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