1982, Driving Lesson

“Now, you’ll have to do what I say. You’ve never started a car before.”

I made a big deal of lining the key up with the ignition: that hairline scratch, from the time I used a penknife to fire up the engine (my brother saw Dad do it).


My ears burnt.


#41 of 52: Sarah Harris

Object: A vintage toy car


Themes explored in the work included;

  • Rites of passage; learning to drive is a demarcation of increased levels of independence and responsibility. Or at least it was. I recently read that it’s increasingly perceived as a practical necessity, now that cars are viewed as convenience commodities .
  • Trust; any activity involving cars involves incredible levels of trust. As a driver, you have to trust that the vehicle is roadworthy and mechanically sound – even though you are unlikely to have the faintest idea of it’s internal workings. You trust that that other drivers are alert and driving in accordance with the accepted conventions. As a passenger, you trust the driver. Pedestrians and cyclists trust motorists to take their safety into consideration.
  • How we shape objects and they shape us. Cars were originally few and far between. Our widespread adoption of cars has changed our behaviour, leading to changes in our environment and culture. Cities have grown outward, giving rise to suburbs and in turn people drive from the suburbs into the city centre to work, to shop and for entertainment. Compare a city centre that originated in a pre-car era to one from a later era and you will understand the difference immediately. In parallel, the car has evolved. No longer the ‘horseless carriage’ but a moving internal world, a micro-space that’s furnished with cup holders, seat warmers, surround sound, television, ipod and phone connectivity. Cars in that environment are practically an ‘outdoor room’, an addition to the house. Some are family rooms, some for couples and others are dens or silent retreats.

The Project52 tribe came up with suggestions such as;

  • Metal
  • Boy
  • 1920’s
  • Rolls Royce

All of this reminded me of my own boyhood experience with cars. As far as I can remember, we had a car. We became a two car family in the 1970’s (I think), with the arrival of an Austin mini – battleship grey and very different to the car I now own. By comparison it was tiny, didn’t have power steering or electric windows (they were on hinges). There were no headrests, rear safety belts or air conditioning. No radio (that came later). It was however, the car that my brothers and I learnt to drive in.

In the final work, the protagonist is about to begin their first ‘official’ driving lesson under the tutelage of a parent. They have already acquired some basic skills, through their own initiative. Turning the key in the ignition represents a defining moment. A decision has to be made; react to the adult’s statement but in doing so, reveal that they have broken a trust thereby putting the driving lesson and the associated entrance to adult society at risk or keep quiet and bear the guilt.

There are some autobiographical elements; it was possible to start our mini with a penknife and we witnessed our father do it. I just can’t quite remember if my brothers or I ever did. Honest. Maybe.

While working on this piece, I kept an eye out but sadly, didn’t see a single mini on the road. The new ones don’t count in my opinion – they are NOT a small car and are as far removed from the mini ethos as you can get. For one thing, the new mini looks like it might be comfortable. Traveling at speeds above 30mph in an old mini resulted in a pummeling of the kidneys and severe shortening of the spinal column. Now I’m half-thinking about getting my hands on an old one, possibly the estate version. The power of nostalgia…


Project 52

Project52 is a participatory art project that explores intrigue and our relationships with objects and people. Provide a photo of an object. Receive an artwork and 52-word story. Reflect. Playback and share.

The project will culminate in an exhibition, when 52 works are completed.



To participate or if you want to know more, drop a line or contact me via TwitterFacebook or Linkedin.



Check out some of the works.

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