I remember it clearly even though it must have been over fifteen years ago now. I was in the car with my Mum and we were driving through one of Bermondsey's many railway tunnels. There were pigeons on the road ahead and it looked like they weren't going to move. I gasped as I thought we were going to run them over. But at the last minute they flew out of the way.
"My friend failed her driving test because she stopped for a pigeon," my Mum said.
Yesterday I had my driving test. I hadn't started off brilliantly, taking the wrong exit off the motorway. But I'd handled it well, changing lanes at a more complicated junction. I managed some intersections and stopped for some pedestrians. All fine.
And then I saw a pigeon ahead of me. It was just sitting there, barely moving. I was joining a main road and I was equally aware of the Stop sign I had been repeatedly told to obey or else. Come on pigeon, I thought. I probably said it out loud too. I thought of what my Mum had said about her friend. I had no doubt in my mind it would fly away. That's what pigeons do.
The pigeon did not fly away. Not until I had driven over its head. I can't remember this clearly. All I know is my instructor said, "It's okay, it's flown up into a tree."
It threw me a bit. After that the examiner told me to stop wherever I could. We had been taught that one thing is to 'estacionar' (park) by reversing, and the other is to 'parar', nose first. I had already parked successfully. Now I just needed to stop somewhere. And for some reason I didn't think stopping was as serious as parking properly, so I stupidly left the car sticking out a little bit. Maybe I would have got away with it. But to make matters worse, though I had pulled the handbrake up, it was a sticky stick that required an extra last pull. As I got out of the car to swap with the next student, it started rolling forward and the instructor had to pull it up.
After the test the examiner brought up the pigeon.
"What if it had been a dog or a cat or a sheep?" he said, clearly upset. I told him I'd been convinced it would fly away. I didn't add that I wouldn't have assumed a dog, cat or sheep would have flown away.
I told him about my Mum's friend who had failed for stopping for a pigeon.
"We like animals in this country," he said. It seemed ironic really. Spain isn't China, but it doesn't exactly have a reputation for being animal friendly, whereas I think England does.
"I love animals too," I insisted. I felt like I needed to explain how I'd spent most my childhood cleaning out guinea pig hutches, how I only bought free range eggs...
In the end it wasn't the pigeon that swung it. It was the handbrake. He would have passed me if it hadn't been for that bloody handbrake. It was the pigeon I dreamed about though. It took me ages to get to sleep, the exam playing on repeat in my head over and over again.