A few months ago after a moment of uncharacteristic positivity, I made a casual enquiry with various instructors about what my chances were at ever passing a driving test should I choose to learn the practicalities prior to actually taking one. I spoke to several driving instructors and informed them that the total experience I have when it comes to driving amounted to playing Mario Kart on the Super Nintendo when I was 12, being forced to watch Formula One against my will whenever I visit my friend Steve, and gleefully grabbing the wheel of the car and lurching it into oncoming traffic for fun every time I’m in the car with my best mate, Phil. I was told that while this was all reassuring experience it probably wouldn’t help me learn to drive in real life so I should best get some lessons booked in. So I did.
As you may or may not be aware, back in October I blogged about my initial forays into attempting to manoeuvre a car without it resulting in an explosion of some sort, and aside from gaining extensive experience in how to endanger human lives, the only thing I’ve learned is that spending £800 of your money, four and a half months of your time, and an infinite amount mentally pissing on your self-respect doesn’t guarantee you the ability to move a car from A to B. Given how much I despise anything to do with cars – most intensely the people who drive them – the likelihood of me picking up the basics of driving straightaway wasn’t high at all. And let me tell you it was nowhere near as high as how my instructor’s voice gets when he shrieks in terror whenever I nervously approach a junction and I get my feet muddled up resulting in me slamming my foot down on the accelerator instead of the brake.
Literally everyone I spoke to before I started learning to drive confidently asserted that one day everything I’m being told during my lessons would just ‘click’ into place like some magic spell that would wondrously transform me into the mentally-agitated equivalent of Lewis Hamilton, but without the money and annoying disposition. Once everything ‘clicks’, I was told, then it’s just a case of improving with each lesson, the instructor would ‘put you forward for your test’, whatever that means, and then it would only be a matter of time before I joined the mass throng of impatient, self-centred, obnoxious arseholes that currently patrol the UK’s roads in their metal coffins. In theory it sounded simple. In reality it was an exercise in complete and utter incompetence.
Never have I been as bad at anything as I am at driving. Or at least attempting to drive. Though maybe that’s overstating it a bit as I’m pretty abysmal at anything to do with numbers. Once, during my GCSE Mathematics examination when I was 16, I opened the test booklet that contained the sums that would potentially shape my future, took one horrified look at the jumbled array of figures looking back at me, wrote ‘I give up’ on the front of the paper then quietly went to sleep for the remainder of the exam. Comparatively, I’m far worse at driving than I am at attempting to negotiate a page of angry-looking numbers, figures and fractions. My family and friends think I’m exaggerating how woeful I actually am but let’s take a look at the evidence:
Previously, I’d mentioned I was eight lessons of driving tuition in, sixteen hours in total, and during that time I’d been told how to start the car, change gear, pull away, stop, reverse, and what to do at roundabouts and junctions. In the following weeks and lessons (and let me state for the record that there’s been another twelve of the bastards which amounts to a grand total of forty hours of driving tuition), I’ve been informed of parking, reverse parking, parallel parking, three-point turns, overtaking and absolutely loads more that went in one ear and out the other. Of the six basics of driving that I’ve stated (starting the car, changing gear etc) the only thing I can do with any degree of ease and confidence is stop the car. And that involves such a sudden thump on the brake pedal that it regularly causes my poor girlfriend in the passenger seat to lurch forward and only narrowly avoid knocking herself clean out on the windscreen by the car immediately rolling backwards and throwing her back into her seat because of my inability to apply the handbrake before I release the brake pedal.
As for the others, where do I start? I routinely lock the steering wheel when attempting to start the car which, bizarrely, causes me to stare absently into the middle distance, my gear changes involve two hands and a struggle that suggests I’m stabbing somebody to death, and my approaches to roundabouts are guaranteed to include the phrase, ‘WHAT THE FUCK DO I DO NOW?!’ as happened seven times when out and about with Laura the other day. And my parking? Call me naive, but when I first decided to learn to drive I never thought parking would entail driving into a car park, stopping the car, getting out, then watching as your girlfriend did it for you.
Additionally, I regularly go into what I call ‘shit-my-pants mode’ in which my brain disengages function with the rest of my body and I kind of freeze and loll about as the car cruises at 50mph towards a red light. I’m only jolted out of this psychological death-hold by my instructor screaming that now is the time we’re going to die. And let’s not forget I’m twenty lessons in. That’s forty sodding hours. That’s eight hours a day for five days, and I’m still no further forward from where I was after lessons three, four and five. It would be infuriating if it wasn’t so depressing.
My biggest problem by a substantial distance, however, is pulling away after I’ve stopped at a junction. It’s literally blind luck if I do it right. Just the other day I stalled three times attempting to pull onto a busy roundabout, screamed a bit, then the car kind of shut down and just rolled forward into speeding traffic with me helpless and clueless to do anything. I never, ever, ever thought that one day I would class driving to the local shop as an extreme sport.
The only flicker of light in all this doom and gloom was how easy the theory test was. Believe it or not I passed first time, and that was simply because the test I got was exactly the same – I’m talking a question for question carbon copy – of the practice test I’d done at work that morning when I should have been working. Apparently, however, it’s only valid for two years after which you have to take it again if you don’t pass the practical. So I’m going to have to take it all over again. Sigh.
Anyway, it’s very clear that I can’t drive even after all this time and tuition so I’m changing my instructor next week. In spite of all of my flagrant ineptitude and troubles behind the wheel I will insist on blaming it on someone else. So, mercifully for him, his life expectancy will probably increase with me now out of the picture; though I can’t account for the extreme blood pressure he’ll have accrued from being in a car with me.
I expect another few months of fear and terror on the roads as I learn all over again with a new instructor so no doubt I’ll be updating right here if I survive.
So despite being 35 years old and very aware of that fact, I recently took it upon myself to begin driving lessons having spent the last 18 years steadfastly avoiding it, and being self-righteously part of the solution and not the problem.
There were several reasons as to why I’ve decided to learn to move a car from A to B, one being because my created-from-the-essence-of-evil girlfriend, Laura, had shrewdly employed a Jedi Mind Trick of sorts and strong-armed me into learning. Not physically strong-arming me, you understand, but more of a subtle psychological warfare in the form of aggressive sighing, and insinuating by way of pursing her lips and raising her eyebrows disapprovingly that all future plans together will be irreparably destroyed if I don’t pull my finger out and get behind the wheel of a car. Like the expressive facial equivalent of saying, ‘I’m not angry, just disappointed’. She’s completely right, of course. I’ve put this off for far too long and given that we plan on embarking on a Bonnie & Clyde-esque future together as career criminals, it makes sense that I learn. That’s true love that is.
It should be noted here that I genuinely don’t have any interest in cars. Or engines. Or wheels, cup holders, drive-by shootings, gearboxes, boy racing, roadkill, 15-car pile ups or lollipop ladies. If any conversation I was unfortunate enough to be a part of would lead towards a discussion about horsepower, miles to the gallon or hastily leaving the scene of an accident, my eyes would glaze over, and I’d loll about distantly as if I was in the process of being euthanised, or listening to the Zumba instructor at work barge her way into my office to loudly talk at me about the scientific merit of her latest pair of fluorescent leggings. When I booked my first lesson and my friends and family asked what car I would be using I said a small, black one. They all laughed as if I wasn’t being serious. I really don’t understand the importance of what model car it is. They all do exactly the same thing except the more expensive ones tend to be filled with people with ill-fitting clothes and severe emotional problems.
Anyway, it turns out that driving lessons are pretty expensive. Not to overburden my finances, I initially booked one lesson with the option of taking another lesson if that lesson had minimal casualties, then another lesson after that – providing I hadn’t abandoned the whole idea of driving and returned to my daily routine of getting on the bus to work carrying extra bags filled with old shoes that I use to put on the seat next to me to discourage other passengers from sitting down. (Just this morning I laid out my Official DVSA Theory Test quiz book, bag and Transformer pencil-case on the seat next to me in order to look like I care about my automobile study, and to put off any potential seat hijackers. Unfortunately this didn’t work and a rotund fellow with garlic-scented aftershave sat next to me as if it was the most normal thing in the world. I was appalled, especially after I reached into my pocket to get my phone and he adjusted his seat position, pinning my hand to my leg and the upper side of his left buttock. I remained this way for 20 minutes until it was my stop and only regained full feeling in my hand when I got to work and I accidentally trapped it in the vending machine door after I’d spent the morning forlornly trying to steal Milky Bar Buttons using the droppy bit at the bottom).
But I digress. The point I’m making is that driving lessons cost a fair whack of hard-earned. Those initial three lessons were emphatically pricey enough for me to have to stop paying for other stuff like food and rent. The food I could live without but I was distraught when I had to skip paying my house fees. Currently, I’m six lessons in which is twelve hours in real time and the sky-rocketing price has become so astronomical that I’m seriously concerned about where my next pair of pants are coming from, or how I’m going to afford to buy my 13 cups of coffee a day from Costa. Case in point being a conversation I had on WhatsApp the other day with Laura, who, perhaps more than anyone, understands my current plight and offers endearingly constructive ways to get around it, especially when it comes to nutrition:
My current diet of pasta and jam may go some way to explain why the actual driving lessons instil a sense of desperate fatigue, fear and a threat to lives on a number of levels. Despite being twelve hours of lessons in, I still need prompting to change gear, then an explanation on how to change gear, then when I fail to perform the gear change resulting in the car doing a kind of death rattle before shuddering onwards accompanied by a vicious glare from my disapproving instructor, there follows a conversation that occurs approximately 90 times throughout the lesson:
Instructor: ‘Now, why did you do that?’
Me: ‘Do what?’
Instructor: ‘You put the car from fifth into reverse while driving at 50mph.’
Me: ‘Did I? I thought that was second?’
Instructor: ‘Look at your mirror. See that metal thing back there in the middle of the road? That’s half of the engine.’
Me: ‘Is that not supposed to be there?’
Instructor: ‘You’re overthinking when you go to change gear. Why do you think so much?’
Me: ‘So I can function, usually. If I didn’t think I suspect there’d be more of our blood on the dashboard.’
Instructor: ‘You know what you’re doing. You’re just thinking too much. Stop thinking and just drive.’
Me: ‘But I can’t drive if I don’t know how to drive. That’s like saying to someone having a heart attack to stop having a heart attack and just live. It’s tricky.’
It’s not exactly quote for quote but the basic gist is that I don’t know what I’m doing but my instructor thinks I do and I’m just worrying about it. By far the easiest lesson was the first one where I started the car, pulled away and merrily drove around in circles like I’d been driving for 30 years. Since then I’ve slowly but surely been regressing to the point that if cars required them, I’d need stabilisers. And a stiff drink but apparently that’s not allowed despite my repeated protestations to my instructor to let me just this once.
I genuinely fear my driving lessons, and approach them with that sense of impending doom that you have when your manager emails you saying you need to have a meeting without specifying what it’s about. It’s, frankly, horrifying. Added to this was my driving instructor’s casual confession that he’d not long recovered from heart failure and wasn’t in ‘what I would call ship shape’; news, which, when he told me, surprised me enough that it caused me to veer the car on a brief but exciting sojourn into a lane of oncoming traffic.
My friends and family have all repeatedly informed me that one day everything will just ‘click’. While this seems like kind but ultimately redundant reassurance, I can’t shake the feeling that when I do eventually ‘click’, the ‘click’ will be the sound of a physician switching off my life support machine at the culmination of a five year stint in a coma caused by my sheer obliviousness when behind the wheel of a car. Given how long I expect these lessons to continue, I’ll be posting yearly updates with my
lack of progress. Thanks are not required.
Much like my inability to engage the brakes when trundling down a hill, I fear this one will roll and roll…