Picture an A-reg Triumph Acclaim, an old Welsh coaching road, and a damp November evening. Now picture the driver: a spotty 19-year-old dizzy on caffeine and freedom. His car’s heavy with books, boxes and clothes. His tyres are over-inflated. And he’s about to get very scared and very lucky, in that order.
Welcome to my greatest ever drive; a night-time strop through a sodden North Wales. First, to the car. It was the car I grew closest to. To me it was ‘the silver bullet’, to my mother ’Ethel’. And one night, I drove it off to University, through Llangollen, Cerrigydrudion and Betws-y-coed.
The session I had behind the wheel of that car, that night, was epic. It wasn’t particularly quick (Acclaims weren’t), nor especially flamboyant (the handbrake barely held it on a hill). But the A5 was deserted, glistening with the descending moisture of a typical autumn evening. Tourist season was long over, and the locals were ensconced. And the clock seemed to stop, while my senses hit overdrive.
I remember braking harder than ever, down a long wet hill, to slow down for a narrow bridge. I remember plea-bargaining with the terrifying throttle-off understeer as I turned in. I remember envisioning my clean washing tumbling into the river below. And then I remember whipping over the bridge, marvelling almost as much at my stupidity as my own good luck, and flattening the throttle again for maximum, 1.3-litre, 75bhp attack of the hill on the other side.
I may never have another driving experience as incredible, as vivid, or as ill-advised. Doesn’t matter. If that’s what I’m thinking about when they turn off my ventilator, I’ll die a happy man.