Today 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.
I 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.