The subtitle of today’s post is ‘burning brakes and near misses’. Sitting in a car you don’t own with a driving instructor who has their own brake and clutch, and doing 70mph along a dual carriage way is one thing. Sitting in your own car, with the most important person in the world next to you, knowing they can do nothing to physically help, and driving at 70mph along a dual carriage way is a different proposition entirely. There’s a certain amount of trust you have to have in your own ability, and an immense amount of trust that your wife (in my case) has to have in your ability as well.
I’ve been driving our car fairly short distances (other than the first time), basically to work and back. It doesn’t take long, I know the route, and it’s busy enough that I spend most of the time at less than 20mph. I don’t have to think too far ahead because I know what’s coming up, and although I don’t drive it perfectly, the mistakes I’m making are mostly technical rather than planning. i.e. stalling, or being in the wrong gear, rather than not slowing down enough, or taking the wrong exit.
Given that, and given how badly I think I did in last week’s lesson with long driving and new areas, I really wanted to get a good run in our car, including somewhere I haven’t driven before. So today, we drove to Alfreton – A52, A61 and then A38 (roughly). I drove Greté to the shop in Alfreton that sells vaping supplies, since she’s given up cigarettes. That’s probably the best example of the two life changing things we’ve done this year.
Before going over, we popped to Tesco and into the petrol station – which is another first for me. Obviously I’ve put petrol into our cars many times, but also obviously, it’s the first time I’ve driven onto the forecourt myself. You’ll be pleased to know that I didn’t crash (in slow motion) into a petrol pump and cause an explosion the size of a small nuclear weapon (which was the thing at the forefront of my mind as I pulled up). I was in the wrong gear, and the end was a bit clumsy, but otherwise, success! I think the guy behind me who was hoping I was going to pull away 2 seconds after I got back in the car was disappointed, I suspect he almost went around me before I finally started to move away.
After that it was onto the A52 and 70mph towards the A61. There’s something weird about being in control of a car on roads that you’ve been a passenger on a lot, you have to remind yourself that unless you steer, you’re not going to be going home in one piece. I wonder if learning to drive when you’re young is different? When I’m a passenger with Greté on journeys, especially to places we’ve never been, I’m playing co-pilot. I’m looking for road junctions, checking maps (these days, on the phone), anticipating what’s coming up, and hopefully helping out. I’m part of the driving process already, to a small extent. I think it’s different when you’re young, you’re totally free of any responsibility while the ‘grown ups’ in the car do the driving. So now that I’m driving, having spent 42 years being a passenger, it’s very easy to forget that I am driving, and I have to really focus and concentrate.
Anyway, other than getting a little close to the kerb at one point (Greté actually squealed ‘kerb‘) while heading towards the A52, and floating a little close to the kerb on the A52 (I was checking my mirrors) everything went okay, until we turned left onto the A38 instead of right, and went south for quite a way. We eventually noticed, turned around, and went north instead! We passed a bunch of roundabouts, most of which I felt I handled well, with okay anticipation and hopefully the right level of control, and eventually entered the outskirts of Alfreton. It was a bit of a relief, since most of the trip there was 70mph, and I was happy to get back down to 30 or 40.
We drove into and then sailed straight out of Alfreton, missing our right hand turn, since neither of us knows the place very well. That’s fine, not a driving fault, just a lack of knowledge of the area, so I kept going, took a right into a road I hoped I’d be able to turn around in, and we found ourselves doing 40mph along a 60mph limit country road in the middle of no-where.
Okay, so this was a new challenge – very narrow roads, high hedges on both sides, and at one point, full tree cover up and over the road. If you do your theory test and watch the hazard perception videos, this is just the kind of road every manner of hazard likes to hang out in. Bendy, twisty, and driven at full speed by the locals. I think the guy behind was unhappy I was doing 40mph but there was no way I was going to go any quicker than that. I knew the road signs were going to be almost right on the junctions, and I was hoping for a left hand turn.
One finally presented itself, so I went left onto what looked like a small road heading towards a village, and the guy in my boot went the other way. I could either follow this road, perhaps into the village from The League of Gentlemen, or I could try and turn around. Within a very short space there was a large driveway on my right, and before I could talk myself out of it, I’d slowed, indicated and turned onto it. I was a little nervous, since the road bent to the right almost straight after this driveway. It was too late now though, so I popped it into reverse, backed out in as controlled a manner as I could, whacked it into first and headed back toward Alfreton. The whole thing had been a little unsettling though, and my control got worse, over-revving pulling away, not changing gears early enough, and at one point, not long after a t-junction I noticed a slight burning smell and the handbrake light, so I took the handbrake off properly.
I did the handbrake trick again not long after that but I noticed it straight away, and so I started concentrating harder on fully disengaging it before pulling away. We made it back to Alfreton, took our turning (now a left) and found somewhere to park. The car park was empty, so I didn’t have to demonstrate my elite parking skills. Including the detour, I think the whole route was about 40 miles and took around an hour, which I was pretty pleased with.
The return journey was only 28 miles, and took us around 50 minutes.
After such a successful drive up, I was looking forward to the drive home and we left Alfreton without any trouble. There were a couple of roundabouts on the way home that I went around too quickly, and there was a moment or two of incorrect indication (I thought I was going right, instead of further on and right at a roundabout), but in general, until we got back onto the A52 everything was okay. I was certainly feeling a lot better about the drive than I had during the lesson, but then, I didn’t have someone telling me every approach to every roundabout was wrong, which may have had something to do with it.
However, as we neared the end of our journey on the A52, and moments after we were talking about slip roads and how you should always make sure you’re up to speed, I got my first lesson in why the blind spot is called the blind spot, and why they are not joking when they call it that.
It’s one of those abstract things that you get told as soon as you start learning to drive – the mirrors have blind spots into which they can’t see, and so you must check over your shoulder on your right side, as well as using the mirror. You nod, and agree, but how you can see a blind spot, when the whole point of it, is that you can’t see it? You’re not really sure how big it is, you’re not entirely sure what you can fit in it either. So you dutifully try and remember to check over your shoulder, and you get used to not seeing anything, and you get used to trusting the mirror.
And so you end up on the A52, travelling in the left hand lane at about 65mph with an on-coming slip road coming up. On it, you see a couple of cars quite close together with the one in front clearly sporting a nervous driver and slowing down. You think, I know, I’ll pull into the right hand lane, give them a chance to get on. So you check your mirror, and you see it’s clear.
So you indicate right.
And you float right a little way.
And your wife makes an odd inarticulate kind of sound.
And you see an entire fucking car appear out of freaking no where in the right hand lane right, next, to, you.
At which point, you drift back into your own lane, let the car go by, check your mirror, check your blind spot and pull out into the right hand lane.
If you’re like me, you’re now laughing to relieve the shock.
And if you’re like my wife, you’re now in hysterical fits of laughter at the near death experience you’ve both been through.
As Morpheus said,
Neo, sooner or later you’re going to realize just as I did that there’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.
I knew I needed to look over my shoulder into my blind spot. But now, I know why. Somehow they should make everyone do what I did, in a safe way. I feel both lucky and bad. I feel lucky that I handled it okay and didn’t over-steer, and I feel even more lucky that the thing I have no control over (the other drivers) also did the right thing, and that I didn’t cause other people to crash. I feel bad for the driver who I probably gave a heart attack to, but they have a good story to tell their grand kids.
Mostly, I feel lucky that I’ve learned my lesson without anyone getting hurt. I’m sure I’ll never pull into another lane without checking my blind spot, because now I know, for a fact, that you can hide entire cars in it. I wouldn’t have believed it otherwise.
We got home pretty frazzled, without further incident, and overall I’m really pleased with how the drive went. Nothing on the route was familiar to me really, and I think I handled most of it in a safe and conscientious way. With obviously, that one notable exception.