Mark Andrews: Dogged persistency, or just more Blunders?

Read Mark Andrews' latest column for Weekend.

Mrs Blunders
Mrs Blunders

Just before the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, King of Scotland Robert the Bruce is said to have rallied his troops with the battlecry: “If at first you don’t succeed try, try and try again.”

Not exactly Churchill, is it? But while they may have lacked a rhetorical ring, his words did appear to do the trick. Bob’s boys gave us Sassenachs a right old walloping, leading to almost three centuries of Scottish independence. Which only came to an end when his descendant King James VI took over England and Wales as well.

But not only did old Brucie’s words change the course of history, they also had a profound effect on our education system.

Seven centuries on, primary school teachers are still reciting his words when trying to motivate youngsters experiencing their first setbacks in life. I guess that’s what you call a Brucie bonus.

But while doggedness is a quality to admire, I do wonder sometimes whether it is better to quit while you’re ahead rather than endlessly banging your head against a brick wall, when all the evidence suggests you’re destined to fail.

Take, for example, the man who has been crowned Britain’s most hapless learner driver, having failed his theory test an astonishing 157 times.

How is that even possible? The man in question is just 42 years old, so even if he applied to take the test on his 17th birthday, it means he would have sat the test on average at least every eight weeks over 25-year period.

And while I never had to sit a theory test myself, how hard can it be?


I do recall it being derided as so simple a child could get through it when it was introduced.

The good news is that the man in question has now passed his theory, so is presumably now ready to move onto the actual driving test, which I’m sure is something the instructors are all looking forward to.

Let’s hope he does better than the un-named 47-year-old woman who is still trying to lose her L-plates after failing the practical test some 41 times.

Still, 2021 could be their lucky year. With a bit of luck, the Department for Transport will probably decide that driving tests will this year be calculated with an algorithm, like they did with the A-levels.

Or maybe let the driving instructors decide, to avoid any backlash.

I do worry, though, that if these people are ever allowed to drive solo, they will become a sort of real-life Mrs Blunders, the dippy housewife in those wonderfully subtle public safety broadcasts from the 1970s. That of course, was a time when the Government spent most of the time trying to scare us half to death every time there was an ad break. Whether it was climbing electricity pylons, retrieving your frisbee from the electricity sub-station, or playing around on the escalator, you were only ever 15 minutes away from some horrible calamity.

And don’t, whatever you do, get into a blue Cortina with a sinister man in a checked sports jacket who hangs around school gates.


Actually, it’s not that different from today, except they’re now trying to scare us about coronavirus, and the standard of acting isn’t really as good.

Anyhow, Mrs Blunders made her first appearance in a 1975 commercial reminding us to wear our seatbelts, presumably because by this time they decided the Jimmy Savile adverts weren’t scary enough. So instead we had Mrs Blunders wreaking mayhem in her red Austin 1100 while she pondered the sale at the dress shop, or whether to have fish or meat for supper. The broadcast would end with a young man, who had been studiously observing the rules of the road, flying through his windscreen, while Mrs Blunders carries on, blissfully unaware of the carnage she has caused.

Perhaps in the interests of equality, we were later introduced to her lecherous husband Mr Blunders, who tended to get distracted while checking out the local talent, and their boy-racer son Billy.

It does makes you wonder, though, how the Blunders got through their driving tests. I bet it took them 30 or 40 attempts as well, until one day they just got lucky and somehow scraped through.

It’s like doing the pools. You might know nothing about football, but if you do it often enough, you’ll probably win something sooner or later.

Which brings into question whether Robert the Bruce really did know what he was talking about, and whether such a dogged level of persistency actually is all it’s cracked up to be. Because, if you haven’t passed at the 40th attempt, then maybe driving just isn’t for you. Perhaps it would be better to spend all the money you’re wasting on lessons and test fees to pay for taxi rides and rail fares instead.

Because as Albert Einstein is oft misquoted as saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

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