Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Here is a story about learning to drive and stuff. Like most of these tales, Tracy (my ex-wife) is involved at the beginning. Sorry it's not very well structured.

Tracy learned to drive when she was seventeen, and she's among the best drivers I know. I think she must have got fed up with driving me around because the day before my 27th (not sure about this) birthday there was a knock at our front door. She told me to go and answer the door, because she thought it was for me.

I had two quite independent thoughts at this point. The first was disappointment, because a three hour Simpsons omnibus was just about to start on the TV. The second was excitement, but only because I thought the person at the front door might be a stripper.

She also told me to put my shoes on. Which I did. NB It's easier to drive with footwear.

I opened the front door:

Me: Hello.
Him: Hello, my name's Lawrence...
Me: Excellent. I'm pleased for you.
Him: ...and I'm your driving instructor.

The good thing about my first driving lesson being a surprise was that I didn't have time to worry about it. Fear of learning to drive was probably always at the forefront of my mind before I could drive, or, more likely, fear of failure. I always thought that I would have to be as good a driver as, say, Tracy, or my Dad, to be able to pass my driving test. My Dad, incidentally, is and was the best driver I have ever known, and he passed third time.

The first time he took his test there had been a lot of press about Driving Examiners accepting bribes, so he tried to bribe them. The second time he threatened the Examiner with violence.

So I had my lesson. Which was fine, and it was booked as a block of eight, although the eight lessons I had were spread over about three months - due to holidays and broken bones (different story). The key to success is putting in the hours. In November of that year (my birthday is 15th August, btw) Tracy had a car accident, so I had to drive nearly everywhere when we went out together. When I was learning Tracy and I went to a wedding in Tunbridge Wells. She was ill but I couldn't drive on the motorway so we went as far as the North Circular (we were staying at my sister's in Walthamstow) where we stopped and I took over. It was a bit of a baptism of fire, and we ended up in Tottenham, but it was all experience.

Before I passed my test I rarely looked forward to driving anywhere. I enjoyed driving while I was doing it, it was the knowledge that I would have to drive somewhere that I didn't like. This is probably about confidence. And confidence is something that you can normally only accrue over time, unless you're a "natural".

I'd never had to drive before. There were always lifts to be cadged or public transport or shoe leather. But learning to drive is the most singularly useful skill I have ever been taught (apart from this thing this woman showed me, but I don't get to use that every day). And I failed my first test - statistically the safest drivers do. Apparently.

Driving Examiner: Thank you for that Mr Herbert, I'm sorry to have to tell you that you haven't passed. But what a lovely drive.

The way I see it, when you're 17 the previous three years of your life have been spent wondering how quickly your parents can get you to places. You're not bothered about risk perception or road etiquette. But by the time I got around to learning to drive I think I was a little bit more road savvy than the average 17 year old.

Now I love driving. And not only do I love driving, my life couldn't possibly function without being able to drive. It's something I regret not having done sooner.

The point is that you don't have to be as good a driver as the best driver you know to pass your driving test. You just have to be able to pass your driving test. Then, once you've passed, you can spend 50% of your driving time wondering how other drivers managed to do what you have done.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the lift.