I can only speak for myself, but receiving my driving license was arguably the proudest moment of my life, better than getting into university, better than my first kiss and better than getting drunk for the first time (just about).
I had always wanted to drive from when I was old enough to sit upright behind the steering wheel. I would jump into my father’s lap as he swung his VW Scirocco into the driveway (obviously he stopped and opened the door first. I’m not a gymnast) and he would let me ‘drive’ the car down to the garage doors. Not an officicial ‘Driving School‘ I admit!
Later, when a knowledgeable peer of mine came up to me in the playground and told me that you needed to use the pedals to be driving ‘properly,’ I was horrified.
I had been under the impression that you just turned the key in the ignition and gripped the steering wheel, and off you went, somehow. I had been too enamoured with the concept to actually consider the technicalities. I became even more determined, upon hearing this revelation, to be able to do the job properly.
My driving career began on my seventeenth birthday, in driving rain, on a seldom-used road on the Belfast Harbour Estate. My supervisor was my mother, who was in a tetchy mood with me for refusing to go shopping with her immediately afterwards.
I had more important things on the agenda. Here it is:
12.00pm: Stall car. Get annoyed.
12.01pm: Stall car again. Curse car to heavens.
12.02pm: Stall for a third time. Mutter that there must be something wrong with the clutch.
12.03pm: Lurch off with excessive engine revs. Scare wits out of mother and sister.
12.05pm: Try out the novelties of reverse gear.
12.06pm: Get fed up. Go home and watch Monaco Grand Prix.
(In the event, Michael Schumacher retired from the lead with suspension failure. David Coulthard took the victory. I was delighted).
Unfortunately, as we all know, once your provisional license has arrived in the post, it’s then on to the tedious business of actually being educated in the ways of the road.
This is the tricky bit.
My first lesson was with a bald gentleman with a rather high voice, who was a personable type of chap, but whom I hated anyway. He spent ten minutes scaring me with talk of roundabouts, then commanded to start the engine and drive off!
In my initial lessons I had trouble with the concept of changing from second into third gear, and liked driving so close to parked cars that the bald gentleman would occasionally scream and grab the steering wheel. This was one of the only moments of my auto-education that I enjoyed.
When I was getting used to his purple, non-turbo diesel Corsa, the git sold it and bought a torque-less, petrol-powered, Peugeot 306 instead. I now had to perform perfect starts in a gutless vehicle, time after time, without either kangarooing myself and the bald gentleman through the windscreen or stalling the engine. The pressure was on.
After one particularly pointless lesson, which involved me driving up and down a dual carriageway in the sleet and practicing precisely no manoeuvres, I decided that I would take my practical test without telling my squeakily-spoken instructor.
Needless to say, I failed. I was forced to confess my sins. After he had forgiven me, we rebooked another test and he agreed to give me a ‘refresher.’
For reasons not even known to myself I elected to select reverse gear instead of fourth while accelerating down a hill. The noise was not conducive to peace of mind twelve hours before a driving test.
I told myself that I would never pass, and that I must accept my fate of sitting on public transport with smelly, anoraked oddballs for the rest of my days.
The next day, despite nearly flattening a cyclist, I passed at my second attempt. God only knows how. Perhaps the instructor got that brown envelope full of cash after all.