Tag Archives: lessons

Fear of 4 Wheels – Part 3

Last time I spoke to my driving instructor, I said I was going to spend some time in Tesco car park just starting and stopping our car, to get used to the clutch and the whole routine of pulling away in a controlled fashion.  Greté was kind enough to go with me tonight, and we just got back.

carstartI think in 50 minutes I managed to pull away in a controlled fashion once.  The other 99 attempts were roughly,

  • 70 stalls before even leaving the parking bay.
  • 20 juddering starts where I just about remember to keep enough petrol on to actually not stall.
  • 7 starts where I accelerate almost out of control and then slow down again into something approaching reasonable speed.
  • 2 reversing starts, which weren’t too bad actually, maybe I should drive everywhere backwards.

For added amusement, while doing slow laps we also had,

  • 1 x very close pass to a cycle rack on the back of a van
  • 1 x three miles per hour swerve out of the way of a parking vehicle
  • several sharp stops
  • far too many instances of stopping, and forgetting I was in gear before lifting my foot from the clutch.

All-in-all, much more like how I expected my first ever lesson to go.

Greté was great, and very patient and she only phantom-braked the once.

So I’m pretty much fine with steering, and my braking is getting better, but I’m really not getting the whole biting point and gentle application of petrol thing.  I guess it’ll come with time.

Next lesson is on Wednesday, not sure if I’ll ask Greté to give me another shot in Tesco’s again tomorrow.  I almost wish there was somewhere much more open, where I could practice pulling away without too much fear of driving into someting.  Tesco was pretty empty but there’s still plenty of stuff you could hit with an uncontrolled start.


Fear of 4 Wheels – Part 2

A picture of a car over a wall
This was not me …

One thing I didn’t talk about much in the first post in this series (here), was the sick feeling in my stomach from the moment I got out of bed on Wednesday the 8th May until the moment I sat in the car for the first time.  I was pretty nervous, in fact thinking about it now makes me nervous in a sort of sympathetic reaction that I’m not in control of.  After I got back from the drive, and my legs had stopped shaking those nerves had clearly gone away.

So a week later, I wasn’t sure how I’d be feeling.

As it turns out, pretty much the same.  My second lesson was booked for Wednesday 15th May, starting at 6pm to let the traffic die down a little.  Thanks to an alignment of planets, that week also included having someone come and look at a damaged window frame, having our old sofas removed and taking delivery of two new ones.  Thanks to both an alignment of planets and the Rule of Sod, all the sofa action was also planned specifically for the 15th May.  We’ve already covered how relaxed I am about planning, so let’s just say that both I and Grete could have done without everything converging on the same day.

In the end, the sofa stuff meant I wasn’t really thinking about the driving lesson until it was all delivered and sorted by around 1pm.  After that though, the nerves kicked in big time.  My instructor arrived a little early so I didn’t have to do too much pacing before getting into the car.  This time, we did the setup outside my house, and then I was off and driving straight away.

Right-turn out of our street onto a reasonably busy road – stalled, stuttered and then got moving.  Not a great start, but the instructor tried to relax me by saying everyone has issues in the first 15 minutes of a lesson.  We followed the route I normally follow to work (which was both good and bad) for a little while and then turned up towards the A52.  Up to this point, braking had been too sharp still, and I appeared to have totally forgotten how to pull away from junctions.  After crawling up a hill in first, to avoid having to stop and start behind a queue of traffic, we made it across Bardills roundabout-bout and were on our way into Stapleford again.

We passed, and were passed by, a lot of learner drivers so I guess the whole of Stapleford is awash with them.  It’s full of quiet side streets, so I assume drivers get a lot of chance to practice stuff, and boy did I need it.  It appears my first week was beginners luck – or at least that’s what I thought until my instructor told me off for over-thinking things.

LPlateI thought about that (yes, irony) and realised she was right.  Now that I’d had some practice, I was trying to think about everything at once, despite still not really having much clue how to actually drive.  She suggested I stop thinking about more than one thing at a time, and just focus.

  1. Coming up to the junction – worry about speed first.
  2. Once the speed is right – then worry about road position.
  3. Then think about which gear you’re going to need to be in.
  4. Then think about if you need to stop.

Obviously that’s a generalisation, but once I stopped worrying about speed, position and gear at the same time, I stopped screwing up quite as much.  I still sometimes put on too much gas before I was in gear, or lifted the clutch too quickly, but that’s just going to take a lot of practice.  By the end of the two hour lesson, I was driving much more smoothly, and when we left Nottingham and headed back out towards home, without instruction since I knew where I was going, it was all-together much better than it had been.  I even managed to come to a stop a couple of times without putting our noses against the windscreen.

One thing I absolutely improved on during this lesson was using the mirrors.  I’d looked at them previously, but now I was looking in them and seeing things, and I was remembering to check them.  However, I have a propensity to check the left mirror a lot.  My instructor made the same observation, and I reminded her that after being a passenger for 30 years, that was the only mirror I ever had, it was going to take a long time to give it up.

Of course, I’ve skipped over the 40 minutes of absolute terror in the middle of the lesson.

This is the route we took.


I’d like to say a few words about the numbered locations.

1: This roundabout is freakin’ huge.  Luckily, we were going straight on, and I was feeding left into the lane that stops being a bus lane just before it.  Also, it’s traffic light controlled, so even though at this stage I was still struggling with the whole being in control thing, it wasn’t too bad.  But you know what?  And if you drive this route, you already do know what.  The road after this roundabout, at 6:30pm, is always stacked with traffic, and two lanes merge into one (that should be a song).

My instructor advised me to keep left, and keep up with the car in front, so that people behind me didn’t take advantage of the gap.  I failed 3 times, but as I finally got the confidence needed to keep close to the car in front, there was a moment of pure joy.

As I looked in my right-wing mirror I could see a car right on the back of me about to come past, and as I closed the gap and they realised they wouldn’t be able to, and they were going to be stuck behind me for the rest of that road to the next junction, the look of pure frustration on the driver’s face was enough to keep me upbeat for the rest of the lesson.

2: My instructor said, we’re going left, which was fine.  Then she said something about ‘starting checking you can filter in when we pass the concrete’.  My brain was still trying to absorb that when I realised we were indeed running out of filter lane, and I was going to have to move into fast moving traffic on my right side.  I remember looking in the right hand wing-mirror, and seeing a car, and then thinking, “okay, so what do I do now?”.

I did filter into the traffic, I’m just not sure how.  I think there was some instructor ‘encouraged’ braking and maybe some instructor ‘encouraged’ steering, and then we were on the road and moving forward.

She did say that she likes to just drive and learn as you go, and I think it kind of suits me, but I’ll be honest, I was surprised to find out I was filtering right with only about 25 meters of filter lane left.

3: If you live here, you know this roundabout.  I know it.  I hate it as a passenger.  I’m pretty sure I hate it as a driver, except, I can’t remember it.  Trauma induced amnesia clearly.

4: We drove up here, and then went somewhere else for a bit.  Your guess is as good as mine, I’m still trying to work out where the piece of my brain that handled number 3 is hiding.

5: When we first moved to Nottingham, this roundabout used to cause consternation for Grete.  It’s often busy, it’s badly marked out, and it’s populated by angry people trying to get home.  I think I did quite well all-told to survive getting around it.

After the roundabout at number 5, I just drove home.  I’m pretty sure the instructor wanted me to, but I was going to anyway quite frankly.  I’d just blocked a guy from getting ahead of me, navigated what I think to be the three worst roundabouts in the bit of Nottingham I know, and had filtered into fast moving traffic using some kind of magical ‘please don’t drive into the idiot’ sign.

As we pulled into my street, and picked a place to pull over, I promised my instructor that I would actually stop the car this time before getting out.  She laughed, I think it was just a laugh, it might have been a slightly terrified release of tension, hard to tell.

It was time for more tea.  Lesson number two, done.

Fear of 4 Wheels – Part 1

LPlateAt the time of writing this, I’m forty-two years old.  As you know, forty-two is the answer to life, the universe and everything, so what better time to start to learn to drive?  I covered some reasons why I left it so late here.  This post though, is about the process of learning.  I’m bad at starting stuff, but once I’ve started I’m usually pretty good at finishing.  It’s taken me a long time to start to learn to drive, and I had a couple of false goes over the last few years.  I half promised myself I’d learn before I was 40, and then I said I’d learn before I was 42, both of those deadlines came and went.

For me, more than half the problem is that I over-think the situation.  Those of you who know me will find this utterly hard to believe, but I over-analyse most stuff, dig out all the possible issues, and then present them as a bunch of negatives.  It makes me quite good at my job (especially when I then go on to present solutions to those issues), but it sometimes makes it hard to actually get stuff done especially outside of work where the pressure to deliver is lower.

So I talk myself out of a lot of things, because of the potential issues.  I don’t mean the risks of actually driving, I mean, in this case, the complexity of sorting out lessons.  For a long time my provisional driving license was an issue, until Grete sorted that for me, and then it was questions about who to book lessons with, and how, and when to fit them in, and how and when to book the theory test, and how the whole thing would work, and endless iterations of those same questions.

It’s very easy never to click ‘book lessons’ when those things ramp up in your brain.  I actually got to the point of getting some quotes last year, from BSM, and almost booked, until they sent me some spam SMS messages to my mobile phone (mandatory field on the quote form), and that smallest trigger put me off booking with them, and the whole process collapsed.

Eventually though, there comes a moment where I finally commit to something in my head.  At that point, the issues, complexity, problems, risks and blockers all just vanish.  I’ve committed, and I will proceed.  Such a day arrived three or four weeks ago, when I finally just logged on to the AA website, bought 10 hours worth of lessons, and booked the date for the first one.

So, on Wednesday 8th May, at 5:30pm, I finally sat in the driver’s seat of a four-wheeled, petrol-engined car with the intention of starting the engine and driving it for 2 hours.  For those of you who’ve had driving lessons, you know how this goes.  The instructor takes you through the cockpit drill, tells you how a car works, covers the basics of mirrors and the like.  After this stage, I guess how it progresses depends on your instructor.

My driving instructor likes to get her pupils driving.  Her theory is once you’re moving, you’ll learn everything else you’ll need to know.  So she drove us to a quiet spot, sat me in the driver’s seat, had me adjust everything, and then we set off.

What followed was two hours of a mixture of fear, exhilaration, panic, confusion, euphoria, confidence sapping mistakes, confidence building successes and armpit sweat.  With my driving instructor talking in one ear, and me pretending to look in the mirrors (really, I was just looking at the mirrors), we pulled away from the curb, slowly pulled back in again and jerked to a complete halt.  Brakes.  Must be more gentle on the brakes.  The first lesson continued with that theme, with me never quite getting to grips with slowing down gently.

But I’m jumping ahead!  We pootled along a road I knew quite well in a quiet estate, and met my first road junction in the 42 years since I arrived in this world – a mini-round-a-bout.  My instructor said, ‘we’re going straight across’, which is a phrase I have been using for many years.  This however, was the first time my brain ever formed the thought ‘I wonder if she means I should just drive straight over the middle’.  Luckily my hands, taking control because my brain had apparently shut down, turned the wheel and we navigated the deserted obstacle with reasonable ease.  Before I had a chance to fully realise I had just navigated a round-a-bout, my instructor coaxed me to a juddering sudden stop, and we were sitting in front of a right hand turn.

Thankfully, it was into a weird single lane traffic calming measure in which I had right-of-way and there wasn’t any traffic anyway.  I gently rounded the 90 degree bend and off we went.  It was at this point that I worked out where we were headed.  We were about to rejoin the busy B6002, which when we had left it 15 minutes before had been host to two lanes of almost stationary traffic.  It hadn’t changed, and as we approached and began to slow, I heard my instructor say, “We’re going right.”

I had hoped, to be fair, that in my first ever driving lesson, I’d have been pretty much turning left only.  I’m sure we could have gotten anywhere we needed to be with only left hand turns, and I was about to explain this to my instructor, when I realised the articulated truck to my right had stopped, leaving me a gap in one lane of traffic.  This was it then, this was the moment I was supposed to check for a gap to the left, and then gently pull out and hope nothing crushed me like an out of place insect.

I stalled.  Then magically, after restarting the car, I managed to find another gap and pull out, and gently pull away and to the surprise of everyone, not least myself, I changed into second gear.  I was doing 15 miles an hour, on a B road, with traffic in front, behind and to my right.  I wasn’t dead.  The car wasn’t crushed.  No one was banging on the window screaming at me.  This was going to be okay!

I don’t remember much else for a little while, as we drove further into Stapleford, other than my instructor saying at least four times, and I quote, “this is a horrible junction, sorry”.  I know we negotiated some junctions, some more right turns, and some straight ons, but frankly it’s a blur!  It was all heavy traffic, 6pm, people trying to get home, me trying not to hold them up!  Eventually we made it to another quiet estate, and my instructor took me through some t-junctions, road position, and some other critical things that maybe one day I’ll remember but for now, are merely a smudge in my mind.

I do remember learning how to do hill starts (both up, and downhill), and I remember feeling confident about gear changes.

But most of all, I remember braking hard, every time.

We drove around the estate some more, and onto, across and through some busier roads, but I wasn’t really conscious of where I was (despite knowing the area quite well), until eventually we approached what looked like a major road, and my instructor advised we were turning right.  I noticed we had stopped at some lights, and in front of me were two lanes of traffic, a central reservation, and then another two lanes.  Only after I had crossed the two lanes and turned right did I realise I had pulled onto the A52, and we were headed back towards the M1.

Slightly terrified about what was to transpire, I revelled in the brief feeling of safety provided by traffic-light controlled round-a-bouts in which I was going left in a feeder lane.  Then, well, then I was in the clear, on a road with a 70mph limit, with cars accelerating away from me.

I took a deep breath.  Told myself that I was a man, and this was a motor vehicle, and that I was in control of my own destiny, not living in fear of success, and I got the car into 5th and did ~50mph for a little while.


Eventually, we arrived at another round-a-bout (going left again, thankfully), navigated some more roads, made it to the A6005, and then, made it home.

I’ve been a passenger in motor vehicles, usually in the front passenger seat, for many, many years, so the process of learning to drive for me isn’t just about learning to drive, but it’s not about forgetting bad driving behaviour either (I have none), it’s about forgetting passenger behaviour, and that was about to become very evident.

We pulled back into my street, and pulled over to the left of the road, and stopped (hard, of course).  At this point, for the past 20 odd years of my life, I open the door and get out of the vehicle.  Safe in the knowledge that the driver will put on the hand-break, put the car in neutral, stop the engine, and only then get out of the car.  I’ve done it a lot, I really have.  Four times a day on weekdays and twice at weekends for most of my adult life.

It was the slight edge of panic in my instructor’s voice, which had been absent for all of the journey, that alerted me to the fact that although the engine was running, the car was still in gear, and the hand-break was off, that I was about to try and get out of the car.

I had removed my seat belt, and I was in the process of opening the door.  Luckily, I still had my foot on the foot-break and the clutch all the way down.

We laughed, as I applied the hand-break and turned off the engine, but it’s the laugh of people who realise they almost destroyed two vehicles.

I disembarked, got graded, and walked into the house.  At this point, two things were evident to me.

Firstly, I would not be writing a long blog post about my first driving lesson, because I could barely form any coherent thought beyond ‘must sit down’.

Secondly, having my right arm glued to my body for the entire 2 hour lesson meant my right arm-pit was utterly drenched in sweat.  My left arm, moving between the wheel, gears and hand-break had fared much better.

I had survived my first driving lesson at the age of 42.  It hadn’t been anywhere near as bad as I feared, and I had proven to myself that I could handle the basics of driving a four wheeled vehicle on the public highway without hitting anything else.

I needed a lot of tea.

Turn and face the strange

There are a lot of things going on at the moment, a lot of potential and certain change.  For some people change is great, for some, and that includes me, change is unsettling at the least and very stressful at worst.

I’m on the verge of finally starting to learn to drive.  Maybe I’ll pass my test before I’m 40.  Just need to get a photo signed (got them taken today), get the ID back and actually arrange the lessons, but I’m in the right place mentally which I’ve not really been before.  Mostly it’s thanks to Grete for sorting out the hassle that I can never be bothered to deal with.  I’m actually, if I let myself think about it, looking forward to it, but let’s keep that a secret for now.

My employer is currently going through a round of redundancies.  I’m included in the ‘in scope’ pool.  So there’s a fair amount of uncertainty from that.  Won’t really know where I stand personally for another few weeks.

Add in to that mix that I’m changing roles at work as well.  It’s not been formally announced yet and so I’m not going to give any detail here, but I’m staying in the same bit of the company and hence still ‘in-scope’ (see above), but moving to a different role.  No definite timescales as of yet.  That’s the big change I tweeted about a short while back – once it’s been formally announced at work, I’ll provide an update.

And of top of all of that, and I’m not sure how many folk will understand / care, I’ve taken on the role of Control for the uk.* usenet hierarchy.  Voluntary position, and different people probably have different views about how much of a concern it should be, but for me it’s a big deal, and I intend to carry out the role as well as I can which brings it’s own level of change and stress.  I’m proud to have been offered the position.

A couple of other minor things, and there’s a big stirring pot of change going on right now.