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).
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.
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.