I got through three driving instructors. This occurs to me because there’s a chance I’m heading for number four.
I can drive. This is something in which I take some pride. The pride is totally justified by three driving instructors, countless mock tests, five driving tests and fifteen years ticket-free; neither parking nor speeding.
I was once pulled over by the police. The twenty-fifth anniversary edition of ‘Halloween’ had just come out and I had just bought it from a late-night (read that as ‘after dark’) supermarket.
When the officer stopped me, he apologised and explained that he thought he’d seen someone hiding in my backseat.
With the thought of Michael Myers, and the death scene in the car freshly in mind, I almost passed away.
When I got home, and having told my mother the excitement of my run in with the police, she told me the traffic officer probably thought I’d abducted somebody. The only person I would have been tempted to kidnap would have been Mr. Nescafé, so the chances seemed remote. Still, nice to be believed in.
My first driving lesson involved my getting into the car as if I was holding a peanut between my knees. I’d been a passenger all my life, I knew how to climb into a car; the dignity inherent in exiting a vehicle is mostly relevant to those who wear skirts. I wear jeans to funerals, so skirts and dignity aren’t usually an issue for me. I really have no idea why I got into the car in such a manner, but it built a cracked and crooked foundation for a decidedly strange first lesson.
The National Speed Limit Applies sign is a white circle with a black stripe running diagonally from bottom left to top right. I didn’t know that on lesson number one. Having been asked, and then told by my instructor, I was obliged to work out the national speed limit through a series of humiliating guesses. In simple fairness, the national speed limit might not change, but the ability of my car to make it to that speed has always been in jeopardy, depending on hills.
I was learning the pedals, levers and buttons quite well, I thought. Parked at the side of a quiet country road, my driving instructor asked me to indicate which pedal was which.
“Brake?” she began.
I hovered my foot above the middle pedal.
“Yes ye-es,” she said, her voice rising to a disturbingly cartoony sforzando,
which I imagined was a glitch, a frog in her throat, surely not something ever to be repeated.
With some hesitation, I hovered my foot limply over the pedal on the right.
“Yes ye-es,” and there it was again.
And in the midst of all this yesing, all I could think was:
No. Just. No.
Now, the fact of the matter is it’s almost impossible to get around in this area without a car. As previously reported, there are few pavements, hardly any streetlights, the buses aren’t altogether frequent and rarely reach a destination you might choose, there are no cycle lanes and with such high hedges and narrow winding lanes – cycling isn’t exactly safe; in lieu of a pogo stick, a car is the only option.
Realising all of this, my uncle bought me a short driving course one Christmas, and I found myself, climbing into the car like a person (which was an improvement) and sitting beside a man with both beard and clipboard, who made a point of directing me to every nearby location which included a grassy bank with bunches of flowers and sympathy cards. I will accept, absolutely, that being newly in control of a machine capable of total devastation to life, it is imperative to attempt an understanding of what could happen. But when it’s every lesson, it comes across as morbid humour, even trivialisation.
The bearded one came and went.
After my first lesson with Chris in Exeter, such was my confidence, I bought a bumper sticker. He was a very lovely man, probably in his thirties, with twin young sons, and he was learning to do a backflip. We got along famously. He was just the right level of serious while still having a sense of humour. I wound up having lessons twice a week with him for about a year.
It was not an unproductive year. I talked through my coffee addiction and my plans to move to Ireland. We talked about my novel and I sat my driving test five times.
I maintain, it is not normal to sit next to some clipboard person whilst trying to drive, all the while – anticipating other people’s stupidity.
On my first test, I failed to apply the handbrake at a Stop sign. I’m sure I did other things, but that was the major cause of my failure.
On my second test, I nearly killed us at a roundabout. I deserved to fail that one.
The third and fourth tests followed a route that included Countess Wear roundabout, which I still try to avoid, so those have merged in my memory, although I seem to think that I got Chris to sit in the back seat for the fourth one.
The fifth test went well. Of course it did, I passed it, but all I can remember of it is trying not to mutter, “Don’t mess it up now,” or words to that effect, too audibly. I may have frightened the examiner. When he told me I’d passed, I might have said, “Bugger off, are you joking?”
Whether he regretted his decision or no, I truly believe you only really learn to drive once you’re driving.
So why, you might ask, am I thinking of a fourth instructor? Aimée’s taking driving lessons and has suggested to her instructor that I might enjoy advanced classes.
I could be compelled to donut, if I were sure it was a verb.