Tag Archives: driving

Fear of 4 Wheels – Part 10

Short one today, I promise.  My instructor cancelled today’s lesson at short notice due to illness.  Judging by the overwhelming sense of relief I felt at that, I’m guessing I didn’t fancy going out for a drive anyway.

Although to be fair, I did drive home today from work (with Greté keeping me company), which wasn’t too bad.  Yesterday however was a different matter entirely.  It was the first time I’d driven since last Wednesday’s lesson, for various reasons, and it was like being back at week 1.

Stalled pulling away, too fast in 1st, stopping short of junctions, stalling, jumping away like a rabbit, thunking to a stop, changing down gear too early, etc., etc.  Yesterday did not do my confidence any favours at all.  Today though, as I said, much better overall, and more use of the mirrors.  I guess the lesson there is, drive more often, so I’m going to try and drive home every night this week.

Tomorrow I have my theory test (and hazard perception test).  I’ve been revising hard (using a couple of apps on Android, one which I found only at the start of the week is and very, very good, while the other I’d been using for longer and is a lot weaker).  The best app so far, that I’ve found, is this one.  It has a really snappy title, “Theory Test +Hazard Perception”, but it’s very good.  I’m pretty confident about the multi-choice questions, but I’m still nervous about the hazard perception stuff, because it’s possible to get zero points just by clicking ‘in the wrong pattern’ or ‘too often’.

One last thing, there are a lot of cyclists where I live.  A lot.

Fear of 4 Wheels – Part 9

Not me

As the weeks go on, and the lessons get more serious and less accident prone, it gets harder to write these blog posts.  I wonder, how much fun can it be reading about how I drove around for 2 hours without any really funny anecdotes or near death experiences.  Then I remind myself that when have I ever worried about boring someone half to death with an unfunny story from my life, and why should I start worrying now.

After last weeks lesson I was sure I was going to get out and about in our car as much as I could.  You know what?  It’s hard, and I’m naturally lazy.  I don’t mean hard in a rocket science or pure mathematics way, I mean hard in a just plain hard work hard way.  Like moving 500 lbs of sand from one place to another – anyone can do it, but it’s just proper hard work.  I’m really, really good at making excuses and avoiding hard work, it’s one of my secret super powers (my top one is the Power of Passive Aggression).  So in fact, I only drove our car twice between the last lesson and this one, but that’s twice more than I expected.

I drove to the council refuse / recycling centre on Sunday and then I drove back from Tesco this afternoon before the actual driving lesson.  Greté (bless her cotton socks of patience) has been trying to encourage me, and be patient and nice, but as I said, I’m lazy and it’s hard!  Cry!  So anyway, I drove to the recycling centre (we got rid of some old furniture, two boxes of old electronics and cables, and some other junk), and it was okay.  I had my first traffic-light managed contraflow experience.  The driver behind me had a ‘learner driver stalls and doesn’t get through on the green cycle like you had hoped’ experience.  I’m pretty hard on myself at those moments, I’m not worried about the people stuck behind me, they were me once upon a time, but I am hard on myself.  I hate not being able to do something when I’m learning it, which is why I give a lot of stuff up very quickly when it turns out I’m not instantly any good at it.  Anyway, I berated myself while the lights turned from red to green and then pulled away very, very slowly, much to the increased agitation of the driver behind me.  Coming back was fine, and I even did a bit of far-too-fast reversing on-site at the recycling place, which was fun (for everyone, including the guy who was walking behind me at the time).

Also not me

I then pretty much cried like a spoiled child every time Greté tried to get me to drive home or back from the shops or where-ever.  I’ve had a hard day, I’m tired, it’s hard, it hurts when I press it, etc.  Today though, Greté had a medical appointment, and after stopping at Tesco briefly on the way home to pick up some stuff, I drove back from there.  It was a bit haphazard but right at the end, the last 4 or 5 stop/starts my feet had an epiphany.

I have known in my head for a few weeks that controlling the car speed in first gear is nothing to do with the actual revs or the amount of accelerator in use.  It’s all to do with the clutch.  I know this.  My feet however refused to believe, they still subscribed to the church of ‘if you use too much gas you’ll pull away at 100mph and drive into the car in front’.  So, from a handbrake start I have been trying to apply just enough accelerator to pull away while lifting the clutch.  But finding just enough is hard, and takes a lot of practice, and if you don’t get enough you stall.  If you feel like you’re almost about to stall you panic and hit the accelerator and lift the clutch and then bounce away like a rabbit chasing a frog.  The trick is to convince yourself that it almost doesn’t matter what the revs are (as long as you’re not killing the engine), if you lift the clutch slowly enough, you will pull away slowly, and if you put the clutch back in, you’ll stop accelerating.

My feet finally got on-board on the way back from Tesco, and I have Greté to thank for encouraging me to do that.

Absolutely not me

What it meant was that when I went out for the driving lesson, I was pretty much able to forget worrying about actually pulling away, standing start, slow start already in first, whatever, I just made sure I lifted the clutch really bloody slowly.  No stalls today.  None.  Pulled out into some pretty hair raising roundabouts as well, knowing I’d have enough time.

Now of course, since I’ve mastered that, the problem is I’m not going fast enough.  Now we’re pulling off roundabouts onto 50mph roads, and my instructor wants me to get up into 4th and 5th pretty quickly and she’s right, because if I don’t, even on the narrowest of single carriageways, some dumb ass idiots will overtake me because they might be late for Coronation Street.

So my feet are on-board, which is good, and I did another 3 point turn today (sorry, turning in the road), and nailed it.  That’s my second go at it, and I’m at ‘5’ on the 1-5 scoring chart the instructor uses.  Pretty bloody happy about that – so as long as my life in the car consists only of turning around in the street and pulling away from junctions, I’m sorted.

Most of the rest of my scores are between 3 and 5.  The 3’s are mostly around junctions and the 4’s are for maneuvers and general driving.  She’s still confident that it’ll only take around 28-30 hours of lessons to get me through the test, which I still find slightly terrifying.

One of the 3’s is for something like ‘meeting traffic’ or words to that effect.  I guess turning left into a narrow road, to find a car coming at me on my side of the road because the other side was stacked with parked cars counts as ‘meeting traffic’.  We stopped (my instructor did some braking although I think I would have been okay), and the person in the car just happily pootled past us and headed off.  I was quite calm overall, but it does remind you how bloody dangerous the whole driving concept can be.

In that vein, we were traveling at about 50mph along a dual carriageway towards a set of traffic lights at a pedestrian crossing.  I could see no one was present, so I continued at the same speed, anticipating no change in the lights.  What neither of us anticipated was a cyclist on our side of the road, coming around the wrong side of the barriers at the lights (so facing us, but on the road), waiting to cross, who then basically failed to get his foot out of the pedal stirrup.  He starting falling sideways into the road, and finally managed to get his foot underneath him and stop his collapse.  I went from 50mph to about 15mph in a pretty bloody short distance, with my instructor cursing, and drove around the cyclist.  He seemed oblivious to his near miss.

Speaking of cyclists, they’re definitely the most complex part of the drive for me at the moment.  The advice is to give them about 2 metres clearance if you’re going to overtake.  You can’t overtake if you can’t see far enough ahead, if you’re approaching a crossing, or if there’s not enough room to give them a couple of metres of clearance.  This is fine if you’re on a slow road, but we were passing one cyclist in a 40mph limit, with heavy traffic in both directions.  I was trying to slow down and not get too close, while looking for a gap, but because I was now doing 20mph, cars were passing me on the right side and overtaking, into oncoming traffic, with parked cars coming up in my lane as well.

That was an ‘exciting’ time for everyone, including my instructor who was giving me a lot of running advice at a time when I wasn’t really able to appreciate it.

There were two really good things about the drive yesterday.  The first one was that it was challenging, and my instructor knows she’s challenging me.  We basically drove into the centre of Nottingham along a route that was very busy and I’m very familiar with, and then along another route just outside the city centre which is equally busy.  They were both challenging but they gave me the confidence that when the time comes I will be able to make it into town without a complete breakdown.  At one point as we were driving slowly up a hill towards the centre, my instructor asked if I was nervous.  I said yes, but only because I knew what junction we were approaching.

The second thing was finally getting to 70mph.  We were driving along a road and my instructor asked, “What’s the speed limit?” to which I responded, confidently, “70mph”.  She followed with the killer, “what speed are you doing?”.  “50mph” was my meek response.

“Put your foot down then,” she said.  So I did.

Fear of 4 Wheels – Part 8

Just a small update today.  Driving around yesterday really helped, beyond measure.  I decided not to drive to work this morning, because I’m still finding driving mentally draining and I don’t want to spend the first hour at work any more tired than I already am.  However, I did drive home, and generally it was okay.  Managed to stall it 8 times getting off the site I work at, but once past that roundabout I was fine.  I suspect I took some roundabouts slightly quicker and with perhaps a little less room than my instructor might have liked if she’d been in the car, but there you go.  Greté was patient and kept me safe.

By the time I got home, there was only an hour before my lesson started; and that lesson went really, really well.  Just 30 minutes driving home in the car meant that when the lesson started my overall control was already much better, I was more relaxed, and a lot calmer.  We did a lot of straight driving, talked about roundabouts, worked on my approach and control, and everything generally was just much better.  One wobbly hill-start without enough clutch,  but just generally much better.  I even filtered onto the ring road in a manner which felt far safer than last time.

So, nothing funny to say, no mishaps, no panics, just enjoyable driving for a couple of hours, with a couple of decent 60mph runs.

I think I’ll try and drive a few times a week at least, mostly back from work (nice stop/start traffic to improve my control).  I’ve said to Greté I don’t mind driving, as long as I’m not expected to talk to anyone when we get where-ever we’re going.

Theory test on the 27th – I better start reading and doing some practice on hazard perception then.

Fear of 4 Wheels – Part 7

“It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish.
Attributed to the “Old Gaffer” by Samwise Gamgee”

I love Tolkien.  He’s wordy, and turgid in places, and he’s confused and a little rambling, but he knows people, and he knows hearts, and I’m always able to find something he’s written that inspires me or seems to fit the moment.  So, it was with the following quote running through my brain, that I sat behind the wheel of our car in Tesco’s car park.

“Forth, and fear no darkness! Arise! Arise, Riders of Theoden! Spears shall be shaken, shields shall be splintered! A sword day… a red day… ere the sun rises!
Ride now!… Ride now!… Ride! Ride to ruin and the world’s ending!
Death!
Death!
DEATH!
Forth, Eorlingas!”

No just joking, it was the quote at the top of the page.  Samwise, as we all know the true hero of Lord of the Rings, has far too many sensible things to say, and none of us are fooled when he pretends the wisdom comes from his Old Gaffer.

I have started to learn to drive, and I have every intent of seeing it through.  But achieving that means fighting off the demon of self doubt, the heavyweight emotional pillar of my life.  I know that towards the end of the two hour lessons I’m in control of the car and junctions aren’t a problem, but I also know at the start it’s a different story.  I think too much, and I panic, trying to get the hand brake off, the clutch up and the accelerator down in too short a time span.  This leads to random stalling.  I know that to get over that I just need practice, and I know that I had to get into our own car to do that.  But flipping heck it’s hard making yourself do it.  So many excuses, so many reasons not to.

But thanks to my lovely wife and the support of my friends I did just that this evening.  Again, you’re probably thinking ‘man up dude’, but you know, when you learn to drive at 17 you already think you’re immortal, at 42, you know you’re not, and I’m not going to dismiss how hard this is.

However, I got in, Greté drove to Tesco, parked up, we switched seats and I had a tootle around the car park.  As expected, the first few starts were bad and I ended up in a parking bay, at an angle, with the only option to back out into the busiest part of the car park.  This was this evening’s first moment.  I could stop there and then, just ask Greté to drive home, or, I could bite the bullet, be Samwise Gangee and keep trying.

I chose a middle option, asked Greté to move the car somewhere else in the car park, and then I set off again.  Ten start stops later, and I basically decided that only an insane person would ever drive on the actual roads, and since I’m clearly insane, I took a left, a right, and another left, and the car park disappeared in my rear view mirror.

I drove towards our house at first, because that way lies safety.  No major issues with a roundabout on the way, little below the speed limit, and despite a little bit of a hiccough at the roundabout near our street, my confidence was growing.  As we neared our street, this was the second moment, the second precipice, the second point at which I could stop now.  We had something in the car we needed to take to a friend’s house, some 7 miles away from ours, but if I turned right into our street, that would be it.  No delivery, no seeing our friends.

I sailed past.  Something in my head had clicked and I was determined to at least make it half way to our friend’s house under my own power.  Even if I had to stop on the way and let Greté take over, how bad would that be, I thought, it’s still experience.  The primary obstacle to that, is the roundabout I needed to use to leave our town.  It’s often quite busy, and even when not busy it still poses a mental block.  My approach was good, t-junction approach since you can’t see traffic entering from the right until you’re very close, slow stop, handbrake on.  Perfect.  Biting point, ready to go, bit of gas – stall.

Here.

stalled

There isn’t really a worse place to stall a car on that roundabout.  All the traffic enters from the right and goes pretty much straight on, and off the left.  I had two choices now – I could panic and turn into gibbering jelly, leave the car, crying, and ask Greté to take me home, or I could restart the engine and pull away in a controlled manner.  The third and final moment in this journey.

I wanted so badly to do the former, but managed somehow to do the latter on the first try.  That was a confidence boost.  I’d basically stopped the car on a roundabout from hell, hadn’t panicked and had then recovered.

Compared to that, the rest of the trip was like falling down some stairs, pretty easy all told.  I followed the route I take to work mostly, because I wanted to try it while it wasn’t moving at 2mph, and eventually, without any other major mishaps, we made it to our destination.

Somewhere about half way through the drive, I started just knowing where the biting point was, and at that point, junctions felt easier.  But they’re still not comfortable, I’m still hoping beyond hope every time that the lights will stay green, that the roundabout will be clear without a full stop.  But that fear then drives rushing, and the rushing drives mistakes, and the mistakes drive the fear.  I basically need to just drive everywhere and get used to the fact that I can pull away at a junction, and that I can start the car in the right way.

On the way home, it was dark enough for lights, and by the time we got home, it was pretty dark generally, so I’ve had some practice at that as well.

The sweetest moment of the whole trip was putting the car onto the drive (forwards), first try, without hitting the wall or losing any wing mirrors.  I’m not sure I was in control *quite* enough for everyone’s liking, but I’ll take it.  I never thought in a thousand years I’d be able to put a car on our drive under my own steam.

Maybe, just maybe, I’ll drive to and from work tomorrow.  We’ll see.

Fear of 4 Wheels – Part 6

fozzydrivingIt’s been nine hours since we started this journey.  Nine hours behind the wheel.  Nine hours of traffic jams and stalls.  Nine hours of not knowing where the biting point is.  Nine hours of sweaty armpits and nervous laughs at junctions.  Nine hours of not quite stopping, or stopping too early, or failing to start, or going when the exit isn’t clear.  Nine hours of trying to listen and learn at the same time as controlling a deadly weapon.  Nine hours of getting home with legs like jelly, and feeling so hungry that I could eat the next person who knocks at the door.

After the first lesson, my instructor estimated it would take 25 hours to learn to drive.  (That’s ~£550-£625 worth of lessons if you’re tracking these things).  That means I have roughly 16 hours of this left if I’m going to hit that original guess.  Sixteen hours does not feel like enough time to improve to the point where I won’t be terrified to get into a car with an examiner.  Which means I am going to have to ask Greté to sit with me in our car while I do some more driving.  I can’t see any other way of keeping the cost under £1000 and keeping the time down to something approaching sensible.

If you know my wife, then I urge you – give her solace and comfort over the coming weeks, she’s absolutely going to need it.

My name is Tony, I’m 42, and I’m learning to drive.

I have drunk Coca Cola Zero, consumed food, and watched an episode of CSI, and I’m just about recovered from my two hour driving lesson.  Here then, is this week’s blog post.

I commented to friends at work that at the moment I seem to spend Monday and Tuesday worrying about the upcoming lesson, Wednesday in a state of zombie like stupor, and then Thursday and Friday recovering.  There’s just time for a weekend before the whole process starts again.  Of course, I’m employing a teeny bit of hyperbole (who knew)!  For the most part, I’m okay, but if I stop to think during the week, then I’m either thinking about the lesson that’s coming up or the one that just passed.  I try and make these moments constructive, thinking about POM (prepare, observe, manoeuvre), or MSM (mirror, signal, manoeuvre), or the sequence when coming up to a junction (mirrors, indicate, road position, speed, gears, observation, stall).

I don’t know if it helps.  Last week’s lesson was so good that I was expecting trouble today, and if you go looking for trouble you’re surely going to find it.  The first few manoeuvres were okay, but I got to a painful roundabout not far from here with rush hour traffic and just blew it.  Stalled twice, didn’t go in an obvious gap, and then tried to go a third time and stalled it again.  Eventually I played second fiddle and my instructor used her pedals to get us moving and around the roundabout.  Confidence shot to ribbons, we proceeded on our way.

I can’t decide if I just want the instructor to be quiet as we come to junctions and let me run through the stuff on my own, or if I should trust the fact that she’s taught other people to drive successfully and I should avoid messing with her system.  Now I wonder, briefly, if I should ask if she ever has taught anyone to drive.  Maybe all her students fail?  Now I’m wondering if I want to know that or not.

Anyway.

After a few miles, I got back into the swing of things, and junctions got a bit easier.  I’m drifting right at right turns, which is an automatic fail if you cross the line (I did) and I’m still not looking ahead enough at t-junctions.  There was one minor incident, where I came up to a roundabout (going right), slowed, checked I was clear to enter, and pleased with myself for not stalling, did so.  Sadly, there was an 18 wheel truck also on the roundabout at the same time, coming from the left, known generally as ‘my exit wasn’t clear’.  Known specifically as ‘SHIT! A TRUCK!’.

I slowed, and we didn’t die (much), but it kind of took the edge off the happiness I felt for not stalling.

Despite it being obvious that I can not talk and drive at the same time, my instructor insists on asking questions like, “what’s the speed limit on this road”, to which my normal garbled response translates to 30Idunno50?  Today, after the shocking start, we got to one junction and I asked ‘which way are we headed’?  My mouth was so dry at that moment, that it basically felt like someone had glued it shut.  Hearing yourself mumble, gurgle and splatch your way through the phrase “which way are we headed” is bad enough, but when your instructor says “sorry?” like you’re talking Dutch, it’s another kick in the confidence testicles.

We drove round a bit more, me trying to work some moisture back into my mouth, my instructor trying not to brake for me too often, and then headed over to a Tesco, or an Asda, or maybe a Morrison’s car park.  I tend not to look up from the road much so I’m not entirely certain.  Here, I learned the joys of reverse bay parking.  This seems like it might be useful, if I really wanted to reverse into an open parking bay with absolutely nothing else around me.  I did it three times (to the left) and once (to the right), and nailed it on every go except the first in which I was a bit wide.  I can control the car with the clutch perfectly well, move at painfully slow speeds trying to break my neck looking behind me, but when it comes to pulling away at junctions I continue to try and do it with the handbrake on, or the clutch too far up, or no gas.  Grrr, it’s annoying.

After this, we drove to some poor, unsuspecting street somewhere, and, to the great frustration of everyone who lives on the street (no doubt), learned how to reverse parallel park.  Nailed that 3 times too.

At one stage, while I was sitting alongside a parked car, basically blocking the road in both directions while I made observations (i.e. pretended to look in my mirrors and blind spots), some elderly couple pulled out of their drive and turned to come towards me.  I think I could hear their resigned sigh as they realised what I was doing, and they did a flawless 3 point turn (probably designed to make me feel inadequate), and drove off the other way.  I bet that place bloody loves driving instructors.

However, nailing the parking calmed me down, and pulling away from that and then driving home it was almost pleasant.

fozzydriving2I have decided that I know the basics now.  I’m confident I can stop, I have not once (yet) gone for the accelerator rather than the brake.  So I’m going to go with Greté to the local supermarket, get used to the clutch in our car, and then drive home.  If that seems okay, and if Greté makes it through without wanting to kill me, and I make it through without wanting to hide in shame for the rest of my life, I might try driving to and from work a couple of days a week.

Excellent news I’m sure for everyone who uses the same route I do.

I apologise in advance.

Fear of 4 Wheels – Part 5

Lesson 4 (in learning to drive at the age of 42).

Race car
This is how I felt for 2 hours …

It rained most of today, and I had every expectation of being out in the car in terrible weather.  Along with general not-fun-ness at work, I again wasn’t really looking forward to today’s lesson.  I’m even more certain now that had I cancelled last weeks lesson, I wouldn’t have gone back, such was my mood this evening.  But I didn’t cancel, and that meant I was ready at 5:40pm, which is a good job, because my instructor turned up 20 minutes early.

The rain had backed off to an annoying British drizzle, and luckily about 15 minutes into the lesson, it stopped alltogether.  That meant I never had the fun of turning the wipers on and off instead of indicating, but I’m sure there’ll be a chance at that later.  What I did have fun with, was driving.  I actually drove, for nearly two hours.  Two stalls, one sharp stop, and a little bit of uncertainty, but otherwise, two hours of driving.  I enjoyed it.  I actually enjoyed it.  I really feel that stuff has fallen into place and that now it’s purely a matter of practice and making it muscle memory.

This is how I looked for 2 hours …

I think my instructor was pleased.  She certainly seemed pleased about the lack of near-death roundabout entrances and the dearth of nose-against-windscreen moments.

I still can’t describe where we went for the middle of the lesson, but I know we got there through Beeston (around that double bend people treat like part of the street), and we came back through Chilwell.  I had the weird experience of having no clue where I was one moment, and then suddenly recognising a bit of wall at a junction, and everything shifting into place on the way back.

Pulling away was mostly smooth, stopping was about a billion times better, and gear changes were much smoother.  I think I can drive (this is probably dangerous).

The highlight of today was ‘reversing around a corner’.  Can I just say, who in their right fucking mind would ever do this?  You have to stop, potentially on a road with traffic, and then reverse into that traffic for a bit, and then reverse around a corner you can’t clearly see unless you break your neck, while also being able to check 3 mirrors and another blind spot.

Why!?

Just drive in and do a 3-point-turn for fucks sake.  I mean seriously.

I did it twice, not bad each time, I think I finally have some clutch control.  The scary thing is that as soon as I look in a mirror, I speed up because I lift the clutch so I’ll have to work on that.

Other moments I enjoyed, two roundabouts where I stopped and then pulled away without using the handbrake, just the foot brake and clutch control and doing 30mph on a road with a 30mph limit, looking in my rear view mirror and being able to see traffic as far back as the horizon.

If that was you tonight – then I make no apologies!

Also if you’re,

  1. the driver who pulled out from a left-hand side-street without stopping or looking, literally 10 feet in front of me, I hope you enjoy the change of trousers, the look on your face was awesome.
  2. the woman who tried to overtake me on a right-hand bend, you need to retake your test pet.

All-in-all, a really enjoyable two hours.  Hard work, don’t get me wrong, probably a 6 on the ‘how sweaty was my right armpit’ scale, but fun, rewarding hard work.

Fear of 4 Wheels – Part 4

PhrenologyPixToday was lesson 3 in ‘learning to drive in your forties’.  I will warn you now, this post contains emotional scenes, but no flash photography.  Also there is swearing.  If you prefer to think of me as rational, sane, and emotionally stable, you may wish to skip reading this.  If you consider the thought of grown men crying, weak, or if you believe learning things about me you don’t like will affect how you deal with me on a day to day basis, you may want to skip reading this.  If you suffer from a weak stomach, then you should do stomach exercises.

Today was a shit day at work, after a few shit days.  As I was getting a lift home, I was thinking the last thing in the world I wanted to do, was get in a car for two hours and learn to drive.  Or, if lesson 2 was anything to go by, spend two hours being frustrated by not being able to drive.  When my instructor texted me to say she was running late, was I still okay for the lesson, I almost cancelled.  But I knew if I had cancelled, I would probably find it easier to cancel the next one, and the next one, and the next one and suddenly, I’m not learning to drive at all.

So I said yes, it would be fine.  As I sat waiting though, and it got later and later, I realised a 2 hour lesson was going to mean getting in very late, and then having to sort food and other stuff.  So when she arrived (only 20 minutes late in the end, but it had taken her around 1 hour 30 minutes to get to me, instead of 40) and I went out, I asked her if we could keep the lesson to 1 hour.  She said yes, seemed fine about it and off we went.

But here’s the thing – now I’m sitting in the driver’s seat over-thinking 9 billion things at once, as well as trying to drive the bloody car.  Had I complicated her plans, was she going to be losing out on money because she could have booked that second hour slot with someone else?  Was she secretly pissed off at me?  Was she wondering why she’d driven for 1 hour 30 minutes only to be told by the client that they couldn’t be bothered to drive for 2 hours?  It’s this kind of social interaction that drives me insane (or it’s because I’m insane that this kind of social interaction confuses me).

That feeling that I’d somehow let her down, pissed her off, and made her pissed off at me stuck with me for the rest of the hour.  You’re probably laughing, you’re likely thinking ‘what a dick, why does he over-think this shit’, and if you are, you should read the rest of my blog, which gives clear indication of my neurosis, and then you don’t need to ask.

The bottom line is that if you’re having a conversation with me and you think I’m handling it, then I’m actually just winging it and hoping I don’t make myself look like a complete and utter dick, I’m aiming for ‘mostly dick’.  One of the hardest things about learning to drive, is that it requires you to sit in a confined space with someone you don’t know, and both listen to them and also perform for them.

And perform I did.  After the car park trip with Greté, I did what any good engineer does in a situation where they find themselves frustrated by being unable to control something, I did some reading.  A colleague of mine at work said much the same thing yesterday and I laughed because it’s true.  I found a bunch of websites that talk about clutch control, and driving, and I read and thought about it, and worked it through, and I finally realised what all the talk was about.

So today, after doing my cockpit drill, starting the car and making my observations, I pulled away from the kerb gently, slowly and smoothly.  Half my brain was still panicking about the social interaction with my driving instructor, but the rest was focused on a feeling of exultation as I proved to myself, the most important person in this whole learning to drive thing, that I could do it.

I really might just be able to do this.  We turned left at the end of the street, without coming to a full stop because the traffic was clear.  We drove down to a roundabout, turned right, and pulled away, without stalling, and with the car under full control.

I started to believe I might just be able to do this.  After last week, this was a massive change, last week left me feeling like it was never going to happen, but here I was, just over four hours in, beginning to think it might be possible.

We drove up towards Stapleford again, making good progress.  I had a couple of fumbles, one left turn in which I started thinking I was clear, but then didn’t get moving quickly enough, and my instructor decided I hadn’t been clear, left me poking out into the road.  I stalled it twice, my instructor ‘took the pedals’ and stalled it, but we finally got onto the road and moving.  After the apparent success on the first week, my instructor had hoped to do ‘some manoeuvres’ in the second week, which we all know means ‘a 3 point turn’.  However, the shocking start last week meant instead we stuck to just driving around.

I think my new found skill this week gave my instructor some confidence and we pulled up in a quiet road and she explained a 3 point turn to me.  To anyone who has decent spatial awareness and an understanding of how car steering works, the basics are pretty obvious, but I tried to listen without looking impatient.  I knew this was it.

This was my test.  I didn’t want to be here, my instructor probably didn’t want to be here, I was distracted, she was pissed off and there were people using the road I was on that were about to become pissed off.  But I wanted this.

I wanted to see if I could drive this car purely under clutch control.  After she’d finished the instructions (which she admitted, were more complicated to describe than they were to execute), she asked if I had any questions.  Just one, I said, no use of the accelerator at all right?  Correct she said.

That’s when it happened, I prepared the car, and then I carried out a reasonable three point turn.  My first go at reversing the car, my first go at driving totally under clutch control, and my first go at not crashing into a kerb.  From the position we finished it, we reversed straight back a bit, and then did another one.  A slight stall at the start, bringing the clutch up too far, but then I reset and off we went.  I was pretty happy.  Let’s be frank, I was pretty, fucking, happy.

Suddenly in my head things fell into place.  The only reason you’re ‘giving it a little gas’ when you pull away is because you’re expecting to be doing more than 1 mph at a junction.  In Tesco car park, pulling out of the parking spaces the other night, I’d been ‘giving it a little gas’ totally unnecessarily.  I need to go back, and just pull out of those spaces just using the clutch.  Maybe when you’ve been driving a few years you’re more eager on the accelerator because you know how the car will behave, or because you’re capable of moving away from those spaces at more than 1mph.  But I’d been getting ahead of myself, I needed to learn how to drive the car without even touching the accelerator.  As long as you don’t fully engage the clutch, it won’t stall.  It was a revelation.  It was like you’d spent your life reading about art but had never seen any.  Spent your life hearing about divine food but had never eaten any.

Well okay, perhaps it wasn’t that poignant, but it was certainly good news.  I drove back home on cloud nine.  60mph on the A52 at one stage, 5th gear.  Right turns, left turns, roundabouts, all with a reduced feeling of fear about pulling away.  Don’t get me wrong, you’d be able to tell I was a learner driver, I’m still pulling away slowly, waiting too long before getting into 2nd, changing into 3rd too early, wandering around my lane a bit, stopping 8 feet before the line, you know, the usual shit.

But in my head, I believe.  I believe I can do this.

So I got home, and my instructor said, “2 hours next week?” and the flood of social anxiety returned like a crashing wave of cold death.  “Sure”, I replied, and got out of the vehicle.  I made some lame joke about having to get used to checking in the wing mirror for traffic when getting out as a driver, where-as when I was a passenger, I was never too worried about knocking over the odd pedestrian1, and then we parted ways.

StrawberryIceI got into the house, immediately said something petty to my patient wife2, and then I went upstairs and had a little cry.  I hadn’t realised how much I needed this.  How much I need to be able to drive.  How much guilt I’ve been carrying, how much of a relief it will be to pass the test.  I certainly hadn’t realised quite how emotional it would be, how wound up I would be before lessons, and how much effect the actual lesson would have on my mood.

I may have only carried out two 3-point turns, and you may be wondering why the fuck I was sobbing like a child who’s dropped an ice cream, but I was experiencing a rush of relief of epic proportions.

This might work.  This, might, actually, work.

  1. this was a joke, after an incident as a passenger in the late 80’s when a taxi almost took the door off a car I was getting out of in a train station, I do check for cars, cycles and people before opening the door []
  2. she forgave me []

Fear of 4 Wheels – Part 3

Last time I spoke to my driving instructor, I said I was going to spend some time in Tesco car park just starting and stopping our car, to get used to the clutch and the whole routine of pulling away in a controlled fashion.  Greté was kind enough to go with me tonight, and we just got back.

carstartI think in 50 minutes I managed to pull away in a controlled fashion once.  The other 99 attempts were roughly,

  • 70 stalls before even leaving the parking bay.
  • 20 juddering starts where I just about remember to keep enough petrol on to actually not stall.
  • 7 starts where I accelerate almost out of control and then slow down again into something approaching reasonable speed.
  • 2 reversing starts, which weren’t too bad actually, maybe I should drive everywhere backwards.

For added amusement, while doing slow laps we also had,

  • 1 x very close pass to a cycle rack on the back of a van
  • 1 x three miles per hour swerve out of the way of a parking vehicle
  • several sharp stops
  • far too many instances of stopping, and forgetting I was in gear before lifting my foot from the clutch.

All-in-all, much more like how I expected my first ever lesson to go.

Greté was great, and very patient and she only phantom-braked the once.

So I’m pretty much fine with steering, and my braking is getting better, but I’m really not getting the whole biting point and gentle application of petrol thing.  I guess it’ll come with time.

Next lesson is on Wednesday, not sure if I’ll ask Greté to give me another shot in Tesco’s again tomorrow.  I almost wish there was somewhere much more open, where I could practice pulling away without too much fear of driving into someting.  Tesco was pretty empty but there’s still plenty of stuff you could hit with an uncontrolled start.

 

Fear of 4 Wheels – Part 2

A picture of a car over a wall
This was not me …

One thing I didn’t talk about much in the first post in this series (here), was the sick feeling in my stomach from the moment I got out of bed on Wednesday the 8th May until the moment I sat in the car for the first time.  I was pretty nervous, in fact thinking about it now makes me nervous in a sort of sympathetic reaction that I’m not in control of.  After I got back from the drive, and my legs had stopped shaking those nerves had clearly gone away.

So a week later, I wasn’t sure how I’d be feeling.

As it turns out, pretty much the same.  My second lesson was booked for Wednesday 15th May, starting at 6pm to let the traffic die down a little.  Thanks to an alignment of planets, that week also included having someone come and look at a damaged window frame, having our old sofas removed and taking delivery of two new ones.  Thanks to both an alignment of planets and the Rule of Sod, all the sofa action was also planned specifically for the 15th May.  We’ve already covered how relaxed I am about planning, so let’s just say that both I and Grete could have done without everything converging on the same day.

In the end, the sofa stuff meant I wasn’t really thinking about the driving lesson until it was all delivered and sorted by around 1pm.  After that though, the nerves kicked in big time.  My instructor arrived a little early so I didn’t have to do too much pacing before getting into the car.  This time, we did the setup outside my house, and then I was off and driving straight away.

Right-turn out of our street onto a reasonably busy road – stalled, stuttered and then got moving.  Not a great start, but the instructor tried to relax me by saying everyone has issues in the first 15 minutes of a lesson.  We followed the route I normally follow to work (which was both good and bad) for a little while and then turned up towards the A52.  Up to this point, braking had been too sharp still, and I appeared to have totally forgotten how to pull away from junctions.  After crawling up a hill in first, to avoid having to stop and start behind a queue of traffic, we made it across Bardills roundabout-bout and were on our way into Stapleford again.

We passed, and were passed by, a lot of learner drivers so I guess the whole of Stapleford is awash with them.  It’s full of quiet side streets, so I assume drivers get a lot of chance to practice stuff, and boy did I need it.  It appears my first week was beginners luck – or at least that’s what I thought until my instructor told me off for over-thinking things.

LPlateI thought about that (yes, irony) and realised she was right.  Now that I’d had some practice, I was trying to think about everything at once, despite still not really having much clue how to actually drive.  She suggested I stop thinking about more than one thing at a time, and just focus.

  1. Coming up to the junction – worry about speed first.
  2. Once the speed is right – then worry about road position.
  3. Then think about which gear you’re going to need to be in.
  4. Then think about if you need to stop.

Obviously that’s a generalisation, but once I stopped worrying about speed, position and gear at the same time, I stopped screwing up quite as much.  I still sometimes put on too much gas before I was in gear, or lifted the clutch too quickly, but that’s just going to take a lot of practice.  By the end of the two hour lesson, I was driving much more smoothly, and when we left Nottingham and headed back out towards home, without instruction since I knew where I was going, it was all-together much better than it had been.  I even managed to come to a stop a couple of times without putting our noses against the windscreen.

One thing I absolutely improved on during this lesson was using the mirrors.  I’d looked at them previously, but now I was looking in them and seeing things, and I was remembering to check them.  However, I have a propensity to check the left mirror a lot.  My instructor made the same observation, and I reminded her that after being a passenger for 30 years, that was the only mirror I ever had, it was going to take a long time to give it up.

Of course, I’ve skipped over the 40 minutes of absolute terror in the middle of the lesson.

This is the route we took.

drivingmap

I’d like to say a few words about the numbered locations.

1: This roundabout is freakin’ huge.  Luckily, we were going straight on, and I was feeding left into the lane that stops being a bus lane just before it.  Also, it’s traffic light controlled, so even though at this stage I was still struggling with the whole being in control thing, it wasn’t too bad.  But you know what?  And if you drive this route, you already do know what.  The road after this roundabout, at 6:30pm, is always stacked with traffic, and two lanes merge into one (that should be a song).

My instructor advised me to keep left, and keep up with the car in front, so that people behind me didn’t take advantage of the gap.  I failed 3 times, but as I finally got the confidence needed to keep close to the car in front, there was a moment of pure joy.

As I looked in my right-wing mirror I could see a car right on the back of me about to come past, and as I closed the gap and they realised they wouldn’t be able to, and they were going to be stuck behind me for the rest of that road to the next junction, the look of pure frustration on the driver’s face was enough to keep me upbeat for the rest of the lesson.

2: My instructor said, we’re going left, which was fine.  Then she said something about ‘starting checking you can filter in when we pass the concrete’.  My brain was still trying to absorb that when I realised we were indeed running out of filter lane, and I was going to have to move into fast moving traffic on my right side.  I remember looking in the right hand wing-mirror, and seeing a car, and then thinking, “okay, so what do I do now?”.

I did filter into the traffic, I’m just not sure how.  I think there was some instructor ‘encouraged’ braking and maybe some instructor ‘encouraged’ steering, and then we were on the road and moving forward.

She did say that she likes to just drive and learn as you go, and I think it kind of suits me, but I’ll be honest, I was surprised to find out I was filtering right with only about 25 meters of filter lane left.

3: If you live here, you know this roundabout.  I know it.  I hate it as a passenger.  I’m pretty sure I hate it as a driver, except, I can’t remember it.  Trauma induced amnesia clearly.

4: We drove up here, and then went somewhere else for a bit.  Your guess is as good as mine, I’m still trying to work out where the piece of my brain that handled number 3 is hiding.

5: When we first moved to Nottingham, this roundabout used to cause consternation for Grete.  It’s often busy, it’s badly marked out, and it’s populated by angry people trying to get home.  I think I did quite well all-told to survive getting around it.

After the roundabout at number 5, I just drove home.  I’m pretty sure the instructor wanted me to, but I was going to anyway quite frankly.  I’d just blocked a guy from getting ahead of me, navigated what I think to be the three worst roundabouts in the bit of Nottingham I know, and had filtered into fast moving traffic using some kind of magical ‘please don’t drive into the idiot’ sign.

As we pulled into my street, and picked a place to pull over, I promised my instructor that I would actually stop the car this time before getting out.  She laughed, I think it was just a laugh, it might have been a slightly terrified release of tension, hard to tell.

It was time for more tea.  Lesson number two, done.

Fear of 4 Wheels – Part 1

LPlateAt the time of writing this, I’m forty-two years old.  As you know, forty-two is the answer to life, the universe and everything, so what better time to start to learn to drive?  I covered some reasons why I left it so late here.  This post though, is about the process of learning.  I’m bad at starting stuff, but once I’ve started I’m usually pretty good at finishing.  It’s taken me a long time to start to learn to drive, and I had a couple of false goes over the last few years.  I half promised myself I’d learn before I was 40, and then I said I’d learn before I was 42, both of those deadlines came and went.

For me, more than half the problem is that I over-think the situation.  Those of you who know me will find this utterly hard to believe, but I over-analyse most stuff, dig out all the possible issues, and then present them as a bunch of negatives.  It makes me quite good at my job (especially when I then go on to present solutions to those issues), but it sometimes makes it hard to actually get stuff done especially outside of work where the pressure to deliver is lower.

So I talk myself out of a lot of things, because of the potential issues.  I don’t mean the risks of actually driving, I mean, in this case, the complexity of sorting out lessons.  For a long time my provisional driving license was an issue, until Grete sorted that for me, and then it was questions about who to book lessons with, and how, and when to fit them in, and how and when to book the theory test, and how the whole thing would work, and endless iterations of those same questions.

It’s very easy never to click ‘book lessons’ when those things ramp up in your brain.  I actually got to the point of getting some quotes last year, from BSM, and almost booked, until they sent me some spam SMS messages to my mobile phone (mandatory field on the quote form), and that smallest trigger put me off booking with them, and the whole process collapsed.

Eventually though, there comes a moment where I finally commit to something in my head.  At that point, the issues, complexity, problems, risks and blockers all just vanish.  I’ve committed, and I will proceed.  Such a day arrived three or four weeks ago, when I finally just logged on to the AA website, bought 10 hours worth of lessons, and booked the date for the first one.

So, on Wednesday 8th May, at 5:30pm, I finally sat in the driver’s seat of a four-wheeled, petrol-engined car with the intention of starting the engine and driving it for 2 hours.  For those of you who’ve had driving lessons, you know how this goes.  The instructor takes you through the cockpit drill, tells you how a car works, covers the basics of mirrors and the like.  After this stage, I guess how it progresses depends on your instructor.

My driving instructor likes to get her pupils driving.  Her theory is once you’re moving, you’ll learn everything else you’ll need to know.  So she drove us to a quiet spot, sat me in the driver’s seat, had me adjust everything, and then we set off.

What followed was two hours of a mixture of fear, exhilaration, panic, confusion, euphoria, confidence sapping mistakes, confidence building successes and armpit sweat.  With my driving instructor talking in one ear, and me pretending to look in the mirrors (really, I was just looking at the mirrors), we pulled away from the curb, slowly pulled back in again and jerked to a complete halt.  Brakes.  Must be more gentle on the brakes.  The first lesson continued with that theme, with me never quite getting to grips with slowing down gently.

But I’m jumping ahead!  We pootled along a road I knew quite well in a quiet estate, and met my first road junction in the 42 years since I arrived in this world – a mini-round-a-bout.  My instructor said, ‘we’re going straight across’, which is a phrase I have been using for many years.  This however, was the first time my brain ever formed the thought ‘I wonder if she means I should just drive straight over the middle’.  Luckily my hands, taking control because my brain had apparently shut down, turned the wheel and we navigated the deserted obstacle with reasonable ease.  Before I had a chance to fully realise I had just navigated a round-a-bout, my instructor coaxed me to a juddering sudden stop, and we were sitting in front of a right hand turn.

Thankfully, it was into a weird single lane traffic calming measure in which I had right-of-way and there wasn’t any traffic anyway.  I gently rounded the 90 degree bend and off we went.  It was at this point that I worked out where we were headed.  We were about to rejoin the busy B6002, which when we had left it 15 minutes before had been host to two lanes of almost stationary traffic.  It hadn’t changed, and as we approached and began to slow, I heard my instructor say, “We’re going right.”

I had hoped, to be fair, that in my first ever driving lesson, I’d have been pretty much turning left only.  I’m sure we could have gotten anywhere we needed to be with only left hand turns, and I was about to explain this to my instructor, when I realised the articulated truck to my right had stopped, leaving me a gap in one lane of traffic.  This was it then, this was the moment I was supposed to check for a gap to the left, and then gently pull out and hope nothing crushed me like an out of place insect.

I stalled.  Then magically, after restarting the car, I managed to find another gap and pull out, and gently pull away and to the surprise of everyone, not least myself, I changed into second gear.  I was doing 15 miles an hour, on a B road, with traffic in front, behind and to my right.  I wasn’t dead.  The car wasn’t crushed.  No one was banging on the window screaming at me.  This was going to be okay!

I don’t remember much else for a little while, as we drove further into Stapleford, other than my instructor saying at least four times, and I quote, “this is a horrible junction, sorry”.  I know we negotiated some junctions, some more right turns, and some straight ons, but frankly it’s a blur!  It was all heavy traffic, 6pm, people trying to get home, me trying not to hold them up!  Eventually we made it to another quiet estate, and my instructor took me through some t-junctions, road position, and some other critical things that maybe one day I’ll remember but for now, are merely a smudge in my mind.

I do remember learning how to do hill starts (both up, and downhill), and I remember feeling confident about gear changes.

But most of all, I remember braking hard, every time.

We drove around the estate some more, and onto, across and through some busier roads, but I wasn’t really conscious of where I was (despite knowing the area quite well), until eventually we approached what looked like a major road, and my instructor advised we were turning right.  I noticed we had stopped at some lights, and in front of me were two lanes of traffic, a central reservation, and then another two lanes.  Only after I had crossed the two lanes and turned right did I realise I had pulled onto the A52, and we were headed back towards the M1.

Slightly terrified about what was to transpire, I revelled in the brief feeling of safety provided by traffic-light controlled round-a-bouts in which I was going left in a feeder lane.  Then, well, then I was in the clear, on a road with a 70mph limit, with cars accelerating away from me.

I took a deep breath.  Told myself that I was a man, and this was a motor vehicle, and that I was in control of my own destiny, not living in fear of success, and I got the car into 5th and did ~50mph for a little while.

50mph!

Eventually, we arrived at another round-a-bout (going left again, thankfully), navigated some more roads, made it to the A6005, and then, made it home.

I’ve been a passenger in motor vehicles, usually in the front passenger seat, for many, many years, so the process of learning to drive for me isn’t just about learning to drive, but it’s not about forgetting bad driving behaviour either (I have none), it’s about forgetting passenger behaviour, and that was about to become very evident.

We pulled back into my street, and pulled over to the left of the road, and stopped (hard, of course).  At this point, for the past 20 odd years of my life, I open the door and get out of the vehicle.  Safe in the knowledge that the driver will put on the hand-break, put the car in neutral, stop the engine, and only then get out of the car.  I’ve done it a lot, I really have.  Four times a day on weekdays and twice at weekends for most of my adult life.

It was the slight edge of panic in my instructor’s voice, which had been absent for all of the journey, that alerted me to the fact that although the engine was running, the car was still in gear, and the hand-break was off, that I was about to try and get out of the car.

I had removed my seat belt, and I was in the process of opening the door.  Luckily, I still had my foot on the foot-break and the clutch all the way down.

We laughed, as I applied the hand-break and turned off the engine, but it’s the laugh of people who realise they almost destroyed two vehicles.

I disembarked, got graded, and walked into the house.  At this point, two things were evident to me.

Firstly, I would not be writing a long blog post about my first driving lesson, because I could barely form any coherent thought beyond ‘must sit down’.

Secondly, having my right arm glued to my body for the entire 2 hour lesson meant my right arm-pit was utterly drenched in sweat.  My left arm, moving between the wheel, gears and hand-break had fared much better.

I had survived my first driving lesson at the age of 42.  It hadn’t been anywhere near as bad as I feared, and I had proven to myself that I could handle the basics of driving a four wheeled vehicle on the public highway without hitting anything else.

I needed a lot of tea.