Can You Drive?

MAY 2024
Images courtesy of Museum of Youth Culture

Sometimes it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. Especially when it’s a J-Reg white Ford Fiesta with four of your best mates squished in, a bag full of tropical Bacardi Breezers, your dad’s battered A-Z road map and a well-played cassette mix-tape you bought in a mystery bundle in HMV.

From designated drivers and the sense of initial pride, to the frustration of being the only one in your gang who has access to a car. The long road-trips where no one has worked out the best way to go, or how to fit in all the festival essentials…we fondly recall some of the best journeys of our youth with tales from Creator and DJ Neil Summers, Artist Seana Gavin and Artist and Designer Scott King.

Leo & Joanne
Leo & Joanne

Neil Summers

“When I was handed a set of keys back in 1990, they weren’t just to a dark orange Renault 14 (with enough miles on the clock to have circumnavigated the globe several times), they were also the keys to adventure. No longer did me and my mates have to rely on backies on mopeds, unreliable bus timetables or Shank’s pony to get around, now we had a serious set of wheels. Gone were the days of having to hang around the local born-again Christian youth club or that flat roof pub where everyone wanted to batter us to get our kicks. The road ahead was paved with endless possibilities of legendary nights out in Manchester, all night raves in Blackburn and occasionally getting completely lost in the wilds of Cheshire. Speaking of Cheshire, this was the place where I got my first job, working for a hearing aid factory, which I used my beloved Renault to commute to from my home in Stockport. Obsessive about music, I was somewhat gutted when the car speakers died one day on the way into work and so enlisted my mate Murph to help who was something of an electrical wizard. His solution to this audio issue was to place a pair of massive wooden stereo speakers on the back seat which he had hooked up to the tape player. This certainly solved the problem and ensured that the people of Cheshire would most often hear the epic strains of ‘The Storm’ by World of Twist blasting out at a million decibels long before they would see my little satsuma coloured car appear.”

Julia Barwell
Julia Barwell

Seana Gavin 

“I didn’t learn to drive until I was a bit older, but I still remember the excitement of when my best mate received her first car, a white Nissan Micra, for her 18th Birthday. To begin with there was the fun novelty of cruising around blasting out tunes. Warren G ‘Regulate’ was a favourite at the time. She would also drive us to raves and free parties in and around London. But when she first got her license, she was still learning about parking rules and signs, so we got into some funny situations, though stressful at the time. On a couple of occasions on the morning after an all-nighter we’d leave the party and spend half an hour trying to find her car, fearing that maybe it had been stolen. Eventually it would become apparent that it had been towed away. We’d be like ‘Oh no, not again!’

When her driving confidence increased there were times when we’d be going from one party to the next and would accumulate 5 or so extra passengers that would all squash into the back of the car and boot like sardines. There would be limbs and elbows in all directions contorted to fit in for the short journey. There was a lot of laughing but also relief when we would arrive at the next spot and could all pile out of the car and enjoy some personal space again.” 

Emma Andrew
Emma Andrew

Scott King

“In the summer of 1987, my mum loaned me her new car; a blue Mini Metro. She was resistant, and my dad was worried. But between them – and possibly as a test of my responsibility - they agreed to let me borrow the car for one night, to take my friends to Cayton Bay Holiday Park.

My old school mates, Dale, Nicky and Benny had booked a static caravan for a week in Cayton Bay. We were all 17 and it’d been agreed that I would drive them there, then stay the night in their caravan. I was excited about the prospect of a night out at the Cayton Bay Holiday Park on-site disco. We lived in Goole; Cayton Bay seemed exotic.

My cousin Sean was invited last minute; so there would be five of us – plus all their suitcases, and a ton of supplies that their mums had given them: huge carboard boxes packed full with tins of soup, baked beans, packets of biscuits, Pot-Noodles… toilets rolls.

We loaded up the Mini Metro – Dale, Nicky and Benny squashed in the back – their suitcases filling the boot, their huge carboard boxes of essential supplies on their laps; three big teenage lads with 50 tins of beans in the back – me and Sean in the front.

The car visibly sank with so much weight in it. As we sat on my dad’s driveway, he gave me a last-minute lecture, ‘No going mad’ and ‘No overtaking’… he stressed repeatedly that ‘It’s only a 1 litre engine, with all this crap and you lot in it, it’s barely gonna move… and if you do manage to get any speed up – with all this weight in it - it won’t stop’.

I said all the right things – of course I wasn’t going to try overtaking, we’d take it easy.

As I pulled out of the drive, and once my dad was out of sight, we all started cheering – Rick Astley, ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ on Radio 1, full blast – and the sun was shining. We were so excited.

The road from Goole to Cayton Bay - near Scarborough - is 64 miles of bends and hills. Beloved by bikers who treat it as a racetrack; it’s dangerous if you drive fast, not least because it’s largely populated by farmers in tractors and long lines of plodding caravan enthusiasts.

Because of the enormous weight in the tiny under-powered car, we could barely make it up the hills; we created a tailback with every hill we encountered –  a motorcyclist sped past, slowing down only to give us the ‘wanker’ sign… progress up the hills was torture and every time we saw a sign: ‘Scarborough 46 miles’, ‘Scarborough 32 miles’, we’d let out a cheer.

Going downhill was a different story – we were like a rocket – 60, 70, 80 mph down bendy B-roads – nobody could touch us; and the faster we went, the louder we cheered. In straight lines, and as long as I remembered to brake 30 seconds before I actually needed to, this was fine; but the little car would almost roll over on the tighter corners and we’d all scream every time it happened. Sinitta’s ‘So Macho’ on full blast, on the tinny stereo. There were a lot of ‘down’ hills as we neared our destination, and we were flying. We saw one last sign: ‘Cayton Bay 2 miles’, and – of course – we all cheered.

I don’t remember much about the final roundabout straight in front of the holiday camp – I mean, I remember coming down a steep hill towards it – and being distracted – banging the steering wheel as we shouted along to ‘Waterfront’ by Simple Minds; but I don’t remember ever slowing down to try and get round the roundabout - I braked too late and the car did not stop. We ploughed straight across the grass roundabout into an MDF sign that was skilfully cut into the shape of two leaping dolphins – we obliterated the dolphins and exited the roundabout at full speed, slicing between the back end of a mini-bus and in front of an old man on a moped: like The Dukes of Hazard, if the General Lee had been a Mini Metro overloaded with baked beans and bog paper.

The brakes finally kicked in on the other side of the roundabout - just in time to stop us hitting a second sign that read ‘Welcome to Cayton Bay’ – we sat there in silence for a few seconds; and as I recall, nobody cheered.”

Mark Charnock
Mark Charnock

The Museum of Youth Culture searched their archive for the best imagery of cars and their drivers, and we picked the ones which best capture the excitement and anticipation of going somewhere, (anywhere!) in a car with your mates.