It will come as a shock to no one who knows me that I took quite a while to learn to drive. It took quite a few instructors too. Five to be precise. But only one test as I passed on the first try.
My instructor was as shocked as I was.
This isn’t the story of that particular driving instructor. Or even my first driving instructor who, after three lessons, had allowed me to drive about 60 metres. He insisted I perfect reversing around a corner – the corner my house was on – before allowing me to drive on any main roads.
Each week we would sit outside my house as he demonstrated how to reverse around a corner with toy cars. Calculating that it may take me a year to drive to the nearest town at the rate we were going, I found myself another instructor.
This is the story of my second driving instructor, who I’ll think I’ll call Dave.
Dave worked for a chain of driving instructors. The lessons were reasonably priced & I didn’t think the teacher would spend half the lesson teaching me how to theoretical drive a car. So I booked ten lessons, determined to pass.
My first lesson could have gone a tad better.
I booked it for after school; I waited nervously by the main gate. Searching the road, I couldn’t see anyone in a learner car. I hung around, checking my watch. My friends drifted home & I was glad I didn’t have to try to start a car in front of them.
Ten minutes passed, then twenty. Then half an hour had gone. I wondered if I’d said the wrong school gate. There was another at the back of the school. I wandered down to check. No car there either.
Forty-five minutes gone.
I decided to wait until an hour had passed. Maybe I’d said 4.30, not 3.30. I constantly doubt facts I know to be true, so this was as plausible as any other reason I could imagine.
Then a worse-for-wear Vauxhall Corsa pulled up.
‘Kerri?’ A round headed chap shouted.
‘Sorry I’m late, my tire went & it took me ages to get it off. But I’m here now.’
He jumped into the passenger’s seat. This was unprecedented for me. With my last instructor, I was in the passenger seat for at least thirty minutes. If not more.
‘Have you had lessons before?’
‘Three,’ I failed to mention all three lessons were either stationary or in reverse.
‘Do you know what the pedals do?’
‘Erm, clutch, brake, accelerator?’ I pointed.
‘Ok, great. Put her into first & we’ll go up straight along this road, see how we get on.’
I started the car, put it into first & moved off. Mirror, signal, manoeuvre.
We were driving for less than five minutes when his phone rang. He picked up & told the story of the burst tire to someone. I kept driving, but I didn’t have a clue where I was going.
I came to a roundabout & I stopped. I wasn’t sure what exit to take, let alone what lane to get into. Another car came up behind me.
Dave leaned over.
‘Just drive yourself home,’ he said then he went back to his conversation.
I shakily drove along the back roads, unsure of what I was doing. Just changing gear whenever I thought the car was getting a little noisy.
I made it on to the main road. A main road, which by the way was a coastal road rather dramatically perched on cliffs. I could feel the sea air push against the tiny Corsa, blowing me off track. I wanted to get away from that windy, winding road & its sheer drop to the sea.
I put my foot down on the accelerator.
Not sure of the speed limit for the road & scared to look down at the speedometer, I carried on gathering speed for a few minutes.
Dave nattered on to whoever was on the phone. Sparing no detail to his burst tire story. Suddenly he stopped, looking around.
‘What’s the maximum speed limit for this road?’
‘I don’t know,’ I squeaked.
’40 miles per hour. Now what are you doing?’
I dared to glance down for a moment. In the panic, I didn’t see it. I glanced again.
I slammed on the brakes. I hadn’t learned how to perform an emergency stop, so the car just stalled. Luckily for me, there were no cars behind us.
Dave was impressed with my assertiveness on the first day. He said he’d rather have a learner that drove too fast than too slow. That was a complete fluke as I barely passed 30 mph for the next month.
After the scary initial lesson, I quite liked Dave. He joked a lot & was fond of chatting. Mostly about heavy goods vehicles, but I enjoyed the conversation never-the-less.
He was a bit of a character though. He was prone to slamming on the instructor’s brakes if someone drove too close behind me. Which is unnerving if you don’t know exactly what you are doing.
Just as I gained my confidence in the car, Dave announced he’d quit his job with the driving school. They’d asked him to extend his hours & it proved too much for him to cope with. He quit to spend more time to his first & second loves of his life – his family & lorries.
I was the last of his students left to take their test, but Dave assured me I would be ready in a fortnight or so.
The new instructor did not feel the same.
The driving school replaced him with the nearest available instructor, who happened to live 30 miles away. He wasn’t pleased to have to trek up once a week for an hour of teaching me to drive.
He couldn’t have been less like Dave. He had a mad, curly mop of hair & didn’t once talk about lorries.
During my first (& only) lesson with him, he asked me detailed questions about the European Union. Something I happened to be studying at the time. However the detail questions came at moments when I was performing more tricky manoeuvres.
Parallel parking: Voting system of the European Parliament
Reversing into a parking space: Common Agricultural Policy
Negotiating a tricky corner: Should Turkey join the EU
Hill start: Should the UK convert to Euros
The rest of the time, he remained silent. I messed up every single manoeuvre. I was particularly upset about reversing into a parking space as I had perfected that the previous week. By the end of the session, he said I would need at least ten lessons before I could think of applying for my test.
I burst into tears.
He achieved what he had intended. For me to give up on my lessons so he didn’t have to drive for 45 minutes there & back for an hour long lesson. He also damaged my confidence in my driving.
I waited another year before finding a different instructor. This one lasted a few months before I gave up. He was a sweet old man although he insisted on calling me pet & putting his hand on my knee to find the biting point on the clutch.
After only five years & four instructors, inside what I probably should have done all along. I got a female instructor. She didn’t patronise me, touch me unnecessarily or ask me difficult questions about my studies as I performed a three point turn. She did however talk a fair bit about lorries & she got me to stick at it & pass my test.
Since then I’ve never looked back. Except when reversing obviously.