Driving Ms Maisie

DESPITE the debilitating effects of a stoke, battling with depression and the loss of two sons and her husband, Maisie Crawford has overcome all her struggles to achieve her dream - passing her driving test at the tender age of almost 69.

An inspiration to others, Maisie gave up on her initial attempts at driving 40 years ago, but was overtaken by a spurt of determination more than a year ago to get her 'L' plates out again.

"I wakened one morning at the end of May and decided I wanted to drive again," she said.

"I started about 40 years ago learning to drive, but I didn't keep on with it. But I woke up that morning last year and I thought 'I want to drive'," she said, adding: "Some of the things I have been through you have to just get up and get on with it as each day presents itself. So last year I decided I wanted to drive and I am down in the Community House on Nelson Drive and they said 'Right, we'll get you a driving instructor'. So away they went and got me one."

However, things didn't go too well as the effects of the stroke meant one of her legs was really hurting by the time the lessons finished. The same thing happened the next time she went out.

"One of my friends Rachel McCarron my befriender from Praxis, said 'Don't you worry about that Maisie, I'll soon get you sorted'. So Joe Brolly came and it was an automatic car, so this was the beginning of this great world."


Maisie was terrified at the thought of doing even 15 miles an hour: "I said 'No, I couldnay do that. No, I canny go as fast as that.' But as the weeks went on Joe was very good and very patient, but the thing was then after a week or two Joe wanted me to go out onto the main road. I thought 'How am I going to do this? Joe said if I listened to him I would be able to do it. So, we carried on and as the weeks went on it came to the part of having to learn the Highway Code. That was horrendous."

Her female friends bought her a dvd, which she doggedly went through on a laptop, but it was slow and lonely going at times, and Maisie freely admits, she often sat on her own, in tears.

"The more I tried to learn the multiple choice and that...well, I seen me sit out there crying manys the night," she said, pointing to the table and chair in the hallway.

"I cried my heart out wondering what I took this on for. I have been on my own from I came back. You see I was in England for 35 years and my husband, Walter, died over in England," she says, also revealing that she has also lost two sons, Walter and Gordon, one to a heart problem the other to an accident.

"Anyway, through sadness and the anxiety and the depression and everything I went through sitting at the table, and then lying in bed with it going round and round in my head and would it say in? But I feel brilliant now," she said proudly.

It took three attempts for Maisie to get both her theory and her practical tests, but she stuck at it, determined to realise her dream.

"The first time I missed out by three and I missed out by five on the second, but I got through on my third attempt by one point. You have to get 43 out of 45. I did very very well on hazard perception on all occasions, but it was serious," she says laughing.

"I didn't leave school a scholar, that's for sure and some of what I was reading I was wondering 'What does that word mean?' I really felt I was on my own. I remember going to do the theory test that last time and I was a day early because I was that psyched-up for this test at 3pm down by the City factory. So I'm standing and there's not another being about, and it's closed and I'm battering on the door and window. I thought 'I just have to pass this test', but I couldnay get in to pass it.

"Martin McCrossan came past and I said to him I couldnay get in, well Martin he banged and shoved at the door and there was two traffic wardens across the street and he asked why it was not open. So anyway, another lady she had come, but she only came to ask a question and she phoned somebody, but it turned out as a result of that I was a day too early," Maisie says laughing at herself, and adding:"The next day I went back and that's the day I passed."

Given 40 minutes to do the test, which is in two parts, mastering the computer was another thing that had Maisie stumped initially.

Hand up

"You get plenty of time...but the first time when they put me in from of this thing...I'm not computer literate at all, but I had earphones and everything on. So the lady said 'If you do that it will do this'," said Maisie mimicking the woman's actions: "She said if I got into any trouble just to put my hand up. So off she went and I took a look at this and thought 'What am I supposed to do with this here?' The air was blue and the hand went up, and she came in and I said I didn't really understand, so she showed me again, but what ever I done the test ended, so the hand went up again!. The woman came in again, and I went thought the multiple choice...anyway I got it done, but it was 'Sorry, on this occasion you have not passed your test'. You got a wee printout and I thought 'What do I do now?' So I went over to Witherspoons and got a pint and I told the girl to put plenty of good cheer in it!"

Maisie admitted feeling deflated, but she still kept going: "You feel deflated, but at the same time coming out, the relief at that being over was absolutely brilliant. But when you took a wheen of steps you began to question why you did not pass. You could very easily give up. But that's not the word to use."


Battling her way though more lessons and tests, the bad winter and a chest infection, Maisie admitted that she went into another bout of depression...but she still kept going, finally passing her test on Tuesday and the first person she told was her twin sister Joy Kelly, who lives nearby.

Taking me though to her front room, Maisie proudly shows me her bouquets of flowers from her driving instructor and his boss, and confides that between bereavement and illness and depression, she had initially given up on learning to drive four decades ago.

Third time lucky, Maisie pulled back into the test centre and stared at the steering wheel expecting the worst: "I was waiting to be told I had failed and the examiner said 'Don't be worrying any more, you've passed your test' and I looked at him and roared and said 'Do ye mind if I kiss ye?' The poor man looked at me. He wrote out the certificate and I was sniffing and snottering and crying and getting on and I told him I was going to take my certificate over to show my two sons and husband who are buried over in England. I haven't come down yet, it is absolutely brilliant. I can't explain it.If anyone ever told you they felt like they had everything, then that's the feeling. I feel like I have everything. My husband needed a heart transplant and so did my son, and it doesn't matter how much money in the world you have got, you cannot buy a heart. So I think I am the richest person in the whole wide world. This is just the cream on the cake. I'm so lucky, aren't I? "

"I am so delighted I have not come down yet," she said, adding:"I have not gone out on the road alone yet".

Three ton truck

A former TA member, Maisie at just four feet nine inches was too small to be a driver of a three-ton truck, but her ambition had been to drive one of the lorries, and she keeps a toy Army truck in her front room. It's not difficult to speculate that she may well end up driving one someday, she is so determined.

"I would give it a go surely," she says.

So it was on Friday morning Maisie ended up alone in 'The Wee Dote' after she took me for a spin. 'The Wee Dote' is her pet name for her car. She knew she had to leave me on Spencer Road, and make the journey home - alone...

"I haven't been outside the estate on my own, and I'm starting to think about having to drive down Spencer Road now," she says nervously joking about the thought of being on her own for the return journey.

We leave the house and make our way to the car, parked by the green, but things don't start well - Maisie has left the keys behind! She returns giggling and we get in, heckled by her sister Anne and a neighbour Ellen.

"I feel 10 foot tall taking somebody for a run in my car," she says starting her reverse manoeuvre to a chorus of good natured abuse.

We tootle out of the quadrangle at a dangerous 10mph and turn onto Seymore Gardens, with Maisie taking it up to 15mph. Passing the wheel through her hands like a good student, she indicates to turn left and we set off in the direction of Nelson Drive and Clooney Road. She points to the side of the road where she did her parallel park.

Whizzing along at a heady 21mph Maisie says she "just can't believe" that she can get into a car and drive off, particularly as eight years ago a stroke meant she was dragging one leg behind her when she tried to walk.

Praising her doctor, Michael Healy, for his support and encouragement, we turn out onto Clooney Road and Maisie does an amazing job of keeping the car at 28-29mph exactly the whole way down Limavady Road to the lights.


She confides that it is her ambition to go to Tesco at the weekend on her own and I dare her to go there now. She accepts my gauntlet and we turn into Glendermott Road at a giddy 5mph, indicating as we go.

Maisie confides that she is also going to make a trip into Donegal to see the hills now that she has wheels: "I am going to do that either today or tomorrow. I have to do it because I can't be giving into the fear of not going out. I have just so much to see and so much to do."

We conquer Glendermott Road at 27mph and turn off at Woodburn cutting through the car park at the shopping centre we enter Richill Park and double back on ourselves, passing Clooney Estate and turning right onto Glendermott again. Then for the big test, Maisie turns onto Clooney Terrace and her white-knuckle ride begins. She is panic-stricken at the thought of the narrowing roadway due to the number of other motorists, but she handles it like a professional and is delighted with herself as she pulls into the car park close to The Sentinel office, reverses up and exits pointing the car up Spencer Road in readiness for the journey home.

Grinning with happiness at her bravery she bids me farewell, and sets off home.

(I phoned her 20 minutes later to ensure she got home OK, and was greeted with a full-volume babble of delight.) Yes indeed. Maisie has wheels and is not afraid to use them!

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