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.