Wednesday, October 5, 2011
1983: For a ride to outer space
Learning to drive was really hard.
It didn't help that I had a driving instructor who did not put me at my ease. He lived next-door-but-one to my grandma. He was all above board, ran his own driving 'school', had the car with the dual controls, etc, but he wasn't very patient. If you recall your first time behind the wheel you'll remember that mix of panic, cluelessness and fear. While millions of people drive around perfectly fine in these metal boxes, it was at first glance more complicated than it looked.
So it wasn't the best start to grab the wheel from me as the car bunny-hopped along a quiet stretch of cul-de-sac, screech the car to a halt and get out of the car and take off your jacket. I knew instantly that this was going to be difficult, and it was unlikely I'd be betting anywhere near a test centre anytime soon. It was a struggle. I hated it. He thought I wasn't trying hard enough and would complain to my grandma on a daily basis. She took no notice.
But we had a limited window in which I had to get profficient, so each day at the beginning of the summer of '83 he'd arrive at my house in the nasty little metallic grey Honda, flirt with my mother, talk about her non-stop as I gradually got to grips with the rudiments of the road.
But my God it took its time. How my left leg ached from having it pushed to the floor on the clutch. Why did I keep cutting corners? Would I ever be able to parallell park and would I ever remember to check the mirrors a million times before any kind of manoeuvre? And will he ever stop calling the accelerator pedal the 'gas'?
Amazingly, we found ourselves at the test centre, and after lots and lots of practice at a disused aerodrome (isn't it always?), and around the streets of the town, I was ready. Kind of. I could even do the emergency stop thing.
Sadly, the examiner was a meanie in a mac who didn't crack a smile as I mounted the pavement while taking a right turn and narrowly missing being crushed between a coach and a bus on the high street. Oh well. There was always next time.
The examiner on attempt two was the model of cheeriness and I was immediately at ease. It helped. So that July I was a fully qualified driver. Mum was so thrilled she practically wrestled me to the ground in her glee. It was a big day, I know that now.
So I've been a driver for almost 30 years. I love it now. I enjoy it a lot. There's nothing I like more than zipping down the motorway singing along to something old, like this tune, all over the radio at this time in '83, and is still as good for shouting out the window as it was back then. But it took a while. I couldn't have the radio on if I was parking (too distracting) and I couldn't possibly smoke at the wheel either. Two hands at all times. I'm over all that now though, and you'll be thrilled know I'm fearless. If you can drive in Bahrain you can drive anywhere. In fact, if you can drive in London you can drive anywhere.
It has been a bumpy history though. The following year I wrote off a car on a test drive (that's another story), and I still only drive automatic - so handy in town! And while I am seasoned now it doesn't make my passengers any less white-knuckled.