Carefree and Car-Free in the Capital
Living in London without a car could never be described as a genuine inconvenience. If a bus was missed there would soon be another; or you could take an underground train to just about anywhere in the Greater London area, with no worries of wheel clamping, finding an adequate parking space or theft. Learning to drive was thus something I never considered necessary.
"Help! Which Way Do I Go?!"
On the Buses in the Back of Beyond
But then I moved to a small, isolated Yorkshire village where buses run infrequently if at all (I have a theory that they often disappear completely, during their journey between York and Doncaster, some Bermuda triangle-like phenomenon whisking them away to another dimension). Miss one bus and the whole day has to be totally reorganised. A real problem but the solution was easy - learn to drive!
I'm thirty six years old and consider myself a reasonably intelligent person. I'll soon pass my test without too much bother or expense, I convinced myself, After all, I managed to achieve eighty-eight percent in my cycling proficiency didn't I?
My prospective instructor telephoned me after an initial inquiry at the driving school. He unnerved me immediately, his voice uncannily resembling that of a long deceased relative. Of course, common sense told me it couldn't possibly be dear, departed Uncle Henry but it was a disconcerting conversation nonetheless.
My instructor's name was Cliff, and believe me, it wasn't long before I began to wish he'd throw himself off one, even though he lived over forty miles from the coast. I soon decided I didn't like him one bit, so I wouldn't be counting myself amongst the many women who fall hopelessly in love with their driving instructor for no apparent reason.
Cliff seemed to think that a lesson of one hour's duration consisted of only forty minutes; he was invariably late in collecting me and often deposited me back on my doorstep before the full hour was up. Occasionally he would stop halfway through the lesson, purchase his lunch, and proceed to eat it as I drove along. It was difficult for me to resist the urge to brake suddenly, as I would have derived an almost sadistic pleasure from seeing his face plastered in jam and cream sponge.
He possessed several rather irritating habits; chain-smoking, coughing uncontrollably, then intermittently puffing away on his asthma inhaler before lighting his next cigarette. He also managed to scratch practically everywhere accessible on his entire body throughout the duration of the lesson. How he was able to do so many things at once, and still find time to fiddle around with the dual-controls as well, I'll never know.
I suppose I irritated him too... clutch down, into first gear, check the mirrors, look over my right shoulder, release the handbrake and off we go... not quite - I had forgotten to put the keys in the ignition.
It took twenty minutes to drive into Pontefract from where I live, so after only ten minutes experience of moderately heavy traffic, it was almost time to head home again. It thus took me an inordinate length of time to build up any real confidence in my capabilities, - and quite honestly, I don't believe Cliff ever acquired any real faith in me whatsoever. I began to think there was definitely something amiss when I'd taken forty-one lessons and hadn't yet begun on manoeuvres.
I persevered; the day of my test arrived: 14th February 1995 - St. Valentine's Day although I might perhaps have done better on a day blessed by St. Christopher.
"Hey, look at this!" I said to Cliff, waving my statement of failure at him. "I've got a 'D' - does that mean 'D' for distinction?"
"No," he replied dismally, "It means 'D' for DANGEROUS!"
"What did I do wrong?" I asked in all innocence, as Cliff began to read the statement:
"Ignored a STOP sign, pulled out of a busy junction in front of an oncoming vehicle, made a complete mess of your reverse around the corner to the left..."
The catalogue of disaster was endless. "You mean I did all that in just half an hour?!" I exclaimed as Cliff handed me an application form for my next test.
I continued to buy lessons in blocks of ten, but by now was starting to think I should have been buying them in blocks of a hundred. I had spent the grand total of 1,500 GB pounds on driving lessons... so far.
The day of my second test arrived and I managed to complete all my manoeuvres correctly. Surely I'm in with a chance this time? I thought as I pulled up outside the test centre.
The examiner explained where I'd gone wrong. Not making correct use of the mirrors, failure to have the handbrake on properly and consequently allowing the car to slip backwards, and somehow I'd even managed to end up in the left-hand lane of a one-way system when asked to turn right.
He handed me my statement of failure which I placidly accepted, although I honestly felt like shoving it somewhere unmentionable about his person in response. Better luck next month, I thought, still optimistic. But in the meantime, I could continue having fun with those lollipop ladies in Pontefract (well, if they insist on leaping, Kamikaze-like, in front of a learner driver).
23rd May, the date of my third test loomed dauntingly on the horizon. I tried to perfect my three-point turn beforehand.
"Turn the wheel, woman! Turn the wheel! For God's sake turn the wheel!" Cliff shouted in desperation as I hit the kerb with a reverberating thud, thereby reducing the life expectancy of the tyres by several months.
"Am I your worst ever pupil?" I asked him in all seriousness, but he didn't reply; the look on his face said everything.
I brought my third test forward by a fortnight. Was this because my driving had at last improved? No. It was because I was now twenty-eight weeks' pregnant, and had I left it much longer I wouldn't have managed to get behind the steering wheel at all.
I failed my test again at the third and worst attempt."Perhaps you're not cut out for this," said the rather shaken examiner.
Perhaps he's right, I thought, as I struggled out of the car, maternity dress flapping behind me.
Cliff drove me home in silence and I hoped that would be the last I ever saw of him but several months later, after the birth of my baby, he turned up on my doorstep to ask if I'd like to recommence lessons. "No thanks," I said cheerfully, "I passed my test last week." Which in a way, was a true statement, but the test had been for Spanish not driving.
It's fun now, driving around Pontefract (as a passenger of course). "I failed my driving test at this junction," I gleefully point out, to the person who has the honour of being my chauffeur for the day." And at the next roundabout... and at the top of that hill... "
You'll Need One of These!
'I Failed My Test at This Junction... and at the Next Roundabout... and at the Top of that Hill''
Too Many Hills in Pontefract!
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© 2015 Stella Kaye