“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!
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.
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.