‘You’ve given it a go but maybe driving just isn’t for you?’ – my mother.
‘How can’t you do it!?’ – my brother, Anthony.
‘I don’t understand! You’re not usually this thick. How can’t you drive?!’ – my mate, Emma.
‘Driving’s fucking easy. What’s wrong with you?’ – my best mate, Phil.
‘Slow, turn, TURN, STOP, STOP! STOPPPP! STOP NOW! BRAKE! BRAKE! JESUS!’ – my loving fiancée, Laura.
These are just a handful of comments I’ve received from some of my nearest and dearest in relation to my overblown, protracted and quite ridiculously inept attempts at learning to drive. In all honesty I thought I’d have killed myself on the road by now, and by that I mean in a fit of bug-eyed frustration whereby I’ve flipped and high-tailed the car at 80mph off the side of a bridge – the irony being that I wouldn’t know what sodding gear it was meant to be in in order to reach 80mph. As it is I’ve struggled through with only a few minor scrapes, just the two crashes, a handful of deranged looking drivers throwing various hand signals at me, a hopeful confidence that has been well and truly crushed, and a bank account that spits bile at me whenever I attempt to withdraw money from it to pay for a lesson.
Those above quotes are pretty representative of just how bewildered I am at my inability to learn the basics of driving. It’s utterly infuriating that I don’t have a sodding clue what I’m doing especially when I see some of the half-evolved fuckwits that currently patrol the roads in their souped up little shitwagons. I hate to spaff on my own ego here but how come some post-pubescent pisspot with a face so smug you’d happily punch it every day until the end of time can whizz around in their pimp-mobile with one finger on the steering wheel and fly into a parking space with perfect precision at 65mph while I spend about 15 minutes attempting to adjust my seat, start the car and move away before stalling at the first junction? It’s a desperately infuriating state of affairs that my brain just refuses to engage with the concept of driving.
The way I’m braying on about it, anyone stumbling across this post would understandably presume I’ve only had about a half-dozen lessons and that I’ll eventually get the hang of it so it’s probably pertinent to leave a reminder here that I’m 36 lessons in. Thirty-six. That equates to about 60 hours worth of tuition with various instructors, all of whom are baffled, shocked or a combination of both that I can only pull away at junctions 50% of the time, repeatedly drive through red lights because I’m too busy staring at my feet wondering how my left foot has ended up on the accelerator, or constantly swerve across lanes as if I’ve spent the preceding few hours mainlining whisky into my basilic vein. In all seriousness, it depresses me that I’m completely unable to grasp the fundamentals of manoeuvring a car especially when I’m a fabulous passenger driver. I can see idiocy and dangerous driving a mile off yet when I decide to drive a car I’m the epitome of it. It’s like I undergo a small but vicious lobotomy the minute I put the key in the ignition.
After 60 hours of driving tuition I still struggle to put the car into the correct gear resulting in it spewing out a noise similar to what I can only presume is the automobile equivalent of hocking up a massive pile of phlegm and regurgitating it onto the road; whenever I approach a junction or roundabout I’m unable to prevent the car going into what I call ‘judder mode’ whereby the car shakes relentlessly as I’ve no idea what gear it’s meant to be in, and suggests I’d be much more at home driving a car on the dodgems at the funfair; parking has become an exercise in absolute embarrassment as I have zero spatial awareness, and it’s still absolutely mesmerising to me that humans can manoeuvre a car into a small rectangular shape without slamming it into an adjoining parked vehicle – my parking attempts consist of eight to ten manoeuvres, three stalls which include knocking the wipers on and off multiple times, and several bumps of the kerb and anyone who happens to be walking near it, spread out over two parking spaces. It’s ritual humiliation and I’m actually paying hard cash for it.
The most recent indignity involved a roundabout, a tractor, my instructor grabbing the wheel shouting ‘fuck!’ at the top of his lungs, a lot of screaming on my part, and the car thumping into the huge tractor wheels before we spluttered to the side of the road whereby I ended the lesson early and returned home to empty the drinks cabinet. I don’t think driving was meant to be this cumbersome.
One of the more annoying aspects of being this far into failing at learning to drive is the relentless positivity from other human beings about my progress, or lack thereof. It’s quite impressive the level at which people dismiss my concerns and overall fears when even thinking about actually getting inside a vehicle, let alone attempting to drive the bastard. If one more person suggests I’m better than I think I am, that it’ll all just click into place, that I should just stick with it, that I’ll get there eventually, or that it’ll all be worth it in the end, then I’m quite happy to go all Michael Douglas in Falling Down and unload on them with a hastily made sawn-off and a lot of sweating and pontificating about how bad the burgers are in my local fast food restaurant. What these bad prats don’t realise is that I’ve developed such a fear of cars that I now develop nausea whenever a car pulls up outside of my house lest I panic and think someone will knock on the door and ask me to drive it for some reason. I’m actually hypothesising imaginary scenarios involving having to move a car from A to B. That’s not good. The last driving lesson I had I politely asked my instructor if I could just sit in the passenger seat, watch him drive and learn that way instead of actually driving. He looked at me as if I’d just been sick on his lap, and bundled me into the driving seat as if I was being kidnapped.
Of course, the upsetting thing about all of this is that I actually want to drive. I want to be able to get around town without having to rely on public transport and the consequent guarantee that I’ll be accompanied on the bus journey by a 15 stone human sasquatch who slams his globulous frame right next to me, smells of wet dog and keeps inadvertently touching me with his fat arse each time the bus goes round a roundabout. I can do without all that malarkey.
This is something of a serious and sobering blog post as it’s the end of an era for me. An era that’s cost me my dignity, my finances, my patience, temperament and sanity, any semblance of confidence I once had, and a highly attuned hatred of anything that’s able to drive a car. Obviously I’m not bitter at all. Obviously. That would just be silly. Silly and immature. Silly and immature and pathetic. But fuck you, you petrolhead fucks.
As a postscript, I’ll leave you with this quote and clip from the existential genius, Mark Corrigan of Peep Show:
‘That’s it. I resign. I give up. No more lessons. The machines have won. I shall take to the hills and live with the tree-folk people’.
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…