"Congratulations," I said. "Yes congratulations," echoed Christine.
The others looked at us for an explanation and I explained that, after many lessons, Gemma had finally passed her driving test.
"Thanks," replied a beaming Gemma.
Pouring her a drink, I asked: "I take it you don't have the car with you today."
"Oh no," sighed Gemma. "I'm just relieved to have a day off from driving."
"That good, eh?" I enquired.
"Well," said Gemma. "The day after I passed my test I texted my boss and told her not to bother picking me up for work as I now had my driving licence and would make my own way."
"So it's great to be independent," interjected Mae.
"Not quite," replied Gemma. "I was really excited at the thought of driving myself to work for the first time. But it took me 20 minutes to get out of the driveway."
"Really," I asked. "How come?"
"I've got an old car and I couldn't get it into reverse and the more I tried the more flustered I became. I could see my neighbours' curtains twitching. They were obviously wondering what the heck was going on. I was so embarrassed that in the end I abandoned the car and phoned a taxi."
We all laughed and Christine nodded: "That takes me back. How did it go the next day?"
"It didn't," sighed Gemma. "I couldn't be late for work again so I texted my boss to pick me up."
"You just need to practice," I encouraged her.
"Practice? I drove to Asda yesterday and finally managed to get into a car parking space which was miles away from the store. Then, while leaving the car park, I drove out of the entrance instead of the exit. A car followed behind me and one was coming in, so I ended up wedged between two cars!
"Within minutes there was a traffic jam, horns were blaring and I was almost in tears."
"Didn't anyone offer to help?" asked Mae.
"Oh yes," answered Gemma. "Two drunks started giving me directions. One even offered to get in the car and drive for me.
"I tell you, I know I've just passed my test but I'm ready to pack in driving," said a fraught Gemma.
"That's a shame," I said, "but you need to keep at it. After all, we all did silly things when we just passed."
"Who passed first time then?" asked Christine.
"Second time for me," I replied
"Me too," said Christine, adding "although it took my mum five goes."
"Five?" we all exclaimed. "Five?"
"Well," said Christine, "she was a bit of a late starter and took her first driving lesson in her late 50s."
"Wow. That's a bit of a challenge at that age," said a surprised Gemma.
"It was. But I'm not sure who had the biggest challenge, my mum or the instructors".
We all turned to Christine with raised eyebrows at the word 'instructors'.
"Yes," she confirmed, "my mum managed to get through four in three years."
"Geez. How come?" asked Mae.
"Well, the first instructor had a stroke. The second one had a heart attack. And the third one threw in the towel."
I started laughing as it brought back fond memories of Christine's mum, who was quite a character.
"Well, she was a bit of a challenge," admitted Christine. "I remember when she arrived home and told me the instructor had put the question: 'Ok, Mrs Bridges, what does it mean when you see two flashing red lights above the motorway'? And she answered. "Well, it means I must pay attention."
"The instructor looked flustered and replied 'Mrs Bridges, you should always be paying attention!'"
Christine continued. "So mum finally passed her test aged 61 and, eventually, would take turns with my Aunt Gina, who passed her test a year later, at driving to St Andrew's.
"But because they were scared of driving on the motorway they stuck to the back roads and it would take them eight hours to get there. Partly because they drove so slowly and partly because they kept stopping for tea and cigarette breaks.
"God," exclaimed Mae, "they could have been in Florida in that time."
SO MAE now took this opportunity to brag about her expertise behind the wheel.
"I passed first time," she piped up proudly, before adding: "and I couldn't believe it."
In fairness. knowing Mae, we couldn't believe it either.
"I remember at the end of my driving test," she continued. "I pulled the car over and switched the engine off and the examiner turned to me and said I'd passed.
"Passed?" I said. "Passed? I was gobsmacked. So I turned to him and said. 'Are you sure?'
The girls in the crowd all burst out laughing when she added... "The surly bugger turned to me and said 'If I was you I would take my first answer'."
Gemma stood up and raised her glass to toast us. "Thanks girls. Maybe I'm better than I realised after all!"