Wednesday, 10 April 2013

I is for In The Driving Seat

On passing my test - February 2010.
One of the biggest challenges of my life to date was learning to drive. When I was 17, I was bought driving lessons by Mum and Dad and duly completed the application for my provisional driving license. Back then, full of youthful enthusiasm, I thought it would be easy to learn. My license arrived, I found a million other diversions and the lessons never happened.

Fast forward 6 or 7 years and, post-University, and living at the top of a very tiring hill in a West Yorkshire village, the urge to learn hit me again. I scrimped and saved the money I could to re-apply for a provisional license (having lost my original) and booked a block of 5 lessons. The license arrived, as did the instructor - a surly, no-nonsense Yorkshireman who, whilst kind to me, spent most of the first lesson informing me of his political views, swearing at other drivers and asserting that any non-white drivers would be driving un-taxed and un-insured cars. It is very hard trying to hold your tongue and concentrate on your clutch control at the same time. I'd like to say that this story ends with me giving him a piece of my mind and demanding a refund. Unfortunately, it actually ends with me running away from the car after my second lesson and avoiding his calls for several months. I didn't want to have to endure further diatribes on immigration, get into heated debates whilst trying to do hard drivery things or the admit to him, and myself, that I was giving up on my driving ambition so easily.

When I turned 29, I set myself a series of goals I wanted to achieve by the time I turned 30. One of them was to finally learn to drive and pass my test. As with most of the goals I set, I didn't manage this by my 30th, but I did make steady progress throughout 2008 and 2009, with an excellent instructor, this time in Bradford. Jim Mallatratt was an amazing teacher. Patient and considerate he really took the time to ensure I knew why I needed to do things, as well as how to do them. He could gauge very well what I needed to practice and, just when I felt a bit down about my progress, he would suggest great things such as a drive to a local village or town I hadn't been to before. Without making it obvious he always managed to remind me why I was learning to drive and the benefits it would bring, without being patronising or preachy.

With Moira in London, April 2011.
Friends and family sat, many a time, listening to me moan about the difficulties of roundabouts or quizzing those that drove on the secret to reversing around corners. Most of all they listened to me venting my frustration that I could not do this thing, this infuriating thing, of learning to operate a car properly and deal with traffic.

One of the most patient and encouraging of all my friends was Moira, a friend I had made when we taught Art History together at Bradford College. We had enjoyed many adventures together and, so often, we had only been able to do these things because she had driven us there. She was a constant source of encouragement - kicking my arse when I was getting scared off or began to look for excuses not to carry on - or talking me through the things I found difficult. She, like so many other friends, put up with constant questions about their driving when giving me lifts anywhere, with no hint of aggravation or annoyance. Most of all she kept reminding me of the one big thing that driving gives you - freedom.

I passed my test on my second attempt on 18th February 2010 - just off my 31st Birthday - and I was over the moon. I couldn't believe it when the Driving Examiner told me I had passed - I leapt from the car and began to jump up and down and hug a very embarrassed Jim! I made my way to Moira's a few nights later and we celebrated with champagne.
Moira with the celebratory champers!

Despite passing this milestone, I was then left in a position of being unable to afford to buy, tax and insure a car. This was unfortunate, as I'd just met David and, as he lived 200 miles away, it would have been useful to be able to drive there! As it was, we managed, using coaches and trains up and down the country for almost a year, before I got a job near London and we were that much closer to each other.

Sadly, in 2011, Moira passed away. She had faced a long and difficult battle with cancer over many years and this time, she did not get better. It was a terrifically sad time. During Moi's last visit to London I expressed that I wanted to save up to buy a car and make use of the license I had fought so hard to get. To my surprise she was very determined to dissuade me, pointing out how useless a car was if you were near London and saying I should spend my money on other things. I was a little surprised at the time, given her constant encouragement previously. However, after she passed away, this conversation made a lot more sense. In her will, Moira left me her car, her wonderful car. A last gift - the gift of freedom.

My lovely car looks just like this one!
Having the car has made a big difference to our lives. It has taken me a while to get back in the driving seat and I have to admit I still get a little nervous on long drives, but actually it has been lots of fun. I've had the obligatory bump, I've stalled it a few times and I've done the 'believing the sat-nav' newbie error and ended up down a farm track in the dark.

The best thing the car has given us is that precious freedom. We can plan holidays in the middle of the countryside, agree to go to parties and occasions that may be very far from public transport links, we can visit family members and even just get to the shops whenever we want. We don't really need a car as we can walk to work, but we do, at the moment, need  so much that feeling of freedom. Being able to get away from it all, or at least knowing that you can if you want to, is a tremendous feeling. Thank you, Moi!


  1. Congrats. I love driving, even though it took me 3 tries to pass the driving test. It's kind of oddly empowering to control a vehicle.

    1. Isn't it just? I still have a few hang-ups about the environmental impact of it, but I'm hoping that my furious recycling and energy conservation off-sets it a a bit as I think I'm hooked! Thanks for dropping by :0)

  2. Congrats.!! :)

    Controlling and zig zaging through the traffic... that's a wow feeling. :)

  3. What a lovely post! So sad to hear of Moira's passing. I had a close friend who died suddenly of cancer, within 2 weeks of diagnosis, it is such a hard load to carry, but such a fantastic gift...the gift of freedom. I have to admit, I live in Dallas and driving really becomes a chore on a daily basis and when there are no other options. Fortunately, I have had the great experience of visiting London twice this year and would trade my car for the tube any day. It is so convenient. Side note: I would also trade Dallas for London, a truth made much more evident after tasting a beef and ale pie with a side of chips. Either way, I think it must be nice to have both options, the option to tube-it or walk and drive if you need to get away. Jennifer a.k.a. Urban Gypsy Girl

    1. I'm sorry to hear you lost a friend too. At the time it is quite overwhelming, isn't it? It is a great comfort to me to have some of Moi's artwork around and to be able to say a little thank you to her every time we have an adventure in the car! I'm glad to hear London treated you well :0)

  4. Good1 Keep it up afterall you proved yourself. Had a great experienced passing the driving test