No Fear of 4 Wheels

I’ve been allowed to drive now, on my own, for 6 and a bit days, and I’ve done plenty of it.  I’ve driven myself to and from work (alone) a few times, driven to Tesco’s to pick up food, and done a lengthy trip back from Tamworth (with Greté in the car).  We also did a short section of M1 on the Tamworth drive on Saturday, and then J25 to J28 on the M1 and back on Sunday going to Alfreton.

Driving on my own wasn’t as weird as I expected it to be, or as scary as other folk suggested it might be.  I didn’t really feel nervous about it because I was already comfortable driving with Greté along (rather than my instructor), and it never felt like she was overseeing or watching my driving (although she was obviously aware of the road conditions).

It did feel very strange at work however, knowing that I could leave whenever I wanted without having to either wait for someone else or make someone else late.  That felt pretty damn good.  I’m also now officially a member of the ‘where the hell did I park my car this morning in that massive car park while I was half asleep’ club.

The motorway driving was a mixed bag, I’d already done some stretches of A road with 3 lanes at 70, but 4 lanes on the M1 was a little daunting.  To add to the excitement, while I was travelling at 70mph in the 3rd lane overtaking some stuff, someone undertook me.  Someone else sat on my shoulder while I was approaching a lorry (I was in the 2nd hand lane already), and despite my indication and speed changes they seemed intent on remaining glued to me, so I just had to move over and let them worry about it.  Lastly, we had a car towing a caravan make a very abrupt lane change a few cars ahead of us, and then slowly swerve across several lanes for half a mile while it corrected itself.

The drive back down the M1 was less eventful!

I wouldn’t say I was happy with how I’ve driven short journeys, and I definitely feel longer trips give me a chance to ‘warm up’.  Hopefully as I drive more and more though it’ll get smoother and easier.  I’m still too fast on some roundabouts, too slow starting from stopped, and prone to stalling when under pressure.  I’ll get there.

I wouldn’t say I feel some massive sense of liberation, or some huge feeling of freedom.  I do feel some increase in freedom, and definite feeling of being more liberated in terms of when and where I can go.  For me though, the most obvious sensations are relief, that I can help Greté out with driving duties, and an actual feeling of pleasure when I drive.  I like driving.

Fear of 4 Wheels – Part 17

In part 16 I wrote this, “I can drive.  I really can”.  In the lesson after that one, I proved to myself that actually, I couldn’t drive.  It was rubbish again.  I won’t list the full litany of mistakes, but let’s just say that it sucked.  I was over it by the following Thursday morning though, and with my nephew due to visit a few days after the lesson (i.e. for all of last week), I didn’t have time to dwell on it.

At the start of this week I drove to the station to collect my nephew, and drove home with him in the car.  That was freaky, seeing someone in the rear view mirror for the first time – every time I checked all I could see was his head, a fresh and startling reminder of his presence.

Then I had a lesson on the Wednesday, and it went really well overall.  There was a minor incident where I basically went through an amber light, then decided to stop, then decided it was too late, and then pulled away, but hey, who doesn’t do that.

The highlight of the week in terms of the car though, was driving back from Chester zoo (A roads only of course).  It should be a 2 hour drive, but the traffic was heavy for quite some time after leaving the zoo, so it took more like 2 hours 30 minutes.  That’s the longest I’ve driven in one go, even the lessons are only 2 hours, so it was a good test, and other than some roundabouts I probably took too quickly, it was a safe drive all the way.

My nephew managed to sleep for most of it, so it can’t have been that scary.

And so today is Tuesday, and tomorrow is Wednesday the 14th August.  Which means tomorrow is my driving test.

One more hour with the instructor, before the lesson, and then 40 minutes of pure terror, followed by either cheering or sobbing.

Whatever happens, it’s been an interesting journey to get to this point.  I’m sure I’ll post an update to Facebook or Twitter when I find out the result of the test.  See you all on the other side.

Fear of 4 Wheels – Part 16

I can drive.  I really can.  For the most part, safely.  Sometimes I don’t respond early enough to stuff moving slowly ahead of me in time to change lanes (like a bus, or cyclist) when on dual carriageways, and my instructor thinks I take the odd corner a bit quick, but generally, I can drive.

There are 5 hours of lessons left until I take my test, so just over 2 weeks, and while, like all tests, being able to drive is not the only measure of success, it’s a good starting point surely?

I was really disheartened after last week’s lesson, but not for any good reason to be fair.  So between that and this week, after a small break, I made sure I once again drove everywhere I could with Greté, and I really tried to focus hard on checking mirrors before indicating, slowing or approaching traffic lights and it helped, in two ways.  Firstly, I forgot about the ‘controlling the car with your hands and feet bit’, I forced it to the back of my mind and allowed muscle memory to do it, rather than thinking about it all the time.  Secondly, I actually remembered to use the mirrors!

When I went out for the lesson yesterday it was pretty much just 2 hours of driving to places I’d never been, handling the traffic and junctions without any stupid mistakes.  Sure, I’m still missing 10 years of experience and finesse, sometimes I sit too long at a junction, sometimes I get stuck behind a bus on a dual carriageway, but my instructor was really pleased with the driving and admitted she was being picky over the 2 or 3 things she did bring up.

The only moment where control was an issue was right at the start, braking as we neared the end of our street.  Having driven our car for a week, I’d forgotten how aggressive the brakes are in the lesson car, so even though I was only doing about 5mph, when I stopped I put both our faces against the windscreen.  Other than that it was good.  As I realised half way through the lesson that my hands and feet had started working on their own, and that I never once doubted my ability to start, stop or pull away from a junction I started to enjoy it.

My instructor was trying really hard to get me driving around places I’d never been, but she needn’t have bothered.  I was concentrating so hard on checking the mirrors that I have no idea where we went.  My view was the road, and just about nothing else.  Only when I stopped at some lights for quite some time did I realise we were behind the Broadmarsh car park, having entered Nottingham on the east side somehow, and were now headed west towards Derby.  That was slightly worrying, since I know it’s quite a busy route, both in and out, but head out we did, and I handled everything quite well.

My main challenge is still trying to avoid over-thinking stuff.  If you read the first post in this series, here, you’ll see that was my problem at the start as well.  However, the focus of the issue has shifted.  I’m no longer over-thinking the process of learning to drive and sorting out lessons, but I am spending a lot of time thinking about ‘should I pass that bus – oh too late’ or ‘should I indicate right to get around that cyclist – oh too late’ or ‘is there enough room for me and that other car between those parked vehicles – too late – breath in‘ for example.

I know I’ll get there, I’ve stopped over-thinking controlling the car with my feet, and I know I’ll get past the over-thinking the higher level stuff – the outstanding question is, will 5 more hours be enough to convince the examiner I’m safe to drive.

Fear of 4 Wheels – Part 15 (of 9 million, it would seem)

There was nothing majorly wrong with the driving in yesterday’s lesson, over and above the normal stuff.  My anticipation could be better, my roundabout handling could be better, my maneuvers were okay, but could be better.  However, I was still hugely despondent when I got home because why on earth would anyone enjoy spending 2 hours being told (even in a constructive and supportive manner) that they were making mistakes.

I spend the week driving and think I’m doing okay and then expend a lot of energy during the lesson, feel drained when I get in, and just frustrated at all the stupid little mistakes I’ve made.

I honestly think I drive better when I’m not in the lesson, because I’m less nervous and so I make better, longer term decisions.  But that’s not going to help when I’m taking the test which is only going to be even more high pressure.  In the back of my mind I sort of hope my instructor is being overly critical, trying to get me beyond the level needed to pass the test, so that I pass easily, but who knows.

I certainly don’t.

Fear of 4 Wheels – Part 14

LPlateThe 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.

morpheus4050474As 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.

Fear of 4 Wheels – Part 13

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.

A50 Junction

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

A50 Close Up

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.

Fear of 4 Wheels – Part 12

Rather than write a blog post every time I sat behind the wheel, last week I decided to write up how I felt after each trip out in the car, and do a sort of mini diary.  It went well on Friday and Saturday, but then I was ill on Monday and Tuesday, so didn’t get as much driving done as I’d hoped.  However, here’s the three entries before today’s driving lesson.

Friday 28th June

Drove from the office to Tesco, including the uphill t-junction I’ve been avoiding up until now.  Nothing too scary, and a route we’ve done literally hundreds of times over the years, with me as a passenger.  I pulled into Tesco, parked in a bay (forwards) right next to one other car, stalled when his reverse lights came on and I panicked and forgot to get the clutch in.  Otherwise the drive over was excellent.  After shopping I reversed out of that bay.  Way, too, fast – but then drove home successfully, and put the car on the drive at a much slower pace than the previous 3 attempts.  Overall, felt pretty good after this, especially given I’d missed having a lesson this week.

Saturday 29th June

Drove from home to Tesco, including reversing off our drive.  Reversed too quickly, but the rest of journey was really good.  Need to spend some time just reversing our car around, it’s far more energetic than the car I’m learning in.   Pulled (forward) into a Tesco parking bay at a very slow, controlled speed which felt good.  Left Tesco, reversed almost fully out of the bay at the right speed, but too quick right at the very end.  Then too many mistakes on the way home, wrong gear, changing down too early, one awkward stall due to pressure.  Ended up putting the car on our drive too quickly again.

Wednesday 3rd July

Drove home from work before the lesson.  Quite confident overall, and feeling pretty good about my driving – this is probably when learner drivers are at their most dangerous.  One stall while sitting in traffic at a set of lights, but just restarted the car, and one stall on a hill start, as I stopped (i.e. before I had to pull away), but again, just restarted the car and didn’t worry about it too much.  Cyclists are tricky – I’m prepared to go as slow as required and give enough space as required, but it’s tough to do that when the 10 cars behind aren’t prepared to let you and start trying to overtake. Challenging.  The examiner will expect me to give cyclists 2 metres of clearance during the test, when no one else in the world will be prepared to let me do that.

Driving Lesson

I really am feeling much more confident about my overall driving.  I have enough skill to get the car moving without any fear; I know that if I’m sitting on a junction I’ll be able to pull out in the right sized gap.  Sure, I stall it once or twice a lesson, but that confidence that you’ll be able to move off means you can give up worrying about stopping.  I can’t stress this enough, if you’re learning to drive and want to get one thing right that will help, learn how to successfully get the car moving every time.

I was approaching junctions, roundabouts, and other cars too fast because I didn’t want to stop.  The mere thought of stopping, and what follows it (moving off) just meant I was tense.  Now that I know I can stop, stick the handbrake on if necessary, and then promptly get the car moving again gives me so much more confidence at handling everything else.

My junction approaches were better, my roundabouts were better, and ‘meeting traffic’ scored my highest yet.  My instructor took me down a few roads with cars parked on both sides, so very much a stop/start/stop/start process through blocked roads, and I handled it no problem, very pleasing.

As we came down through Beeston, I was chatting, and so when my instructor said ‘next left’ I just sailed on past it.  We were on a road we often used to go to work, and so I was on autopilot in some regards.  Given that I can’t drive yet (legally), being on autopilot this early is probably a bad sign.  Anyway, we ended up driving around a bit in that area, and down near Beeston Marina, when my instructor told me to pull over, so we could do a ‘turning in the road’ manoeuvre.  We’d been driving probably 40 minutes by this point.

After I stopped, I looked a few car lengths down the road and noticed I couldn’t read the number plate of the car ahead of me.  At which point, I realised we’d driven the last 40 minutes without my glasses on.  Luckily, I can see pretty well without them, I only need them for long distance and even then it’s a weak prescription.  Still, we both had a bit of a chuckle about that (well, I was chuckling anyway).

Hopefully I won’t make that mistake in my practical exam – which my instructor encouraged me to book straight away (having passed the theory).  She’s confident I only need about 4 or 5 more weeks; due to various timings I can’t do the exam in the first week in August, so instead, it’s booked for the 2nd week.

It’s a little terrifying to think that I might only need another 10 hours of lessons before I’m judged fit to pass the exam.

Subdued post today, I’m still ill and not feeling 100%.  Maybe we’ll get more laughs next time.

Fear of 4 Wheels – Part 11

I feel like I should publish a post that isn’t part of this series, to break all the Fear of 4 Wheels posts up. However, I’m not going to!  I’m writing this on the 27th June, which has been a very, long, day.  Both myself and Greté woke up very early today.  Both for different reasons.  For me, today was my driving theory and hazard perception test day.  I’ve not really slept well for the past few days, and this morning I was up at 6:00am.  Given the success of yesterday’s drive home, and the quiet roads, I thought I’d give driving in to the office a shot.

I jotted this paragraph down when I got to the office.

I’m sitting here feeling pretty bloody good about myself, so I thought I’d throw down a few words.  I’ve been employed since I left university in 1993, but today, 20 years later, is the first time I’ve ever driven myself to work.  Greté was with me obviously, but I did the actual driving.  It’s pretty empowering, I can tell you (although I probably don’t have to, since you can all drive).

I’ll be honest, it felt even better than it sounds.  The roads were quiet, but there was still plenty of traffic, and despite a couple of white vans trying to run me off the road when their lane merged into mine, it was a good drive.  No mistakes, a couple of confidence issues, but lots of mirror use and plenty of control.  I was buzzing when I got to work – I was also shaking, so I had some shortbread that a colleague had brought in.  I think the shaking was part adrenaline, part low sugar (concentration burns my sugar faster than you might imagine).

Work itself dragged – because I knew at 6:00pm, twelve hours after getting out of bed, I had a theory exam to take in the centre of Nottingham.  I made sure we were there early, and I didn’t drive.  Thankfully Greté is used to and puts up with my tendency to arrive 2 hours early for everything I do, although we were technically only 1 hour and 15 minutes early.  We grabbed a coffee in Costa, bought a spare umbrella (yeh, thanks rain), wandered around for a bit, and then I headed in to the test centre.  As usual, I was more nervous about the procedural aspects of the test than I was about the actual test.  You know what my biggest worry was?  Would I have to pay for a locker or would they be free, and if I had to pay, did I have the right coinage.

Yeh, welcome to my head.

Luckily, lockers were free, the staff were great, the instructions were clear and about an hour after going in, I left.

This is the first exam that’s mattered since I left university in 1993.  So not only 20 years of employment and driving in for the first time, but 20 years since I sat an exam that could change my life.

The multi-choice was fine, there were 2 questions I’d never seen on topics I can’t remember reading about (minimum distance between you and the car in front when stopping in a tunnel, and another about soft tarmac), and out of the 50 I got 2 wrong (I found out later).  I’m tempted to think it was those 2 I got wrong, but it might not have been.  The hazard perception test was just, stressful.  You get no feedback as you go, and it’s possible to click too much or in the wrong way and score 0 points even if you spot the hazard.  The lack of feedback is simply terrifying and by clip 15 I was essentially a gibbering wreck.  The massive headphones didn’t help, and I was approximately too fucking hot by the time I left.

Was I clicking too much?  Was I somehow accidentally clicking in a mysterious pattern that the software would think was cheating?  Let’s face it, all software sucks, so it’s entirely possible it could get it wrong.

I walked from the test room with no clue if I’d passed or not, but by the time I got to the desk, the results were printed out and handed to me.  The member of staff doesn’t tell you if you’ve passed, so I had to read the certificate, about 3 times, before I convinced myself that I had.

I had passed my theory test.

I had successfully, passed, the theory and hazard perception test.

I have two years in which to apply for and pass my practical exam now.  I’m pretty sure my instructor is going to suggest I book a date in late August or early September at next week’s lesson (assuming she’s well).

It’s still only slowly sinking in.

The good news is that I can finally stop worrying about whether I need a stabilising bar when towing a caravan.


Fear of 4 Wheels – Part 10

Short one today, I promise.  My instructor cancelled today’s lesson at short notice due to illness.  Judging by the overwhelming sense of relief I felt at that, I’m guessing I didn’t fancy going out for a drive anyway.

Although to be fair, I did drive home today from work (with Greté keeping me company), which wasn’t too bad.  Yesterday however was a different matter entirely.  It was the first time I’d driven since last Wednesday’s lesson, for various reasons, and it was like being back at week 1.

Stalled pulling away, too fast in 1st, stopping short of junctions, stalling, jumping away like a rabbit, thunking to a stop, changing down gear too early, etc., etc.  Yesterday did not do my confidence any favours at all.  Today though, as I said, much better overall, and more use of the mirrors.  I guess the lesson there is, drive more often, so I’m going to try and drive home every night this week.

Tomorrow I have my theory test (and hazard perception test).  I’ve been revising hard (using a couple of apps on Android, one which I found only at the start of the week is and very, very good, while the other I’d been using for longer and is a lot weaker).  The best app so far, that I’ve found, is this one.  It has a really snappy title, “Theory Test +Hazard Perception”, but it’s very good.  I’m pretty confident about the multi-choice questions, but I’m still nervous about the hazard perception stuff, because it’s possible to get zero points just by clicking ‘in the wrong pattern’ or ‘too often’.

One last thing, there are a lot of cyclists where I live.  A lot.

Fear of 4 Wheels – Part 9

Not me

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).

Also not me

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.

Absolutely not me

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.