me, “I was only joking, so let’s get on with it, eh.”
We wandered out into the cold. “Where’s your car?” The cop asks.
“Right there,” I said, pointing to the little work truck.
“God Almighty!” the cop exclaimed, “you mean I got to suffer being taken for a ride in this jalopy.”
“Afraid so,” I said, becoming more settled with the cops attitude.
“Never mind lad,” he laughed. “It’ll cost you in the end.”
Climbing aboard, the cop pulled his big thick coat around his body, grunting as he got in and pulling his hat down over part of his ears. I was wondering if he was expecting to end up at the South Pole.
Turning the key to ‘on’, I put my foot on the starter button. I pushed the gear stick into first, before winding down my window. With my hand out, I indicated my intention to move into the traffic flow. I needn’t have bothered, for, other than a single small car half a mile to the south and going the other way, there was no movement on the road, so there was little likelihood of an accident. My thoughts drifted to the boss putting it around that I was going for my driver’s licence, so keep off the street. It’s just the sort gag he would pull.
Allandale Road,” the cop said to me, “and wind that friggin window up, it’s bloody freezing in here.”
“You could speed it up a bit son. I would like to get back home before winters over.”
I began winding down the window again.
“For God's sake, leave that window alone.”
“How am I going to indicate with the window up,” I whined.
“Don’t let that worry you son, I’ll tell you if something’s coming. Good lad” said the cop as we successfully negotiated the corner into
“Now,” he said to me. “Head for Manaton’s Cutting, I want you to do a three-point turn at the top and then I want you to head for home, it’s absolutely freezing in here. Tell your boss to get a heater.”
The road was all clear on our return journey back to the Council Office.
Pulling into the kerb in front of the office, I put the truck out of gear and turned the motor off.
The cop leaned over, pulling a little receipt book out of his back pocket.
“Got ten bob, boy.” He smiled at me.
I nodded, pulling a crumpled ten shilling note out of my pocket.
Tearing a page out of his little book he handed it to me, saying “there’s your licence, the official one will be in the post when I get back to town. I suppose that’ll be the best part of a week’s wage won’t it, lad.” He was close. Another bob per week and he’d have been bang on the money.
The memory of that traffic policeman will always remain with me, but then, they were different times and he was a legend of his time. I’m pretty sure he drove a black and white coupe; I think it was either a Chevrolet or a Ford.
That man, or should I say, gentleman, went by the name of Duncan Cameron.