Tag Archives: car

Parking Charge Notice

I recently had the misfortune to receive a PCN (Parking Charge Notice) for using the car park at a retail park in Nottingham.  The PCN was left on the windscreen of my car, claiming I had been observed ‘leaving the site’ and was therefore in breach of a contract.  After I got the notice, I went looking and found the signs on site which explained how long you could stay, and other restrictions, including a very small set of text saying you weren’t allowed to leave the site.

Let’s get a few things straight.  I’m not a lawyer and this is not advice.  This is  a description of my understanding and a description of what happened to me.

I’d heard about PCNs before.  They are not fines, nor are they penalties.  They are invoices.  Invoices based on the assumption that you agreed to a contract by parking your car, and that the terms of the contract are clearly published somewhere you can read them.  Essentially, when you park, you read the signs, and that’s you agreeing to the contract.  The contract will state that there’s a charge for not complying with the terms or something similar.  Private companies, paid to manage the car parking space, will then place a PCN on your vehicle if they believe you’ve broken the terms, and will pursue the invoice.

The advice a few years ago was ignore them, don’t respond and don’t pay them.  However, I believe that advice has changed recently to be appeal, object and complain, but still don’t pay.  The car parking companies have started taking people to court, and they have won some cases.  So it’s no longer safe to assume they’ll never take you to court.  There are also added complications since the law changed in 2012 which allows them to pursue the registered car owner if the driver doesn’t respond to the PCN.

Given I was driving, and I didn’t want Grete being chased, I opted to appeal and complain making it clear I was the driver.  I wrote to the PCN company, to the manager of the shop I had spent money at on the day in question, and to the owners of the retail park.  I wrote some letters by post, sent a few e-mails, and some tweets.

The way it works is that if you pay within 14 days, the charge is reduced (by at least 40%, according to the law), so I was facing either £60 for paying early, or £100 for paying within the 28 days.  I decided I’d rather pay £100 after complaining and appealing than simply rolling over and paying the lower of the costs.  I’m lucky that it would have been a financial pain, but not the end of the world.

Yesterday, I was advised by the owners of the retail park (by e-mail) that they spoken to the car park management company and had the PCN cancelled.  They also made it clear they were doing me a favour, and that they felt the charges were appropriate.

I haven’t yet heard back from the car parking company.  I got a response from the shop (by e-mail) saying they couldn’t do anything, to which I replied and said they could advise the people they rent from that the behaviour of the car park management company may result in them losing trade, to which they’ve not replied yet.

When I used the car park, it was less than 40% full, and there were hundreds of free spaces.  I shopped in one of the shops at the retail park.  I left within the 3 hour window (although until after I got the PCN, I didn’t even know there was a 3 hour limit).  I wasn’t parked across any bays or outside of the white lines.  Without giving the location away it’s adjacent to, and arguably part of, an area where lots of people take breaks and enjoy the wild life and a walk.  There are no signs on the site indicating where the car park ends (so I don’t believe it would be possible to enforce a ‘don’t leave’ contract, since you can’t tell when you’re leaving).

The car park management companies clearly undercut each other for their services and then supplement their income using the speculative invoicing scheme.  If I was ‘observed leaving the site’ and the aim is to reduce losses to the shops, then the best bet would have been to alert me at the time, or clearly indicate the start and end of the site in question.

Anyway, it’s done now (assuming the owners are right and the car park management company do cancel the invoice).

I am considering whether it’s worth the hassle of writing to the car parking company in a couple of months and asking what data they hold on me under the DPA, and asking for them to remove it.  I’ll see if I can be bothered.

Finally got out

It’s been a couple or three months since I managed to get out and do any photography (outside of choir events), so I was pleased today when we got some bright sunshine.  Was still cold mind you, but it gave me a chance to get a couple of hours in Nottingham taking pictures.  Not very good pictures, but pictures none-the-less, and I won’t get better by sitting at home doing nothing.  So, parked in the Broadmarsh car park, walked around for a couple of hours, took some pictures, headed back to the car park.

Paid my £3 fee, took my ticket back to the car, and put it into a little pocket area on the drivers side door, like I usually do.  Drove down to the exit, opened the car window and as I reached the last ramp, went to pick up the ticket.  Which wasn’t there.  Fuck.  Pulled over into the area designed for people who’ve forgotten to pay, and checked the inside of the car.  No joy.  Got out, searched under the seats, in the door, in the back, all over.  Still no sign.  Fuck.  Locked the car, jogged back up to the 3rd level and searched around where the car had been parked, in case it blew out while I was closing the door.  Still no sign.  Still fuck.  Jogged back down to the car, and had another look.  Nope.  Gone.

So I walked over to the customer service booth, and there was a guy outside having a cigarette.  To be frank, I was expecting a tough conversation.  I asked him who was best to speak to with regards to lost tickets.  He mulled that over and said, “normally they make you pay the full day rate”.  I said, “Yep, it’s annoying, I paid my £3 but I’ve lost the ticket somewhere between putting it in the car and getting down to the exit.”  He took a draw on his fag, and said, “well, I don’t want to make you pay again, give me 5 minutes to finish this and then I’ll let you out.”  He took my name, told me to wait until I saw him to into the booth and then drive out.

Which I did.

What a nice man.  Thanks nice man, whoever you are.

You’ll be pleased to know that I drove about 80 metres and remembered that I’d put the ticket into the ticket slot on the sun visor, because I was worried about it blowing away, and then because the sun was so low in the sky, I’d popped the visor down.  Hiding the ticket.  I checked at the next set of lights, and yep, there it was.  So, thanks again nice man, I didn’t actually lose the ticket, just my mind, but you helped.  I’d have been annoyed beyond reason if I’d paid the day rate and then found the ticket.

A year behind the wheel

I thought I’d come along and write a witty and insightful post about what it’s been like driving for almost a year now.  But when I got here, to this blank white box I find I don’t have much to say, and what I can think of saying isn’t that funny.

My first driving lesson was on the 8th May 2013 (http://perceptionistruth.com/2013/05/fear-of-4-wheels-part-1/) and I passed my test on August 14th 2013 (http://perceptionistruth.com/2013/08/fear-of-4-wheels-part-18-the-end/).  Since passing my test it’s been okay.

I’ve done a lot of driving since then.  I did all the driving over the Christmas period (we travel a long way to see our folks), I’ve driven to work most days, and if myself and Greté are going somewhere, I drive for the most part.  I think she’s probably driven about 10 times since I passed my test if we’re both in the car (obviously, she drives when I’m not in the car).  So in that respect, it’s been very successful, after a long time being the designated and only driver, Greté is getting some time off.

As well as that, I’ve been able to nip out in the car and take photographs, or go shopping, or take stuff to the local recycling centre when in the past it would have meant both of us going, or both of us deciding not to bother, so it’s definitely ‘freeing’ in that sense.

One thing I haven’t done yet is any long trips on my own; no motorway driving on my own either, and the time is fast approaching where that will have to change.  I should imagine it’ll be pretty hairy the first few times, but I’ll get over it.

I don’t feel like life has changed dramatically since I passed my test, but a lot of things are just a bit easier, or a bit more convenient.  I’m just still pleased that I can get Greté where ever she needs to be, whenever she needs to be there.

No Fear of 4 Wheels

I’ve been allowed to drive now, on my own, for 6 and a bit days, and I’ve done plenty of it.  I’ve driven myself to and from work (alone) a few times, driven to Tesco’s to pick up food, and done a lengthy trip back from Tamworth (with Greté in the car).  We also did a short section of M1 on the Tamworth drive on Saturday, and then J25 to J28 on the M1 and back on Sunday going to Alfreton.

Driving on my own wasn’t as weird as I expected it to be, or as scary as other folk suggested it might be.  I didn’t really feel nervous about it because I was already comfortable driving with Greté along (rather than my instructor), and it never felt like she was overseeing or watching my driving (although she was obviously aware of the road conditions).

It did feel very strange at work however, knowing that I could leave whenever I wanted without having to either wait for someone else or make someone else late.  That felt pretty damn good.  I’m also now officially a member of the ‘where the hell did I park my car this morning in that massive car park while I was half asleep’ club.

The motorway driving was a mixed bag, I’d already done some stretches of A road with 3 lanes at 70, but 4 lanes on the M1 was a little daunting.  To add to the excitement, while I was travelling at 70mph in the 3rd lane overtaking some stuff, someone undertook me.  Someone else sat on my shoulder while I was approaching a lorry (I was in the 2nd hand lane already), and despite my indication and speed changes they seemed intent on remaining glued to me, so I just had to move over and let them worry about it.  Lastly, we had a car towing a caravan make a very abrupt lane change a few cars ahead of us, and then slowly swerve across several lanes for half a mile while it corrected itself.

The drive back down the M1 was less eventful!

I wouldn’t say I was happy with how I’ve driven short journeys, and I definitely feel longer trips give me a chance to ‘warm up’.  Hopefully as I drive more and more though it’ll get smoother and easier.  I’m still too fast on some roundabouts, too slow starting from stopped, and prone to stalling when under pressure.  I’ll get there.

I wouldn’t say I feel some massive sense of liberation, or some huge feeling of freedom.  I do feel some increase in freedom, and definite feeling of being more liberated in terms of when and where I can go.  For me though, the most obvious sensations are relief, that I can help Greté out with driving duties, and an actual feeling of pleasure when I drive.  I like driving.

Fear of 4 Wheels – Part 18 – The End

IMAG0378I had my first ever driving lesson, and my first go behind the wheel of a car, on May 8th 2013.  Today, August 14th 2013 I passed my practical driving exam (at the age of 42), and am now allowed to drive a car on my own, including on the motorway.

Twenty six hours of formal lessons (mostly 2 hours at a time), over 16 weeks.  Don’t let anyone tell you that getting older means you can’t learn to do something new, or that it’s going to take much longer to learn to do it.

But if you are going to learn to drive, get insured in someone’s car (partner, parents, friends), and get out as much as you can between lessons.  In lessons, you want to be focussing on the high level stuff like handling traffic, manoeuvres, anticipation, planning, etc.  You don’t want to be worrying about what your feet and hands are doing with the actual controls – you want muscle memory doing that as quickly as possible, and that’s what practice outside of lessons will give you.  I drove almost every day between lessons, certainly as often as I could, because I have a patient and understanding wife who gave me all the support I needed.

I won’t insult people and say ‘if I can do it, anyone can’, because I hate that phrase.  But if you’re thinking of learning to drive but you’re worried you’ve left it too late – don’t worry, give it a shot, I’m glad I did.

I drove to work and back today, without L plates, and it felt pretty good.  The drive home was rubbish of course, crunched the gears, stalled it once, and then stalled three times trying to put the car on the drive.  In all the time I’ve been learning, I’ve only stalled once getting the car on the drive.  Typical – but I don’t care, all that matters now is that I remain safe and considerate on the road and that my skill level can only increase going forward.

It’s been fun, terrifying, hard work, I hated the hours before the lessons, enjoyed the lessons for the most part, and then felt like an idiot for the hours after them, but it’s all over, and with luck, I’ll never have to do it again.

If you’re learning, or thinking of learning, good luck, try and enjoy it, and I’ll see you on the roads.

Fear of 4 Wheels – Part 17

In part 16 I wrote this, “I can drive.  I really can”.  In the lesson after that one, I proved to myself that actually, I couldn’t drive.  It was rubbish again.  I won’t list the full litany of mistakes, but let’s just say that it sucked.  I was over it by the following Thursday morning though, and with my nephew due to visit a few days after the lesson (i.e. for all of last week), I didn’t have time to dwell on it.

At the start of this week I drove to the station to collect my nephew, and drove home with him in the car.  That was freaky, seeing someone in the rear view mirror for the first time – every time I checked all I could see was his head, a fresh and startling reminder of his presence.

Then I had a lesson on the Wednesday, and it went really well overall.  There was a minor incident where I basically went through an amber light, then decided to stop, then decided it was too late, and then pulled away, but hey, who doesn’t do that.

The highlight of the week in terms of the car though, was driving back from Chester zoo (A roads only of course).  It should be a 2 hour drive, but the traffic was heavy for quite some time after leaving the zoo, so it took more like 2 hours 30 minutes.  That’s the longest I’ve driven in one go, even the lessons are only 2 hours, so it was a good test, and other than some roundabouts I probably took too quickly, it was a safe drive all the way.

My nephew managed to sleep for most of it, so it can’t have been that scary.

And so today is Tuesday, and tomorrow is Wednesday the 14th August.  Which means tomorrow is my driving test.

One more hour with the instructor, before the lesson, and then 40 minutes of pure terror, followed by either cheering or sobbing.

Whatever happens, it’s been an interesting journey to get to this point.  I’m sure I’ll post an update to Facebook or Twitter when I find out the result of the test.  See you all on the other side.

Fear of 4 Wheels – Part 16

I can drive.  I really can.  For the most part, safely.  Sometimes I don’t respond early enough to stuff moving slowly ahead of me in time to change lanes (like a bus, or cyclist) when on dual carriageways, and my instructor thinks I take the odd corner a bit quick, but generally, I can drive.

There are 5 hours of lessons left until I take my test, so just over 2 weeks, and while, like all tests, being able to drive is not the only measure of success, it’s a good starting point surely?

I was really disheartened after last week’s lesson, but not for any good reason to be fair.  So between that and this week, after a small break, I made sure I once again drove everywhere I could with Greté, and I really tried to focus hard on checking mirrors before indicating, slowing or approaching traffic lights and it helped, in two ways.  Firstly, I forgot about the ‘controlling the car with your hands and feet bit’, I forced it to the back of my mind and allowed muscle memory to do it, rather than thinking about it all the time.  Secondly, I actually remembered to use the mirrors!

When I went out for the lesson yesterday it was pretty much just 2 hours of driving to places I’d never been, handling the traffic and junctions without any stupid mistakes.  Sure, I’m still missing 10 years of experience and finesse, sometimes I sit too long at a junction, sometimes I get stuck behind a bus on a dual carriageway, but my instructor was really pleased with the driving and admitted she was being picky over the 2 or 3 things she did bring up.

The only moment where control was an issue was right at the start, braking as we neared the end of our street.  Having driven our car for a week, I’d forgotten how aggressive the brakes are in the lesson car, so even though I was only doing about 5mph, when I stopped I put both our faces against the windscreen.  Other than that it was good.  As I realised half way through the lesson that my hands and feet had started working on their own, and that I never once doubted my ability to start, stop or pull away from a junction I started to enjoy it.

My instructor was trying really hard to get me driving around places I’d never been, but she needn’t have bothered.  I was concentrating so hard on checking the mirrors that I have no idea where we went.  My view was the road, and just about nothing else.  Only when I stopped at some lights for quite some time did I realise we were behind the Broadmarsh car park, having entered Nottingham on the east side somehow, and were now headed west towards Derby.  That was slightly worrying, since I know it’s quite a busy route, both in and out, but head out we did, and I handled everything quite well.

My main challenge is still trying to avoid over-thinking stuff.  If you read the first post in this series, here, you’ll see that was my problem at the start as well.  However, the focus of the issue has shifted.  I’m no longer over-thinking the process of learning to drive and sorting out lessons, but I am spending a lot of time thinking about ‘should I pass that bus – oh too late’ or ‘should I indicate right to get around that cyclist – oh too late’ or ‘is there enough room for me and that other car between those parked vehicles – too late – breath in‘ for example.

I know I’ll get there, I’ve stopped over-thinking controlling the car with my feet, and I know I’ll get past the over-thinking the higher level stuff – the outstanding question is, will 5 more hours be enough to convince the examiner I’m safe to drive.

Fear of 4 Wheels – Part 15 (of 9 million, it would seem)

There was nothing majorly wrong with the driving in yesterday’s lesson, over and above the normal stuff.  My anticipation could be better, my roundabout handling could be better, my maneuvers were okay, but could be better.  However, I was still hugely despondent when I got home because why on earth would anyone enjoy spending 2 hours being told (even in a constructive and supportive manner) that they were making mistakes.

I spend the week driving and think I’m doing okay and then expend a lot of energy during the lesson, feel drained when I get in, and just frustrated at all the stupid little mistakes I’ve made.

I honestly think I drive better when I’m not in the lesson, because I’m less nervous and so I make better, longer term decisions.  But that’s not going to help when I’m taking the test which is only going to be even more high pressure.  In the back of my mind I sort of hope my instructor is being overly critical, trying to get me beyond the level needed to pass the test, so that I pass easily, but who knows.

I certainly don’t.

Fear of 4 Wheels – Part 14

LPlateThe subtitle of today’s post is ‘burning brakes and near misses’.  Sitting in a car you don’t own with a driving instructor who has their own brake and clutch, and doing 70mph along a dual carriage way is one thing.  Sitting in your own car, with the most important person in the world next to you, knowing they can do nothing to physically help, and driving at 70mph along a dual carriage way is a different proposition entirely.  There’s a certain amount of trust you have to have in your own ability, and an immense amount of trust that your wife (in my case) has to have in your ability as well.

I’ve been driving our car fairly short distances (other than the first time), basically to work and back.  It doesn’t take long, I know the route, and it’s busy enough that I spend most of the time at less than 20mph.  I don’t have to think too far ahead because I know what’s coming up, and although I don’t drive it perfectly, the mistakes I’m making are mostly technical rather than planning.  i.e. stalling, or being in the wrong gear, rather than not slowing down enough, or taking the wrong exit.

Given that, and given how badly I think I did in last week’s lesson with long driving and new areas, I really wanted to get a good run in our car, including somewhere I haven’t driven before.  So today, we drove to Alfreton – A52, A61 and then A38 (roughly).  I drove Greté to the shop in Alfreton that sells vaping supplies, since she’s given up cigarettes.  That’s probably the best example of the two life changing things we’ve done this year.

Before going over, we popped to Tesco and into the petrol station – which is another first for me.  Obviously I’ve put petrol into our cars many times, but also obviously, it’s the first time I’ve driven onto the forecourt myself.  You’ll be pleased to know that I didn’t crash (in slow motion) into a petrol pump and cause an explosion the size of a small nuclear weapon (which was the thing at the forefront of my mind as I pulled up).  I was in the wrong gear, and the end was a bit clumsy, but otherwise, success!  I think the guy behind me who was hoping I was going to pull away 2 seconds after I got back in the car was disappointed, I suspect he almost went around me before I finally started to move away.

After that it was onto the A52 and 70mph towards the A61.  There’s something weird about being in control of a car on roads that you’ve been a passenger on a lot, you have to remind yourself that unless you steer, you’re not going to be going home in one piece.   I wonder if learning to drive when you’re young is different?  When I’m a passenger with Greté on journeys, especially to places we’ve never been, I’m playing co-pilot.  I’m looking for road junctions, checking maps (these days, on the phone), anticipating what’s coming up, and hopefully helping out.  I’m part of the driving process already, to a small extent.  I think it’s different when you’re young, you’re totally free of any responsibility while the ‘grown ups’ in the car do the driving.  So now that I’m driving, having spent 42 years being a passenger, it’s very easy to forget that I am driving, and I have to really focus and concentrate.

Anyway, other than getting a little close to the kerb at one point (Greté actually squealed ‘kerb‘) while heading towards the A52, and floating a little close to the kerb on the A52 (I was checking my mirrors) everything went okay, until we turned left onto the A38 instead of right, and went south for quite a way.  We eventually noticed, turned around, and went north instead!  We passed a bunch of roundabouts, most of which I felt I handled well, with okay anticipation and hopefully the right level of control, and eventually entered the outskirts of Alfreton.  It was a bit of a relief, since most of the trip there was 70mph, and I was happy to get back down to 30 or 40.

We drove into and then sailed straight out of Alfreton, missing our right hand turn, since neither of us knows the place very well.  That’s fine, not a driving fault, just a lack of knowledge of the area, so I kept going, took a right into a road I hoped I’d be able to turn around in, and we found ourselves doing 40mph along a 60mph limit country road in the middle of no-where.

Okay, so this was a new challenge – very narrow roads, high hedges on both sides, and at one point, full tree cover up and over the road.  If you do your theory test and watch the hazard perception videos, this is just the kind of road every manner of hazard likes to hang out in.  Bendy, twisty, and driven at full speed by the locals.  I think the guy behind was unhappy I was doing 40mph but there was no way I was going to go any quicker than that.  I knew the road signs were going to be almost right on the junctions, and I was hoping for a left hand turn.

One finally presented itself, so I went left onto what looked like a small road heading towards a village, and the guy in my boot went the other way.  I could either follow this road, perhaps into the village from The League of Gentlemen, or I could try and turn around.  Within a very short space there was a large driveway on my right, and before I could talk myself out of it, I’d slowed, indicated and turned onto it.  I was a little nervous, since the road bent to the right almost straight after this driveway.  It was too late now though, so I popped it into reverse, backed out in as controlled a manner as I could, whacked it into first and headed back toward Alfreton.  The whole thing had been a little unsettling though, and my control got worse, over-revving pulling away, not changing gears early enough, and at one point, not long after a t-junction I noticed a slight burning smell and the handbrake light, so I took the handbrake off properly.

I did the handbrake trick again not long after that but I noticed it straight away, and so I started concentrating harder on fully disengaging it before pulling away.  We made it back to Alfreton, took our turning (now a left) and found somewhere to park.  The car park was empty, so I didn’t have to demonstrate my elite parking skills.  Including the detour, I think the whole route was about 40 miles and took around an hour, which I was pretty pleased with.

The return journey was only 28 miles, and took us around 50 minutes.

After such a successful drive up, I was looking forward to the drive home and we left Alfreton without any trouble.  There were a couple of roundabouts on the way home that I went around too quickly, and there was a moment or two of incorrect indication (I thought I was going right, instead of further on and right at a roundabout), but in general, until we got back onto the A52 everything was okay.  I was certainly feeling a lot better about the drive than I had during the lesson, but then, I didn’t have someone telling me every approach to every roundabout was wrong, which may have had something to do with it.

However, as we neared the end of our journey on the A52, and moments after we were talking about slip roads and how you should always make sure you’re up to speed, I got my first lesson in why the blind spot is called the blind spot, and why they are not joking when they call it that.

It’s one of those abstract things that you get told as soon as you start learning to drive – the mirrors have blind spots into which they can’t see, and so you must check over your shoulder on your right side, as well as using the mirror.  You nod, and agree, but how you can see a blind spot, when the whole point of it, is that you can’t see it?  You’re not really sure how big it is, you’re not entirely sure what you can fit in it either.  So you dutifully try and remember to check over your shoulder, and you get used to not seeing anything, and you get used to trusting the mirror.

And so you end up on the A52, travelling in the left hand lane at about 65mph with an on-coming slip road coming up.  On it, you see a couple of cars quite close together with the one in front clearly sporting a nervous driver and slowing down.  You think, I know, I’ll pull into the right hand lane, give them a chance to get on.  So you check your mirror, and you see it’s clear.

So you indicate right.

And you float right a little way.

And your wife makes an odd inarticulate kind of sound.

And you see an entire fucking car appear out of freaking no where in the right hand lane right, next, to, you.

At which point, you drift back into your own lane, let the car go by, check your mirror, check your blind spot and pull out into the right hand lane.

If you’re like me, you’re now laughing to relieve the shock.

And if you’re like my wife, you’re now in hysterical fits of laughter at the near death experience you’ve both been through.

morpheus4050474As Morpheus said,

Neo, sooner or later you’re going to realize just as I did that there’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.

I knew I needed to look over my shoulder into my blind spot.  But now, I know why.  Somehow they should make everyone do what I did, in a safe way.  I feel both lucky and bad.  I feel lucky that I handled it okay and didn’t over-steer, and I feel even more lucky that the thing I have no control over (the other drivers) also did the right thing, and that I didn’t cause other people to crash.  I feel bad for the driver who I probably gave a heart attack to, but they have a good story to tell their grand kids.

Mostly, I feel lucky that I’ve learned my lesson without anyone getting hurt.  I’m sure I’ll never pull into another lane without checking my blind spot, because now I know, for a fact, that you can hide entire cars in it.  I wouldn’t have believed it otherwise.

We got home pretty frazzled, without further incident, and overall I’m really pleased with how the drive went.  Nothing on the route was familiar to me really, and I think I handled most of it in a safe and conscientious way.  With obviously, that one notable exception.

Fear of 4 Wheels – Part 13

I’m not superstitious, if I was, I’m sure I’d end up owning a lucky pair of socks or something.  I certainly don’t place any mystical relevance on numbers, although some numbers are clearly magical.  So when I came to write this blog post, and realised it would be the thirteenth, I wasn’t worried.  I didn’t feel anything would be particularly unlucky about it.

Which means, I guess, my terrible driving on the driving lesson that preceded this blog is all my own fault, and has nothing to do with the universe having a morbid sense of humour.

This blog post is like one of those American TV cop serials, where they show you a scene with your favourite character from the show in some deadly situation, which is surely going to lead to their death, or worse, losing their job, and a moment later those inevitable words cross the screen – 48 hours earlier.  So now you know how the last few moments play out and the rest is just designed to get you there.  I’ve told you the lesson was terrible, my driving was shocking, and so now, all we have to do is complete the journey and you’ll know why.

In the American TV dramas the technique is usually a lazy way of injecting some tension into an otherwise boring story.  In my case, it’s a lazy way of letting anyone who wants to skip the content know that the lesson didn’t go well (in my view), so you can get back to doing whatever you were before you started reading this.

48 hours earlier

I drove to and from work on the 8th and 9th July, and home from work on the 10th before the lesson started.  They weren’t particularly edifying examples of good driving.  Stuff still isn’t smooth enough, I’m still stalling for no good reason and even worse, because I’ve done the route a few times now I’m taking it for granted.  I’m driving what I know is there, rather than thinking about what is coming up.

2 hours earlier

So I was waiting on the sofa for my instructor to arrive, already a bit down about how the week had been going driving wise.  I was sort of hoping she would cancel again, but given how little time I have left until my test (er, perhaps 4 weeks or something), I knew she wouldn’t, and that I’d have to spend a couple of hours working hard.  I had forgotten though, that we were going to go into Derby, specifically so I would be driving on roads I didn’t know all that well.

She reminded me as soon as I got in the car.

I almost got back out of the car.

I managed not to – after all, how bad could it be?  It was pretty fucking bad.

I am being hard on myself, because there were some parts of the lesson that were excellent, enjoyable even (in a terrifying steering wheel death grip kind of way), but it wasn’t all great.  It was a pretty warm day, although overcast, so I was already warm when I got in the car.  After the first hour, I was drenched in sweat and felt like my face was the same colour as beetroot through a mixture of embarrassment and pure concentration.

We started out easily enough, heading out towards the A50.  I’ve been on the A50 a few times with Greté driving, but it never really occurred to me that a three lane, 70mph limit A road would look very much like a motorway when you’re in the driving seat.  I had falsely assumed we’d be heading into Derby along the A52, but no, it was the A50.

This is the junction onto the A50.

A50 Junction

And this is a close-up of the A50, note how it looks like a motorway.

A50 Close Up

Now as it happens, I navigated that roundabout pretty well, and after a little bit of slightly panicked urging from my instructor, got up to 65 on the slip-road and onto the A50, where-upon I proceeded to drive at 70mph for quite some time.  That included overtaking a few vehicles and basically having a great time.  Apart from the Steering Wheel Death Grip which left my hands slightly swollen and sore after the lesson.

Sadly, the fun didn’t last, and we eventually left that road, maybe via some other ones, I can’t be entirely certain, I remember a slip-road and perhaps a long curving road of some kind, and another fast A road, and then I remember getting into Derby.  Which is when it all went to shit.

I will be honest, I don’t understand the advice I’m being given by my instructor, and I’m going to have to spend 10 minutes at the start of the next lesson asking her to go over some of the basics again.  Approaching roundabouts, if I was going at a speed I felt was okay, she thought it was too fast and I wasn’t leaving enough time to slow down and change down through the gears.  So next time, I changed down nice and early and slowed down, and I was too far away and should have left it until later.  I wasn’t changing up gear fast enough, and then I was doing it too quickly, I was changing down too early, and too late, braking too hard and not enough.

Because all the streets, junctions and roundabouts were new to me, every single one of them was my own personal hell.  Things I thought I knew how to do just fell apart.  I stalled, I panicked, I sat at junctions far too long, didn’t go at roundabouts when I was clear, blocked traffic in narrow streets by stopping to let people go when I should have kept going and keeping going when I should have stopped.

I was soaked with sweat after 30 minutes.   It was just a nightmare, there’s no funny anecdote, no light relief, just a raw reminder that if you drive the same roads over and over again and do them ‘okay’, it doesn’t mean squat when you go somewhere you’ve never been before.  On top of the confusion about the advice I was getting, that just made the whole experience miserable.

There were some okay moments in the mix, a couple of steep hill starts and tight left turns went well, I stuck to the speed limit, and responded to traffic well in some situations.

But if you want an example of the kind of two hour journey it was, at one stage, about 80 feet from a mini-roundabout I was approaching too fast, my instructor said, “Mini-roundabout coming up, your examiner won’t point out any junctions you’ve missed”.  I lamely replied, “I know, I saw the sign but just …” and then had nothing.  What could I say.  I had seen the sign, and in my head I knew what it meant, but I had just assumed it would be further away.  It wasn’t, so I braked hard (not dangerously so), and then tried to navigate the route.

Later on, we used another large roundabout junction, and I screwed up the lane choices a couple of times, which resulted in us having to go fully around the thing once, and then she corrected my steering to get us into the right lane the second time.

On the way home, she told me to follow signs to a particular town until I knew where I was and then just drive home.  I did, it wasn’t bad, and we came back along the A50 at speed again, with a few more moments of overtaking.  But I’d lost the excitement, and ended up just sitting behind a truck for the last few miles doing 60mph, hoping my junction would turn up so the torture could end.  I didn’t want to overtake because the way things had been going, it’d be just when my junction came up, and we’d miss it.

As a final kick in the nuts, when I finally pulled off the A50, and made it to the next roundabout I ended up in the wrong lane again, and had to go down the A52 for a bit before being able to head home.

By now my confidence was drugged, beaten, poisoned and shot, like the victim at the start of our American Crime Serial, so the streets around my house proved too hard even for me, and I turned into our street too quickly, and then braked too hard when someone was coming the other way further down.  Fantastic.  I think my instructor tried to make me feel better by saying it had been good, but I’m pretty sure she was just trying to be nice.

When I park the car on the left side of our street, there’s quite a large camber, which means getting out of the car can be a bit of an effort (basically, climbing uphill).  This time, it was a monumental effort.  My left leg just buckled under me, and I limped off home trying to say thanks and see you next week.  Neither of my legs wanted to work, they honestly felt like lead, my arms felt like I’d been carrying 200lbs of weight around, and my brain was a kind of hazy-mush.  I imagine it looked a little like blended avocado.

I could barely speak to Greté for an hour after I got in, and not long after eating our evening meal, I just went to bed.  Worn out physically from the A50 driving, and mentally from the shocking performance elsewhere.  Right now, I can’t imagine anyone ever passing me in an exam, and I can’t imagine why I’d ever want to subject myself to that kind of torture again.

Maybe next time there’ll be some laughs.